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James, Heat prevail in Finals rematch

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- There's a good chance the NBA's 2013 MVP was inside AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday, and for one night at least, LeBron James showed he is worthy of retaining the award.

James had 29 points, eight rebounds and nine assists as the Miami Heat won an intense battle between the two top teams in the NBA, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-97 Tuesday night.

James won his duel with Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who had 33 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

"I'm tired as hell right now," James said afterward. "I guarded (Durant) the whole game, and I still had to make plays for our team offensively. That's what my calling is -- I love to play defense just as much as I love to play offense."

James said he could tell there was intensity in the game right from the start. Proof of that could be found in the five technical fouls -- three on the Thunder -- and one near fight.

"That's how the game goes when you want to win so bad," Durant said. "Unfortunately, we got some techs and we lost the game."

The game set a Heat home attendance record with 20,300.

Miami (19-6) won its fifth game in a row, improving to 14-2 at home. The Thunder (21-6) lost their second in a row after a franchise-best, 12-game win streak was snapped Thursday in a 99-93 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Heat led 96-92 before Durant made one of two free throws with 1:07 left. Durant added a dunk with 44 seconds remaining to make it 96-95. With 18 seconds to go, a James pass found Chris Bosh alone under the basket for a dunk.

Durant then hit a mid-range jumper with 15 seconds left, slicing Miami's lead to 98-97. The Thunder fouled Ray Allen, and he made two free throws to put the Heat back up by three.

On Oklahoma City's final sequence, Durant missed a 3-pointer, which was contested by James.

"It was on line," Durant said of his shot. "When somebody puts a hand up, I just see the rim. I practice off-balance shots all the time. It looked good."

After the miss, Thunder forward Kendrick Perkins kept the play alive with a rebound and a pass to guard Russell Westbrook, who missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left.

"It was a scrambled play," Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said. "I love that 'Perk' got us that extra possession. We missed the shot, but we don't make excuses. We played a heck of a team, and we played a heck of a game."

Following Westbrook's miss, Bosh grabbed the rebound and was fouled. The Heat added three free throws, including one on a technical foul called against Westbrook, who thought he was fouled on his final shot.

For the game, the Thunder got to the free-throw line 38 times, making 32 (84.2 percent). The Heat made 19 of 19 at the line.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was not upset with the foul discrepancy, saying the Thunder earned their trips to the line.

"They are relentless," Spoelstra said. "They continue to attack, and if you are out of position, you will foul."

The Heat and Thunder, who entered the day with the best records in their conferences, met for the first time since Miami beat Oklahoma City in the 2012 NBA Finals.

Tuesday's game was electric from the start, and James and Durant each picked up a first-quarter technical foul.

With 10:52 left in the game, Westbrook got free for a potential breakaway layup, but he was fouled from behind by the Heat's Shane Battier.

Westbrook landed hard and took exception. Both teams rushed to the spot under the basket were Westbrook was fouled, and Miami's Dwyane Wade and Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka emerged with technical fouls after shoves were exchanged.

"I thought me and Shane made a good play on the ball," Wade said. "The way (Westbrook) hit the back stand made it look like more than it was. But there were no hard feelings after that. Ibaka was coming to defend his teammates, and same here."

The game was very physical overall. Allen took a hard shot to his right shoulder late in the fourth quarter, but he stayed in the game.

Wade left the game in the third quarter due to leg cramps before returning. He finished with 21 points in 38 minutes.

Heat point guard Mario Chalmers added a season-high 20 points.

Westbrook scored 21 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.

In the end, though, James was the difference. He scored more than 20 points for the 30th consecutive regular-season game and the 46th straight game overall.

"I thought our bigs did a good job on (James)," Brooks said. "You can't challenge his shots any better than we did."

NOTES: Bosh, who missed the Heat's previous game on Saturday due to the flu, was back in the starting lineup Tuesday. He had 16 points and eight rebounds. ... Shooting guard Kevin Martin, who missed the Thunder's previous game Thursday at Minnesota due to a right thigh contusion, returned to action against the Heat. He came off the bench to score 15 points. ... Spoelstra said the Thunder is better in some ways than last season, even without the traded James Harden. "They are defending at a higher level," Spoelstra said. "The ball is in Westbrook and Durant's hands more. When you have the ball in their hands more, that becomes a challenge." ... James committed a foul in the first quarter, the first time he was whistled in 254 minutes. ... Brooks on James: "He has a chance to be the MVP for the next 10 years." ... Up next, the Thunder return home to face the Dallas Mavericks (12-6) on Thursday. ... The Heat will have to guard against a letdown when they play the Bobcats (7-20) in Charlotte on Wednesday. The Heat lost earlier this month on the road against the Washington Wizards, who are an NBA-worst 3-22.
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