MIAMI – The Oklahoma City Thunder were in control of Game 3 of the 2012 Finals. Kevin Durant (four fouls) and Russell Westbrook (too much dribbling) went to the bench with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter, but Derek Fisher‘s four-point play put the Thunder up 64-54 with 4:33 left in the period.
A minute later, OKC was still up nine, surviving without their two best players on the floor. And then things fell apart.
On the next Miami Heat possession, the Thunder played a zone defense for the first time in the series. That, in itself, wasn’t the problem. The Heat took some time to figure out what they were doing.
Then, with eight seconds on the shot clock, LeBron James took a dribble toward the basket from the right wing. Serge Ibaka stopped James from getting into the paint and James fed the ball to Shane Battier in the near corner. As Battier released a shot, Ibaka flew into him, a reverse cross body-block of sorts.
Both guys hit the floor, referee Joey Crawford whistled Ibaka for the foul, and Battier headed to the line for three free throw attempts.
Battier made all three freebies and the Oklahoma City lead was down to six. Then Thabo Sefolosha took an awful shot (from the left wing with his toes on the 3-point line and with 10 seconds on the shot clock) that missed everything.
The Thunder were still in OK shape if they could get a few stops down the stretch of that third period. But as Dwyane Wade brought the ball up the floor after the Sefolosha airball, the OKC defense was scrambling.
As Haslem screened Sefolosha, Derek Fisher stepped in to stop Wade. Wade found James Jones open in the corner and Fisher turned to close out on the shooter. But he closed out too hard and clobbered Jones’ right arm as the shot went up. James Capers blew the whistle and Jones was heading to the line for three more free throws.
Same spot. Same dumb foul two possessions in a row. Throw in the bad Sefolosha shot and it was a real bonehead sandwich.
Jones hit all three and the Thunder lead was down to three.
After the Fisher four-point play, the Heat finished the third quarter with a 15-3 run to turn a 10-point deficit into a two-point lead. The game was still in the balance, but the Thunder gave their opponent some real life with two mental mistakes in a critical stretch.
“That’s NBA basketball,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said afterward. “You’ve got to deal with it. You’ve got to move on from it. You’ve got to learn from it. You’ve got to get better from it.”
What makes the two fouls even dumber is that the Heat shot 5-for-31 (16 percent) from outside the paint on Sunday. They basically couldn’t make a jumper all night. But the Thunder basically escorted them to the free throw line for six straight points.
This is The Finals. These have been three tightly-contested games and Game 3 was the ugliest yet. When points are tough to come by, you can’t put your opponent on the line with dumb fouls. That’s what the Thunder did and they’re down 2-1 as a result.