Daily Thunder

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:

Next up: Game 5 Thursday in Miami.

Author

Royce Young
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