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The NBA Finals will resume Sunday as Miami and Oklahoma City will square off in a pivotal Game 3. The winner of this matchup will take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Heat held off the Thunder on Thursday and squeaked away with a 100-96 victory in Game 2 to even up the series. Oklahoma City had an opportunity to tie the game late but Kevin Durant’s jumper came up short and LeBron James sealed the victory with two free throws.
Some pundits believed Durant was fouled by James and he clearly was when you saw the replay but he still had a clean look and surprisingly it didn’t connect. James finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the win, plus he was a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line. Miami hasn’t been a great free throw shooting team (73%) in the playoffs but they knocked down 22-of-25 (88%) shots in Game 2.
The Thunder couldn’t buy a shot early in Game 2, missing 11 of their first 12 shots in the first quarter. Seven minutes into the game, OKC only had two points on the board. After finishing the first with 15 points, the offense closed with 28, 24 and 29 but for the second straight game, they put themselves in a bad spot. OKC shot 43 percent from the field and just 34 percent (9-of-26) from 3-point land. Also, they were just 73 percent (19-of-26) from the free throw line, which is poor when you look at their playoff average (83%).
|Miami has received great production from Shane Battier in the finals. (Getty Images)
OKC point guard Russell Westbrook took some heat again, for taking 26 shots and making 10 but when Durant is on the bench with five fouls, somebody has to take over and he did. After scoring just five points in Game 1, James Harden rebounded with 21 on Thursday and kept his team in the game during the first-half drought.
Westbrook and Harden’s production for OKC were countered with Miami’s output from Dwyane Wade (24 points) and Chris Bosh (16 points, 15 rebounds). The advantage in Game 2 for the Heat was their role players, in particular Shane Battier. The forward scored 17 points for the second straight game in the finals and is looking more like the player that stood out at Duke instead of a 33-year old veteran.
Most sportsbooks opened Miami as a four-point favorite for Game 3 and the number has held steady the past two days. The Heat did their job by earning the road split and that’s not an easy task according to VegasInsider.com expert Kevin Rogers.
He said, “Since 2005, this is only the third NBA Finals to be tied at one game apiece heading into Game 3 and it hasn’t been a good thing for team hosting Game 3. In the previous two instances, the road team has stolen Game 3, including Miami (2011) and Los Angeles (2010), as the Heat won at Dallas last June, 88-86 as 2 1/2-point underdogs.”
For those who forgot, Miami blew a huge lead at home in Game 2 of last year’s NBA Finals and the Mavericks earned the improbable road split. A lot of gamblers and experts wrote off the Heat in last year’s finals but they answered the bell, as Rogers mentioned above. Can Oklahoma City do the same thing?
Rogers dug up some solid trends on the Heat at home. “The Heat returns to South Florida owning a 24-6 straight up and 15-15 against the spread record at home off a win. Plus, Miami is 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in the playoffs in this situation,” explained Rogers.
Miami has gone 8-2 SU and 7-3 ATS at home in the playoffs and the majority of the eight wins was never in doubt, seven coming by nine points or more and the other by four. Also, the Heat went 8-1 SU and 7-2 ATS at home during the regular season versus the Western Conference, which includes a 98-93 win over OKC on Apr. 4 as three-point favorites.
Before you run to the counter or log into your account and back the Heat, be aware that the Thunder has been a tough team to fade on the road. Rogers argues that taking the points in Game 3 might be a sound investment. “Oklahoma City has done a solid job of bouncing back on the road off a loss, compiling a 7-3 record, both SU and ATS. However, one of those defeats came in Game 2 at San Antonio in the conference finals. The Thunder is 3-1-1 ATS in the postseason as a road underdog, but OKC has won only two of those five contests,” noted Rogers.
Overall, OKC has gone 4-3 SU and 5-1-1 ATS on the road in this year’s playoffs. Two of the three losses came by three points and the other by nine.
When you look at the home and away tendencies for both the Heat and Thunder, you should be scratching your head because you can easily argue for either side in Game 3.
Rather than beat yourself up over choosing a side, make yourself aware of other wagering options for Sunday. For instance, the team totals look real doable. Oklahoma City is sitting at 94 ½ points and it’s scored 95 or more in every playoff game on the road, plus it just put up 96 points in Game 2 and that was with a 15-point first quarter. Miami’s total is 98 ½ points and it has eclipsed that number in six of its 10 postseason games at home. If you do like the Heat, make a note that they’ve gone 9-0 in the playoffs when they break triple digits and more importantly, they’re 8-1 ATS in those games.
The two biggest proposition wagers receiving action at Sportsbook.ag are based on the best two players, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. For Game 3, you can bet ‘over’ or ‘under’ on each of their total points, rebounds and assists. Durant has a number of 40.5 and James is listed at 45. In the first two games, KD combined for 48 and 36, while LeBron totaled 43 and 45.
The ‘over/under’ for Game 2 opened as high as 195 but is now hovering between 193 and 194 points and most shops. Game 1 barely jumped ‘over’ and most total bettors got a push in Game 2, both numbers were helped by late shots, in particular free throws. Miami has seen the ‘over’ go 6-4 at home in the playoffs, while OKC has watched the ‘over’ produce a 5-2 mark in its seven road affairs.
Bettors following the adjusted series price have watched the odds move like a roller coaster so far. Prior to Game 1, Oklahoma City was a minus-165 series favorite (Bet $165 to win $100) over Miami and that number jumped to minus-280 (Bet $280 to win $100) after the victory in Game 1. Bettors could’ve taken the Heat as plus-260 underdogs (Bet $100 to $260) heading into the second battle. Now that the series is tied, Miami has been listed as a short favorite (-115) but that will obviously change after Sunday’s results.
ABC will provide coverage for tonight’s battle, which is expected to start at 8:05 p.m. ET.
Game 4 is scheduled for Tuesday and Game 5 is set for Thursday, both games played from American Airlines Arena. Make a note that since the NBA switched to a 2-3-2 format in the finals, only five teams have swept the middle three games and only two clubs accomplished the feat at home, one of them being Miami during its 2006 championship run.
Chris David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org