OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — LeBron James had received plenty of help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and now he had to finish it on his own.
With what Wade called the loudest crowd he’d ever heard booing, certain James had just fouled Kevin Durant, the league’s MVP walked to the free throw line with 7.1 seconds left and the Miami Heat’s huge lead down to two points.
The guy who has endured too many fourth-quarter failures wasn’t letting another NBA Finals game get away.
James made both free throws, completing a 12-for-12 performance at the line and a 32-point night, and the Heat held on for a 100-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night that evened the series at one game apiece.
“On a big stage like this in a big game like this, every point counts, every point matters. So you go to the free throw line, no matter how hostile the environment, and try to knock them down,” James said.
“Like I said, I’m happy that I was able to go up there and make a few plays, go up there and make my free throws. We needed it. We needed every point tonight.”
Wade rebounded from a poor opener to add 24 points and Bosh had 16 points and 15 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup for the Heat, who needed a big night from their Big Three to snap a four-game finals losing streak with their first victory since Game 3 against Dallas last year.
“It’s been so long since we’ve had them all together,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “They played like the All-Stars that they are and that’s the effort that we need.”
Now they go home to host Game 3 on Sunday and the next two after that, knowing they don’t have to hear the noisy Thunder fans again — not to mention all their critics — if they win all three.
Miami blew a 13-point lead in Game 1 and seemed headed toward a repeat of the second game of the finals last year, when it blew a 15-point edge on its home floor.
Not this time.
“This is a good team and we didn’t want to be down 2-0,” Bosh said. “We know in order to accomplish our goal, we have to win on the road. We’re a good road team. We’ve done it before. They posed a great challenge because they haven’t lost up until today. But we felt that we let one get away and we felt that we could play a much, much better game in Game 2.”
Durant scored 32 points for the Thunder, but missed a short jumper with 9.9 seconds left after appearing to be bumped by James. The basket would have tied a game the Thunder trailed the entire way.
Oklahoma City’s explosive point guard Russell Westbrook finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but shot 10 of 26 from the field.
James Harden tried to keep the Thunder in it early and finished with 21 points, but this time the Thunder couldn’t come back from a double-digit deficit after spotting Miami a 17-point advantage during their worst first half of the season.
“That was the game. We can’t start off down 18-2,” Durant said. “We can’t go down that much, especially at home. We’ve got to correct it.”
It was the first home loss in 10 postseason games for the Thunder, who have trailed by double digits in their last three games.
James had what was his career high, 30 points, in the opener, but afterward said Wade needed to be Wade — All-Star, Olympic gold medalist and finals MVP.
In Game 1, Wade was 7 of 19. He wasn’t sharp in the last round and continues to hear reports that something is physically wrong with him. He was all but asked Wednesday if his explosiveness was a thing of the past, what must have been insulting to a player who, though 30, still believes he’s not far from the top of the game.
Wade bounced back in a big way, not quite at the level he was as the 2006 finals MVP, but certainly good enough with the help around him now for the Heat to win another one.
“Just know that I’m always going to keep coming back until I don’t play this game no more,” Wade said. “I know my abilities, I know what I’m capable of and it was good.”
He spun into the lane and found Bosh for a dunk that seemed to have the Heat safe at 98-91 inside the final minute, but a 3-pointer by Durant cut it to 98-96 with 37 seconds left. After James missed a 3-pointer, the Thunder got the ball into Durant, who appeared to be knocked off balance by James as he missed the baseline shot attempt.
Durant said only that he missed the shot, saying he would have to watch the tape to see if he was fouled.
Bosh started after coming off the bench in every game since returning late last round from his nine-game absence with a strained lower abdominal muscle. The Big Three joined Battier and Mario Chalmers in the lineup, the first time Miami had gone with that first five all season.
It sent the Heat on their way to a terrific start, and Battier matched his surprising 17-point performance in Game 1 by going 5 of 7 from 3-point range, providing all the help the superstar trio needed.
James had his fifth straight 30-point game, breaking Wade’s franchise playoff record, and added eight rebounds. He defended Durant early and helped put the league’s scoring champion in foul trouble, just one of the problems the Thunder had early.
Another loud, blue and white crowd tried to inspire them to rally, but Durant and company never got close until the final minutes.
Durant nailed a 3-pointer and drove into the lane to throw down a dunk over Battier that cut it to 82-74 with 8:22 remaining. His 3-pointer from the wing trimmed it to 90-86, and the Thunder got it all the way to 94-91 when Westbrook dunked Durant’s miss with 1:48 to go.
James answered by banking in a jumper for his first basket of the final period, as the Big Three combined for all but one of Miami’s seven field goals in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder missed 11 of their first 12 shots, and when James capped a run of 13 straight Miami points with a basket, it was 18-2 with 4:51 remaining in the period.
Coach Scott Brooks had talked to his team about its poor starts and told the Thunder during a first-quarter timeout that the Heat were playing harder than they were. The Heat kept it up, pushing it to 25-8 on Wade’s jumper with 2:39 left.
“We kept missing good shots,” Thunder forward Serge Ibaka said. “We can do better.”
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