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Thunder try to keep heads high, but Game 4 was a punch to the gut

Jun 20, 2012, 11:03 AM EDT

Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden AP

What frustrates its players and fans most is Oklahoma City is not getting blown out of the NBA finals. They may be down 3-1 in the series but every game has been close — in total points it is Heat +5 though four games. That’s it.

But it didn’t feel like that in the Thunder locker room Tuesday night.

You could hear a pin drop. This was a team with dejected body language and quiet speaking voices — they looked like a team that took a punch to the gut.

Because they did. The Thunder were up 17 in Game 4, they were ahead by 2 with four minutes left and LeBron James on the bench and couldn’t close it out.

“We missed some good shots, some wide open shots…” Serge Ibaka said of the fourth quarter in a quiet Thunder locker room Tuesday night. “When you miss some good shots there is nothing you can do.”

We tend to want to find people to blame on the losing team, but that’s not fully appropriate here because the Thunder feel like a young team learning another hard lesson on what it takes to be a champion. A lesson the Heat learned the hard way last year.

You can try to blame Russell Westbrook because of his late bonehead foul, but if not for his stellar play and 43 points the Heat would have blown this game open by 20.

James Harden has taken criticism and he has not been himself — the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year couldn’t even execute a breakaway layup in the fourth quarter of Game 4. He’s trying to get others involved and is turning the ball over. He’s in his own head.

As he should, coach Scott Brooks has his young star’s back.

“James has put us in a position to be where we are,” Brooks said after the game. “He had a tough shooting night, but he competed, he battled, he fought, he defended, he was guarding one of the best players in the game. I don’t judge a guy’s game on shots, on makes and misses. This game is about makes and misses.

“Some nights you’re going to make those, some nights you’re going to miss them, but your effort has to be there. I love James’ effort and that’s all I judge him on. If he wasn’t playing hard, yes, I would have taken him out earlier and sat him and put somebody else in. We have a standard of play and effort-wise I think everybody lived up to it tonight.”

Oklahoma City hasn’t played poorly, but they haven’t played well enough. They haven’t adjusted to the Heat’s rotations, their role players are not stepping up like the Heat’s, and the Thunder are not getting enough out of one of their big three.

It’s not a fatal flaw, it’s growing pains. Which suck for Thunder fans and players. But teams and players have to learn how to win in the NBA and OKC seems to be getting one final lesson.

  1. whitdog23 - Jun 20, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    your other article made Perkins sound pissed. now the locker room was quiet?? were you in a locker room or just making everything up

    • Kurt Helin - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:53 PM

      You can be pissed and quiet. Not everyone yells.

  2. shockexchange - Jun 20, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    To me this is a 1 game series. Thunder needs to find a way to play above their heads for 48 minutes and gut out a win. If they can get this series back to OKC then it’s a wrap. Armed with the “confidence of youth” and backed by that OKC crowd, these fools may get the notion they can actually win this thing.

    • finalword33 - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:06 PM

      They basically need Durant to play 48 minutes, so the Heat can’t catch up while he sits. Anyway, since that can’t happen, the Heat are the better team.

    • andre504 - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:11 PM

      Sounds good, but MIA has already won there….Keep dreaming and grasping

  3. The Deep Dig - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    Knew the Thunder couldn’t win it all back in March… wrote about it.

    • LogicalConsideration - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:54 PM

      I logged in just to comment on the 34 thumbs down. When I saw all the thumbs down, I wondered how awful the blog post must be. So, I followed the link. To get to the exact post, you do have to put the word Thunder in the search box on the site, but it took you right to it. I was suprised and impressed. It was more thoughtful and better written than almost any article or opinion piece on any major sports site (, ESPN, CNNSI). You may not like how things are turning out, but it was an accurate read and pretty much every point of weakness of the Thunder that Dig pointed out has come to pass in this series.

    • acdc363 - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:15 PM

  4. fanz928 - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    Close out on thursday at Miami looking to see lebron with a 40 game

  5. j0esixpack - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    They should have their heads held high.

    They’ve been in pretty much every game when LeBron has elevated his game to new levels (I didn’t think he had it in him)

    I can’t think of a team that could stop him when he’s playing like that – except maybe an aging, injured Celtics team that took them to the final minutes of Game 7. (and of course some still contend that had the officials not given the Heat game 2 against the Celts, the subsequent 3 game winning streak would have seen them beat the Heat in 5 games – but I digress.)

    Despite some *cough bozo* who firmly asserted that the East had absolutely no chance against the West, the Thunder look to be just shy of championship caliber.

    One thing’s for sure – if I’m the Lakers, Spurs or any other contender in the West I’m not all that happy about a young talented – and now experienced – Thunder team serving as a road block to the championship in the future.

    The Thunder have rightfully earned the respect of the NBA this year.

    • truthhurtstoo - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:52 PM

      celts homer get real. If Bosh was healthy, it would have over quicker thna it was.

      • j0esixpack - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:27 PM

        In case you forgot, Bosh did play – and provided the pivotal plays that put the Heat over the top.

        If you’re going to handicap the Heat for playing only a few games with Bosh you need to give the Celts the credit for playing the entire series without Avery Bradley (not to mention a season without Jeff Green)

        But you can only play with the players you had – and even WITH Bosh the Heat just barely made it past the Celtics, thanks in part to some very questionable calls by the officials.

        With the Celts held together with little more than duct tape, I still feel the “right” team moved on to the finals despite calls from officials that should result in some league punishment.

        If Stern wants to be taken seriously he needs to hold NBA officials accountable for their performance as well as the players.

  6. fanz928 - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    The ok’d are in a deep deep deep hole

    • j0esixpack - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:27 PM

      One game at a time.

      As the Yankees if they thought the Red Sox had a chance being down 3 games to zip in the AL Championship (heck – ask Red Sox fans).

      • brutl - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:56 PM

        Good thing this isn’t baseball

      • michflaguy - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:21 PM

        The Yankees didn’t have LeBron! : – )

  7. barkley4life - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    A Heat win and all the Lebron bashing will show how petty a lot of his “detractors” or “critics” really are. Lebron and the Heat are showing that is was never about basketball in the misguided criticism etc.

    Knock on the Heat was they were just stars thrown together and not a team. They are showing this Finals they are the best team in the playoffs.

    • finalword33 - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      They were the best team last season too. No one has explained what happened to Lebron against Dallas, but if this Lebron was there, they’d be champions in their first season too. Imagine what happens when the pressure is off Lebron and the “team” starts gelling. :)

  8. turnmymicup - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    This has been one of the best NBA Finals in awhile. The competition between these two teams is great. Even though Miami is up 3-1 OKC always brings their best. Its been a back and fourth slugfest. Once again I give credit to Coach Spoelstra for keeping his team prepared and focused. Now the Heat have a chance to close this series out next game. LETS GO HEAT!

  9. mikejd12 - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Lebron drops 43 and makes that none headed play then he’s a choke artist. I love the way the media is saying if it weren’t for Westbrook they would be in the game. How many times can that be said for James!!!! Probably 100. Sooo Westbrook it’s your fault! Bad bad play. But at the same time the coach is suppose to make sure everyone knows the deal. Its on him as much

  10. truthhurtstoo - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Maybe it’s time to shave the beard and come back to earth. Harden has been horrible, no excuses. This team will not win until their ciaxch wakes up and facing the truth.

    Fact is that no one can slow/stop LeBron and with the Heats “role players” stepping up OKC has no clue. What is Bosh goes for 30 next game… it’s a wrap.

  11. isujames - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    First off this ain’t baseball and the Heat ain’t the sox, secondly the reason people keep saying if it wasn’t for Westbrook it would have been blowout wins for the Heat is because people are using him as a scapegoat for their woes when in all honesty he single handedly kept them in last game,because he plays hard and puts a lot of heart into his game.He is obviously a determined winner,too bad the rest of his team lacks that trait.If the Thunder were to trade him and get a traditional pg I couldn’t see them making it to the finals again for a few years.

  12. michflaguy - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    Harden is MIA.
    Brooks can’t make game-time decisions.
    Durant can’t guard LeBron.
    Perkins is bad-mouthing his own coach during the Finals.
    The Thunder are now down 3-1.
    …and it’s the refs fault??!!

  13. michflaguy - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    Welcome to the big show, OKC. Maybe next year you’ll be able to use this experience as a catalyst and hopefully act like you’ve been here before, but this year belongs to the Heat!!
    It’s OVER Thursday night.

  14. michflaguy - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    The most important thing about Westbrook last night was that he played HARDER than all of his team mates.
    Harden checked out (again)…and Durant just looked plain tired in the 2nd half.
    Westbrook was the only member of the Thunder who was matching the energy and intensity of the Heat.
    And he damn near won the game all by himself.
    A truly awesome performance to watch…and as a Heat fan, he had me scared as hell he was gonna pull it off!

    • lyndseymarieee - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:02 PM

      If the Thunder had won that game all of the glory would’ve gone to Westbrook. He was the only Thunder player playing with any sort of heart last night. He almost single handedly beat the Heat last night. Very impressive performance.

  15. realitypolice - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    The Thunder have championships in their future, just not their immediate future. Although I am not a Heat fan by any means, I hope they close it out on Thursday for the sake of their fans. And for selfish reasons- it’s much more fun to watch a championship celebration when it is the home team that wins. As a fan of basketball in general and not of a specific team, I wouldn’t mind seeing this Finals match 3 or 4 years in a row.

  16. detroitcityryda - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    Typical nba of a team is winning by second half the he team makes the run and closes it out 90% of the time .i could t even watch this crap bot h games at heat I knew they would come back .

  17. klownboy - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    It’s over. I think Game 5 will be a blowout…

    • lyndseymarieee - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:03 PM

      None of the games have been blowouts so why would game five be different? OKC is going to be playing with their backs against the walls. They won’t let the Heat just walk all over them just like the Heat haven’t let OKC walk all over them.

      • klownboy - Jun 20, 2012 at 8:36 PM

        Well, we’ll see. All I am saying is OKC blew a 17-point lead, and made some bonehead mistakes near the end. When the Heat win by double-digits, I won’t say “I told you so”…

      • lyndseymarieee - Jun 20, 2012 at 11:42 PM

        Is everyone forgetting that the Heat blew a 13 point lead in game 1? And ended up losing by double digits? The Heat haven’t beat the Thunder by double digits at all this season. Yes, they have far and away played better than OKC this series, save the first game. But like you said, the Thunder have been making a lot of mistakes. Mistakes they normally do not make. I do not see this continuing in game 5. They may not win but I also don’t think it will be a blowout.

  18. teamobijuan - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Harden is not MIA. He’s trying to do TOO MUCH. He’s the opposite of MIA. He thinks he’s Durant. He’s a fan-favorite 6 man. Give the ball to Durant.

    • lyndseymarieee - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      Trying to do too much? He wouldn’t even shoot when he was WIDE open last night. I wouldn’t call that trying at all.

      • dysraw1 - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:54 PM

        Jamesv da beard Harden was try to do too much until he seem to lose confidence in the second half

  19. mforman2 - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    At the end of the day, every one of these games could go either way.

  20. kmwatersaz - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    The officiating is so biased that David Stern should be making either a public apology or a confession of consipiracy to the fans of pro basketball and the Thunder in particular. The refs carried the Heat through a few of the Celtic games and it continues to happen here in the finals. Take a look at the free throw attempt comparison between the two teams, and also take a look at the free throw attempts per game the Thunder took throught the regular season compared to this series. I smell a rat. And he’s in a striped shirt.

  21. dysraw1 - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    as crazy as this may seem i still think OKC is the better team and still believe that they if any team in this league can pull this thing out its OKC, but im a Knick fan so what do i know

  22. trimaster1 - Jun 20, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    Give OKC a break. I’m NOT a Thunder fan, but if I recall, people were really excited about how they SHUT DOWN the Spurs, who had won 18 in a row…

    Now, all the sudden, they suck and are a terrible team?? No, they are not. They are STILL a great team. They just faced a team that matches up well with them and exposed their weaknesses.

    Give the Heat credit. They outplayed a VERY good team. It’s not over yet, butas long as Lebron isn’t seriously hurt, the Heat won’t let this slip from their fingers.

  23. isujames - Jun 20, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    @ michflaguy I ain’t gone lie,the way Westbrook was playing last night he had me nervous to,helluva player.

  24. jimeejohnson - Jun 20, 2012 at 8:42 PM

    What if it was a kick in OKC’s ass? LeBron winning a ring is almost surreal at this point. Many times, a team that lost in the past year’s finals win the following year. This is the advantage the Heat have.

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