LeBron's near-perfect performance powers Heat to 3-1 lead in Finals
LeBron James totaled 26 points, 12 assists and nine boards in Miami's 104-98 win
Russell Westbrook had 43, but committed a costly foul with 17 seconds remaining
James Harden struggled in Game 4, shooting 2 of 10 for the second straight game
MIAMI -- Five thoughts from Miami's 104-98 win over Oklahoma City in Game 4 ...
LeBron James was flawless. If James was playing quarterback, he would have had a near perfect rating. If he was a pitcher, he would have tossed a complete one-hitter. In a word, James was masterful, totaling 26 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and two steals. He operated out of the post like a surgeon, finding open teammates before the double team could bottle him up, overpowering James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha before they could come. And he saved his biggest moment for last: With Miami up two with just over five minutes to play, James suffered a right leg injury and had to come out of the game. Oklahoma City took advantage, rattling off four straight points to seize a two-point lead. James re-entered the game a little more than a minute later, still noticeably limping, and proceeded to knock down a three-pointer that gave Miami a lead it would not give back, before exiting the game again for good. It was, simply, a signature moment for the game's best player.
The role of Shane Battier will be played by Mario Chalmers. Battier produced unexpected offense in the first three games for Miami. In Game 4 it was Chalmers (25 points) picking up the scoring slack. After shooting 2 of 15 in the last two games, Chalmers caught fire, banging in 9 of his 15 shots, none more important than the driving layup he flipped in with 44 seconds left to swell Miami's lead to five. He coolly knocked down a pair of free throws two possessions later to seal the game. Chalmers is Miami's resident punching bag, a frequent target of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh's ire. But on Tuesday, the bag hit back.
Russell Westbrook. Ouch. Let's be clear: Oklahoma City would have emptied its bench early if not for Westbrook's 43 points (on an eye-popping 20 of 32 from the floor), seven rebounds and five assists. Westbrook was spectacular, slicing through the Miami defense, easily knocking down mid-range jumpers. But the lasting image of Westbrook from Game 4 will be the foul on Chalmers off the jump ball with 17 seconds left -- and just five remaining on the shot clock. Clearly, Westbrook was unaware that the shot clock did not reset off the jump ball. It's a play that will be replayed over and over and overshadow an otherwise brilliant performance.
Missing: Harden's game. It has been a frustrating series for Harden, who has shouldered the unforgiving assignment of defending James for extended stretches. On Monday, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks hinted that Harden could have confidence issues. It sure appeared that way Tuesday night, when Harden submitted his second straight 2-of-10 performance. It wasn't just that Harden missed shots; it's that he looked uncomfortable taking them. Harden is just 22, in his third season, and is wearing the look of a player overwhelmed by the moment.
OKC looks big, plays small. Miami starts the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Battier at power forward, where he is frequently matched up against the 6-10, 235-pound Serge Ibaka or the 6-10, 275-pound Kendrick Perkins. Against Indiana, Battier took a brutal beating from David West and Roy Hibbert; but he has largely skated by without much resistance against Oklahoma City, which simply is not comfortable feeding Ibaka or Perkins in the post. If the Thunder are going to go big, they need to play big.