The most maligned player of these NBA Finals delivered a masterpiece Tuesday, zigzagging around flummoxed Heat defenders and scoring 43 points in 45 minutes.
But Russell Westbrook made a regrettable mistake late in Game 4 and his brilliance ultimately went to waste on a night the Thunder squandered an early 17-point lead as fast as you can say “Thabo Sefolosha.”
Westbrook scored 11 in a row in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 90 with 6:11 left. But after his bank shot pulled the Thunder within three with 41 seconds remaining, Westbrook foolishly fouled Mario Chalmers after the Heat won a jump ball with 14 seconds to go in the game, but with just four on the shot clock.
Westbrook didn’t know the shot clock had not been reset. Chalmers hit both free throws, stretching Miami’s lead to five. “Miscommunication on my part,” Westbrook said.
But Thunder coach Scott Brooks said “one play does not determine the outcome. Russell was terrific; the guy played relentless. He kept us in this game.”
Kevin Durant, who shot just 2 for 6 in the fourth quarter of Game 3, attempted only three shots in the fourth quarter of Game 4, making two of them. He was well short on a three-pointer with 13 seconds left, and the Heat ahead five, and also committed two fourth-quarter turnovers. He closed with 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting but had just two rebounds.
“They’re sitting guys in my lap,” Durant said of the Heat’s defense. “Sometimes they’re doubling. I’ll find a way to score.
“Russell and I will tell our teammates to keep believing.”
Westbrook (17) and Durant (six) combined for all of the Thunder’s 23 fourth-quarter points. The other Thunder players combined to go 0 for 6 in the fourth, including 0 for 4 by James Harden, who had 10 rebounds but closed 2 for 10 from the field. Harden is now 13 for 37 in the series.
For the first time in this series, Oklahoma City didn’t start the game in a first-quarter hole. But even though the Thunder surged ahead 33-16 late in the first, the Heat had erased all of that lead just 4:21 later.
Westbrook — 28 of 68 from the field in the first three games — tormented several Heat defenders with his jump shot and rabbit-quick moves to the hoop, and also chipped in with seven rebounds and five assists.
“He was attacking, getting into the teeth of their defense,” Brooks said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make a couple plays that could have made a difference.”
Westbrook shot 9 for 15 in the first half and 20 for 32 for the game. “It doesn’t mean nothing because we didn’t come out with a win,” he said.
Asked if he felt vindicated by the performance, Westbrook said: “Let me get this straight: What you [reporters] say doesn’t make me happy or sad.
“It’s all about winning the game. It’s not me against the world.”
After watching Durant get in foul trouble the past two games, Brooks put Thabo Sefolosha on James to start the game, with Harden also handling the assignment at times.
The upshot was that Durant didn’t pick up his first foul until 3:12 remained in the second quarter. Durant began defending James late in the third and during the fourth quarter, though James missed 2:05 of the fourth with cramps.