You could have crammed an entire postseason’s worth of story lines into last night’s Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Which would be a big help to us, because Miami’s 104-98 win over OKC was so incredible and intense that we almost forgot all about the other stories from these playoffs that led up to it … As usual, it starts with LeBron. His 26-point, 12-assist, 9-rebound performance featured some passes borrowed from Magic and some buckets borrowed from Kobe, but then it really got interesting after LeBron went down late in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be leg cramps (or a busted hip, or a thigh bruise, depending on who you ask). LeBron got back up and limped through a crucial sequence in which he hit a humongous three-pointer during a 7-0 Heat run, but then left with a minute to go and never returned. So does this go down as The Cramp Game, one of LeBron’s career highlight-film classics? Or does it just give his haters another reason to bash him for not staying on the floor during perhaps the most important minute of Miami’s season? You can book it that we’ll see a few Willis Reed/Michael Jordan clips — as well as some LaDainian Tomlinson/Jay Cutler clips — between now and Game 5 … Then there was Russell Westbrook. Facing the familiar criticism after Game 3 that he shoots too much and doesn’t pass enough to Kendrick Perkins or whoever he’s supposed to be passing to, Westbrook spent Game 4 in full kiss-my-ass mode. He dropped 43 points (20-32 FG) to go with seven boards and five assists, and he was the main reason the Thunder were even able to keep it close during the fourth quarter after blowing a 17-point lead earlier in the game … Remember how Dwyane Wade ate up the Mavs in ’06 by just attacking and attacking? That was Westbrook. With Wade guarding him most of the time, Westbrook drove the lane and finished from all kinds of tough angles and while absorbing contact, scoring 13 straight in the fourth quarter while answering almost every potential Miami dagger by himself. But just like LeBron, Russ still left himself vulnerable for the critics thanks to one backbreaking turnover in the end and one ill-advised foul that put Mario Chalmers on the line to effectively ice the game … Oh yeah, Chalmers. He played the game of his life, scoring 19 of his 25 points in the second half and hitting clutch shot after clutch shot in the fourth quarter. OKC coach Scott Brooks decided to have Kevin Durant guard Chalmers down the stretch since KD was in foul trouble, and Chalmers said afterward that he saw it as a sign of disrespect. Chalmers was also playing a game-within-a-game against his backup PG Norris Cole, who was key during Miami’s 16-0 run to start the second quarter. Those two are in a constant battle that’s like the NBA version of two NFL strong safeties vying for the same job. Enteraining and vicious as hell, but too few people are paying attention because it isn’t a QB controversy … A couple of our favorite Cole tweets from last night: “Norris Cole looks like a lost member of Three Times Dope” (@MrMichaelLee) and “Norris out here looking like Waldo, tell Eddie Winslow to post up + Steve Urkel to run to the corner” (@yomike) … Hit the jump to read a radical suggestion for James Harden.
As good as Miami’s X-factor (Chalmers) played, Oklahoma City’s X-factor was that bad. James Harden did pull down 10 rebounds, but he’s being paid to get buckets and spark offense, which he isn’t doing in this series at all. Last night Harden shot 2-for-10 and turned the ball over four times. He looks like he has zero confidence in his jumper right now, and he even missed a breakaway layup. On the other end, LeBron was eating him up whenever Harden tried to guard him … Harden is struggling so much that — you may want to sit down for this — shaving his beard before Game 5 could be a good idea to give him a fresh start … The conspiracy theorists in all of us saw the sky-high TV ratings for the first three games and figured David Stern would slap Jim Rome‘s wife if it meant stretching this series out to seven games — which meant OKC should’ve been getting a TON of calls in Game 4 to help them tie the series. But then a funny thing happened: Almost every call that could’ve went either way went Miami’s way. Durant (28 pts, 9-19 FG) wound up in foul trouble, and Floppin’ Ass Derek Fisher even got called for an offensive foul one time when he ran over LeBron … Of course Fisher’s lone FGA happened when Westbrook was cooking in the fourth quarter — Fish broke up the one-man show by wildly driving the lane and getting swatted. Fisher is basketball bipolar: He shows balls of steel by hitting all those clutch playoff shots, then acts sack-less with all the flopping. He’s such a great teammate that Kobe actually listens to him and he’s earned five championship rings, but then you’d hate playing with him because he selfishly jacks up shots at the worst times … If Westbrook was channeling young D-Wade and LeBron was evoking memories of Oscar, then Nick Collison played the first quarter like he’d slipped on a pair of magical game-worn Tom Chambers shoes. Collison had a nice follow dunk, then he beat Chris Bosh off the dribble from the top of the key and scored on him. And then Collison woke up and never really made a peep the rest of the game … ABC was seriously slacking on the mute button. One time D-Wade (25 pts) missed a free throw and yelled “Ahh sh*t!” just before the broadcast went silent for a second. Then when LeBron was on the sidelines in the fourth quarter nursing that injury, he let out another curse that wasn’t caught in time. Finally, after the game the camera was following Wade through the tunnel and he was heard calling out “Mario Muthaf***ing Chalmers!” Good thing they didn’t go into OKC’s locker room after the game; it would’ve sounded like an angry Bernie Mac outtake … We’re out like The Beard …
Follow Dime Magazine on Twitter
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook