2012: Heat versus Thunder (LeBron’s First Ring)

Background

After their collapse in the 2011 NBA Finals, the Heat refocused and returned in 2012 as one of the frontrunners for the title. In the lockout-shortened regular season, LeBron James put up stellar numbers leading Miami to 46 wins and the number two seed, earning him his third league MVP award in the process. In the playoffs, the Heat easily defeated the New York Knicks and five games and faced the Indiana Pacers in the second round. Trailing the series 2-1 and missing an injured Chris Bosh, Miami pulled off three straight victories to again reach the Eastern Conference Finals, matched up against the Boston Celtics. The Heat led 2-0 but lost three straight games and faced elimination on the road. James put on a legendary performance in game six with 45 points and 15 rebounds while showing no emotion, and Miami won game seven at home to reach their second straight NBA Finals.

The Thunder came into existence after the Seattle SuperSonics relocated and changed the team name in 2008. With a high-scoring offense built around young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team came into the 2012 regular season looking to reach the NBA Finals after coming up short in the Western Conference Finals the previous season. Oklahoma City won 47 games and entered the playoffs as the number two seed. The team easily swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round–the team that had eliminated them the previous season–and beat the Los Angeles Lakers in a five-game semifinal. Facing a 2-0 deficit against number one seed San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder pulled off an impressive four straight wins to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in their new city holding home court advantage in the series.

Lineups

In the back court, the Heat started young point guard Mario Chalmers alongside All-Star shooting guard Dwyane Wade. League MVP LeBron James started at small forward in the front court with new starting power forward Shane Battier, having earned his spot in the playoffs, and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh at center.

Rookie point guard Norris Cole served as Chalmers’ backup at point guard, and Mike Miller was the first wing off the bench. James Jones provided further depth on the perimeter, and Udonis Haslem served as the first big man off the bench. Terrel Harris, Joel Anthony, Juwan Howard, and Ronny Turiaf played sparingly in the Finals.

The Thunder started high-flying point guard Russell Westbrook in the back court with defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha at shooting guard. Franchise star Kevin Durant started at small forward alongside shot-blocking power forward Serge Ibaka and former champion with the Celtics Kendrick Perkins at center.

Five-time champion Derek Fisher arrived mid-season to serve as the backup point guard for Oklahoma City, and James Harden earned the Sixth Man of the Year award as the first wing off the bench. Nick Collison functioned as the third big man on the roster, and Royal Ivey, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward, played few minutes in the Finals.

Game One: Heat 94, Thunder 105

The Heat led throughout the first three quarters, but despite holding a 13-point advantage in the first half could not pull away. At the end of the third quarter, Westbrook drove and converted a lay-up plus the foul to give the Thunder their first lead in the second half. Durant took over in the final period, scoring 17 of his game-high 36 points and helping secure a game one victory for Oklahoma City. Westbrook chipped in a near triple-double of 27/8/11 as the Thunder withstood James’ 30 points to lead Miami. Wade and Bosh both struggled from the field, and the Heat trailed the series 1-0.

Game Two: Heat 100, Thunder 96

The Heat raced out to an early 18-2 lead in a game two in which they never trailed. The Thunder rallied back in the second half and managed to pull within two in the final minute, but Durant missed a short jumper while trying to draw a foul. LeBron converted two foul shots on the other end, and Miami escaped with a victory to tie the series at 1-1. James led the Heat again with 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists, Wade came alive with 24 points to go along with Bosh’s double-double, and Battier hit five huge three’s. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden combined for a monster 80 points as the series moved to Miami.

Game Three: Thunder 85, Heat 91

Game three was another close contest that saw the Thunder build a ten-point lead in the third quarter before the Heat finished the period on a 7-0 run to reclaim the advantage. James scored eight of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter as Miami held on down the final stretch with clutch free throw shooting. Wade struggled shooting but scored 25 points, and Bosh delivered another double-double as Miami took a 2-1 lead. Durant was held to a relatively tame 25 points as Oklahoma City trailed for the first time in the series.

Game Four: Thunder 98, Heat 104

The Thunder came out on fire and led by as much as 17 in the first quarter, but a 16-0 run brought the Heat back early in the second. Late in the fourth quarter, LeBron left the game due to a leg cramp with Miami clinging to a small lead, and Oklahoma City quickly recaptured the lead in his absence. James returned and hit a clutch three to put the Heat ahead for good. The MVP delivered 26 points, 9 assists, and 12 rebounds, Wade scored 25 points, and Chalmers finished with a surprising 25 off his own. Westbrook was incredible with 43 points to go along with Durant’s 28, but the Thunder now faced a near-insurmountable 3-1 series deficit.

Game Five: Thunder 106, Heat 121

The Heat built a ten-point lead by halftime and exploded from downtown in game five, with Mike Miller hitting seven three’s–Miami tied a Finals record with 14 as a team and led by as much as 27 in the fourth quarter. Durant scored a game-high 32 points in the blowout loss as the Heat clinched the franchise’s second NBA championship. Wade and Bosh combined for 44 points, and LeBron tallied a triple-double with 26/11/13 and was named the Finals MVP in a performance that earned him his first career NBA title.

Aftermath

After their 2012 championship, Miami roared through the 2013 regular season to a league-best 66 wins including a win streak of 27 straight games, earning LeBron his second straight MVP award. In the playoffs, the Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks, beat the Chicago Bulls in five games, and outlasted the Indiana Pacers in a tough seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to reach the team’s third straight NBA Finals.

The Thunder surprised the league by trading sixth man James Harden to the Houston Rockets after their Finals loss to avoid paying a luxury tax. The team would remain contenders in the coming seasons, but injuries would keep Oklahoma City from reaching the NBA Finals again despite reaching the Western Conference Finals in Kevin Durant’s MVP season of 2014.

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