x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Heat and Thunder have plenty left to answer in Game 3

Despite all the big names, it may be the Heats Shane Battier who will turn out to be the key to the NBA finals series. This, and more questions, will be answered in Game 3 at Miami.

LeBron James, left, defended here by Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, has been outstanding in the opening two games of the NBA finals. And Durant has been just as good.
LeBron James, left, defended here by Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, has been outstanding in the opening two games of the NBA finals. And Durant has been just as good.

As the NBA finals shift to Miami, after the Heat levelled the series at 1-1 with a 100-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the answers to five questions will provide big clues as to who will win Game 3 on Sunday.

 

Q: Can LeBron James play any better than he already has?

A: James set 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 in Game 2 on Thursday night.

Rather than settle for the less-taxing (and less effective) jump shots from the perimeter, James put down his head and powered his way to the basket numerous times. The aggressive style led to 12 free-throws, and he made all of them, one shy of his play-offs 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 one-on-one. It's about being aggressive and taking what the defence gives me," James said. "When I shoot double-digit free-throws, that means I know I'm being aggressive when I'm getting to the rim.

"At the end of the day, it's helping our team."

 

Who is winning - Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook?

Through two games, the match-up of shooting guards 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 dunk to keep Oklahoma City in it. If either can be more efficient, it could be the difference in the series.

 

Will the Thunder make some noise in Miami?

Despite their youth, the Thunder have played some of their best basketball on the road in these play-offs. 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 victory at San Antonio.

Away from home they have largely avoided the sluggish starts that seem to accompany their games at their home court, the 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 schedule in 1985.

That said, one of the two was the Heat in 2006.

The other was Detroit two years earlier.

 

Is Shane Battier the X-factor?

The Miami forward has joked that Miami's Big Three get so much attention from the Thunder that Oklahoma City's players forget he is on the court.

He has been making them pay for their inattention. He had a 13-point first half in Game 1 before the Heat seemed to be the ones forgetting about him. He was even bigger with five 3-pointers in Game 2. None was bigger than the one he banked in with the shot clock running down and Miami's lead whittled to four at 87-83. He called it a "very fortunate bounce" but Miami will definitely take it - and keep going back to him if Oklahoma City cannot be bothered to defend him beyond the 3-point line.

 

Can the Heat stop Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter?

No one else has been able to do it consistently during these play-offs, but Miami got just enough stops in Game 2 to win.

The Heat were able to get him in foul trouble, but Durant did not seem to mind playing with five fouls for the final 10 minutes, scoring 16 points in that span.

He has fouled out only twice in his five-year career, so the Heat cannot count on his disqualification. Instead, Miami will fall back on Battier and James - and perhaps the law of averages - in the hope that Durant's astonishing pace of 16 points per fourth quarter will be slowed in Game 3.

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