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AS THE HOURS FOLLOWING MIAMI'S Game 4 Finals win over Oklahoma City dissolved into morning and Dwyane Wade began to shift his focus to a possible clincher two days later in Game 5, the Heat guard reflected on the magnitude of the moment. "Winning a championship, it's the reason that we all came here together," said Wade. "And I'm not just talking about Chris [Bosh], LeBron [James] and myself. I'm talking about Shane Battier. I'm talking about Mike Miller. I'm talking about all these guys. That's the reason we all wanted to play together. It's very hard in this league to win it all. You have got to have guys that on any given night can carry what you call your own weight and nights that you've got to do it together."
The 2012 NBA Finals was about James, Wade and Bosh, the troika that needed a title to validate the decision to come together. James was masterly, but the evolution of the team, the difference between this one and the one that was eliminated by Dallas in six games in 2011 was in no small part the emergence of other weapons.
GAME 1 at Oklahoma City
THUNDER 105, HEAT 94
The series was billed as a dream matchup, and between the Thunder and the Heat there was no shortage of story lines. The humble star (Kevin Durant) who declared his decision to stay in a small market via Twitter, versus the far more bodacious one (James), who needed an ESPN special to declare his Decision to move to Miami in 2010. Durant was homegrown, LeBron was store-bought and indeed, for those outside the Miami faithful, the opening of the NBA Finals felt a bit like good (Thunder) versus evil (Heat).
Early on, Miami looked comfortable in its second straight Finals appearance, quieting a sellout crowd by building an 11-point lead in the first quarter. "Those guys," said Durant, "they came out on fire."
No one was hotter than Battier. It had been 10 long, titleless years for Battier, whose playoff experience with his previous teams—the Grizzlies and the Rockets—never went past the second round. The small forward came to the Heat eyeing a title after signing a discounted three-year, $9 million deal in the off-season. He had earned his money this postseason, sliding into the starting lineup and to power forward when Bosh went down with an abdominal injury in the second round. Now, early in Game 1, with the Thunder focusing its defensive attention on James and Wade, Battier was left open. He knocked down three three-pointers in the first seven minutes, swelling Miami's lead and giving Oklahoma City another weapon to worry about. With Mario Chalmers adding eight points in the first quarter (James and Wade contributed four apiece), the Heat looked ready to take control.
Throughout the playoffs the Thunder had made a habit of stuttering starts, but the team had also shown a talent for bouncing back. Down by seven at the half, Oklahoma City cut that lead to one point four minutes into the third quarter. Quickly the Thunder rediscovered its swagger. Defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha harassed James and Wade, Kendrick Perkins picked up a couple of buckets around the rim, and Russell Westbrook went off. Playing all 12 minutes of the quarter, Westbrook took to the offensive, assaulting the rim and piling up 12 points.
In the fourth quarter Oklahoma City delivered a knockout blow with Durant, the three-time NBA scoring champ, pumping in 17 of his 36 points. He deployed his entire arsenal, scoring on drives and three-pointers, on fadeaways and post-ups. On the night he converted 12 of his 20 attempts from the field. In this game the Thunder's Big Two was more powerful than the Heat's Big Three; in fact, Durant and Westbrook combined to outscore the entire Miami team (41--40) in the second half to pull out an improbable win.