Behind another monster game from LeBron James on Thursday, the Miami Heat snatched home-court advantage away from the Oklahoma City Thunder and evened the best-of-seven NBA Finals at 1-1.
But there's a good chance the Heat won't be dancing on any stages, like they did when Chris Bosh and James joined Dwyane Wade to form the NBA's most talented trio before the 2010-11 season. However, Miami's 100-96 victory did appear to serve notice that the Heat has its mojo back and could be on the verge of winning its second NBA title in seven seasons.
The Heat players explained that even though they dropped Game 1 of this series 105-94 after blowing a 13-point lead, it never shook their confidence.
"We were a confident team even before that, and that's why I think it's important to always compartmentalize and not get too carried away with the result," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You have to play to your identity and find a way."
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The Heat enhanced its chances of winning Game 2 when Bosh was inserted back into the starting lineup at forward for the first time since straining his abdominal muscle early during these playoffs. Bosh finished Thursday's game with 16 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks while establishing the type of physical disposition that enabled the Heat to race out to a 25-8 lead.
"It was key, you know, having our best players on the floor early, especially when we needed to start off great," Wade said. "We needed to come out and we needed to play well from the beginning.
"We're glad [Bosh is] back playing his regular minutes, and that's going to be key for us the rest of the way."
The next three games are in Miami, which means the Heat can close out this series without having to return to Oklahoma. But it's not banking on that happening, since the team knows it's highly unlikely that it will happen.
The Thunder fell behind top-seeded San Antonio 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals before flying back to win the next four games and the series. That includes winning a pivotal Game 5 in San Antonio, which no one outside of the Thunder thought was possible.
"We're confident going home, but that doesn't guarantee anything," Spoelstra said. "And I think our guys have enough perspective to know that we're going to have to earn this."
On the flip side, Thunder coach Scott Brooks must be having nightmares trying to figure out why his team fell behind by 13 points in the first quarter of Game 1, and by 17 points in the first quarter of Game 2. Part of it is because of Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka. OKC starts three players who really aren't known for their scoring.
That places a heavier burden on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to get off to a hot start. It also gives Miami's defenders an open playbook on whom the Thunder is looking to for points.
Thus, Brooks might want to consider altering his starting lineup the way his NBA neighbors to the south did last year against Miami in the Finals.
Needing more early scoring punch after falling behind 2-1 to the Heat in last year's Finals, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle inserted sparkplug J.J. Barea into the starting lineup in place of defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson in time for Game 4. The results: Barea averaged 13.3 points and 4.7 assists in the final three games, all of which the Mavericks won to capture their first NBA title.
By the time Spoelstra woke up and made a significant adjustment and put Mario Chalmers in the starting lineup in place of the struggling Mike Bibby in Game 6, it was way too late.
Coaches are creatures of habit and don't like to tinker much with what works. The Thunder managed to survive the slow start in Game 1, but it bit them very hard in Game 2.
Still, Brooks must be tempted to start sixth man extraordinaire James Harden in Game 3, so OKC's Big 3 can be on the floor alongside Miami's Big 3. However, Brooks believes what ails the Thunder the most going into Game 3 -- it tips off at 7 p.m. Sunday -- is that OKC is flat-out getting outhustled at the defensive end of the floor.
"We didn't come out with the defensive toughness, the disposition that we need to play with," Brooks said. "We have to do that first, and then if it doesn't work, then we'll think about doing other things.
"But right now we have to play better from the very start."
Inserting Harden into the starting lineup can help that cause. At the very least, it can help the Thunder get its mojo back.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760