Tuesday night it was 1 on 1 in more ways than…one. Mano-a-mano defense, match-up and highlights were expected, but a point guard shootout wasn’t. OKC received honorable mention and fantasy points, but the HEAT got the win and a 3-1 edge while teaching school on team defense and offense. Headlines being of least worry and winning being the only acceptable result in Miami.
Russell Westbrook posted 43 points on 20-32 shooting and ended with a Rondo-esque losing performance in a critical must-win game 4 in Miami, losing 98-104 to the HEAT and getting a lesson in NBA Finals basketball. If Westbrook was the hit-man, in the end it was the HEAT’s collective group of assassins that triumphed over the Thunder’s singular and un-united performances on both sides of the ball.
The heroin was unlikely for the HEAT; Mario Chalmers’ 25 points on 9-15 shooting this night bested Westbrook’s lights-out from everywhere efforts to provide the missing link to the HEAT’s offense and get the pivotal win. First mistake by the Thunder was allowing Kevin Durant to play supporting cast in a game he should have been certainly lead actor on the playbill. Lesson learned for a talented team that will no doubt improve with age, and without question get another crack at a future title.
LeBron James, knee-deep in highlight reels of his own that only Magic Johnson himself could appreciate ended with 26 points 12 assists, 9 rebounds including a crowd-erupting 3 pointer with 2:50 left to seal a HEAT lead they would not relinquish. He would later go down, buckling to the floor in agony and confusion trying to shake off a leg injury later confirmed as leg-cramps which provided an uncomfortable silence throughout the AAA. Supporting cast and HEAT-fam would have enough still in the tank to close out the win, hitting the exit ramps all smiles, knowing they may have just delivered the dagger to the Thunder’s championship hopes.
OKC’s efforts by a Westbrook led, Durant/Harden assisted 79 points/19 rebound performance was never, at any time enough to silence the HEAT’s efforts. The Big 3 posted 64 points/23 rebounds plus an added 12 assists by LeBron himself. Mario Chalmers’ unlikely but fully welcomed performance was the true difference and exclamation point in the win. In the end, the Thunder got a lesson in Finals hoop similar to the Celtics lesson passed along only weeks earlier. Down 1-3 the annuls are almost written and signed on this series, OKC posting their best scoring and terminator combinations over four complete games, and still no result or answer to the HEAT’s depth of scoring, rebounding, defense and poise.
After four NBA Finals contests, the HEAT are the only ones deserving of championship calibre title or accolade. The Thunder show only as the kohai; the student, the young-blood with more to learn than can possibly achieve due to their age and experience. The doubt with the OKC Thunder has never been their talent, where at many levels they truly excel. It’s about the maturity that perhaps they have yet to learn, and from who better than a Miami HEAT professor that has experienced such lessons first hand. The series is still 3-1; with a fighter’s chance they may still recover and press for an extended stay of execution. Unlikely, however given that past production leads to future results (as Shane Battier may say?), this series is all but written at this point. In the meantime, the Miami HEAT have found the smarter, more efficient path to the NBA Championship, with only a Thursday night’s home game in the way of glory and redemption.