MIAMI — LeBron James and the Heat remember the pain from a year ago.
They needed two wins for a title and never got another, their superstar player coming up small in the biggest moments – a finals failure for which James has accepted the blame.
He seems determined not to let it happen again.
James had 29 points and 14 rebounds, and the Miami Heat took a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals with a 91-85 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.
Dwyane Wade had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Heat, who were in this same position through three games last year, then didn’t win again against the Dallas Mavericks.
“We carry that pain with us,” the Heat’s Chris Bosh said. “We think about it every day and that really helps us to succeed in this series.”
James’ poor performance was part of the problem then, but he seems on top of his game this time. His 3-pointer sent the Heat to the fourth quarter with the lead, and he scored five straight Miami points when the Heat were building just enough cushion to hold off another late flurry by the Thunder.
“Big-time player makes big-time plays on the big stage,” Heat reserve James Jones said.
Game 4 is Tuesday night.
Kevin Durant had 25 points for the Thunder, but picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter and had to go to the bench when they had seemed to have control of the game.
“It was frustrating,” Durant said. “Of course we had a good lead and they came back and made some shots. We fouled shooters on the 3-point line twice. It’s a tough break for us, man. You know, I hate sitting on the bench, especially with fouls.”
James scored 30 and 32 points in the first two games, his two best finals performances.
Gone is the player who seemed so tentative down the stretch last year. He’s constantly on the attack now, all while defending Durant in key situations.
“He was great. He’s been great for us all playoffs,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said.
Bosh had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who can win a second title by winning the next two games at home. That’s what they did in 2006, one of just two home teams to sweep the middle three games in the 2-3-2 format.
They seemed out of it when Oklahoma City opened a 10-point lead midway through the third. But Durant had just gone out with 5:41 left on Wade’s baseline drive, though there appeared to be little or no contact. Thunder coach Scott Brooks decided to sit Russell Westbrook with him, and the Heat charged into the lead by the end of the period.
Westbrook looked angry going to the bench, but denied any frustration afterward.
“Nah, man. I mean, coach’s decision,” Westbrook said. “Got to live with it.”
The Thunder had grabbed their last lead at 77-76 on James Harden’s basket with 7:32 left. James answered with two free throws about 20 seconds later, and the teams would trade turnovers and stops over the next couple of tense minutes.
The Thunder had one last burst, ripping off six straight points to get within one before Bosh made a pair of free throws with 1:19 to play. Durant missed badly on a wild shot attempt, and the Thunder missed another chance when Westbrook was off from behind the arc.
James hit a free throw for a four-point lead with 16 seconds to go and Wade added two to close it out.
“It’s very hard,” James said. “Both teams are very active defensively and both teams make it hard on one another in the half court so when you get stops you try to get early offense, it always helps and we were able to do that a little bit.”
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