Wow! What a game! Have you caught your breath yet? The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder fought hard and played a terrific basketball game, but it was the Heat who made the plays when it mattered down the stretch on their way to a 104-98 win and a 3-1 series lead.
The game didn’t start out pretty for the Heat; the Thunder dominated the first quarter and established a 33-19 lead at the end of the quarter. Russell Westbrook had ten points. But, rookie Norris Cole knocked in a three at the end of the quarter to give Miami a little momentum which they carried into the second quarter and used to erase all but a fraction of the Thunder’s big lead. At half, it 49-46 Thunder.
Once the second half began, the Heat cranked up the defense and outscored the Thunder 33-26 in the third quarter. The Thunder were playing on their heals and playing terrible transition defense which led to easy Heat points. The fourth quarter was easily the most entertaining of them all with Westbrook telling his Thunder teammates (most likely James Harden in particular) “get on my back. I’ll get us there.” Westbrook was sensational, scoring at will. At one point, he had scored about 13 straight points for the Thunder. Westbrook’s spectacular performance failed to inspire his teammates: no one was helping him out. Kevin Durant? Two rebounds for a guy of his size and wingspan? Come on Durant. LeBron James suffered from cramps midway through the fourth quarter, but saved his most clutch shot when the Heat needed it most to break a 94-94 tie. He would sit out the final couple of minutes, but the Heat didn’t need him as they coasted to victory.
Where to begin, where to begin? Well first off, let’s commend Russell Westbrook for his outstanding performance. 43 points? Awesome. It was truly amazing. Yes Durant is the star, but Westbrook had the hot hand and the “I’m going to do this” attitude that very few other Thunder players showed. However, he did make a couple of critical mistakes late in the game. The turnover he had when he dribbled the ball off his foot with the Thunder holding a 94-92 lead with under four minutes to play was the play of the game because it shifted momentum back to the Heat. Had Westbrook not turned the ball over and the Thunder scored on that possession, it would have been a two possession game and all of the pressure would have been on the Heat. Instead, the Heat scored on that possession and tied the game up 94-94. Then with under fifteen seconds to go in the game, Westbrook fouled after the Heat won a jump ball when they only had five seconds to get a shot off. Westbrook probably thought that the shotclock had reset so that he had to foul. A bonehead play to say the least, and it ended up costing the Thunder the game.
Second, the three point shooting disparity. The Thunder live and die by the jumpshot, and they are dying in this series. They are shooting miserably from deep while the Heat can’t seem to miss. Clutch three after clutch three kept going down for the Heat from players like Cole and Mario Chalmers (25 points, which is more points than he had combined the previous two games). Dwyane Wadeadded a big three point shot, as did LeBron as mentioned earlier. The Heat made ten threes in game five to the Thunder’s three. That’s a twenty-one point difference! It has kept the Heat in the game and gotten them leads that the Thunder can’t seem to answer.
Finally, James Harden looks like a shell of himself. Other than a decent game two, in which he had seventeen points, he has been absolutely, downright awful in this series. It’s been painful to watch. He kept missing wide open shots last night, some of which were threes that would have given the Thunder a lead. He finished with just eight points, but he committed four turnovers. He is usually so good, but at this point, he has become a liability for head coach Scott Brooks. But what other choice does Brooks have? Harden has lost all confidence and is one of the top two or three reasons why the Thunder will lose this series. Let’s face it folks, this series is over.
While I would very much like to see the Thunder win game five and go back to OKC, that looks very doubtful at this point. How will the Thunder recover from this loss? They’re going to have to, but with the Heat having a chance to close this series out at home and win an NBA championship, the Thunder will have to bring their A++ game to beat them.
Game four is Thursday night in Miami 9:00 PM ET ABC.