The Thunder were unable to capitalize on a historic performance from Russell Westbrook in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and their championship aspirations are on the brink.
Despite Westbrook’s 43 points and Kevin Durant’s 28, the Miami Heat defeated the Thunder 104-98 on Tuesday night to go up 3-1 in the best-of-seven championship series.
No team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. In 30 attempts, no team has even forced a game seven when facing the same scenario. “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.”
The Thunder must rely on the type of fight that brought them back from a 0-2 deficit against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Unlike the rest of their playoff run, the Thunder’s youth and inexperience have shown in late-game situations in the Finals.
While LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers were making clutch plays for the Heat in Game 4, each of the Thunder’s young stars had their share of missed shots and mental mistakes late in the game.
The biggest example of the Thunder’s inexperience came on what likely was the game’s deciding play. With Miami up by three, Westbrook fouled Chalmers after a jump ball with 17 seconds remaining in the game, although the Thunder would have received the ball back with less than five seconds remaining on the shot clock for the Heat.
“Just a miscommunication on my part,” Westbrook said. “Nothing I can do about it now.” After committing the foul, Westbrook stared up at the scoreboard and noticed his error, holding out his hand with a look of disbelief.
Chalmers made both of his free throws to put the Heat up by five, all but clinching Miami’s 3-1 strangle hold on the series.
The Thunder seem to be learning the same lesson that the Miami Heat learned in last year’s Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. In losing the final three games of last year’s championship series, LeBron James and the Heat suffered through the same kind of late-game collapses the Thunder are experiencing now.
The Thunder must learn that lesson on the fly to avoid losing their fourth straight game tonight and send this series back to Oklahoma.
“I can guarantee this,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We have fight in us.”