MIAMI — A questionable substitution by the coach, more foul trouble for the superstar, and bad free throw shooting by just about everybody ruined Oklahoma City’s chances in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
All that didn’t wreck the Thunder’s hopes of winning the series.
The Thunder trail the Miami Heat 2-1 after a 91-85 loss on Sunday in which they blew a 10-point lead in the third quarter. Kevin Durant went to the bench in foul trouble and Scott Brooks compounded the problem by yanking Russell Westbrook shortly after, both All-Stars watching when the game got away from the Thunder.
Oklahoma City was in worse trouble in the last round, dropping the first two games against the San Antonio Spurs. So they know they can climb out of the hole they’re in this time.
“This is another great opportunity to show what becoming a champion is all about. You know, it’s not something that ever has come easy,” said guard Derek Fisher, who has won five of them.
“Every team that has won a championship has earned the right to be champions. And so we’re faced with another opportunity again tomorrow night to come together as a team and be confident in who we are and figure out a way to come out here and win a game. You know, things turn a great deal in these series with one game, and we have the opportunity to turn it tomorrow.”
Game 3 turned quickly, mostly because of the Thunder’s own mistakes.
Durant picked up his fourth foul with 5:41 left and the Thunder leading by six. Westbrook was taken out 40 seconds later for Fisher, who converted a four-point play before it all fell apart for Oklahoma City.
The Thunder twice fouled shooters behind the arc, made only 6 of 11 free throws in the quarter, and when the game was getting away from his team, Brooks kept Westbrook parked on the bench for the remainder of the period.
Westbrook appeared angry when taken out, slamming his hand against a chair. He said he was upset with himself, and Brooks said there was no issue between them Monday.
“That’s over with. We’re moving on to Game 4,” Brooks said.
“When Kevin got the fourth foul, that kind of changes the dynamic of that game because Kevin, I think he had 23 points at that time, things were going very well. So there was a lot of times that we had other things that we had to figure out. But I thought that stretch where we fouled the two 3-point shooters really was a big part of their comeback, and then we missed five free throws in that stretch, and as you know, we’re the best free throw shooting team in the league.”
Hard to tell in this series, though. The Thunder, who shot 80.6 percent during the regular season, were only 15 of 24 (62.5 percent) on Sunday and 54 of 77 (70 percent) during the series. With a young core age 23 and under, the Thunder acknowledged some jitters before Game 1, but Durant said that isn’t the problem now.
“We’ve just got to make them next game,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s nerves because we miss a free throw, and then hit a big 3 after that or get a big stop and then hit a layup. I don’t know, man. We’ve just got to do a better job next game. Hopefully we make all of our free throws.”
Durant has picked up five fouls in each of the last two games, forced to spend precious time on the bench and hurting his second-half aggressiveness as he tries to defend LeBron James. He said he didn’t think all five on Sunday should have been called, but the Thunder need him to be careful to avoid further trouble, particularly with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden averaging only 11.7 points on 41 percent shooting.
Game 3 was bad for the Thunder. The overall situation, they said, could be much worse.
“We’ve still got four games to play, and at the end of the day, we win a game tomorrow, and then it’s the best of three with two games on our home court,” center Kendrick Perkins said. “As we all see, the team that gets the win always gets the momentum. At the end of the day, we’re just down one game, and it’s not the end of the world.
“We take away a couple turnovers in the fourth quarter, a couple silly fouls that we made, and we missed nine free throws. We do that, our chances are high of winning the game.”