While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been a two-man show for the Thunder, the Heat's Big Three have been getting help from other sources such as Mario Chalmers, putting them a game away from the title.
Thunder must find a way to rain on Heat's parade
MIAMI // The Oklahoma City Thunder were more than OK at the start. At the end, not so much.
The Thunder got an epic performance from Russell Westbrook. They ran out to a huge early lead. They watched LeBron James get carried off the court in the fourth quarter and took the lead shortly after he departed.
Even after getting 43 points from Westbrook, 28 more from Kevin Durant and staking a 17-point lead by the time the first quarter was over, Oklahoma City are now officially on the brink.
James finished with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each scored 25 points, and the Heat beat the Thunder 104-98 in Game 4 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven title series.
Game 5 is Thursday night in Miami, where James and the Heat can capture the NBA title that they had in mind when the bulk of this team was assembled two years ago.
History says the Thunder are now in deep, deep trouble.
No team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. No team has even forced a Game 7 in the title series when faced with that scenario.
Westbrook took 32 shots, as many as James and Chris Bosh tried combined. He made 20 - half of Oklahoma City's field goals on the night - and finished with seven rebounds and five assists as well.
For a guard who struggled many times against Miami, it was a breakout night that the Thunder desperately needed.
"The kid brought it," said Shane Battier, the Heat forward.
"He's he's not the reason why the game turned out the way it did tonight."
There was one huge blip in Westbrook's night, and it was a play that helped the Heat seal the outcome. After a jump ball with 17.3 seconds remaining, Westbrook fouled Chalmers even though the Thunder would have got the ball back because there were less than five seconds on the shot clock.
Chalmers made both free throws to push the lead to five and Heat fans in the sold-out arena knew their team were moments away from a 3-1 series lead.
After hearing the whistle, Westbrook took a look at the scoreboard and held out his hand, a look of disbelief across his face.
"Just a miscommunication on my part," Westbrook said. "Nothing I can do about it now."
Durant's mother grabbed her son by both arms as he walked off the floor, hugging him and then using her right hand to turn his face back toward her, trying her best to console the league's scoring champion.
It was a night when the Thunder ran out to a 33-16 lead to buck a trend of slow starts and where Durant and Westbrook were scoring at will.
Sixth Man of the Year James Harden struggled yet again, shooting 2 for 10 for the second straight game, though he did finish with 10 rebounds.
Nick Collison scored six points, but the other three Oklahoma City starters - Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha - combined for a mere 13 on 6-for-16 shooting.
"We're going to stay aggressive, keep trying to find guys," Westbrook said. "Guys are going to stay confident."
If the Thunder do not figure out a way to do something no NBA team has ever done throughout the rest of this series, James will finally get that ring he has spent nine seasons chasing.
"We're going to keep fighting," Durant said.
"Frustrating to lose like that. But we're going to keep fighting, man. That's how we've been since I got here."
CHALMERS STARTS TO MAKE HIS POINT
Chalmers, who does not usually get nearly the same attention as James or Wade, was struggling through the NBA finals.
But in the biggest game - and biggest moments - he delivered.
Of his 25 points in Game 4, Chalmers scored 19 of them in the second half, and 12 of those in the fourth quarter, to help the Heat move one win away from a championship.
"No matter what, no matter how tough we are on him, he actually thinks he's the best player on this team, and that's a gift and a curse," said Wade, the shooting guard. "But tonight it was a gift for us because he never gets down on himself, he always believes 'find me, I can make a shot. I can make a play'. He was huge for us."
Chalmers, a point guard, is a lightning rod for criticism from his teammates.
James, in particular, often screams at him about mistakes.
It happens almost every game, actually, and because Chalmers usually seems undeterred by it all, the Heat have never seen a reason to stop directing their "advice" to him.
No one was complaining on Tuesday.
"We've been staying on him because we need him," said Chris Bosh, the Heat forward.
"We knew coming into the season we needed him to be a better point guard. We all had to get better, and he's just outlasted a tremendous amount of pressure and he's responding every time, and that's what he does."
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