MIAMI, Fla. — Russell Westbrook wasn't trying to silence his critics.
But even when he did, he supplied them more ammunition.
Such is life for the Oklahoma City Thunder's All-Star point guard.
Westbrook was fantastic in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, scoring a game-high 43 points with seven rebounds and five assists in 45 minutes.
Yet, it will be the last of his three fouls that will capture much of the basketball world's attention while looking back on the Thunder's 104-98 loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday night inside American Airlines Arena.
Westbrook delivered an ill-advised foul to Mario Chalmers with 13.8 seconds remaining, sending the malign but red-hot Miami guard to the foul line where he sealed the Thunder's fate with swishes that swelled the Heat's series lead to 3-1.
The foul came after Heat guard Dwyane Wade missed a floater while falling out of bounds with 17.3 seconds remaining. The rebound fell to Miami forward Udonis Haslem, but Thunder guard James Harden got his hands on the basketball to force a jump ball before Haslem could go back up with a shot to beat the expiring 24-second clock.
Under league rules, the 24-second clock remains the same as when play was interrupted or is reset to five seconds, whichever is greater, any time on jump balls retained by the offensive team as the result of a held ball caused by the defense.
When the jump ball got tapped out to Chalmers with just five seconds showing on the shot clock, Westbrook chopped down on Chalmers hands after a dribble in the corner.
Just three seconds were left on the shot clock. The Thunder was down only three.
An errant shot by the Heat and a rebound by the Thunder, or a shot-clock violation, would have given Oklahoma City a chance to tie the game inside the final 15 seconds.
“It was just a miscommunication on my part,” Westbrook said. “Nothing I can do about it now.”
The irony is without Westbrook the Thunder wouldn't have even been in the game. And after the buzzer, everyone from Scott Brooks to Royal Ivey stuck up for Westbrook, stressing that Westbrook's foul didn't cost the Thunder the game.
“It was a tough play. Could have been a communication thing,” Brooks said. “That play, I tell our guys, one play does not determine the outcome of a game. There's 200 plays involved in every basketball game. It doesn't come down to one play. It was a tough play, but we move on from it; learn from it and move on from it.”
Westbrook's point total was three more than his previous playoff-high, set in a triple-overtime win at Memphis last postseason. His 43 were two shy of his regular-season high.
He made 20-of-32 shots, five of them in the first quarter to help the Thunder get off to its first good start in this series. Behind Westbrook's 10 first-quarter points, the Thunder took a 33-19 lead after one quarter of play.
“He had it going since the beginning of the game, and when a guy has got it going we've got to keep feeding him,” said Kevin Durant. “He was making shots and keeping us in the game, and we just tried to play off of him.”
Westbrook had eight points in the middle two quarters before taking complete control in the fourth. When Durant struggled for the second straight game to shake free from LeBron James, it was Westbrook who rose to the occasion and salvaged something from a sputtering Thunder offense.
Westbrook scored 17 points in the final frame pouring in 13 straight during one stretch on a series of slashes to the rim that left everyone in Miami shaking their head.
“Just trying to stay in attack mode,” Westbrook explained. “Shots were falling. But it really doesn't mean nothing. We didn't come out with the win.”
As each shot dropped through the net, Westbrook was proving that this Thunder team, despite critics swearing otherwise, does indeed need Westbrook to score — even if it calls for the point guard taking more shots than the reigning three-time scoring champion in Durant.
But Westbrook insisted he wasn't out to prove a point.
“Let me get this straight,” Westbrook said. “What you guys say doesn't make me happy, make me sad, doesn't do anything. It's all about my team and us winning a game. I don't have a personal challenge against you guys, and it's not me against the world. It's not the world against me. It's me and my teammates trying to win.”
The Thunder didn't, and Westbrook will receive a bulk of the blame by many because of his late-game foul regardless of his phenomenal performance.
And at the end of the night, Westbrook was all alone, walking out of American Airlines Arena toward the team bus sporting a plaid green jacket without any entourage, just a token security guard serving as his personal escort.
By the time he boarded the bus, he would be all alone with his thoughts.
The foul perhaps messed with his mind most.
But by no means should there have not been room for his other fantastic 45 minutes, 15 seconds.