With the game once again knotted up late in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City choked.
Despite the league’s best player—the only guy who has shown the ability to slow down Kevin Durant, by the way—checking in and out of play with a leg cramp, the Thunder failed to execute on both ends of the floor, falling into a 3-1 hole in the NBA Finals with a third consecutive loss.
But unlike Games 2 and 3, where suspect refereeing helped the Heat slip away with two victories, OKC has only itself to blame for coughing up a crucial Game 4.
Aside from Russell Westbrook’s dazzling 43 points (including 17 in the fourth quarter), the Thunder made every imaginable mistake in the game’s final six minutes, starting right after LeBron James was injured. With James lying under the Thunder hoop, Derek Fisher led the fast break the other way but chose not to pass, instead driving into three Heat players and being blocked by Dwyane Wade, leading to a LeBron layup at the other end for a two-point Heat lead.
When James returned minutes later, instead of forcing the heavily limping star to test his injury with a drive, Thabo Sefolosha somehow left him a wide open three-pointer with the shot clock winding down, a bucket that put Miami ahead for good.
On the other end, OKC came up empty four possessions in a row, with Durant and Westbrook each coughing up a turnover and James Harden freezing up in space before missing a contested jumper.
Harden wasn’t the only one who failed to step up; not a single Thunder player other than Westbrook or Durant scored during the fourth quarter.
The lack of support proved fatal. With Wade and Shane Battier somehow managing to deny Durant the ball, the three-time scoring champion attempted just three field goals in the fourth quarter, one of which was a contested prayer with OKC down five in the waning seconds.
In Games 2 and 3, the Thunder’s shortcomings could legitimately be credited to poor refereeing. Not only did calls favoring James and Wade help Miami rack up points from the charity stripe, but ticky-tack fouls against Durant forced OKC’s star to the bench in the most crucial of moments.
But there are no excuses for the Thunder fizzling late in Game 4. Whether thanks to poor coaching or simply a lack of focus, OKC’s complete inability to execute helped them dig an even deeper NBA Finals hole. It may not be long before that hole becomes a grave.