MIAMI - Not surprisingly, Russell Westbrook arrived after midnight to address the news media dressed like Poindexter. The precociously talented kid from Los Angeles who grew up a Lakers fan played anything like a nerd.
No, on this evening of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Westbrook was more like Isiah or "The Answer." Or one might suggest that the mercurial, slashing point guard with Hall of Fame-type hops was utterly Magic - as in Johnson, one of his critics during the NBA Finals.
Wearing black, horn-rimmed eyeglasses and a green-and-white plaid sports jacket, Westbrook might have been a portrait of sartorial splendor. But he was in no mood to celebrate in the early hours of Wednesday morning. He had just spackled the Miami Heat for 43 points, but the Oklahoma City Thunder lost anyway, 104-98, to confront the daunting task of desperately needing to win three of four games to claim the NBA championship.
It was the highest point production in the Finals since the Heat's Dwyane Wade whipsawed the Dallas Mavericks for 43 in Game 5 in 2006, and it left Miami coach Erik Spoelstra in awe.
"He's a great player," Spoelstra said. "He was trying to will his team to a win. You have to respect that fierceness. He brought it tonight."
As Game 5 clouds gathered overhead for the Thunder in the form of postgame gloom, Westbrook tried to remain upbeat. "Guys are going to stay confident," he said. "We're going to stick together and try to get a win."
But Westbrook understood the difficult, implausible task at hand: No team facing a 3-1 deficit has won an NBA Finals ever or even forced a Game 7 since 1966. This was a pivotal game, and the Thunder needed lightning to strike. Instead, it is the Heat who are now energized.
Westbrook had a game for the ages, the greatest scoring night by a point guard of his age in NBA Finals history. But there would be no glee from the 23-year-old former UCLA backcourt phenom, only an uncomfortable exchange with a news reporter.
Reporter: "Russell, you've taken some heat - whether you know it or not, you have - but tonight, of course, you shouldn't take a whole lot. Was there any vindication at all? ... Personally, do you feel OK about it?"
Westbrook, steam slowly rising from behind his collar: "No."
"Let me get this straight," Westbrook continued. "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."
No, but it seemed Tuesday night as if it was only the stunningly swift point guard against the Heat.
Westbrook was that overpowering, revving his game like a Ferrari racing against a grid of Ford Focuses. A blur in Thunder blue, he produced 25 points in the second half, prompting, ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy to quip, "Who is shooting too much now?"
Westbrook shot 20-for-32 from the floor (0-for-3 from beyond the arc), adding five assists, seven rebounds, one steal and three turnovers. He entered the game shooting 41.2% and averaging 24.3 points a game in the series. His 43 points were a career playoff-best. (He hammered the Memphis Grizzlies for 40 last May; the franchise record is 45 by former Seattle SuperSonics guard Fred Brown in 1976.)
And it was most points poured in by a point guard in the Finals since Allen Iverson's 48 in Game 1 for the Philadelphia 76ers against the Lakers in 2001. The Detroit Pistons' Isiah Thomas tallied 43 in Game 6 against the Lakers in 1988.
Teammate Kendrick Perkins effused praise on Westbrook's incredible night.
"Russell played big tonight," said the veteran Thunder center. "He carried the team. ... He was trying to win it by himself. He was trying to take over the game. That is what separates the elite players from other players."
Criticized for being too selfish in a Game 2 defeat, the sometimes-polarizing playmaker demonstrated why he is one of the NBA's most dynamic, stylish backcourt stars with peerless body control and soaring moves to the rim as he knifed through Miami's defense time and time again.
Dominating with deadly perimeter shooting and surging drives to set up teammates, Westbrook had 10 points and two assists to fuel the Thunder's best first quarter in the series. He then added eight points and four rebounds in the second quarter.
A two-time All-Star in his fourth NBA season, Westbrook connected on nine of 15 field-goal attempts in the first half. He nailed his first four shots of the game as Oklahoma City raced to a 15-5 lead. On his fifth attempt, he blew past Wade, but his dunk attempt hit short on the rim.
Westbrook, whose teammates say he plays with a chip on his shoulder, was undaunted in both halves.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Westbrook heroics enabled the Thunder to tie the game at 90. For much of the game, he ripped through the Heat's interior defense, whipping to the basket three consecutive times for easy baskets. At one point, Westbrook scored 11 consecutive points enabling Oklahoma City to pull within 90-88 with less than seven minutes remaining in the game.
But Westbrook made a critical mistake with 13.8 seconds remaining when he lost track of the 24-second clock and fouled Mario Chalmers off a jump ball with Miami leading 101-98. Chalmers made both free throws for a five-point lead.
"It was just miscommunication on my part," he said. "Nothing I can do about it now."
At that point, the game was over. So was his dramatic one-man show.
This was a pivotal game that the Thunder needed lightning to strike. Instead, it is the Heat who are now energized.
"It really doesn't mean nothing," Westbrook said of his spectacular night.
He was wrong, of course. And he was so right.