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With 12 seconds to play, Durant and James faced off, the three-time scoring champ against the three-time MVP. Durant drove, drew contact from James—a lot of contact—and bounced a seven-footer off the rim. "That's a shot I shoot all the time," Durant said. "I just missed." James corralled the rebound, and then with 7.1 seconds left knocked down two free throws on the other end—completing a flawless 12-for-12 night from the line and sealing the win. Game over, series tied and the debate about who is the game's best player decidedly tabled. For now.
GAME 3 at Miami
HEAT 91, THUNDER 85
Battier doesn't remember exactly when his dream of NBA superstardom died, when the possibility of All-Star seasons had slipped away. What the 2001 lottery pick does know is that somewhere along the line his career became more about longevity than accolades, about continuing to collect paychecks rather than securing the biggest one. "I tell [rookie] Norris Cole all the time, it's about making yourself so valuable that a team can't get rid of you," said Battier. "It's about sticking around as long as you can."
Over 11 years Battier has made his bones as a defensive stopper (he's a two-time member of the NBA's All-Defensive second team) and an efficient shooter (he's 38.2% from three-point range). Both those talents were on display in the first two games of the Finals, and as the series shifted to Miami, the narrative wasn't just how Oklahoma City could contain James, Wade and Bosh; it was also how to blunt the impact of Battier.
In Game 3 the 33-year-old Battier was up to his usual defensive tricks, and with the Thunder now having to pay extra attention to him on the perimeter the Heat stars had extra room to create offense. James, Wade and Bosh scored Miami's first 18 points, powering the Heat to a six-point first-quarter lead. That advantage evaporated quickly, however, as Durant and Westbrook combined for 14 points in the second quarter, and Miami went into the locker room at halftime clinging to a 47--46 lead.
The back-and-forth continued in the third quarter, with 11 players accounting for the scoring. Miami held a two-point edge going into the fourth when once again James and Durant took center stage. In the first two games Durant had piled up the fourth-quarter points, but in Game 3 Miami's defense shut him down. With James blanketing Durant on the perimeter and Bosh lurking in the paint as backup, Durant was limited to just four points in the final period and didn't score over the last 3:12. "I told you guys, last year I didn't make enough game-changing plays, and that's what I kind of pride myself on," James said in the postgame press conference. "I didn't do that last year in the Finals. I'm just trying to make game-changing plays, and ... step up in key moments and be there for my teammates."
Miami didn't exactly distinguish itself in the fourth, committing nine turnovers. But the Heat players got stops when they needed to (Oklahoma City went scoreless in the last 90 seconds) and made free throws down the stretch (5 out of 6 in the final 1:19) to take a 2--1 series lead. "Last year I don't know if we [were] experienced enough as a unit to deal with what came at us," said Wade. "I just feel like we understand the situations more, and we can deal with [them] better."