Oklahoma City Miami Game 4

Video: Micro-Movie of NBA finals Game 4 win for Heat

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These NBA finals have been fun. Entertaining. Two teams both giving it full effort. The total score through four games is Miami +5. That’s it. The series has been that close. The only sad part is that they may not go on a whole lot longer.

So take a moment to enjoy Game 4 — which had enough twists and turns for its own roller coaster — before we shift our focus on the Game 5. This is the micro-movie for Game 4 as put together by NBA.com, who is killing it with this series.

Try to savor the fact there has been a lot of great basketball played.

Thunder try to keep heads high, but Game 4 was a punch to the gut

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What frustrates its players and fans most in Oklahoma City is not getting blown out of the NBA Finals. They may be down 3-1 in the series but every game has been close — in total points it is Heat +5 though four games. That’s it.

But it didn’t feel like that in the Thunder locker room Tuesday night.

You could hear a pin drop. This was a team with dejected body language and quiet speaking voices — they looked like a team that took a punch to the gut.

Because they did. The Thunder were up 17 in Game 4, they were ahead by 2 with four minutes left and LeBron James on the bench, and they couldn’t close it out.

“We missed some good shots, some wide open shots…” Serge Ibaka said of the fourth quarter in a quiet Thunder locker room Tuesday night. “When you miss some good shots, there is nothing you can do.”

We tend to want to find people to blame on the losing team, but that’s not fully appropriate here because the Thunder feel like a young team learning another hard lesson on what it takes to be a champion. A lesson the Heat learned the hard way last season.

You can try to blame Russell Westbrook because of his late bonehead foul, but if not for his stellar play and 43 points, the Heat would have blown this game open by 20.

James Harden has taken criticism and he has not been himself — the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year couldn’t even execute a breakaway layup in the fourth quarter of Game 4. He’s trying to get others involved and is turning the ball over. He’s in his own head.

As he should, coach Scott Brooks has his young star’s back.

“James has put us in a position to be where we are,” Brooks said after the game. “He had a tough shooting night, but he competed, he battled, he fought, he defended. He was guarding one of the best players in the game. I don’t judge a guy’s game on shots, on makes and misses. This game is about makes and misses.

“Some nights you’re going to make those, some nights you’re going to miss them, but your effort has to be there. I love James’ effort and that’s all I judge him on. If he wasn’t playing hard, yes, I would have taken him out earlier and sat him and put somebody else in. We have a standard of play and effort-wise I think everybody lived up to it tonight.”

The Thunder haven’t played poorly, but they haven’t played well enough. They haven’t adjusted to the Heat’s rotations, their role players are not stepping up like the Heat’s, and the Thunder are not getting enough out of one of their big three.

It’s not a fatal flaw, it’s growing pains. Which suck for Thunder fans and players. But teams and players have to learn how to win in the NBA and OKC seems to be getting one final lesson.

LeBron now has signature moment, will soon have ring, too

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That, right there, is the signature moment all superstar champions have.

Michael Jordan has the flu game. Magic the baby sky-hook. Think of Dr. J and you think of the up-and-under scoop in the finals. And so it goes for every superstar.

LeBron James needed one because he is soon going to both have a ring and an NBA finals MVP trophy. Now he has his signature moment to go with that first title — a three to spark a 7-0 run with his legs cramping so bad he could barely run. Yes, the Heat still must close out this series, but up 3-1 history says that they will — maybe as soon as Thursday — and when that happens you will see that clip above a lot over the years.

It wasn’t just that three. Miami took a commanding 3-1 in the NBA finals because of the brilliant 43 minutes LeBron played before his quadriceps cramped up. The Heat have used him more and more as a power forward and in this series that has proven to be a nearly unstoppable matchup for the Thunder — LeBron is too strong and backs Thabo Sefolosha or James Harden down into the paint and score, he’s too quick if you put a big man out on him to stop those post ups.

More than the 26 points it was the 12 assists that really keyed Miami in Game 4 — LeBron was distributing the ball as well as he ever has and that had role players like Mario Chalmers stepping up. LeBron had 10 points and 4 assists in the third quarter alone as the Heat took the lead for stretches of time after having been down 17 in the first half. LeBron was the focal point of the Heat offense and defense. He was the MVP.

Then it happened. Following a slip-and-fall on a fourth quarter drive LeBron was in in serious pain, his quadriceps cramped up. He had to be helped off the court and could barely move.

“I sat on the bench, got rehydrated as much as I could while we had a long time out, and sat through a few plays and I was able to go back into the game.” James said.

Just his presence coming back in was a boost for the Heat. And that’s when the play happened — LeBron was forced to take a three as the shot clock wound down.

And he drained it.

Maybe you can argue Thabo Sefolosha should have been out tighter on the hobbled star, but somehow LeBron found the lift in his tired legs to get one more shot off.

A signature shot.

That wasn’t the dagger, but that was the moment you knew this game would belong to the Heat. A couple plays later the cramps retuned and coach Erik Spoelstra sat LeBron because, as Spoelstra said, the Heat were playing 4-on-5 with LeBron hobbling around out there.

But this has been James’ series. He is not going to silence all his critics, but his performance in this series must make his detractors at least respect his game. He has become comfortable with who he is and used that “happy place” as a launching pad for a finals MVP run. He has played great with the game on the line.

There is more work for the Heat to do — the Thunder are not going to roll over — but right now it’s hard to doubt LeBron will rise to the challenge. He already has this series.

He has his signature moment and now he just needs the ring to go with it.

Kendrick Perkins has no idea what Scott Brooks is doing, either

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All series long Thunder coach Scott Brooks has been taking flack for his handling of the Thunder rotations — sitting Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the same time, leaving guys with hot hands on the bench, not seeming to have a feel for his team.

It’s not just you and me, Kendrick Perkins feels the same way, too.

“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did with the lineup we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on,” a clearly frustrated Perkins said in the Thunder locker room after the game. “So they won the last three quarters and that’s what happened…

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Thunder raced out to a 13-3 lead and not long after that moment Brooks subbed out Serge Ibaka to bring in Nick Collison — which worked, Collison has six points, three rebounds (two offensive) and a block in his seven minutes to end the quarter and he was a +7.

So naturally, Brooks played him less in the second half — just over five minutes and he didn’t enter until late in the third. Derek Fisher however played more than 11 minutes in the first half, had zero points or assists or rebounds and was -8. So he played more than 10 minutes in the second half (and again went scoreless).

Perkins, like all the Thunder players, had a very dejected body language after the game but spoke the words of a team not giving up.

“This series is not over,” Perkins said. “We just have to keep taking it one game at a time. We win Thursday and we’re back in Oklahoma City.”

But can a team clearly frustrated with their coach and their play late in games really rally back like that? It’s hard to imagine.

NBA finals Game 4: LeBron, Heat play through pain to reach brink of a title

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One year ago, the Miami Heat were ahead 2-1 in the finals against Dallas and up 9 points in Game 4. Then they learned some very painful lessons.

This year, the Heat were again up 2-1 and this time were down 94-92 with four minutes remaining. Adding to their woes, LeBron James was on the bench after having to be carried off the court with quad cramps.

But this time Miami turned out to be the ones teaching the lessons of execution under pressure — they put together a 12-4 run to close the game run that included a dramatic three by a gimpy LeBron, Mario Chalmers stepping up, plus both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade making plays. The Thunder had Russell Westbrook and not much else and that was not enough.

The result was a 104-98 Heat win that has Miami up 3-1 and now one win away from an NBA championship.

This series feels over and it may happen Thursday night in Game 5. The Thunder locker room after the game was painfully quiet, their body language was that of a team that just took a blow to the gut. Dejected doesn’t do it justice. They looked defeated. They are learning hard lessons— ones Miami learned last year — and while they will not roll over, you could sense they know how this will end.

The Heat have matured and talked about taking nothing for granted.

“There will be an incredible amount of noise on the outside and we need to stay focused on the moment,” Spoelstra said. To a man every Heat player said something similar about not losing focus — it’s a lesson they learned the hard way last year.

Game 4 started out with a desperate Thunder team racing out to a 13-3 run behind a Westbrook, who Wade described as “playing on another level.” He started fast and finished fast, ending up with 43 points on just 32 shots. He blitzed the Heat defense and they had no answer because his jumper was falling, especially when he could get to the elbow.

“We missed some chippies, ones we normally make, and they came out from a ferocious intensity,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the start.

But the Heat closed that gap in the second quarter and it was a tight game the rest of the way. Kevin Durant added 28 points but no other Thunder player broke into double digits. That is where the game was lost. Once again James Harden was just bad — 8 points on 10 shots with twice as many turnovers (4) as assists (2). The Thunder cannot win without him, he is their X factor.

Westbrook was not perfect — he made a bad foul late. Miami was up three with 13 seconds left and 4 seconds left on the shot clock for Miami when there was a jump ball. When Chalmers won the jump ball Westbrook fouled him instantly, thinking he had to, not realizing the Heat had to rush a shot. Chalmers hit the free throws and that was pretty much it.

“It was just a miscommunication on my part,” Westbrook said of not knowing the shot clock. “Nothing I can do about it now.”

Some fans will smack Westbrook around online for that play, but they miss the point. Without his monster night the Thunder are not even close in this game.

Oklahoma City lost a game by inches — a block here, some of Durant’s threes falling (1-for-5), Thabo Sefolosha missing a wide-open corner three late, any of that changes the game. The Thunder made it to the finals, but they have been out-executed down the stretch the last three games. Coaches like to call it a hit-or-miss league and right now the Thunder are missing late and the Heat are making. Miami is getting balance — Chalmers and Wade had 25 points each.

Miami players can smell it now. The Thunder will not roll over but it will be a real test to see what kind of emotion they can play with on Thursday night.

Miami is gutting out, grinding out wins. That’s what champions do.