The Heat still need two victories to vanquish the Thunder. And they’re more than aware of what they’re up against.
Because they also need two victories in these NBA Finals to vanquish the nightmares of last season’s NBA Finals.
When they also led 2-1.
And now, for the first time, they are at least acknowledging what has grown into a yearlong hangover.
A hangover that may prove to be the ultimate difference between an Oklahoma City team that is learning what they’re playing for and a Miami team that knows all too well what is at stake.
As the Heat looked ahead to Tuesday’s Game 4 of this series, they also looked back, acknowledging, perhaps for the first time, the lingering aftertaste of a series that has lingered these past 12 months.
“No question. Nothing is promised,” Dwyane Wade said. “You can’t always say we have next year, because you never know what can happen.
“Last year, I don’t know, we experienced enough as a unit to deal with what came at us, and it showed. This year, no matter what’s happening or no matter what happened, I feel like we’re a more experienced team, and it’s not saying that we want it more, I just feel like we understand the situations more, we can deal with it better. So that’s the biggest thing.”
For the Heat, it very much is a year-to-year thing, a Finals history that the Thunder lack.
“We come from The Finals from last year to this year, experience is not overrated at all,” Wade said. “[Sunday] that helped us win the ballgame. Last year we had leads in most games, and we let the leads go. [Sunday] we were down 10, and we kept grinding and kept grinding until eventually we took the lead and were able to control the game.”
No, in those moments, it wasn’t as if the Heat saw Kevin Durant as Dirk Nowitzki or Russell Westbrook as Jason Terry. But the muscle memory remained.
“Really, every day we remind ourselves, we think of that pain that we experienced last year,”
forward Chris Bosh said.
“But it hurts a lot worse when you’re not successful as opposed to, I guess, your lungs burning and your muscles burning from giving that extra effort. We carry that pain with us. We think about it every day, and that really helps us to succeed in this series.”
It has become a case of taking last June and making it better this June.
“I told you guys, last year I didn’t make enough game¿changing plays, and that’s what I kind of pride myself on,” LeBron James said amid a series of making just those types of plays. “I didn’t do that last year in The Finals. I’m just trying to make game¿changing plays, and whatever it takes for our team to win, just trying to step up in key moments and be there for my teammates.”
Yet too much dwelling on last year could lead to too much dwelling on what still could go wrong, the Heat never winning after taking a 2-1 lead in last season’s Finals.
“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing all year, and that’s focusing, staying in the moment, just focusing on each game is its own,” Wade said. “Game 1 is over, Game 2 is over, now Game 3 is over, and we move on.
“Our job now is protect our home floor as we’ve been doing all year. We were the best team all season with that. We’re not going to think about how we had the same situation last year.”