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Jordan Schultz

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NBA Finals: LeBron James Leads Heat To Crucial Game 3 Win Over Thunder

Posted: 06/17/2012 11:25 pm

The Miami Heat finally assembled a legitimate half-court offensive scheme for 48 minutes, and the result was its most impressive total team effort of the NBA Finals. After escaping in Oklahoma City with an impressive 1-1 split, the Heat relied on a bevy of ball movement, floor spacing and unselfishness to capture Game 3 91-85 against a Thunder team that prides itself on all of the same.

Game 3 was a pivotal opportunity for the Heat to continue its momentum and not allow OKC to regain home-court advantage in the 2-3-2 format. After each superstar provided Miami with stellar Game 2 performances, LeBron James (29 points, 14 rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (25 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists) came out once again Sunday night in ultra attack mode, determined to make plays for themselves or for teammates.

James finished the first quarter with 10 points and 5 rebounds while Wade had 4 points and 4 assists. The uber-high quality spacing to which the Heat played early provided ample driving lanes but, just as significant, was each player's desire to get involved early, and stay involved throughout. As great as Wade is, he has struggled mightily throughout these playoffs in the first halves of games, shooting in the 20s while averaging well under ten points. Healthy or not though, his infused will to be a factor in Game 3 gave LeBron the right pressure release he so desperately needs on a consistent basis. To be certain, he was far from perfect, finishing 8-22 from the floor with five turnovers, but Wade was attacking; something that could not be said for Game 1 and even parts of Game 2.

Miami's execution in the first quarter of Game 3 was precisely the start it needed, scoring 20 of its 26 points in the paint. Ever persistent of course was Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who continued to employ a super high pressure defense that extended out to 25-feet on the perimeter. After Miami lit up OKC for 100 points in Game 2 while shooting a robust 47.4 percent, Brooks -- who has guided his team to the ninth-ranked efficiency defense in the NBA -- likely had the thought process that the length and dexterity of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha would bother the Miami wings and force higher difficulty shots. Eventually, such a game plan worked; the Heat converted on just four field goals in the third quarter as OKC extended its lead to double-digits.

In an instant though, Miami's defense seized control of the game with its own version of suffocating traps and lightning fast rotations. The Heat went on a 17-3 run and the Thunder -- who has scored at will this entire postseason -- went ice cold. Shane Battier completely locked down James Harden (2-10, 9 points) and Westbrook was unable to get into the teeth of the defense for much of the fourth. That combination led to a fourth quarter Thunder dry spell that lasted over four minutes.

The other odd, albeit vital element to Miami's victory was at the free throw line, a place where the Heat ranked ninth in during the regular season while Oklahoma City was second, making over 82 percent of its attempts. In Game 3 however, Miami converted 31-35 from the stripe while OKC made just 15-24. Given the law of averages, this could very well be a single game anomaly during the Finals, or perhaps lead to a prolonged series of oddities.

And sometimes, oddities define the game of basketball better than anything else: Shane Battier -- who this year endured the second worst 3-point shooting season of his 12-year career, broke the all-time league record for most 3-point field goals through the first three games of the Finals by connecting on 11-15 attempts.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related @206Child.

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