MIAMI – LeBron James wrestled control of the NBA Finals away from Kevin Durant, scoring 29 points to lead the Miami Heat to a thrilling 91-85 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 on Sunday night.
The Heat lead the series 2-1. Game 4 is Tuesday.
Dwyane Wade totaled 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Heat. Kevin Durant scored 25 points, but was again bothered by foul trouble.
The Heat trailed by 10 points in the third quarter before rallying. They took control with a little less than three minutes remaining in the game. After Wade drove for a basket and a foul, the Thunder came unhinged with consecutive turnovers. James, who also had 14 rebounds, took the second and drove for a short bank shot, picking up Durant's fifth foul in the process. The three-point play pushed Miami's lead to seven and sent the Thunder into a timeout with 3:47 left.
The Heat appear to have learned their lessons from last season's struggles in the Finals, particularly in late-game situations.
"We carry that pain with us," Chris Bosh said. "We think about it every day, and that really helps us to succeed in this series."
Durant uncharacteristically missed two free throws in the quarter and the Thunder missed nine total for the game. Oklahoma City was the NBA's best foul shooting team in the regular season.
The Heat seemed to have the game in hand after James again pushed Miami's lead to seven, but the Thunder came roaring back. After a pair of free throws by Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha stripped Wade near midcourt and raced down court for a lay-in. Westbrook followed with a pull-up jumper to cut OKC's deficit to a single point with 1:30 remaining, setting the stage for a third straight tense finish in the series.
After Bosh made a pair of free throws, Russell Westbrook had a chance to tie the game but missed a 3-pointer with about 30 seconds left. With Thunder coach Scott Brooks yelling not to foul, James Harden fouled James. He made the second of his two free throws to all but secure the victory.
The Thunder had taken control of the game – thanks, in part, to Derek Fisher making the 12th four-point play in Finals history – until Durant had to exit midway through the third quarter with his fourth foul. It was the second straight game Durant ran into foul trouble.
"I'm just trying to play aggressive on both ends, and unfortunately I'm getting some fouls called on me, but I've got to play through it," Durant said after Sunday's loss. "Two games in a row, man, so I've just got to play smarter next game, and hopefully I don't get no fouls called."
Westbrook joined Durant on the bench later in the quarter after picking up his fourth foul. With the Thunder's top two scoring options absent, the Heat took advantage after trailing by as many as 10 points.
"Got to live with it," Westbrook said of coach Scott Brooks' move to sit him in that important stretch.
One problem for the Thunder: They twice fouled Heat players as they were attempting 3-pointers. A 3-pointer by James helped the Heat take a 69-67 lead into the final quarter.
The Thunder came into Sunday determined to end the slow starts that had hurt them in the first two games. "We've been a pretty good team all year long of starting and finishing," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game. "I think tonight we have to obviously come out better and play with more toughness."
That was hard to see in the first quarter. The Thunder didn't dig themselves as big a hole as in Game 2 when they trailed 18-2, but the Heat did control most of the opening quarter. Miami repeatedly attacked inside, scoring all but one of its 11 baskets at the rim. James hurt the Thunder on drives and with offensive rebounds.
The Heat's weapon, however, eventually became their curse. With less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Miami had still made just one basket outside the lane. Shane Battier continued his torrid shooting from the first two games and made a couple late 3-pointers to put the Heat in front 47-46 at the half, but the Thunder had already found their rhythm by then.
Oklahoma City did a much better job shutting down the lane in the third quarter, and the Heat's defense unraveled. Durant, meanwhile, had no trouble scoring against whatever defense Miami used. He had 13 points in the first half and helped the Thunder take control in the third quarter before it all fell apart, with turnovers being a culprit.
"It's not like they're forcing us to just turn the ball over," Durant said.
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