OKLAHOMA CITY — Thursday’s lesson? The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going away, too young and impetuous to know better, frighteningly resilient.
Thursday’s other lesson? The Miami Heat are a different team when all three of the Big Three take the court for the opening tip.
With Chris Bosh back in the starting lineup, the Heat pushed to an early 17-point lead and then held on for dear life in what turned into a 100-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
It wasn’t easy and nearly proved too harrowing, not decided until Thunder forward Kevin Durant missed a running jumper with 9.9 seconds to play and his team within two.
But the Heat now return to AmericanAirlines Arena for the next three games, starting Sunday, tied 1-1 in this best-of-seven series.“This is going to be like this probably every single game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
That could make pacemakers mandatory Sunday.
“Everything we’ve been through shows this group has a resourcefulness,” Spoelstra said.
Especially when whole, which the Heat were Thursday, with Bosh back in the starting lineup for the first time in a month.
The Heat could not exhale until forward LeBron James then stepped to the line with 7.1 seconds to play and buried a pair of free throws to close out his 32-point night.
“He’s been doing it in so many different ways in this playoff run,” Spoelstra said of James, who this time did it by shooting 12 of 12 from the foul line.
A game after blowing a 13-point lead in Tuesday’s Game 1 105-94 loss, the Heat nearly blew a 17-point first-half lead and an advantage that stood at 15 in the third quarter.
But behind James, this time they held on.
And at this stage, that’s all that matters.
The Heat appeared to be set when Durant, the star of Game 1, was called for his fifth foul with 10:31 to play. But he never let up on offense, draining a 3-pointer and then dunking to draw the Thunder within 82-74 with 8:22 to play.
It was part of a remarkable finish for the regular-season scoring leader, who scored 26 of his 32 points in the second half, including 16 in the fourth quarter.
Later, Durant drew the Thunder within 98-96 on a 3-pointer after a turnover by Heat guard Dwyane Wade.
Following a James miss, the Thunder called time with 12.3 seconds left down two, leading to Durant’s decisive miss, which drew contact from James, but not enough to draw a whistle.
“I think I shot a good shot,” Durant said. “That’s a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed it.”
Asked if he was fouled, Durant simply said, “I missed a shot, man.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it shouldn’t have come down to that.
“I love the way that we came back and fought,” he said, “but it’s tough to overcome 17 points.
“When you get down 17 too many things have to happen perfect for you.”
They almost did.
From their perspective, the Heat showed that Big Three basketball is back.
With Bosh back in the starting lineup, Wade back in an offensive rhythm and James back to what he has been doing this entire postseason, the Heat survived.
The Heat entered aware that only three times has a team overcome an 0-2 deficit in an NBA Finals, something the Heat did on the way to their 2006 championship over the Dallas Mavericks.
Spoelstra didn’t want to tempt those odds, so he changed just about everything. Foremost, he returned Bosh to the starting lineup, after Bosh had played the previous four games off the bench following a three-week absence due to a lower-abdominal strain.
Bosh responded with a double-double by the end of the first half, his first in two months, closing with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Then there was Wade, who was coming off an uneven performance in Game 1. This time he arrived more than three hours before tipoff for extra shooting and responded with a 24-point effort.
Beyond that, forward Shane Battier again kept the Heat afloat from deep, this time 5 of 7 on 3-pointers, including a needed late bank heave. He finished with 17 points.
That left the Heat enough wiggle room to survive 32 points from Durant, 27 from Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and a 21-point reemergence from Thunder sixth man James Harden, who went from five points in Game 1 to this breakthrough.