James, Heat Put Thunder On Brink Of Elimination

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LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat protects the ball from Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Arena on June 19, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat protects the ball from Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Arena on June 19, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

MIAMI (AP) — They got an epic performance from Russell Westbrook. They ran out to a huge early lead. They watched LeBron James get carried off the court in the fourth quarter, and took the lead shortly after he departed.

Somehow, it still wasn’t enough for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And their hopes in these NBA Finals took a massive hit on Tuesday night.

Even after getting 43 points from Westbrook, 28 more from Kevin Durant and staking itself to a 17-point lead by the time the first quarter was over, Oklahoma City is now officially on the brink. James finished with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each scored 25 points and the Miami Heat beat the Thunder 104-98 in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven title series.

Game 5 is in Miami on Thursday night, where James and the Heat can capture the NBA title that they were assembled to get two years ago.

History says the Thunder are now in deep, deep trouble. No team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. No team has even forced a Game 7 when faced with that scenario.

Westbrook took 32 shots, as many as James and Chris Bosh tried combined. He made 20 — half of Oklahoma City’s field goals on the night — and finished with seven rebounds and five assists as well. For a guard who struggled so much so many times against Miami, it was a breakout night that the Thunder desperately needed.

What they also needed was to take advantage of it — and that didn’t happen, largely because Miami made sure Oklahoma City only had two options by night’s end.

Durant’s mother grabbed him by both arms as he walked off the floor, hugging him and then using her right hand to turn his face back toward her, trying her best to console the scoring champion.

For the final 16-plus minutes, the Thunder were reduced to playing 2-on-5 basketball. Serge Ibaka made a jumper with 4:46 left in the third quarter, cutting Miami’s lead to 68-66.

After that, it was either all Westbrook or all Durant, all the time.

And they were superb, again, just not superb enough to take down Miami. After that Ibaka jumper, no other Thunder player besides the team’s two superstars scored a point.

James Harden struggled yet again, shooting 2 for 10 for the second straight game, though he did finish with 10 rebounds. Nick Collison scored six points, but the other three Oklahoma City starters — Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha — combined for a mere 13 on 6-for-16 shooting.

Westbrook was amazing. Durant was great. Everyone else was nearly nonexistent.

And if the Thunder don’t figure out a way to do something no NBA team has ever done throughout the rest of this series, James will finally get that ring he’s spent nine seasons chasing.

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