2012 NBA Finals, Game 5 – When Russell Westbrook Fell Apart and LeBron James Officially Became a Legend

LeBron James tied for his lowest scoring game of the 2012 NBA Finals series, it might have been his best, closing out the series with a triple doube. Like a Boss, some would say, if these was a Lonely Island video. There was no argument that Russell Westbrook had his worst game of the series, and subsequently his team.

LeBron James couldn’t miss early on, but even better, he couldn’t make a wrong decision. His long shot making wasn’t exactly efficient. He missed three shots from beyond the arc, but he scored 18 points from inside the paint out of his 26. The most meaningful and symbolic of his baskets came as he simply fought between a sea of Thunder hands, grabbing two offensive rebounds before finally making the and-one.

On the other side Russell Westbrook couldn’t make a shot drop for him. After scoring 43 points by simply blowing by his defender in Game 4, Westbrook saw a completely different kind of look and smothering from the Miami Heat defense. Traps and double teams which forced Westbrook to resort to his pull up jumpers instead of making his way into the paint. Trying to find an open man? It wasn’t in his program on the night. Westbrook finished with 4-20 from the field, finishing with lying 19 points.

On the other hand, James closed out the series with a triple double. Finishing with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. The third quarter saw the Thunder’s feet stop moving on both ends of the floor. The offense looked like isolation after isolation move, while the Heat kept getting open looks on offense. James kept drawing the double team and kept finding the open man. The Miami Heat finished with 14-26 from beyond the arc and 51.9% from the field on the day.

The Heat players scored 34 points off of James’ 13 assists. That’s the second highest points-off-assists from a single player over the last 15 years, with Rajon Rondo’s 37 point spread in the 2008 NBA Finals. James had 12 assists in Game 4, creating 29 points, which is number three on this list. He finished the series with 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. He was only the fifth players to finish with a triple double in a title-clinching game, the first since Tim Duncan in 2003. The other names on the list? Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and James Worthy.

Is Westbrook a selfish player? Was this the epitome of his weaknesses, trying to get something out of a bad situation by simply putting his head down and trying to make shot after shot in a difficult situation? Sometimes, the best thing for the Thunder is Westbrook taking shots. Sometimes Durant takes a step back. But it wasn’t on this night, and Westbrook kept making things Worse. Even worse, Brooks doesn’t have any actual point guard option on the bench in attempts to educate Westbrook. James Harden did show up this time, scoring 19 points, but these were some of the quietest and softest 19 points anyone has ever scored.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden are projected to make the NBA Finals next year, and the next. This team is so young, so talented; It’s impossible to think that they won’t win NBA titles down the line, or at least get multiple shots at doing so, as long as this group stays together. But they, like James and the Heat did from last year, will have to learn what went wrong and why the less talented team, on paper, won the series.

For James, this was the seal of approval he needed to become one of the all-time greats, officially that is. There was no argument about how talented he is, some even suggesting as the most complete basketball player to ever step on an NBA court. But you never hear about Charles Barkley or Karl Malone when it’s in talks of the truly greats. You need that title ring to belong in the discussion. Would have James been worthy of being included without a title ring? We’ll never know now.

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