NEW YORK, (Reuters) – LeBron James woke from a third-quarter slumber to lead the visiting Miami Heat to an 87-70 thumping of the New York Knicks on Thursday and a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series.
Miami dealt the Knicks a record-setting 13th successive playoff defeat dating back to April 2001 and put themselves on the brink of reaching the second round. No NBA team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs.
In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder left the defending champion Mavericks on the verge of being swept after crushing them 95-79 in Dallas to lead 3-0 in their series.
Kevin Durant led the way with 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting for the Thunder whose lead was cut to 50-45 early in the third quarter before they broke the game wide open with a torrent of three-pointers.
Russell Westbrook finished with 20 points and Serge Ibaka with 10 points and 11 rebounds as Oklahoma City shot 42 percent from the field while holding their opponents to 34 percent.
“We knew these guys were tough here in their building, they have so many great players,” Durant told reporters. “But we just wanted to come out with a sense of urgency on both ends, and we did a great job.” Game Four is in Dallas today
In New York, James sat out the last seven-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter after picking up his fourth personal foul in a ferocious defensive struggle at Madison Square Garden that Miami led 58-56 going into the final quarter.
Two three-pointers and a follow-up from under the basket, all from James, powered the Heat to a 10-point lead after 89 seconds of the fourth quarter, which they blew out to 15 to put the game out of reach.
“I just wanted to make plays and help our team win,” James said of his explosive return to the court.
James led the Heat with 32 points, including 17 in the final stanza, and Dwyane Wade added 20, with 10 in the third quarter to carry Miami in James’s absence.
New father Chris Bosh, who left New York to be with his wife Adrienne in Miami for the birth of their child and returned just before the game, contributed nine points and 10 rebounds.
Before his fourth-quarter burst, James had a frustrating game, committing eight turnovers in an ugly offensive showing from both clubs as players had a hard time dealing with the clawing defense played.
“It was a good team win,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Coaches like those kinds of wins, when you are not necessarily playing well, and certain parts of the game were ugly.”
Struggling even more was New York’s premier scorer, Carmelo Anthony, who shot a woeful seven-of-23 from the floor to lead the losers with 22 points. “They’re loading up on him, they’re doubling him and forcing him to take jump shots,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said about the pressure put on Anthony. “Their defense was awfully good. Got to give them credit.”
The Knicks shot a miserable 31.9 percent from the floor, and James said the Heat’s game ball went to forward Shane Battier for the job he did covering Anthony.
The undermanned Knicks, playing without Amar’e Stoudemire who badly cut his left hand after hitting a fire extinguisher case in anger after New York’s Game Two loss, must now sweep four games to advance against last year’s NBA Finals runner-up.
Game Four will be played at the Garden tomorrow.