Heat-Thunder: Game 4 analysis
5-on-5 Roundtable: Five questions breaking down Game 4 of the NBA Finals
The Heat erased a 17-point deficit in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and now have a 3-1 series lead. How did they do it?
Our writers weigh in with another Finals edition of 5-on-5.
1. Down 17 in the first, how did Miami come back once again?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Heat got copious amounts (that's a phrase I need to find more use for) of outside shooting and point guard production, two things that were absent from their Game 3 victory.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Because of LeBron James. We hadn't seen facilitation and game control of this magnitude from James in months. There's just no way to guard him in the post when he makes all of his tools available. Put it this way: In the second-quarter rally, Norris Cole, James Jones, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers were all recipients of a James assist. James is like no other.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: The Heat hit five straight shots in 96 seconds spanning the very end of the first quarter and start of the second. Meanwhile, the Thunder missed two 3-pointers, a layup and turned the ball over. Sometimes it's just about sticking with the game plan -- in this case, playing through LeBron James in the post -- and hitting open shots.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: It actually started with Norris Cole's unexpected 3s, but the key trigger was inevitably Miami's withering perimeter D. The Heat's defensive pressure has simply been better than anything OKC has seen to this point, and the visitors stalled. They stopped running right when the Heat's shooters were getting hot. Bad combo.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: By proving it was the better team ... again. The Thunder gave their best shot, and one of the best individual performances of the postseason to boot, but the Heat again did all the little things -- taking advantage of James Harden's woes, not making mistakes late, getting LeBron post-ups, getting help from reserves, etc. -- necessary to create the slimmest of margins between the two best teams in the league.
2. Game ball goes to ...
Adande: Mario Chalmers. On a normal night, his scoring through the first three quarters would have been found money for the Heat. But for him to deliver in the fourth quarter while LeBron was out with leg cramps ... that's a quintessential #podiumgame.
Haberstroh: Mario Chalmers, because James has enough game balls to stock every YMCA closet nationwide. With 25 points and just one turnover, Chalmers gave the Heat exactly what they always needed at the point guard position: timely 3-pointers, steadiness and penetration when necessary. And to think, Mike Bibby started over him for almost all of the 2011 playoffs.
Mason: Mario Chalmers. He was the sixth-best player on the court, but those other guys have walk-in closets full of game balls. Chalmers gets Game 4's for punishing sloppy closeouts and the Thunder's dismissive defensive game plan.
Stein: I gotta say Chalmers. As huge as LeBron was again -- he's never made a bigger shot than the straight-on 3 after the cramps -- those were really 25 points from nowhere. Chalmers missed 16 of his previous 18 shots over Games 2 through 4 before he got going. And then he changed this whole series.
Verrier: Mario Chalmers (because LeBron's hypothetical rumpus room is chock-full). Filling in for Shane Battier as the Heat's Improbably Unstoppable Reserve of the Night, Chalmers tied a career playoff-high with 25 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. A nice reprieve for a guy chided more often than Matilda.
3. Which will you remember longer?
A. Westbrook's 43 points
B. Westbrook's foul with 13.8 seconds to play
Adande: Westbrook's 43. LeBron made the comparison to Rajon Rondo's Game 2, and we don't think of that for the no-call when Rondo got whacked in the head. Fact is, there's no critical jump ball in the last minute without Westbrook's stellar play all night.
Haberstroh: A. Westbrook's 43 points. Are we seriously framing him as the goat in this game? In all likelihood, the reason why the Thunder were so close there at the end was because of Westbrook's brilliance up to that point. Is Westbrook perfect? No, but this guy is 23 years old and just dropped 43 points in the Finals against one of the best defenses in the league. Yeah, that guy was the problem.
Mason: Both! I don't think there's any separating the two -- thinking of one will recall the other. We tend to forget great performances in losses, but because Westbrook's mistake factored so prominently in the loss, he ensured both his brilliance and miscue will be remembered.
Stein: The 43 points. I think I'm already over the foul. OKC was down three points with 15-ish seconds to go when it happened, so the Thunder still had plenty to do to get out of that hole, as bad as the play was. The reality is that Westbrook was not only statistically dominant but really looked like the only Thunder player who attacked like he truly believed they could win that game. Regrettable decision, but not why the Thunder lost.
Verrier: Both. The former should and likely will come before the latter -- the foul was, after all, a human error in a game of many, while the performance was nothing short of superhuman -- but they'll always be linked together for those who witnessed it, like the Pistons losing Isiah's monster Game 6 in '88. Either way, it'll all eventually become context for LeBron's "Cramp Game."
4. In this series, Kevin Durant is ...
Adande: Being outperformed by LeBron. There's nothing shameful about his series. Durant just hasn't delivered those two or three moments that could have made these Finals his.
Haberstroh: Just getting started. The other day, he showed humility (shocking, I know) when he emphasized that nothing is guaranteed in this league. But rest assured, the 23-year-old is just scratching the surface of his NBA career. He hasn't been sensational in this series, but it's scary to think that he's closer to being a raw prototype than a finished product. He's both the top scorer in the league and the most tantalizing young player in the game. Man, are we spoiled.
Mason: A one-way player. Durant has been his tremendous on offense, but his defense and rebounding have been average at best. Meanwhile, his obvious foil, LeBron James, has been hell-bent on dominating every inch of the court. Too often, Durant seems to float when he doesn't have the ball.
Stein: A better man than a lot of his peers not to publicly vent at this point. He has a justifiable beef about some of the officiating, because it's not evening out in his case and he seems to be getting the wrong end of every big no-call. But the bigger issue is that the Heat's smothering D has completely erased Harden. Durant and Westbrook aren't going to be able to do this alone.
Verrier: Doing everything you could ask from your young superstar. He's averaging more points (on a better shooting percentage) than LeBron, he dominated two fourth quarters and he transitioned to second fiddle with ease in Game 4. He's not taking over like some expect their stars to, but what good did that do for Westbrook? One or two plays happen differently and everything changes in this series.
5. For quality and competition, these Finals are the best since ...
Adande: Last year. Let's not forget how competitive and fun last year was just because this has been so much fun. Last year had more plot twists through four games, but if the Thunder can take this to seven, that pushes this into '80s Lakers-Celtics territory.
Haberstroh: The 1998 Finals, Bulls vs. Jazz. Michael, Scottie and Phil vs. Stockton, Malone, Sloan one last time. People forget that five of those six games were decided by five points or fewer. As a bonus we were also treated to maybe the most iconic shot in NBA history. And the beautiful thing? That was the end of an era and this feels like the beginning of one.
Mason: These are the best Finals I've ever seen (warning: I'm 26). I mean, how often have we seen the two best players in the league, two players with potential to be among the greatest ever, both bring it in the Finals? That this is almost certainly the most athletic Finals matchup ever doesn't hurt the excitement level, either.
Stein: Last season's Finals. I don't think we've been lacking in quality or drama on the big stage in recent years. San Antonio's seven-game defeat of Detroit in 2005 certainly wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing, but since 2006 we've been treated to two Miami-Dallas matchups and two Lakers-Celtics reunions that all had their moments. The other factor here: I'd like to know how long this season lasts before we start throwing around words like "classic." If Miami finishes this in five, it gets a lot harder to say that.
Verrier: 2010's seven-game series was a total slobberknocker, but I don't think I've enjoyed a Finals this much since MJ's swan song in '98 against the Jazz, in which five of the six games were determined by an average of three points. Not sure "Cramp Game" will ever have the same ring to it as "The Last Shot," though.