TORONTO - Russell Westbrook was on the verge of putting himself in some very select company.
The company that includes those professional athletes who have been their very best at the very biggest moments.
Those that when the stage is the biggest, their game is at its peak.
Think Mariano Rivera in baseballís World Series. Think Michael Jordan in the NBA final. Think Joe Montana at the Super Bowl.
Westbrook was right there with them putting on the kind of one-man performance in Game 4 of the NBA final that might finally get him the kind of respect he seems to forever crave.
He had 43 points in the game. He scored 13 in a row in the fourth quarter to get the Thunder back in this one and then momentarily pull ahead. He was doing it all.
Then it all came crashing down when he assumed the Miami Heat shot clock would automatically reset following a jump ball. Prior to the jump and with the Heat up three, Miami had 0.8 seconds left to shoot. When the jump was called the shot clock did reset but only to five seconds. Westbrook, believing the Heat would be back to the full 24 took, immediate action when the Thunder lost the jump and fouled Mario Chalmers.
The look on his face when he checked the clock told the whole story. Whatever chance the Thunder had to come back was now in the hands of an above average free throw shooter in Chalmers.
When Chalmers knocked both down the Miami lead was up to five and they never looked back.
The Heat now take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series with Game 5 in Miami on Thursday night.
It was by no means a done deal that the Thunder could get this game had Westbrook not intentionally fouled Chalmers but by doing, so he took however slim the chance they did have and made it razor thin.
It certainly took the bloom off what had been an outstanding night for the Thunder point guard.
FINALLY THE PAYOFF
No matter who wins it or how long this series goes, the NBA and its fans got more than it could have hoped for in such a wonky season.
The late start, that crazy condensed schedule and the draining effect it had on the regular season schedule have long since been forgotten.
All that is left to do is crown a champion for this oddball season and this is where Joe Fan is getting his payoff for putting up with sub-standard play during the season as the league and itís players made the greedy decision to go quantity over quality after holding its fans hostage for the better part of two and a half months.
Seeing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Westbrook doing what they are doing is the perfect tonic for a fan who has felt a little bit ripped off all season long.
BROOKS MAKES RIGHT MOVE
It didnít take a genius, or even a wanna-be genius to figure out that Durant was being hurt by the decision to have him guard James.
Scott Brooks could have been one of those stubborn coaches and stuck to his guns, but he saw the rationale and relented taking the burden of guarding James off Durantís hands and putting it where it should have been all along ó on the shoulders of defensive stalwart Thabo Sefolosha.
With Durant on Chalmers defensively, there was very little chance that he could get in foul trouble like he did in both Games 2 and 3 and perhaps have a little more left for the fourth quarter.
LET THEM PLAY
Best part of the series so far in terms of two teams going as hard as they possibly could came in the first quarter of Game 4. And it was only possible because the refs let them play. Announcers Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy were calling fouls they thought should have been called and then turning around and praising the fight both teams were playing. Make up your minds, boys. Youíre getting the latter because the refs are calling it that way.
If there is any doubt that Jamesí cramping problems were going to carry over into Game 5, all one needed was to hear Wadeís response and see the smile on his face when a concerned Doris Burke asked the veteran guard how King James was doing. ďAh, heís all aight,Ē Wade smiled before heading off to join the rest of his celebrating teammates ... James wasnít the only member of the Heat in pain last night. All of Miami had to have their hearts in their mouths as they watched Wade get up slowly and clutching his back after a monstrous block by Serge Ibaka in the third. Fortunately for the Heat, Wadeís pain tolerance level is very high and he was right back in the game after a little attention from the training staff.