“Russell had a bad stretch of about three or four bad possessions,” Brooks reasoned. “I took him out to calm him down and put him right back in the game.”
Except Westbrook didn't go “right back in.” He sat out five minutes, and the Heat took control. The Thunder missed all eight of its shots in the final 4 1/2 minutes.
“Coach's decision,” Westbrook said. “Got to live with it.”
Or die with it. This isn't New Jersey in February. This is Miami in the NBA Finals. The Thunder can't play any significant stretch without either Westbrook or Durant.
“Frustrating,” Durant said. “I just hate sitting on the bench, especially with fouls.”
* With a nine-point lead, the Thunder committed dunderheaded fouls on consecutive possessions – Serge Ibaka fouled Shane Battier on a corner 3-point shot and Fisher fouled James Jones in the exact same spot. The Heat made all six foul shots, and the OKC lead melted to 65-62 in less than a minute.
But as bad as those decisions were, they weren't embarrassing. The Thunder in the fourth quarter melted down.
The Thunder has not always played wisely in its ascension from Baby Boomers to NBA contenders. But the Thunder rarely has panicked.
It panicked down the stretch Sunday night, and not just at the foul line, where the team of pinpoint foul shooting (an NBA-high 80.6 percent) made just 15 of 24.
After LeBron's two foul shots with 7:11 left wiped out OKC's last lead, the Thunder went six straight possessions without scoring.
The Thunder did not get good shots, and the final two possessions in the drought were humiliating. First, James Harden threw away the ball, afraid that LeBron was about to swipe a pass for Durant.
On the next possession, Westbrook threw a wild pass that Durant miraculously saved at midcourt, only to have Harden fumble away the ball on a drive.
It's to the Thunder's amazing resolve that it rallied and had a chance to tie on Westbrook's 3-point try in the final 30 seconds.
But maybe only an NBA title will wipe out the scene of the panic attack that engulfed the Thunder.
“We've got to do a better job,” Durant said. “It's not like they're forcing us to just turn the ball over.”
Nope, but the Heat did force the Thunder to look something totally different than what we're used to seeing. And that makes the rest of these NBA Finals awfully dicey for the boys who once were poised.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.