The game-ending image was as gut-wrenching as it was recognizable: Dwyane Wade crouched at the free throw line, calmly draining two shots to close out the team in blue, whose faces comprised a collective photo essay titled “Heartbreakingly Close.”
Game 3 of the 2012 NBA Finals resembled Games 3 and 5 of the 2006 Finals in ways both superficial, as noted above, and more deeply significant.
Unfortunately, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who now trail the series 2-1, have found themselves reenacting more than a few of the mistakes made by the 2006 Dallas Mavericks – the last team in blue to run afoul of the Miami Heat.
Of those mistakes, two did the most damage:
Losing the Inside Battle – Miami’s inability to score from outside the paint nearly caused Twitter to explode through the first three quarters. The shot chart was more splattered than a Jackson Pollock painting, highlighting the Heat’s lack of midrange accuracy. Still, none of it mattered because the under-sized Heat decisively owned the six-foot radius around the basket.
Reading the box score would give little indication that Chris Bosh was the difference-maker tonight. Missing nine of 12 field goal attempts and recording zero assists doesn’t scream “impact player.”
Bosh, though, was the main reason Miami dominated possession of the ball. He snagged 11 of his team’s 45 rebounds (including four of their 14 offensive boards) and took away several balls when he was the only white jersey in a sea of Thunder.
Bosh was Miami’s unsung hero, but LeBron James set the tone early by bullying the Thunder’s big lineup on his way to 14 rebounds of his own. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins were more effective tonight than in Game 2, but they were still a step slow to many 50/50 balls.
Failing the Free Throw Test – Every fan had three days to digest the footage of the non-calls that ended OKC’s chances in Game 2. Kevin Durant had the class to deflect such questions in the postgame press conference, and it seemed fans might have a shot at moving on and enjoying a Finals unblemished by officiating controversy.
Then, Game 3 happened. Each team suffered from some inexplicable calls and benefited from others, though many of the questionable whistles seemed to benefit the home team, which shot 35 free throws while the visitors attempted only 24.
Two larger issues accompanied the free throw disparity. One was obviously the Thunder’s unaccustomed inability to sink foul shots: the league’s most accurate regular-season free throw shooters hit a paltry 15 of its 24 attempts (62.5%).
The other issue, which reared its head after the 2006 Finals and is resurfacing now, is how NBA basketball has shifted direction. Both teams in the Finals feature superb athletes who attack the basket whenever possible. This leads to contact on every play, in turn putting immense pressure on the officials to interpret that contact.
Until the league changes its rules to leave contact on drives less open to interpretation, every fan can expect a steady diet of refereeing controversies. Hopefully, no more calls or non-calls will mar the rest of this potentially classic series.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.