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Miami 104-Oklahoma City 98: Heat’s team effort trumps Westbrook’s historic performance

If not for Russell Westbrook, Game 4 wouldn’t have been a game at all.  Miami was definitely the better team and played like a championship team, but Westbrook sure made them earn the win.  The guy made 20 shots, scored 43 points, and literally kept his team in the game.  Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, Durant was his only help.  Although Westbrook had one of the best performances of any player this postseason, he and Durant weren’t enough to beat Miami.  The Heat had many weapons in this one, and they were too much for the two-man Thunder.

Jun 19 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat point guard Mario Chalmers (15) lays the ball up past Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Nick Collison (4) during the second half of game four in the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. Miami won 104-98. Mandatory Credit:Mike Segar/Pool Photo via US PRESSWIRE

This was certainly an entertaining game, with no shortage of big plays.  Westbrook dazzled everyone with an incredible display of scoring, making 20 total shots and being literally unstoppable.  LeBron James was a rebound short of a triple-double and kept his team under control for the 2 minutes he played with cramps.  Durant continued to prove that he can score from anywhere on the court, while Shane Battier continued to prove that he can attempt to take a charge from anywhere on the court.  Dwyane Wade hit huge shots and made clutch defensive plays to create key possessions.  Norris Cole kept Miami in the game during the 1st half, while he waited on his team to catch up.

And then there was Mario Chalmers.

Chalmers is no stranger to making big plays.  In his last college game, he hit the infamous 3 pointer to force overtime and lead to a national championship win.  In the Celtics series, he was a key part to a few of the Heat’s wins, but he was nothing impressive.  In this game, however, Chalmers was the X-Factor in the victory.  9-15 shooting, 25 points.  He had his outside shooting going well, and it opened the floor for LeBron and Wade.  Late in the game he hit some incredibly difficult layups to negate the jumpers Westbrook was hitting.  He went to the line and hit clutch free throws.  He helped force turnovers in the end.  On offense, he closed the game.  On defense, he came around.

LeBron James played his usual MVP-like game.  I know it’s a shame to say, but it’s hard to act impressed by these performances anymore because he’s played great in every game.  He was getting his team started in the first half by making incredible passes leading to scores.  In the second half, he focused more on scoring, and did exactly that.  After going down with leg cramps, he hobbled back into the game, and led a 7-0 run that included a gamebreaking 3 pointer in Thabo Sefolosha’s face.  He left the game with a small Heat lead, and the game was now in the hands of the backcourt players, Chalmers and Wade.  Dwyane Wade hit a 5 minute spurt in the 4th quarter where he was doing nothing right.  Bad shots, horrible passes, terrible mistakes on defense.  He then collected himself and helped keep the Heat in the lead once LeBron left the game permanently.  He prevented the Thunder from getting 2 extra possessions by making amazing acrobatic out-of-bounds saves.  Additionally, he stole the ball twice in the last minute.  One of them looked like he did it based on pure instinct.  Wade’s all-around game was a great representation of the Heat’s all-around performance.  Everyone contributed with extra effort.

Game 4 was just another reason that Westbrook isn’t to blame when his team loses.  The Thunder looked good in the 1st quarter, when Collison came in and was somehow the most athletic big man on the court.  After that, Norris Cole led a comeback and Westbrook’s teammates kind of gave up.  Kevin Durant played OK and had 28 points, but he wasn’t as much of a presence as he should have been, so Westbrook had to initiate more offense.  So he did.  James Harden gave the Thunder nothing.  Westbrook had to make up for that.  And he did.  Westbrook could have had 15 assists with his 43 points, but he didn’t because his teammates didn’t take or make enough shots.  If I’ve ever seen a player carry his team, Westbrook was the gold standard for such a thing.  He gives this effort in every game, and tries to get things going when all else fails.  Nothing to blame him for, especially after this game.

Regardless of whether you like the officiating or don’t like it, these games can’t be blamed on the referees.  When every game is as physical and fast-paced as these, it really changes things for the refs.  Players are going to make contact and get hit.  Sometimes they’re fouls, sometimes they’re not.  No matter how many calls these refs may or may not have missed, they were missed on both sides.  Miami won because they were tougher, and all their players showed up, while Oklahoma City only had Westbrook really giving it all.  With all that being said, it would be nice to see more consistency within the officiating.  Players are prone to injury when the game is borderline rugby and hockey out there, and then you’re just messing with them when you start calling fouls on everything a few minutes later.

Oklahoma City can still win, but they’ve got quite an uphill battle.  A total team effort would be a good start if they plan on staying alive.  As for Miami, Wednesday will be a nice day of recovery for LeBron and Wade.  They were as beaten up as anyone on the court, and they need lots of rest to be ready for Game 5.

Now for the final thoughts:

-Dwyane Wade tried to one-up the fashion skills of Westbrook and Durant, but his silly flip-up sunglasses lenses are really bothering me as I watch this post-game news conference.  That needs to change.

-Language barrier or not, Serge Ibaka was at least a little bit mistaken about LeBron’s defensive ability.  Sure, LeBron isn’t a good defender… when he’s on the bench.  Or when he’s cramping.  Or even when he’s being pinned down on the floor by Ibaka, like that time in the 3rd quarter.  James is definitely a good defender.  He’s a perennial member of the All-NBA Defensive team.

-Fear the Beard.  James Harden has to play well next time.  It’s much tougher because Miami rarely allows the middle to open up, but the bearded one must make use of his space and just get it done.  He’s obviously skilled enough to take over games, so he might as well try for that when he’s needed.

-This Miami team is starting to come around with Spoelstra as coach.  He’s a very smart basketball guy, and he’s drawn up some good game plans that have led to big wins.  He deserves more credit than he’s gotten in the past.

-Anyone else think Game 5 will be the best game of the series?

npdillon