June 20, 2012
Heat take stranglehold of series
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
MIAMI - A cramp wasn’t going to stop LeBron James from capping a historic performance and moving a game away from his first championship.
James was carried off the floor mid-way through the fourth quarter, but returned soon after to hit a massive game-tying three as the Miami Heat took a 3-1 series lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 104-98 victory on Tuesday night.
Miami can now stunningly wrap up the series at home on Thursday night and give LeBron his long sought after ring.
Everybody expected to see great outings from James and Kevin Durant in the contest, but, while James did his part, it was Russell Westbrook who was brilliant for the Thunder and Durant mostly was a spectator as the game unfolded.
While James imposed his will on one end, Westbrook scorched the Heat at the other.
James finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists — continuing a spectacular individual series — while Westbrook scored 43 points, added seven rebounds and five assists, before making a miscue at the end.
Westbrook hit 20 shots, the rest of his team — the entire group — matched him.
“Really doesn’t mean nothing without the win,” lamented Westbrook in the aftermath.
Though things look bleak, OKC is not throwing in the towel.
“‘We have to keep believing,’” that’s what I told the guys,” said Durant, who had 28 points but more turnovers than rebounds.
“One of the things I know — I can guaranteed this, is that we have fight in us,” added head coach Scott Brooks, who has had a poor series after a great one against San Antonio.
Obviously our back is up against the wall, it’s win or go home. We have a challenge ahead of us.”
The scariest moment for most in attendance came when James hurt himself after falling awkwardly and motioned to the bench on the next play and was carried off after a timeout.
Still, the injury was minor and he only missed just over a minute, returning to hit a huge three with 2:48 remaining, breaking a tie as Miami held on from there.
"I wanted to walk to the bench, but my legs wouldn't allow me," said James, who had to sit out the end of the game as well but said he was feeling "a lot better," after the game.
It took four outings, but the Thunder finally had a strong start, but it ended up all for naught.
Led by Westbrook, the Thunder raced out to a 13-3 lead and a 33-19 advantage after a quarter.
Fed up with Durant’s foul trouble, head coach Scott Brooks made the wise move of putting Durant on Mario Chalmers, while Thabo Sefolosha matched up with James early.
Perhaps surprised by its rare terrific start, OKC stumbled in the second, allowing the Heat to get off to a 10-0 run
It was Westbrook, James and Miami’s bench (Norris Cole, Chalmers and James Jones combined for 17 points) who kept the first half close.
Westbrook had 18 points through two quarters, while James had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
Fittingly, Chalmers, who hit a huge three-pointer to win Kansas an NCAA championship, also made a crucial driving layup with 44.6 seconds remaining in the game to put the heat up by five.
“I told D-Wade find me, let’s get this win,” Chalmers said. He and Wade both scored 25 points.
A disastrous performance by James Harden hurt the Thunder tremendously.
While the NBA’s sixth man of the year hauled down 10 rebounds, he shot just 2-for-10, had five fouls — from fruitlessly trying to stop james — and turned the ball over four times.
All the work of a gruelling season for the Thunder came down to one quarter. Win the final 12 minutes by at least six points and the dream would live. Fail and it would most likely have to wait until next year.
The Thunder came close, but couldn’t quite seal the deal in a game it, to be fair, was outplayed in for all but the first.
Harden’s struggles and Durant’s passiveness and earlier foul trouble have been too much for the young Thunder to overcome while the Heat, despondent losers in the final a year ago, seem adamant not to come up short again.
No team has ever blown a 3-1 series lead in the final.
But nobody thought Oklahoma City could come back against San Antonio and win four straight in the previous series either so Miami hasn’t won anything yet.