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Two games into the NBA Finals, the following patterns have emerged:
The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are very evenly matched. Both are capable of going on impressive runs. LeBron James and Kevin Durant can both average 30 points a game in the Finals and no one would be surprised. The TV ratings are spectacular (Game 2 drew the highest rating for a Finals game since 2004).
"This is going to be probably like this every single game, and that's the beauty of competition at this level, and embracing that competition and seeing what it brings out of you collectively," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday.
One thing is for sure, no lead is safe in this series. Miami led by as much as 13 in Game 1, and 16 in Game 2. The Heat lost the first, and the Thunder had a chance to tie the game with under 10 seconds to go in the second. The Thunder have had the most efficient offense in the playoffs (scoring 112.8 points per 100 possessions - Miami is third with 108.6), and their small fourth-quarter lineup poses fits for Miami's defense.
But the Heat have been able to build early leads (on the road, no less) thanks in part to the Thunder's own defensive issues. OKC has given up the fifth most points per 100 possession in the playoffs (105.9, Miami gives up 100.9.
What allowed Oklahoma City to mount a comeback in Game 2 was the same culprit in Game 1's meltdown. The Heat stood around on possessions to kill the clock, then played lazy isolation offense with the shot clock winding down, resulting in long, contested jump shots. It is the Heat's Achilles' heel to forget that when the one of its Big Three gets in the paint quickly the team scores by the truckload.
Miami took five shots in the paint in the fourth quarter of Game 2, after taking no fewer than nine in each of the previous three quarters. This discounts some of the free throws the Heat drew late in the game, but even so, five is too few.
With a chance to ice the game in the final minute, LeBron James dribbled at the top of the three-point line, then took a long three pointer with three seconds left on the shot clock. It missed, giving the Thunder the ball with 14 seconds left and a chance to tie.
This play does not negate James' spectacular Game 2. It is representative of what happens a lot when the Heat have big leads. Twice now the Thunder have exploited it to cut into double-digit leads. Sometimes the Heat can be its own worst enemy.
But the Heat have come home with a series tied at 1, just what they wanted from the first two games of the series.
"It's a long series. After Game 1 there was the hyperbole of, 'The Heat have no idea what to do with the speed of OKC.' I have no idea what the story lines will be after Game 2," Miami forward Shane Battier said. "We know every game is its own beast. You just have to play disciplined and tough to win a single game in the finals."
The next three games will be at home, meaning the Heat must win at least two of three to avoid needing to win Games 6 and 7 in Oklahoma City.
"We've got to figure out a way at home to protect home floor, especially in Game 3, and win it," Wade said. "If you go up there and lose Game 3, you've given them, in a sense, home court right back. We just want to continue to play well at home like we've done all season long."