At one point during the second half of Game 3, OKC held a 10-point lead over LeBron James and the Heat, only to watch James and Dwyane Wade outscore the Thunder 22-21 from the 4:33 mark of the third quarter on.
As we know, Miami would win by six, 91-85.
Ultimately, it comes down to the Thunder playing their game if they want to win Game 4 on Tuesday. All of the reasons they will win stem from occurrences during the Thunder's Game 3 meltdown.
Converted Free Throws
OKC led the NBA in free-throw percentage during the regular season, hitting on 80.6 percent of attempts. Over the first three games of the finals, they are hitting on just 70.1 percent of free throws attempted.
Game 3 was even worse. The Thunder made just 15-of-24 (62.5 percent) for the game and 7-of-14 (50.0 percent) from the 3:55 mark of the third quarter on. They missed seven free throws down the stretch and lost by six.
No, a team is not expected to make them all, but even three more made shots would have put them in a better situation with the game on the line. They will come out more focused for Game 4.
Miami was able to close the gap from being down nine points to three in just 22 seconds of game play because Serge Ibaka and Derek Fisher fouled Shane Battier and James Jones on three-point attempts. That is inexcusable in basketball, and it may have provided the Heat with the necessary swing in momentum.
From that point on—and in spite of 10 Miami turnovers—it was all Heat.
Those mental mistakes changed the game. OKC committed the most fouls during the regular season at 16.35 per game, so to emerge victorious, the Thunder have to do a better job at allowing the game to come to them. Too much defensive aggression only gets them into foul trouble—especially against James, Wade and the Heat.
“Well Kevin [Durant] got four fouls. We fouled too many times,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “They got to the free-throw line 35 times; we got to the free-throw line 24 times. We’ve got to do a better job defending them without fouling.”
The Thunder will do what they can, but they can only do so much. The rest is up to the referees to call a fair game—something that is yet to be seen in these NBA Finals.
In the fourth quarter of Game 1, Durant scored 15 points and was a perfect 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. Game 2’s fourth quarter was much the same, as he scored 16 points and connected on three of four from the line. He did not commit a single turnover in either of those quarters.
Game 3 saw a much different player, as Durant scored just four points, missed both of his free-throw attempts and turned the ball over twice. He was dealing with four fouls and picked up a fifth with just under four minutes remaining in regulation.
He was ineffective in the clutch—somewhere he’s normally very comfortable.
Foul trouble could have been the reason for his lack of aggression on offense, not wanting to pick up any more fouls. He attempted only five shots in the quarter, his fewest during the final quarter of a finals game thus far.
Again, there is only so much Durant and the Thunder can do in terms of getting calls; they have not been equally called to date, so they should expect the same during Game 4.
That said, Durant will explode in the final 12-minute frame, and that will power the Thunder to a Game 4 victory.
Prediction: Thunder 102, Heat 100
If what is highlighted above comes to fruition, there is little doubt OKC will even the series heading into Game 5.
The Heat shot just 37.8 percent from the floor in Game 3 yet won because of the Thunder's combination of missed opportunities at the line, too many mental errors and the absence of Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter.
All that will change, as adjustments will be made. Both teams will come out ready to go, and the offensive display should be much better—on both ends of the court.
Durant will be too much in the end and should finish as the game’s leading scorer.