NBA Finals: Russell Westbrook's focus on winning put him in elite company in Game 4
The oft-criticized Westbrook proved with 43 points he has not surrendered this championship series to Miami.
MIAMI — Russell Westbrook came to the NBA podium Wednesday afternoon much like he came to the NBA podium Tuesday night.
A changed man.
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After a historic Game 4 in the NBA Finals, a 43-point night that put Westbrook in the company of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West and Michael Jordan, the Thunder point guard has a new prefix.
No longer superstreak. Superstar now precedes Westbrook's name. Westbrook has been knighted.
What else can be said after a jaw-dropping performance that didn't end in victory but ended in assurance of just how special is this Thunder duo of young guns. Westbrook and Kevin Durant give the Thunder a locked-and-loaded duo for at least the next four years that can trump any NBA franchise for talent supremacy.
Probably not in these NBA Finals. The Heat's 104-98 win Tuesday night puts the Thunder in a 3-1 hole, and teams don't emerge from 3-1 holes, though put anything past Durant and Westbrook at your own risk.
Durant, everyone knew. But Westbrook? Some doubted his level of stardom. No longer. Not after Westbrook, in the biggest game of his life, reached 43 points with incredible efficiency (62.5 percent shooting) and minimal help from the refs (only three foul shots).
Of the 10 players who had ever reached 43 points in a Finals game, only two had shot better than 62 percent: Wilt Chamberlain (1970) and Shaquille O'Neal (2000), both of whom sank most of their shots from within arm's length of the basket.
Westbrook likes that neighborhood himself, not with brute force but with dizzying athletic drives. But Westbrook, who missed all three of his 3-point shots, also sank 12 of 18 2-point jumpers away from the basket.
This was a night that elevated Westbrook to NBA royalty at the grand old age of 23. A knight that will get him nation-wide respect in American coliseums and a mega-shoe contract and even more attention from opposing defenses, if that's possible, starting with the Heat in Game 5 Thursday night.
“He was tremendous, and I don't think the film does it justice how explosive he was playing,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
The kind of night that even forgave Westbrook for his late faux pas, unnecessarily fouling Mario Chalmers with the Thunder down three and just 13 seconds left in the game.
Westbrook, maybe the league's most scrutinized player north of South Beach, drew plenty of witnesses who pointed out that while the foul was boneheaded, it didn't cost the Thunder the game.
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