Updated: June 15, 2012, 10:07 AM ET

1. LeBron, Durant Pen Thrilling Chapter

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- For a few prized minutes Thursday night, players, coaches and officials operating in the most intense environment in their profession shared a collective feeling with millions of die-hard fans, vengeful gazers and casual bystanders: a state of emotional annihilation.

Game 2 of the NBA Finals not only ranked high on the charts for intensity but also had dueling stars creating history and clutch moments spliced with drama and controversy.

When the Miami Heat stumbled off the floor with a 100-96 victory, they were a bit of a wreck, drained by the energy expended in a series-evening win. The Oklahoma City Thunder were spitting mad, upset they'd let a chance to corner the Heat on their home floor, where they'd previously been invincible, after an inexplicable flat start.

LeBron James
Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire

Thunder fans were furious, booing the referees off the floor because they felt they'd been wronged by a late no-call. We can assume Heat fans were overcome with relief and emboldened that their team had just grabbed momentum and home-court advantage.

Meanwhile, the rest of the basketball-watching public, from the new Thunder fans in Ohio to the new Heat fans in Seattle, exhaled and realized what sort of ride they could be in for with potentially five more exhilarating games over the next two weeks.

In brief, there was something for everyone and one more common theme: No one can wait for Game 3 Sunday night in Miami.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant, it appears, seem determined to make their duel live up to the hype and render this series as one of the all-time greats. Dwyane Wade seems to want to continue to crash and rise throughout the postseason like his old Converse commercial. Russell Westbrook seems to want to confound viewers with brilliance and frustrate them with mistakes. And so on and so on.

The James-Durant dynamic was most profound in Game 2. Creating additional gray area for everyone to debate, James managed to completely flip the script on his Finals persona in a way that provided maximum drama. And Durant assured that he'll be in the Heat players' dreams for the next several nights after he nearly led a breathtaking late charge with the mix of force and ease that no one else in the game has.

For starters, James executed the two biggest clutch moments of his Finals career. One came with 1:26 left in the game and the Heat up three points when he banked in a jumper from the wing over Thabo Sefolosha. There were four seconds on the shot clock, with the Thunder and their manic crowd assaulting James and his team. Search the files, you won't find a bigger or more pressure-spiked shot that James has made in the championship round.

"It was a broken play," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And he did what great players do, they create something out of nothing. It was a heck of a shot."

Then, after a wild sequence that nearly changed the game's outcome, James stepped to the foul line and made two free throws with seven seconds left that clinched the game. It finished off a 32-point night where he went 12-of-12 at the foul line. Up until that point, James had been 10-of-17 on free throws in one-possession games in the final minute this season. It didn't show on his face or in his stroke.

"On a big stage like this, in a big game like this, every point counts," James said. "So you go to the free throw line, no matter how hostile the environment, and try to knock them down. You live with your routine."

This was balanced, however, by breakdowns at the defensive end by James that almost cost the Heat the game. Anyone who has followed James for any part of his career knows this is usually the opposite. James traditionally masks offensive shortcomings in the clutch with tremendous defense.

Although Durant had more than a little something to do with it. He scored 16 of his 32 points in another fourth-quarter rally that he has turned into an art form during the Thunder's playoff run. He mounted this one with five fouls, taking away some of his ability to drive but not dulling his ability to nearly to crush the Heat with his relentless scoring talent.

Last year Miami blew a 15-point lead in Game 2 of the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. This year the Thunder, down 13 points early in the fourth quarter and seven points with 53 seconds left, nearly did it to them again. Part of it was because James twice got beat by Durant on side-out-of-bounds plays in the final minute, finding himself out of position against the greatest scorer in the league on consecutive possessions.

On the last one, with less than 15 seconds to play, James appeared to get away with contact on Durant after he'd been caught sleeping on the inbounds pass. Durant didn't get the whistle but ultimately had a clean look from about five feet with James unable to contest. Durant missed a shot he probably makes the vast majority of the time, the only blemish Durant had in the fourth quarter when he'd spectacularly made three 3-pointers and a driving dunk that took the crowd's breath.

"I missed the shot," said Durant, declining to discuss the contact from James on the play. "I think I shot a good shot. That's a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed."

When you take stock of the situation, it's difficult to clear the head of that possibly game-deciding moment. Two games into the Finals, James and Durant each have two 30-point games, and both have been the definitive reason their teams got their respective wins. There couldn't be a more satisfactory way to end up determining a champion, with the players who finished 1-2 in the most valuable player voting controlling the outcomes under pressure at the end.

Westbrook had 27 points, nine in the fourth quarter as the driver of the comeback effort, even though many felt he was a major reason the Heat had built a 17-point first-half lead the Thunder could never overcome. Wade had only five more points in Game 2 (24) than when he was dubbed the Miami malefactor in Game 1. But by going 10-of-20 and being a factor from the start, Wade got himself off the hook.

That swapping of roles between Wade and Westbrook illustrates the fervency of this series and how tight the gap is between being celebrated and being blamed. That's the way it looks like it's going to be in these NBA Finals, immense expectations with only the slightest margin for error because of the nature of the two teams taking part.

The Heat showed remarkable resilience and discipline, turning around the statistical tallies in rebounding, fast-break points and points in the paint, which the Thunder dominated in Game 1. Despite getting his shot blocked several times, James continued to attack the rim throughout the game. Even Spoelstra stuck to his promises, expanding his rotation and giving James rests in both the first and second halves, allowing James to play his fewest minutes in his past nine playoff games.

Yet had Shane Battier not banked in a miracle 3-pointer and a James Jones' runner not caromed around the rim three times before falling in the fourth quarter, the Heat probably would be down 0-2. And the Thunder probably feel that a friendly whistle or Westbrook missing a mere 14 shots instead of 16 would have allowed them to pull off their fourth massive comeback of the playoffs.

"This is going to probably be like this every game," Spoelstra said. "That's the beauty of competition at this level."

That's just where this series is. Isn't it passionate? Isn't it stressful? Isn't it wonderful?


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