OKLAHOMA CITY - For months, we've heard the prattle.
LeBron James again had found his love for the game. The Heat would heed the lessons of their first Big Three season together and emerge stronger for the journey. The subtle free-agency addition of Shane Battier would make more than a subtle difference.
And yet they still couldn't push past the Bulls for the top seed in the East during the regular season, even with Derrick Rose often out.
Then Miami managed to fall behind the Pacers in the second round, and twice had to stave off elimination against the last-leg Celtics in the third round.
So yes, the Heat again arrived at the Finals one step from salvation, this time with James in possession of a third Most Valuable Player trophy.
But what we didn't know was what they would do in the ultimate moment, what they would do when a team just as talented would push back, and do it greater than Carmelo Anthony in the first round, David West in the second or Kevin Garnett in the third.
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The initial Finals sample hardly was heartening, Tuesday's 105-94 series-opening loss making it already look like another wait-for-next-year year for James.
Then came Thursday.
And then came the Thunder, a team too impetuous to know better than to give up, a team that four times this postseason already had overcome deficits of 13 points or more. Down 17 in the first half, down 15 in the third quarter, they did what they did to the Spurs. They went all Durant. And all Westbrook. And all Harden on the Heat.
The lead was dwindling. James was gassed. Dwyane Wade was committing one particularly horrifying turnover at midcourt, Chris Bosh fumbling a pass in the post.
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A year ago, the Heat melted against the Mavericks in that Game 2 and in that series. It was a game that exposed the Heat's Big Three as a team not up to the moment or the challenge. A week later, they were finished, banished to an offseason of lockout purgatory and then these past six months of lingering doubt.
But then flash back to Thursday, when the lead kept dwindling, the doubts kept rising, a season quite possibly about to slip away, considering only three teams have ever overcome 0-2 deficits in the Finals.
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