As avowed root-against-LeBronners — a stance we're avid about even while admitting it's not inherently logical — we kept a close eye on the Western Conference Finals not necessarily because we were so heavily invested in the contest, but because we wanted to make sure the team that won was adequately armed to take down the Miami Heat. When it looked like the Spurs were going to win, we fretted that the Heat might be more inherently talented but took solace in the Spurs' composure and veteran presence. When the Thunder ended up winning, we hoped their depth and their overwhelming talent would overwhelm the Heat and make the Thunder's lack of experience irrelevant. Three games in, it's pretty clear: The lack of experience is showing.
The Miami Heat won Game Three of the NBA Finals last night 91–85 over the Oklahoma City Thunder to take a 2-1 series lead, and they did it by keeping their collective wits about them while the Thunder, for the first time these playoffs, looked callow and even a little scared. Neither team was particularly impressive — the Heat, for example, turned the ball over nine times in the fourth quarter — but the Thunder were the jittery ones, missing a shockingly high number of free throws and looking discombobulated on offense late. Kevin Durant, the propulsive force on these Finals so far, scored only four points in the fourth quarter, mostly because LeBron James was all over him. It wasn't a pleasant fourth for us root-against-LeBronners. (RALeBs, for short.)
The thing about the Thunder is that when matters are flowing for them — like in a transcendent third quarter — it seems baffling that anyone could ever stop them, or even slow them down. Of course, that was before Durant left with his fourth foul and stayed on the bench for the rest of the quarter, much to the detriment of the rest of the Thunder. You got the sense, the way the Thunder were moving, that they could have started to put the game away with one more run; offensively, when matters are clicking, it's hard to see how the Heat score with them. But when Durant left, the Heat went on a 16–7 run, and the fourth quarter slog was on. That run actually started with two lunk-headed Thunder fouls on three-point shots, leading to six easy free throws from the Heat, the team that could hit them. The whole thing just sort of got away from them. (Oh, also, where's James Harden? As Metta World Peace put it, "All Beard, No Brain.")
The point is: It is extremely difficult to win road games in the NBA Finals, and the Thunder had this one all wrapped for them, if they could just take it. They would have taken a 2-1 lead with home-court advantage back and a clear open path to the title. If the Thunder were able to hit their free throws this series, they might be up 3-0. If they were able to keep it together last night, they'd be up 2-1. Thunder fans have been able to take some solace in saying, "Well, this went wrong, and this went wrong, and this went wrong, and for the Heat, this went right, and this went right, and this went right, and we still almost won." The presumption is that when the scales tip the right way, the Thunder should breeze to victory. That could have happened last night, but the Thunder didn't allow it to. Now they're 2-1. And the Heat are one home win away from putting the Thunder on the brink. If that happens, we might be ruing the Spurs' absence all summer.