The Oklahoma City Thunder got an epic performance from Russell Westbrook. They ran out to a huge early lead. They watched LeBron James get carried off the court in the fourth quarter, and took the lead shortly after he departed.
Somehow, it still was not enough as they lost Game 4 of the NBA finals to the Miami Heat on Tuesday, slipping to a 3-1 series deficit and needing to win the next three in a row to take the title.
Even after getting 43 points from Westbrook, 28 more from Kevin Durant and staking themselves to a 17-point lead by the time the first quarter was over, Oklahoma City lost 104-98 and are now officially on the brink.
“I can guarantee this,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We have fight in us.”
Game 5 is in Miami today, where the Heat can capture the NBA title that they were assembled to get two years ago.
History says the Thunder are now in deep, deep trouble. No team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. No team has even forced a Game 7 when faced with that scenario.
Westbrook took 32 shots, as many as James and Chris Bosh tried combined. He made 20 — half of Oklahoma City’s field goals on the night — and finished with seven rebounds and five assists as well. For a guard who struggled so much so many times against Miami, it was a breakout night that the Thunder desperately needed.
“Russell was terrific tonight,” Brooks said. “The guy played relentless. He was aggressive. He kept us in this game and he gave us a chance to win.”
“He was tremendous tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
What they also needed was to take advantage of that tremendous night — and that did not happen, largely because Miami made sure Oklahoma City only had two options by night’s end.
“It’s not me against the world, it’s not the world against me,” Westbrook said, when asked if his night silenced critics. “It’s me and my teammates trying to win.”
There was one huge blip in Westbrook’s night, and it was a play that helped the Heat seal the outcome. After a jump ball with 17.3 seconds remaining and five seconds left on the shot clock, Westbrook fouled Chalmers as the shot clock was dwindling down. Chalmers made both free throws, the lead was five, and 20,003 Heat fans in the building knew their team was moments from a 3-1 series lead.
“Just a miscommunication on my part,” Westbrook said. “Nothing I can do about it now.”
Durant’s mother grabbed him by both arms as he walked off the floor, hugging him and then using her right hand to turn his face back toward her, trying her best to console the scoring champion. The Thunder were up 33-16, Durant and Westbrook were scoring at will and Durant threw the Heat an early curve ball by opening the game guarding Chalmers, the Heat point guard.
Perhaps he should have stayed on Chalmers, given how good he was in the second half.
For the final 16-plus minutes, the Thunder were reduced to playing 2-on-5 basketball. Serge Ibaka made a jumper with 4 minutes 46 seconds left in the third quarter, cutting Miami’s lead to 68-66.
After that, it was either all Westbrook or all Durant, all the time.
“We just have to stay together,” center Kendrick Perkins said. “It’s not over.”
The stars were superb, again, just not superb enough to take down Miami. After that Ibaka jumper, no other Thunder player besides the team’s two superstars scored a point.