I'm still trying to catch my breath. A Game 4 that started with the Oklahoma City Thunder running out to an early 17-point lead ended with the Miami Heat grabbing a heart-pounding 104-98 win despite LeBron James finding himself on the bench with leg cramps. With the victory, the Heat have a 3-1 stranglehold on the NBA Finals, putting LeBron on the brink of winning that elusive first title.
This epic bout had pretty much all you could ask for in a basketball game. You had LeBron's 26/12/9 and several huge plays down the stretch before the pain from the cramps were too much to bear. You had Russell Westbrook's tour de force 43-point effort, a performance that almost single-handedly kept the Thunder in this one. You had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh running a near flawless pick-and-roll that murdered the Thunder at times. You had Kevin Durant doing his thing and scoring a "quiet" 28 points. You had role players like Mario Chalmers (25 huge points after I dogged him relentlessly) and Norris Cole stepping up. Quite simply, this was an incredible game to watch, and I'm really hoping there are still three more of these to come.
The game started at a dizzying pace, with Westbrook controlling the tempo and forcing the issue en route to 10 first quarter points. The rest of the Thunder followed suit, and early on, it looked like they would run the Heat out of the gym.
But the Heat would respond quickly, erasing the 17-point deficit just four minutes into the second quarter. The game settled into a back-and-forth tussle, as each team found a groove and traded blows.
The Heat began to take control of the game in the third, mostly because LeBron did a masterful job of running the offense. Whether it was barreling to the bucket for a layup or setting up an open three-point shooter after commanding a double team, LeBron made the right play time and time again. He's one of the best scorers in the league, but perhaps his most impressive skill is his impeccable passing ability. Magic Johnson certainly came to mind when watching LeBron facilitate in Game 4.
The score was 79-75 in favor of the Heat heading into the fourth, and I think everybody knew something special was about to go down. Sure enough, Westbrook put on a magnificent one-man show that kept the Thunder in it. At one point, Russ scored 13 straight points on a dazzling array of lighting-quick drives and pull-up jumpers, which helped erase a seven-point lead and tied the game at 90.
It was at this time that LeBron crashed to the floor in a heap after attempting to drive past Durant. As the Heat's title hopes flashed before their eyes like the Chicago Bulls' did when Derrick Rose went down, LeBron struggled to his feet and made a bucket before collapsing back to the court. He wound up getting carried to the bench with cramps and was forced to sit for nearly two minutes.
When LeBron returned, he hit one of the biggest shots of his life.
With just under three minutes left and the game tied at 94, a noticeably limping LeBron received a pass at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. Instead of crowding him, Thabo Sefolosha gave him just enough space to get a clean look at a three.
LeBron would be forced to the bench again because of the cramps, but the Heat would never relinquish their lead. They were helped by a few boneheaded plays from James Harden (who was terrible all game) and Westbrook, who mistakenly fouled Chalmers with 17 seconds left, the Thunder down three and the shot clock at just a few ticks remaining. The game ended on a Westbrook turnover, leaving him with a bad taste in his mouth despite such a remarkable effort. It really is a shame that such a performance will be marred by a couple gaffes in the waning moments.
As for Harden, he's been an invisible man nearly all series, which is a major reason why the Thunder find themselves down 3-1. He's scored in single digits in three of the four games, and his 2-10 performance in Game 4 was his second straight of that kind. Making things even worse is that it looks like the normally confident Harden has lost a ton of his trademark swagger. This was evidenced by his hesitant trigger in the fourth quarter when the Thunder ran a beautiful play for him. It's a shocking development to say the least, because Harden has provided numerous clutch baskets throughout the postseason. But for right now, the moment has overtaken him.
The Thunder now have their backs against the wall, and there's absolutely no way they go down without a fight. I know no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, but if the Thunder can win Game 5 on Thursday, they will then head home for Game 6 and potentially a Game 7. While I do not envision LeBron coming up short now, anything can happen. Perhaps Harden snaps out of his funk. Perhaps LeBron's cramps become an issue again. Who knows? I just hope we get to see a few more of these games. And man would it be crazy to see the pressure on LeBron if this series goes back to Oklahoma City.
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