Two games after Magic Johnson said Thunder guard Russell Westbrook turned in the worst half of point guard play in NBA Finals history, Westbrook earned an apology of sorts from Johnson after his 43-point effort in Game 4 Tuesday night.
“Russell Westbrook was amazing,” Johnson said. “Maybe I got to apologize to him. He has to play this way to give them a chance to win. Maybe it was my fault judging him as a point guard because he's a scoring point guard. He played a fabulous game. The problem is James Harden has not produced in this series.”
Commentator Stephen A. Smith offered a stronger apology to Westbrook. “Let me offer this man a national apology right here on national TV,” he said, noting Westbrook picked up the slack because of offensive struggles by Kevin Durant and Harden. “Durant didn't want it bad enough and James Harden didn't decide to show up.”
Game analyst Jeff Van Gundy said Westbrook silenced his critics that he shot too much and credited Thunder coach Scott Brooks for standing behind him. With a shot of Westbrook's parents celebrating in the stands, Van Gundy said, “He (his dad) loved it. Who's shooting too much now?”
Analyst Jon Barry went so far as to say that Harden's poor play cost the Thunder the game.
“He had some great looks. He turned the ball over four times. If James Harden played like he has all season, we'd be talking about a 2-2 series tonight, without question.”
Johnson said Harden should have dunked the ball on his breakaway that resulted in a missed layup.
Barry said the Thunder's weak 3-point shooting (3-of-16) and interior play also played a big part in the loss. “The Thunder is being out-toughed by the Miami Heat in the paint,” he said, crediting Chris Bosh's play.
LONG CRITICIZES OFFENSE
On Fox Sports Oklahoma's “Thunder Live,” analyst Grant Long criticized the Thunder's impatient offense for blowing a 17-point lead in the second quarter. “So many quick shots. One shot, one pass, one shot.”
Long said the Heat's strategy was to let Westbrook score and shut off the rest of the team. “They let it happen and stayed home on the other players,” he said.
Thunder play-by-play voice Brian Davis interjected praise for Westbrook. “Partner, you could say hell of a job. This is cable.”
VAN GUNDY COACHES
Van Gundy, a former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach, offered more coaching advice than he had in the first three games.
He was particularly harsh on the Thunder for not getting back on defense in the third quarter. “Oklahoma City is dragging up and down the court,” he said. “I can't stand it when teams are doing that. You're playing for something significant. If you're tired, sit down. If not, sprint back.”
After Brooks took Serge Ibaka out after getting his second foul five minutes into the game, Van Gundy said the coaches are too conservative in pulling players. “Overall, I think everyone from the NBA on down to high school, we overreact to foul trouble.”
Van Gundy did take issue with some of the fouls called on the Thunder. After a questionable foul was taken off Durant and given to a teammate, he said, “I think we should give it to somebody else, Cole Aldrich on the bench.”
--Similar to the first three games, Barry was the only studio analyst to pick the Thunder to win. Barry noted that trailing 2-0, the Thunder had won four in a row against the Spurs, which had won 20 in a row.
--ABC showed James speaking to the Heat in the pregame and Derek Fisher addressing the Thunder. “It's a must win for us,” James said. “It's Game 7. Don't lose no chances, man. Don't feel sorry for yourself.”
--After the game, ABC showed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra speaking to his team in the locker room about the routine of placing black marks on signs outside the arena after each playoff victory. “It's got to be black and blue,” he said. “We are more built for black and blue. This was a great win. Let's make sure we stay focused.”
--Smith said the Thunder blowing the 17-point lead so quickly told him “the Oklahoma City Thunder are not ready” to compete for the title.