It was right there for the Oklahoma City Thunder to take. Despite a terrible close to the third quarter, Kevin Durant missing a significant amount of time with foul trouble and Scott Brooks benching Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City only trailed by two going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth it seemed like neither team wanted it. Miami outscored Oklahoma City by four, but shot 6-16 from the field (37.5%) and turned the ball over eight times.
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were far from spectacular, Wade, imparticular, accounted for four of the Heat's eight turnovers, including a brutal display of ball handling that ended with a Thabo Sefolosha pick pocket and lay-up. That play made the game 86-83.
But in the end the three made enough plays across the final 12 minutes to move within two games of accomplishing what they set out to when they joined together two years ago.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh combined for 15 points on 3-11 shooting with 15 rebounds (3 offensive) in the fourth. Their aggressiveness towards the basket kept them afloat as they were 9-10 from the foul line.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side, we were viewing a Thunder squad playing without the confidence we have come accustomed to seeing during this playoff run.
It started with their point guard Russell Westbrook.
Most people criticize him when he shoots too much saying he's out of control and not getting Durant the ball enough.
Sunday night was exhibit one, exhibit two and exhibit three of why you are all so very, very wrong.
It seemed like it was Scott Brook's fault for the tentative Westbrook on the court in the fourth quarter. After the point guard committed a charge in the third, Brooks benched his star. Whatever Brooks said or didn't say to Westbrook during his time on the bench, it didn't bring out positive results.
Russell, who played the final 12 minutes, didn't take one shot at the rim and went eight minutes between his first and second shot, both mid range jumpers which he nailed. He ended up with four points on four shots, one rebound and one assist. The kicker, which showed Westbrook was holding back, zero free throws.
The trickle down effect from Westbrook not playing like himself led to the game becoming harder for Kevin Durant. Durant, who had been magnificent with 33 combined points in the fourth quarter of Games One and Two, struggled mightily. The man known for taking over when it matters most shot 2-6, missed his only three point attempt and two free throws, grabbed one board, had zero assists and two turnovers.
James Harden after a nice start to the fourth completely disappeared. He looked as flustered as I've ever seen him play. I'm not going to put his line here because when looking at the numbers it wasn't terrible, it's something you need to watch to understand how poor he played.
For Oklahoma City to make this series go the length most expected (six or seven games), the Thunder stars can't disappear for long stretches. In the second game it was Westbrook and Durant shooting poorly in the first half, tonight it was the three of them struggling collectively in the fourth quarter. To beat the Miami Heat the Thunder need a quality 40-42 minutes from Durant, Westbrook and Harden not bits and pieces of high level play.
-Scott Brooks, yea I'm piling more on you, Serge Ibaka played zero minutes in the fourth quarter - unreal. Kendrick Perkins did some nice things tonight, it was the best game he played in the series. That being said, Ibaka is one of at most three players in the NBA that has the ability to legitimately challenge LeBron James at the rim. Whatever Perkins is going to bring, that one fact alone makes Ibaka more valuable to have on the court. An absolute disgrace.
-Derek Fisher played more minutes than Thabo Sefolosha (It was only one more minute, but still -- I'm looking at you again Scott Brooks).
-If the Heat start knocking down outside jumpers at any point during this series the Thunder are in a lot of trouble.