NBA Finals: LeBron at his best? Can KD be stopped?
By JEFF LATZKE
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The Miami Heat evened the NBA Finals at one game apiece with a 100-96 victory over the Oklahoma City on Thursday night. LeBron James had another finals career high, Miami jumped out to an 18-2 lead and had to stave off a furious Thunder rally to gain the split on the road.
Now that the series shifts to South Beach here are five questions and answers on what to look for in Game 3 on Sunday:
CAN LEBRON BE EVEN BETTER? LeBron James has set finals career highs in the first two games of the series: He had 30 points in Game 1, 32 in Game 2. He could go for 34 in Game 3 if he continues to make a living in the lane and at the free throw line like he did Thursday night. James put his head down and simply bulled his way to the basket numerous times on his way to 32 points, rather than settle for long jumpers that limit his effectiveness. The aggressive style led to 12 free throws, and he made all of them, one shy of his playoff best for most attempts without a miss. "You can't just put one guy on me and allow him to be on an island and defend me 1-on-1. It's about being aggressive and taking what the defense gives me," James said. "When I shoot double-digit free throws, that means I know personally I'm being aggressive when I'm getting to the rim. At the end of the day, it's helping our team."
WHO'S WINNING: DWYANE WADE OR RUSSELL WESTBROOK? Through two games, the matchup is about even - and incredibly fun to watch. Wade struggled with his shot in Game 1, but matched Westbrook's contributions in crunch time during Game 2. Wade banked in a jumper to interrupt Oklahoma City's 12-3 fourth-quarter rally and added another jumper and the assist on Chris Bosh's last-minute dunk. Westbrook countered with a three-point play, a driving layup and a putback dunk to keep Oklahoma City in it. If either can be more efficient, it could be the difference in the series.
WILL THE THUNDER ROAR IN MIAMI? Despite their youth, the Thunder have played some of their best basketball on the road this postseason. They swept both road games against Dallas in the first round, then earned a split against the Lakers and pulled out a crucial Game 5 win at San Antonio. And largely, they've avoided the sluggish starts that they've been able to overcome at the friendly home confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena. Plus, consider this: Only two teams have swept Games 3-5 on their home court since the league went to the 2-3-2 finals model in 1985. That said, one of them was the Heat in 2006, the other was Detroit two years earlier.
IS SHANE BATTIER THE X-FACTOR? Battier has joked that Miami's Big Three garner enough attention that the Thunder forget he's even on the court, and he's been making them pay. He had a 13-point first half in Game 1 before the Heat seemed to be the ones forgetting about him, and he was even bigger with five 3-pointers in Game 2. None was bigger than one he banked-in with the shot clock running down and the Thunder within 87-83. He called it a "very fortunate bounce" but Miami will definitely take it - and keep going back to him if Oklahoma City doesn't guard him.
CAN THE HEAT STOP KEVIN DURANT IN THE FOURTH QUARTER? No one else has been able to do it consistently this postseason, but Miami got just enough stops to get by in Game 2. The Heat were able to get him in foul trouble but Durant played with five fouls for the final 10 1/2 minutes, scoring 16 points in that span. He has only fouled out twice in his five-year career, so that's an unlikely option. Instead, it'll fall on Battier and James - and maybe the law of averages - to slow Durant's inhuman pace of 16 1/2 points per fourth quarter in the series.
Updated June 15, 2012