For the Thunder, a loss of poise and a shockingly bad job from the free-throw stripe all but cost them a shot at winning Game 3 in Miami.
In a span of minutes, with a 10-point lead, the young Thunder lost their composure, fouling a pair of Miami three-point shooters and missing five free throws to all but hand the Heat the game. The Thunder, who showed so much poise throughout the playoffs, didn't show it in Game 3.
The Thunder, who led the NBA by shooting 80.6 percent from the charity stripe during the season, shot 62.5 percent from the line Sunday night.
Yet the Heat, the team whose struggles down the stretch are common knowledge, knocked down an impressive 31-of-35 free throws and made plays late in the game when they had to.
Game 4 now turns into a must-win for the young Thunder.
Who wins Game 4?
Can OKC get back to what's worked for them all season? Will the Heat hold onto a 2-1 series lead this year? Here's a look at everything you need to know about this pivotal NBA Finals clash.
When: Tuesday, June 19 at 9:00 p.m. EDT
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla.
Live Stream: ESPN3
Betting Line: Miami (-3.5) via 5Dimes
Thunder Key Injuries (Per CBS Sports)
No Key Injuries Reported
Heat Key Injuries (Per CBS Sports)
No Key Injuries Reported
What They're Saying
ESPN's J.A. Adande took a look at how the Thunder, who executed flawlessly down the stretch in the first three rounds, came apart with the game on the line in Game 3.
Poor execution late in the game, excessive turnovers, missed free throws -- all the stuff they thought they'd left behind the way they did the Mavericks and the Lakers and the Spurs -- resurfaced at this critical junction, leading to a 91-85 defeat that put the Thunder two games away from losing this series to the Miami Heat, with two games still to play in Miami.
Much will be made of the lineup Scott Brooks had on the court in the third quarter, when Kevin Durant was forced to the bench with four fouls and Brooks sat Westbrook "to kind of calm him down" following, in sequence, a turnover, missed 3-pointer, missed wild layup and a turnover. The patchwork lineup of Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, Derek Fisher, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins surrendered a 10-point lead.
Adande also looks at how the Thunder have regressed and despite their poor play, that Game 3 was their for the taking, only trailing by one with nine minutes left.
However, despite Miami turning the ball over nine times in the fourth quarter and only shooting 38 percent from the floor, the Thunder's six turnovers and inability to execute in the clutch cost the a game they probably should have won.
From the Miami perspective, ESPN's Brian Windhorst says the Heat did a lot wrong in Game 3, but they have become an energy team that uses their defense and the little things to take a 2-1 series lead.
Thinking of the Heat as an "energy" team, a moniker usually reserved for a group that relies more on hustle than talent, is odd. But they are the underdog in these Finals according to the bookmakers and even the naked eye after the Thunder blitzed them in Game 1. And they are playing the way an underdog should over the last two games.
Sunday, James delivered another strong performance, continuing to leave last year's Finals in the rearview mirror with 29 points. But while he came up with eight points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play that gave the Heat badly needed breathing room and then a free throw with 16 seconds left that clinched it, James' scoring didn't feel like his biggest contribution.
That would be the fire James showed in chasing rebounds, he had 14 of them, including five offensive, and his defense on Durant in the fourth quarter. Durant had been a dynamo late in Games 1 and 2, racking 33 points in those fourth quarters and rewriting the record books for scoring by a player in his first two Finals games. But in Game 3 Durant was just 1-of-5 shooting with James guarding him in the fourth quarter and 2-of-6 overall. He finished with 25 points but this time the fourth quarter, where the game was sitting there for the Thunder to take, did not belong to him.
Windhorst also goes on to add that the days of Miami looking like a fancy and glorious team are behind them as they are fine with winning ugly.
Most Important Player to Watch: James Harden
When Kendrick Perkins (10 points) outscores Harden (nine points) in such a crucial game, you know that the Sixth Man of the Year is having his problems.
Harden, who scored only five points in Game 1, responded with a 21-point effort in Game 2, but found his struggles once again during Game 3, making only two of his 10 shots from the floor in the Thunder's Game 3 loss.
With both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the bench in the second half, Harden had the opportunity to take the game over, but failed to do so.
If the Arizona State product doesn't get better and start producing quickly, this series won't make it back to Oklahoma City.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
James has been fantastic all postseason, but ignore the numbers for a second and just look at the job LBJ did defensively on Durant in the fourth quarter.
Durant has made a habit of closing out teams in the postseason, but on this occasion, he was only 2-of-6 in the fourth quarter, including 1-of-5 with LeBron guarding him. That included a forced baseline runner with 1:06 left and the Thunder down 88-85.
For the Thunder to win Game 4, Durant has to take over the fourth quarter, similar to the way he did in Game 1. He doesn't have to score 18 points like he did that night, but it all comes down to execution in big moments.
At the other end of the floor, Durant can't let James get him in foul trouble. He's done that two games in a row and Durant can't be on the bench for key stretches in the second half.
With Durant on the bench, LBJ can be even more aggressive, and the Heat will win.
Having said that, I still think this will be a long series.
Thunder 94, Heat 90