Heat hold off Thunder to level NBA finals


OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma, June 15 – LeBron James scored 32 points and Chris Bosh had 16 points on his return to the starting line-up as the Miami Heat beat Oklahoma City 100-96 to level the NBA finals at one game apiece.

Forward Bosh, starting his first game since the middle of May, also grabbed 15 boards while guard Dwyane Wade rebounded from a poor performance in game one to finish with 24 points and five assists in Thursday’s wire-to-wire win.

James was pleased with the way his teammates held it together late in the game when Oklahoma City made one final push for the win.

“We’ve been through a lot in the playoffs. We have been down, we have withstood rallies,” said James, who was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.

“The good thing about (tonight) is when they scored we just got back on offence and started to execute.

“This is a great team we are playing against and it is going to go all the way down to those zeroes to get a win.”

Kevin Durant scored 32 points for the Thunder who had their nine-game win streak at home snapped in front of a crowd of 18,203 at the Chesapeake Arena.

The best-of-seven series now switches to Miami for game three on Sunday.

“It is a good win on the road,” James said. “We know they are going to come back strong in our house so we are glad we got the split here.”

It marked the fifth consecutive playoff game in which James has scored 30 points or more, setting an all-time Miami postseason record.

James said he was trying to stay positive and keep his mind calm down the stretch as the Thunder roared back.

“The clock is going really fast up there and I just try to slow it down in my mind and get a good shot,” James said. “I am glad I was able to make a good bucket and some free throws down the stretch.”

The Heat jumped on the Thunder from the opening bell, seizing control in the first quarter by compiling a 17-point lead at one point. They led 55-43 at the half.

But the Thunder made them work for it in the fourth quarter, cutting the Heat lead to just two points late in the game before James sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.

“Oh man, that was the game,” Durant said of the first quarter. “We can’t start 18-2. We can’t get down that much especially at home. We’ve got to correct it.”

It was the first start for Bosh since the opening game of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Bosh had to come off the bench for the previous four games as he eased his way back into the line-up from an abdominal strain that caused him to miss nine playoff games.

Bosh found his scoring touch early and had a double double in the first half with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“Today was a good time for me to see where I am at,” Bosh said. “Fortunately it went good for me individually.”

Game two started much like game one, with Miami coming out of the gate as the quicker, more confident-looking team.

Wade helped kickstart the offence for the Heat, who scored 18 of the game’s first 20 points.

James Harden was the lone bright light in the opening quarter for the Thunder, scoring 10 of their meagre 15 points. Harden finished with a total of 21 points off the bench.

Three-time NBA scoring champion Durant showed he is human, bagging just six points in the first half after a brilliant 36-point performance in his NBA finals debut in game one.

Durant did his best to try and get the Thunder consecutive come-from-behind wins by making seven shots in a row in the second half as Oklahoma City staged a furious late rally. He missed a jump shot with nine seconds left in the fourth that would have tied it 98-98.

That paved the way for James to cap the scoring with two free throws with seven seconds on the clock.

“This is probably going to be like this every single game,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “That is the beauty of competition at this level… seeing what it brings out of you collectively. We were able to play a bit more to our identity tonight and that was probably the biggest factor.”