2012 NBA Finals – LeBron James Suddenly Loves Fourth Quarters

In a far from perfect and flawless game from both teams, the Miami Heat committed less mistakes with the game on the line. Kevin Durant couldn’t get another monster fourth quarter going, while LeBron James seems to have applied every lesson he learnt last season in the NBA Finals, taking it out on the disappointing Oklahoma City Thunder.

Don’t let the numbers fool you. LeBron James did score under 30 points (29 this) for the first time in six games. The more impressive fact is that James hasn’t scored less than 28 points during his last 13 games. He started with a 16 points first half but cooled down in the third quarter, before adding 8 more points in the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, scored only 4 in the fourth quarter as LeBron James and the rest of the Heat did an excellent job on a player that looked like he lost a bit of rhythm due to foul trouble.

Foul trouble and bad decision by Scott Brooks. After Kevin Durant picked up his fourth personal foul, in another unsuccessful attempt to guard Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, Brooks decided to save him for the fourth quarter. Russell Westbrook was supposed to lead his team with their best player on the bench, but instead turned the ball over and took those bad shots everyone gives him a bad time about. He got benched too, and the Thunder lost the 10 point lead they built in the third quarter.

The first half went very well for the Thunder. There was no big Miami Heat run, going down with a 47-46 lead at home. The rules of the series suggest that the second half belongs to Oklahoma City, and for a few moments in the third quarter it seemed that way. But Brooks was too headstrong about showing the world Kendrick Perkins is the big man he should use, which made it easier for the Miami Heat to keep going into the paint and try to get their points from there.

The Heat made 20 field goals (63%) from inside 5 feet, while finishing with a terrible 8-43 from further away. There was no big night from Shane Battier, who didn’t miss a shot and had some big defensive plays, but only took 2 field goal attempts. Same goes for Mario Chalmers, who was terrible with 1-8 from the field, missing open and less open shots, but his one big layup kept the Heat with the lead in the fourth quarter as the Thunder were threatening to come back.

Thabo Sefolosha made life very hard for James and Wade during his 27 minutes on the floor, but he made terrible decisions on the offensive end, countering his great job on defense. The moment he stepped off the floor in the fourth quarter, it felt like LeBron James will take over the game. He didn’t completely. The Heat turned the ball over nine times in the fourth quarter. It’s not like they came out  and outplayed the Thunder. They just made less mistakes.

James kept posting up and driving inside, which led to him going to the line. The Heat were 31-35 from the line, with James and Wade combining for 15-19. They alone equalled the Thunder’s output of 15-24 from the line, nine points that might have cost them the game, losing by six. But James’ biggest efforts and plays came on defense.

Kevin Durant looked less confident, and James made it very uncomfortable for him in the moment when he picked up the ball. It’s hard stopping Durant when gets the ball in a good spot for him on the floor. The best thing to do, and limiting Durant to 25 points is as good as you get, is being physical all night with him, and making him fight for every possession. Having Chris Bosh as aerial support didn’t hurt either.

It’s back to the drawing board for Brooks and Spoelstra, just with different kind of feelings. Brooks let his pride and stubbornness cloud his decision making. He went too conservative by benching Durant and trusting a terrible James Harden to take over for Russell Westbrook when they both were gone. Serge Ibaka sat on the bench too much, and it seemed that the Heat always adjusted pretty quickly to whatever was happening on the Thunder’s side.

The Heat will be happy with a Game 3 win despite having a bad game during substantial stretches. But they kept pushing the ball inside, and kept getting to the line. The open shots didn’t drop, but they will the next time. They thrived on their defensive stops and their aggression. When they stick to those two foundations of their basketball, it’s very hard to beat them. Nearly impossible.

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