The NBA Dribbled Out

Game 4: Oklahoma City at Miami

By now you’ve heard of Miami’s victory; all but assuring them a title by going up 3-1 with another game at home and—failing that—two more games on the road to clinch. I just want to give Russell Westbrook a hug and protect him from the infamy he achieved last night. While it wasn’t quite Webber-ian in scope, it still dripped with confusion and angst and was the wrong play at the biggest moment in the game. A moment that could have only transpired with Westbrook playing the playoff game of his life.

Only Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal have scored 43 points with at least 7 rebounds and 5 assists in an NBA Finals game; that’s exclusive company Russ just joined, but both MJ and Shaq won their games. Coincidentally, yesterday was the 24th anniversary of Isiah Thomas’ 43 points in a game 6 Finals loss against the Lakers in 1988. As Russ said in the post-game, “it really doesn’t mean nothing, we didn’t come out with the win,” and that’s exactly right. I just wish I could write a post that affirms how incredible he was last night instead of adding the caveat about the foul on Chalmers.

His offensive fireworks, after continuously taking whichever man was guarding him to the bucket, got followed up by the foolish foul on Chalmers, down 3 with under 5 seconds on the shot clock and only 13 seconds left in the game. It was the lone flub during a pantheon-level game. Westbrook’s game 4 is a microcosm for all the abuse he’s gotten from the media during these Finals. It’s the duality of his struggles that everyone’s been writing about, so it makes sense he’d drop 40+ and also make a bone-headed foul in the closing seconds. It makes sense, but it’s really tough too. It’s tough because anybody that loves basketball loves Russell Westbrook and what he does. I just wish he had escaped the game without that disappointment. I hope his Thunder teammates stay supportive because he made 20 field goals, and that’s how many field goals the entire rest  of the Thunder team hit.

So how did we get to Russ’ unfortunate foul on Chalmers? Well, that’s almost as bizzare as the play itself. I write bizzare because I have no idea what was going through LeBron James’ mind after he left the game with 5:48 remaining and the Heat up 2. He had fallen and lost the ball, but got back on his feet and hit a grimacing set shot from 7 feet before going to the bench. He didn’t go to the bench with 6 fouls, but with leg cramps. Leg cramps? After LeBron left, Durant hit a pair of free throws to tie the game, and then hit a smooth jumper to put the Thunder ahead 94-92 with 4:20 to play.

James, to his credit, checked back into the game for James Jones at this point, but you could tell he was hobbled. He was gingerly walking around, and if you were a Heat fan, you had to be worried; especially considering no one could stop Russell Westbrook. After LeBron returned, Wade found Bosh for a lay-up with 3:42 left to tie the score 94-all. Westbrook finally missed an off-balance jumper and it was Heat ball.

With under three minutes remaining and the shot clock about to expire, ‘Bron found himself—barely able to stand and certainly unable to cut—with the ball at the top of the key. He dribbled a couple times to get some space and then launched a 3-pointer.

The bold 3 on his cramped legs gave the Heat the lead again, and Wade made it a 5-point lead after stealing the ball from Durant and hitting a lay-up on the other end. Russ came right back and made a lay-up to cut the lead to 3 again. This is when I realized James was really not hydrated enough, and it wasn’t just a facade to avoid the big moment. He had his big moment. 

LeBron shot another 3 from the short corner and came up with nothing but air. After seeing that, I realized: that’s a guy that shouldn’t be on the court. After Wade rushed Sefolosha into missing a 3, James Jones entered for LeBron with 55 seconds left and the Heat clinging to a 3-point lead. Coach Spoelstra said in his post-game presser

That 3 was just sheer will and competitiveness, but it got to the point where it was just 4 on 5 and we had to make a change. He wanted to go back in, but it became obvious that he would hurt us if he went back out there.” 

But the game wasn’t won yet. The Heat’s star, LeBron James, was back on the bench with under a minute to play, and Westbrook aching to get the ball back. The Heat needed a score, so who did they turn to? Mario, or “Rio,” as Wade called him after the game, came through in the clutch, catching a pass from Wade as he was going to the hole and swooping past Ibaka’s out-stretched arm to hit a lay-in with 44 seconds left.

Obviously Russ, in true warrior fashion, came right back and hit a short pull-up to again cut the Heat lead to 3. On the ensuing possession, Wade missed a short jumper and the scramble for the ball saw Harden and Haslem both end up with it. The jump-ball between them got tipped to Westbrook, but Shane Battier (the absolute best at this) tipped it again to Chalmers, which is when Russ—unfortuntaely— fouled him. Chalmers would hit 3 of 4 free throws in the last 15 seconds to finish with 25 points and help the Heat clinch game 4.

There is a whole lot more to write about this game and this series, so get ready for some posts this afternoon and tonight because the Heat are on the verge of clinching the title they’ve been thinking about since Dirk led his Dallas team to a game 6 victory on Miami’s home-court last summer. They’re on the verge of a title that LeBron and Bosh have been thinking about since they announced they were coming to Miami in the summer of 2010. A title that everyone in the press has been waiting for from the league MVP three out of the last four years. A title to silence the ear-splitting crescendo that James can’t get it done when it matters.

They’ll have one more chance at home on Thursday night. They better hope they finish it out too because I wouldn’t want to go back to OKC and that insane crowd. Just because no team in the Finals has come back from 3-1 to win the series, doesn’t mean it can’t happen; if anyone can do it, it’s this Thunder team.

What a crazy series. I fuckin’ love this ish. 

Final: MIAMI HEAT 104 - Oklahoma City Thunder 98

The Heat lead the series 3-1


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