The Miami Heat have been in this position before. Up 2-1 in an NBA Finals for the second straight year, LeBron James and the Heat know just how important Game 4 can be, as they learned the hard way in last year’s finals series against the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks. While Miami suffered a complete collapse in the 2011 Finals, losing 3 straight games to give Dallas the trophy, this year finds the Heat in a seemingly much better position, with Game 4 set at home tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who may have been finally figured out by the Big Three from South Florida. The Heat shoot for win number three in a row tonight at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, with tip-off set for just after 9:00 PM ET, and with everything seemingly on the line for both the Thunder and the Heat in this series, there’s no question this may be one of the most wagered upon games of this year’s finals, at one of the top online sportsbooks reviewed here at CR.
During our discussion of the keys to Game 3 on Sunday, the one thing we pointed out that the Heat must do to win, was to keep the Thunder offense from breaking through the 100-point barrier. For the second straight game, they did just that, going above and beyond on defense to hold Kevin Durant, Russell Westrbook and the OKC offense to its lowest points total of the playoffs in a 91-85 victory for Miami. What was truly impressive was that Miami’s best defense effort came in the 2nd half, something not seen in the first two games of this NBA Finals series. Holding the Thunder to just 39 points in the 2nd half of Game 3, there finally started to be some frustration show up around the OKC line-up, as Kevin Durant was ‘held’ to 25 points, and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden suffered one of his worst shooting performances of the playoffs, going just 2-for-10 for 9 points on the evening. Miami won the battle of the boards for the second straight night, behind another double-double from Chris Bosh and yet another outstanding showing from MVP LeBron James (29 points, 14 rebounds), and just like that the Heat now have the Thunder in a hugely pressure-packed situation, needing to win Game 4 tonight to avoid going back home with a 3-1 series deficit. Once again, with defense showing to be the one separating factor between these two teams, and Miami holding the upper hand, the Heat will look to play it’s high-pressure, physical style of defense, which certainly had led them to overcome in 2 straight lower-scoring games.
While the Thunder managed to outshoot the Heat in Game 3, with Miami a very pedestrian 37.3 percent shooting from the floor (versus 42.9 for OKC), that statistic is plainly evident of the fact that defense is winning out in this series. Across the board, Oklahoma’s top scorers’ production was down, and the battle inside the paint found the Heat taking advantage of a more physical style of offensive play, which generated lots of trips to the foul line. This was a major factor in Game 3, with Miami producing 31 points on 35 attempts from the charity stripe, versus 15 points on 24 attempts for the Thunder. This could very well be another part of the game Miami looks to exploit, staying aggressive while driving into the lanes and forcing the Thunder defense to challenge LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Wade and James alone accounted for the same amount of points as OKC did as a team from the foul line, and you can rest assured tonight that both of Miami’s top stars will look to get to the line with the same frequency and force the Thunder to come at them. It’s evident that Miami needs neither a great shooting night from either inside or outside the arc, but they do need to be aggressive towards the hoop, draw fouls whenever possible, and take more quality shots in and around the basket. The team that has won the battle of points in the paint has emerged victorious in every game so far in this series, so expect that to be a key area of focus for the Heat once more.
In order for the Thunder to get back in this series, they simply must find a way to get their inside players to become more physical and more assertive on both the offensive and defensive side of the basketball. The defensive side in particular was one area that we pointed to as a potential weakness in this series, as if Miami was able to protect the area around the basket, win the battles on the glass, and produce more points in the paint, there would be too much extra scoring pressure applied on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. While these three stars have been the brunt of the Thunder offense, helping OKC to put up over 103.1 points per game on the season, they simply haven’t been able to do enough by themselves in this series, as Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have both struggled to collectively put up strong scoring numbers, and balance out the Heat scoring attack. While Perkins stepped up with a better night in Game 3 scoring 10 points with a team-high 12 rebounds, Ibaka was again a relative no-show, with 5 points and 5 rebounds. There is no question that Miami have locked into a defensive game plan to counter the Thunder’s high-scoring, fast-paced offense, so there is nothing left to do but demand a better showing from Ibaka tonight, with everything on the line in this series. Both Ibaka and Perkins must be in double figures scoring tonight, and be paramount to the Thunder taking an edge on rebounds and points in the paint. If the Thunder lose these two areas of the basketball game, they will be facing 3 straight opportunities for the Miami Heat to close out the series, and grab LeBron James his first title in South Beach.
Betting Lines for the Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder at Betonline Sportsbook.
Miami heads into Game 4 tonight with -160 odds to win straight up on the money. After 2 consecutive wins, and the Heat game plan honed around great defense at home, there will no doubt be plenty of takers backing the Heat to prevail for a 3rd straight series game. The Oklahoma City Thunder on the other hand come in as tempting +140 underdogs, as with their backs against the wall you can be sure they’ll throw everything on the court tonight to avoid the dreaded 3-1 series deficit.
Against the spread, the lines have moved even closer for tonight’s game, with 3 ½ points set as the mark for Miami to cover, and OKC to play with. Miami has covered the spread in the last two consecutive games, and with none of the three games thus far moving within 4 points, the 3 ½ points makes a wager on the Heat ATS very tempting.
For the total points line, the bookmakers have sucked in their belts a little bit furthe to offer 192 ½ points as the over/under. After Game 3’s defense-first approach, which led to just 176 points, it’s evident that the line is set to entice some over pickers to get back into the betting again, and it may be hard to pass up. With Miami almost guaranteed to put up a better shooting night, and with the Thunder looking to get back to their fast style of offense running the ball in every possession, this could be a reverse of the recent low-scoring trend in this series, and we’ll take a shot at the over bet tonight, hoping for a higher-intensity game with more at-will points being scored.