Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Game 4 - Three in a Row

If we lived in a less cynical time, Russell Westbrook's inspired performance in Game 4 would be recounted to grandchildren all across the country in two generations from now. He exhibited smooth mid-range pull-up jumpers and kamikaze layups that were as elegant as they were reckless. He coaxed the ball into the basket for 43 points on an impressive 20 for 32 shooting.

But we don't live in some mythical past. And when Russell Westbrook and Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals are remembered, only one play will be the focus of those recollections. Down 3 with 18 seconds to go, Udonis Haslem and James Harden both grabbed the ball. The shot clock was at 0.8 for the Heat. But on the jump ball, the shot clock reset to 5 seconds.

Harden won the tip and knocked it towards Durant. But Battier flew in and jousted the ball over to Mario Chalmers. Westbrook, thinking the shot clock had reset to 24, fouled. Chalmers made both free throws and the Thunder's chance at victory evaporated.

Oklahoma City got off to an uncharacteristically quick start. Westbrook and Collison helped the Thunder race out to a 33-16 lead late in the first. The Heat stumbled because Bosh was the focal point early and he insisted on taking tough shots. But Miami raced back and tied the score with fewer than five minutes into the second quarter.

At halftime, Oklahoma City held a three-point lead. The Thunder didn't come out at halftime with their usual fire. Conversely, the Heat didn't show their typical flatness. LeBron showed a bit of magic, grabbing an offensive rebound with his right and and winging it across his body to Wade for the dunk. James wasn't guarded by Durant early in the game and decided to distribute the ball. In previous games, with Durant guarding him, he became a scoring machine. But, with Durant shifting over to Lebron inthe second half, James became more aggressive. LeBron ended with 26 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds. Wade scored 25 with 2 key blocks late.

For Oklahoma City, only Westbrook and Durant were able to reach double digit points. Harden has not had a good series. Durant did score 28, but a more telling statistic was the one measly rebound he grabbed. It was an offensive board and led to a score.

With under three minutes to go, LeBron, who had banged his knee and was hobbling on defense and during stoppages of play, hit a three over Durant. Wade then made a layup. With under two to play, Westbrook hit a contested finger roll. That's when Chalmers made a key driving layup to send the team up three. Chalmers had 25 points in the game and 12 in the fourth quarter. Each team scored two points, leading to the possession that would be the Thunder's and Westbrook's undoing.

The Heat won 104-98 and took a 3-1 series lead with Game 5 in Miami.

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