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HEAT 108 - Thunder 103 Recap

It isn’t often that a game’s most crucial play can acts as a microcosm of the contest at large. Then again, it isn’t often we’re lucky enough to experience a game as thrilling as this one, either.

Sometimes things work out, as they did with 34.3 seconds remaining, the Miami HEAT down one to the Oklahoma City Thunder after Kevin Durant hit a catch-and-shoot jumper at the top of the key off an inbounds play. Erik Spoelstra’s play call was for Dwyane Wade, who missed just above the left elbow. Then the playbook ended, and instinct, and trust, took over.

First came Mike Miller’s instincts – with his third performance of eight or more rebounds in four games – fighting in the lane for the offensive rebound. Then Miller immediately found LeBron James (13 assists) on the right wing, wide open for three.

But James didn’t shoot. Instead, the career 33.1 percent three-point shooter passed off to Eddie House, career 39.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc. It was the second time this week that James passed off to House in the game’s final moments, and for the second time this week, he was rewarded. House buried a three, gave Miami the lead, and hit the icing free-throws a few seconds later for good measure, giving the HEAT a 108-103 victory.

The HEAT may have played better games this season. Their defense was choppy in the first half, their 22 turnovers – and the Thunder’s 32 points off those – were a nagging issue all afternoon and they were at times too quick to foul. But this was pure entertainment, each team working their offense to create efficient looks, each run answered with an equal and opposite reaction.

“Besides some turnovers, we executed down the stretch and it is that trust that we had in each other that helped us win this game,” James said.

And that trust, not just trust to make a shot but to make the right play, was always there. James, Wade and Chris Bosh handled the bulk of the scoring, totaling 75, but all nine players who took the floor put up multiple shots, eight of them scoring at least five points.

With the HEAT struggling with inconsistent offense for weeks as players have been in and out of the lineup, and total stagnation occurring as recently as Friday night, little could have been sweeter for Spoelstra than to see his team, in their third game in four days, execute so cleanly.

“We’re making progress, and that is the nature of this team,” Spoelstra said. “When things have not been successful for this team, we have been able to be very objective without getting caught up in all the other conjecture that is out there. We figured out ways to just do it better. That was one of the things we needed to work on from the New York game, was to execute and to trust each other.”

The tone was set in the first play of the game, when Dwyane Wade used a low screen to cut baseline, curling up into the paint to receive a dart of a pass from James and score underneath the rim. From there, movement, both of the ball and personnel, permeated.

In one late-second quarter play, the ball movement was so quick it overcame poor spacing, earning James Jones an open three in the corner. In the second half, Chris Bosh scanned the floor from the elbow before finding another cutting teammate. They timed dual actions – such as staggered screen for Mike Miller on one side, a James-Wade pick-and-roll on the other – perfectly. They flashed to open spaces, not to receive the ball, but to draw the defense and create an opportunity for another, as Bosh did for Miller to cut backdoor after halftime.

It was everything offensive basketball was supposed to be.

“We had significant progress in the last two games executing our offense with poise to find the best available shot,” Spoelstra said. “I found it most fitting that we ended with a trust play for Eddie House. It was a good win, and we can build on this.”

Eventually, though the turnovers – many unforced – didn’t stop, the defense caught up. Joel Anthony offered five blocks, and double that in clean shot contests, in his 25 minutes, but it was James who carried the torch. James hounded Durant into a 7-of-20 shooting night, more importantly sticking with Durant so well that there often wasn’t even a shot to take.

Because of their dedication to their offense, the HEAT ensured they always had a shot available. House may have hit the biggest one, but a game’s worth of trusting offense is what made it possible.

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