Thunder back themselves to elimination in Game 4, 104-98

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Russell Westbrook played one of the most inspiring games I’ve ever seen in my life.

But it had to end that way. Because it’s Russell Westbrook. And it just never goes easy for him, it seems.

He didn’t just give 43 points. He gave every single bit he possibly had inside of that body that I think is made out of iron, gunpowder and tequila. He’s 190 pounds of heart.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player play harder than that, give more than that, lay it all out like that. He tried, man. The Thunder were beginning to slip multiple times, but every time — every time — Oklahoma City had to find points or otherwise watch Game 4 get away, Westbrook showed up with a basket. He did exactly what he always says he does. He played his game, played his style and didn’t change.

But it was his mental error with 13 seconds left and OKC down three that a lot of people are going to be talking about. A jump ball with 0.8 on the shot clock had James Harden and Udonis Haslem squaring off and when Miami won it (five seconds were put back on the clock), Westbrook had Mario Chalmers in the corner and bailed him out with a foul. It was a mistake, and one Westbrook realizes and takes responsibility for.

“It was just a miscommunication on my part,” Westbrook said. “Nothing I can do about it now.”

Westbrook’s foul was bad, but keep in mind: There’s no guarantee as to what was happening next. No guarantee OKC secures the rebound, no guarantee the Thunder hit a 3, heck, no guarantee Chalmers prayer doesn’t go unanswered. This game was about a whole lot more than that, and like Westbrook said, nothing can change it now.

Regardless of the foul, Westbrook’s effort and intensity is largely what kept OKC close. If Durant had played that game, the entire world would be drooling over everything. I’m pretty sure today you would’ve gotten off work because of an impromptu national Kevin Durant Day holiday. Instead, it’s Westbrook so for whatever reason people like me are forced to sit here and defend a 43-point, seven-rebound, five-assist game for some reason. Westbrook was even asked if he felt vindicated with his performance.

“No. Let me get this straight. What you guys say doesn’t make me happy, doesn’t make me sad. Doesn’t do anything,” Westbrook said. “It’s all about my team and us winning a game. I don’t have a personal challenge against you guys, and it’s not me against the world. It’s not the world against me. It’s me and my teammates trying to win.”

Between Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Thunder got 71 points, but only 27 points from the rest of the roster. That’s a problem. James Harden disappeared yet again, missed a big layup on a fast break, shot 2-10 for a second straight game. Westbrook’s foul was horrible, but the Thunder lost this game well before that. Up 94-92 with 4:20 left, and possession, it looked like OKC was taking control of a tight game. Westbrook cooking, Durant starting to, and the Heat on their heels with LeBron off the floor battling leg cramps.

But a bad Westbrook turnover where he dribbled it off his foot followed by a Chris Bosh layup, a missed jumper from Russ and then LeBron going Baby Willis on everyone with a massive 3 completely swung the game. The Thunder clawed back as they often do, but the damage was done. And like Games 2 and 3, a few plays went the other way and it’s left the Thunder wondering what-if.

Game 4 was about as much of a frantic whirlwind of 48 minutes as I can ever remember seeing. The Thunder’s energy and effort to begin the game was incredible as they punched the Heat hard out of the gate. OKC held a 33-16 lead, but a Norris Cole 3 to end the first set off a 16-0 Miami run that put them right back in the game.

Plain and simple, Miami got production from unexpected places, the Thunder did not. Mario Chalmers scored 25 points. James Jones, Shane Battier and Norris Cole combined for 15. The Thunder didn’t. Westbrook tried to carry OKC with a heroic performance, Durant did his thing.

It wasn’t enough. The Thunder gave the Heat about as good a shot as they good, and it wasn’t enough.

Considering where things stood a week ago after the Thunder kicked off The Finals with a lovely 11-point win, it’s startling to think it could all end Thursday. It’s hard to imagine this OKC team finding it within to fight like this again, because they very clearly put so much into this game. To me, this series is mirroring last season’s Western Conference finals. Good enough to win, but mistakes, bad breaks and some great performances on the other side are preventing it from happening.

Remember, it’s just one of three. So far the Thunder are 0-2. Win once and it’s back to OKC with a chance to force Game 7 at home. It’s far too early to call this over. I would never expect this Thunder team to roll over. And they won’t on Thursday. They’ll fight. They’ll claw. They’ll battle. But I’m just not sure if they’re good enough.

NOTES:

  • Nick Collison: 17 minutes. This does not make sense to me.
  • Before this series, Harden had scored in single digits four times the entire season. In The Finals thus far, it has happened in three of the four games. He hasn’t shown up. And it’s killed OKC.
  • Westbrook took 32 shots — 13 more than Durant — and nobody has a word to say about it. That’s how good Russ was. If you’re complaining about Westbrook after this one, you’re hopeless. The guy is a star among stars. He has every bit the right to take 32 shots when it’s cooking as anyone else in the league.
  • I got my wish with a Westbrook, Harden, Thabo, Durant, Ibaka lineup. It only was on the floor for a few minutes, but was a +1.
  • Scott Brooks’ love affair with Derek Fisher is haunting the Thunder again. He attempted only one shot, and it was a horrible runner in the lane that was swatted into oblivion.
  • Part of the reason Westbrook attempted 32 shots is because the Heat were able to easily deny Durant the ball. That’s been an issue for OKC in the past, and it’s been one lately. He’s not getting the ball on the move, instead trying to isolate, but is getting shoved way out on the perimeter. Fact is, Battier (and LeBron) are allowed to be hyperphysical with Durant, and it makes it tough for him to get the ball.
  • The Heat took their postgame swag to a new level. Wade wore flip-up sunglasses and LeBron wore Jerry’s puffy shirt.
  • Hey, at least they didn’t miss free throws.
  • Westbrook’s 43-7-5 put him alongside Shaq and Michael Jordan as the only three with that kind of line in the NBA Finals.
  • Thabo had a pretty good look at a game-tying 3 with 1:05 left and either it was deflected, or he shot it off the side of the backboard. If that had been Derek Fisher on the floor and not Thabo, I would’ve bet my plane ticket home that thing was going in. Like anyone else, Fisher played too much, but you can understand Brooks’ reasoning when you’re looking for big shots like that.
  • There were lots of Thunder fans in the building. Pretty impressive.
  • Mario Chalmers said he took exception to OKC trying to hide Durant on him: “Yeah, I took that as a little sign of disrespect. For me I worked too hard to be in the position I’m in now. Even though my offense wasn’t clicking three games in the series, I wanted to step up for my team, and I was able to do that.”
  • Only time I’ve ever seen KD more down was after Game 4 against the Mavs. He looked defeated. Don’t blame him. That’s a brutal loss right there.
  • Yep, the officials blew some again tonight and the Thunder got the short end, but most of the time, if you’re good enough to win, you overcome it. The Thunder had opportunities to, and they didn’t take advantage. I would love to spend the next 24 hours crying about it, but what’s the point.
  • Perk: “I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did, with the lineup that we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on. So they won the last three quarters, and that’s what happened.”
  • As others noted, Westbrook played virtually the same game we’ve always seen from him. Nothing really changed with his approach. He was aggressive, attacked and looked for his own. Difference was, shots went in. Russ may not feel vindicated, but I kind of do.
  • I’m emotionally spent. I have probably about 1,000 more words worth of thoughts on this game, but I’m worn out. I’m not even sure I can get up for Thursday’s game. I don’t know how the players will.

Next up: Game 5 Thursday in Miami.

Author