So what happens? James makes his free throws. All four of them in the fourth quarter, all 12 in the game.
And he steps up to the defensive challenge on Kevin Durant on the game's decisive sequence, with 9.9 seconds to play. Did he foul Durant on that running jumper? Heck yeah. Was a foul called? Heck no.
Why? Because maybe it finally is turning, the very type of game the Heat bungled to Nowitzki and the Mavericks a year ago this time going the Heat's way. James rebounded that Durant miss, stepped up to the line and made a pair of free throws with 7.1 seconds left to close the scoring in the 100-96 victory, the type of free throws he previously would rim out, at least one, leaving the door open for a team that had drained three 3-pointers already in the period.
Was this heroic LeBron? Not really. He shot 1 of 4 in that fourth quarter. He glared at teammates for their mindless turnovers. He looked positively drained at the finish.
And he ultimately found himself back in the same spot he stood a year ago, tied 1-1 in the Finals.
In that sense, little has changed. It was after Game 2 a year ago that the Heat began to take on the look of a team grasping for answers, Big Three cockiness about to give way to desperation.
Even now, with the Heat playing as the road team a year later, it would take victories in all three middle games to avoid returning to, arguably, the loudest NBA arena ever. Thursday was the Thunder's first home loss of this postseason. It would be hard to bank on another.
NBA finals: Heat def. Thunder 4-1
Winderman: LeBron James has been a prodigy, superstar and villain. And now he's champion. The journey has left the league and Finals MVP humbled and happy for those closest to him.
Last year's Finals went six games and these Finals look as if they'll go at least as long.
Last year's Finals ended with James exiting as villain, mocking Nowitzki's flu before one loss and then the menial existences of many after the season's final loss.
But this LeBron and these Heat and this series look different.
With the Thunder battling from 13 back to win Game 1 and then almost making it from 17 back Thursday, this will be a series where the focus, rightfully so, will be on the winner.
And after Thursday night, when he absorbed the best shots of Durant and still found a way for his team to come out ahead, that winner just might be LeBron.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.
PBT: San Antonio found what worked and it’s on the Grizzlies to raise their level enough in Game 2 in San Antonio on Tuesday to get a split in the series.
PBT: San Antonio executed its game plan well in Game 1, shutting down Grizzlies star Zach Randolph.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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