Heat vs. Thunder: Why the NBA Finals Will Be Decided at the Free-Throw Line
The Oklahoma City Thunder out-shot the Miami Heat from the field, took three more field-goal attempts and turned the ball over less.
And yet, they still lost the game.
The difference was the free throws, both in terms of the number that were attempted and how many were made. The Heat made 31 of their 35 free-throw attempts, while OKC cashed in on just 15 of 24.
Unlike Game 2, in which LeBron James was 12-12 from the line, the free-throw party was a more inclusive affair on this occasion. Dwyane Wade made nine of his 11 attempts, and the bench combined to complete all nine from the stripe.
Thunder fans may be inclined to read something nefarious into the disparity.
After all, the call that sat Kevin Durant on the bench with his fourth foul in the third quarter was questionable at the very least. There certainly didn't look to be as much contact as we saw on Durant's attempt to tie Game 2 up in the waning moments—a shot-attempt that failed to draw a whistle.
However, it would be naive to attribute the Thunder's struggles to inequitable officiating, and not just because Miami happens to be the team making its free throws.
The more important problem for OKC is its failure to play with the same degree of aggression. After a first quarter in which the Thunder made early attempts to get the ball inside to Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, head coach Scott Brooks' club reverted to the perimeter game with which it's apparently more comfortable.
That certainly translates into lower-percentage shots, but it also means this team won't get to the line nearly as often.
The Thunder actually got to the line more than Miami in Game 2—by one attempt, anyway. In Game 1, the Thunder outpaced their foes at the line by a margin of nine attempts, a differential that clearly contributed to the team's decisive victory.
There's no question both teams are capable of getting to the line.
The question is, which one will remain disciplined enough to force the action for the remainder of the series?
The Heat don't have the luxury of pretending to be a jump-shooting team. OKC's talented shooters are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they obviously played an integral role in this team's incredibly successful run through the Western Conference.
On the other hand, that shooting ability can become a crutch.
Durant, Westbrook and Harden combined to make just two of their 12 three-point attempts in Game 3. Juxtapose that with the fact that LeBron James has taken just six three-point attempts in the last two games combined, while Wade didn't take a single one in either contest.
Perhaps the Thunder should momentarily forget what great shooters they are, at least until they find themselves in a situation where they have no other choice.
The Heat may not be as well-suited to hit a contested jumper, but they've proven far more adept at making free-throws—the one kind of shot that's never contested.
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