Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2012 NBA Finals: Game 4 - Running Diary of LeBron James

Game 4

After one of LeBron James's most important performances of his career -- in which he willed his Miami Heat team to an important Game 3 win -- the onus is on him to do it once again. That's what being LeBron James is all about. He will always be put under the microscope by fans, media, and the national public. It doesn't take a game. In fact, it's not even going to take a championship. But that discussion is for another day.

Game 4 is extremely critical because if Miami wins, they will take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series and will have a chance to close it out at home in Game 5. No team has ever come back down 1-3 in the NBA Finals since the 2-3-2 format was implemented. If OKC wins, however, they will tie the series at 2 games a piece and will guarantee at least one more game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where they've lost only once all postseason. At the same time, nobody expected the Thunder to reel off four straight wins against the San Antonio Spurs, so I guess you never know.

To put it lightly, the superstar matchup has been really entertaining to watch. Durant, arguably the greatest scorer the game has ever seen (remember folks, he's only 23 years old and already has three scoring titles to his name), had a really off night by his standards in Game 3 -- especially in the fourth quarter, going only 1-5 from the field. A lot of that was because he wasn't in a good rhythm due to being in foul trouble for most of the second half; I'm not going to lie, a couple of the calls were pretty ridiculous. But then again, he also has made some pretty egregious mistakes in terms of being smart with his fouls in both Games 2 and 3. With that being said, I absolutely hate it when the refs have such a noticeable impact on the game. The person I blame for this is David Stern. If you don't know this by now, I hate the guy.

Speaking of which, why is the game starting so late tonight anyways?

Stat of the night: LeBron James is the first non-center since John Havlicek to average 30 and 10 after the first three games of the NBA Finals. That's 50 years.

8:04 PM - Alright let's do this! Can OKC come out with a quick start, or will Miami continue to jump to an early lead? I expect a huge game from James Harden tonight. He had 17 points in the first half of game 2 but only 18 points in the other five halves combined. Using the great law of averages, he should show up tonight for the Thunder.

8:08 PM - To hide Durant on defense, he is guarding Mario Chalmers.
8:12 PM - Again, Westbrook is leading his team with his energy and ability to drive the paint and knock down the midrange J. And boom, there's the quick start OKC badly needed. They are up 13-3. Timeout Miami. If you were to ask your friends about Russell Westbrook, I'm sure 9 out of 10 guys will speak negatively of him. But at the end of the day, he is the starting point guard on an NBA Finals team -- he must be doing something right.
8:24 PM - This is end-to-end basketball. The refs are letting them play tonight. The important thing is for them to STAY CONSISTENT with the way they call the game. Wade with two missed free throws followed by another Westbrook jumper. 25-12 OKC. This is the biggest lead they've had during the entire Finals.
8:35 PM - Miami down 33-19 at the end of the first quarter. LeBron with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. The Thunder is getting out and running on every opportunity they get. Great energy. Both Westbrook (10 points) and Durant (8 points) set the early tone for their team. This is their first lead at the end of the first frame. It looks like it may be one of those "Wade is done" games right now.
8:39 PM - Miami with a 10-0 run! Norris with two big threes. Miami is literally going to James on every possession and LeBron is dominating the paint again. When Ibaka isn't in the game, LeBron needs to realize that there is no shot blocking at all. Just keep attacking and good things will happen. Thabo is getting abused.
8:48 PM - The run stops at 13 straight points for the Heat. LeBron gets his first rest with 9 minutes left. The goal for Miami here is to keep it as close as they can and buy time. If I was coaching Miami, I wouldn't sit LeBron at all. He's just too valuable and Miami's +/- sabermetrics clearly quantifies this.
8:58 PM - Bosh with a hustle rebound drawing Ibaka's third foul. I really can't believe I just typed that.
9:07 PM - Miami down 46-49 at the end of the first half. LeBron with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and a steal. I smell a triple double for the 3-time MVP. Norris Cole looking nice with the Fresh Prince fade -- oh and his play in the first half was nice too. Chris Bosh is attacking the glass like a madman again. He's affecting the game in other ways than just scoring, who woulda thought??? Westbrook with 18 huge points to pace the Thunder, which included a ferocious putback dunk at the end of the half. I love the physicality of the game tonight. Love it.
9:29 PM - I'm always intrigued at how teams adjust coming out of the half. After the first few minutes, both teams look pretty settled in. The only major adjustment I see is Chalmers being much more aggressive forcing Durant to have to play some defense. Miami up 55-54.
9:43 PM - Chalmers is really playing well this game. OKC is so talented. I feel like they will never get blown out. You have Miami's role players stepping up, Wade with 20, LeBron with a near triple double, and they are still in the game.
9:49 PM - LeBron has showcased that jump hook on multiple occasions against the Thunder. It's time to just double, no triple team him when he's in the post. This back-to-basket game is reminiscent of Hakeem the Dream! All that work in the summer is definitely paying off.
9:57 PM - Miami up 79-75 at the end of the third quarter. LeBron with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 12 assists. He is abusing both Harden and Sefolosha in the post. Then he faces up Durant and hits a jumper. OKC must adjust and force the other guys to beat them.
10:04 PM - Looks like it's going to be LeBron guarding Durant and Durant guarding LeBron for the rest of the game! Should be fun to watch. Wow! How does Durant only have 1 rebound? Chalmers is playing out of his mind! 18 crucial points. He is making Alaska proud.
10:12 PM - Russell Westbrook.
10:18 PM - With 5 minutes left, Miami is up 92-90. Westbrook's unbelievable performance may end up turning into a good thing for the Heat because he tends to forget about his teammates. LeBron is suffering from major cramping. Once you cramp up, you're going to continue to get cramps for the rest of the night. Someone get the King some pickle juice!
10:25 PM - LeBron sat out for two offensive possessions and two defensive possessions before he checked back in. Meanwhile, Durant's four quick points have now given OKC the lead. Another epic game in this epic series.
10:27 PM - James simply does not look right. He's definitely in there to be the decoy because they've run the Wade/Bosh pick-and-roll two times in a row now. BOOM! LeBron with a clutch three! This performance will go down as one of the greatest ever! Miami's lead is now back up to 5 points. Wow!
10:32 PM - LeBron with an air ball. He missed that by at least two feet. Less than a minute left, Miami ball, up 3 points, full time out. ABC decides to keep the coverage on and show how much pain LeBron is in. You know it must be really bad when he can't even get into the game. Chalmers with the biggest basket in his career since his shot over Derrick Rose in the NCAA Championship Game. Miami up 101-96.
10:37 PM - LOL! OKC's low basketball IQ shows its true colors. Westbrook foul. Bad coaching from the bench. Bad teammates for not recognizing the situation. Game over. Miami wins 104-98. LeBron with 26 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, and 2 steals.

The stories of the game tonight are LeBron's "mind over matter" effort and Westbrook's "Durant who?" 43-point beauty. Both guys really put their teams in position to win. The difference was Wade making two critical defensive plays (a save to LeBron and a great contest on Thabo's three point shot), while Durant and Harden were nowhere to be found. The guys on the court all look exhausted. You have to love the effort being shown by both teams.

Nobody other than Westbrook and Durant scored in double figures for the Thunder tonight. What happened to the team basketball that was the envy of the rest of the NBA? In my opinion, I think it's because they are not used to the physicality of Miami. Most notably, James "I flop" Harden. The Spurs were soft, the Lakers were soft, and the Mavericks were soft.

All times are Central Standard Time.
Photo content courtesy of: Getty Images

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Durant guards Chalmers. Chalmers has his best game of the series.

somebody find Harden in time for game 5

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