Russell Westbrook shone for the Oklahoma City Thunder for almost all of Game Four with a spectacular offensive display on Tuesday, but a rash blunder in the closing seconds left his team on the brink of an NBA Finals defeat.
Westbrook scored a game-high 43 points, including all 13 of Oklahoma City's points during a late fightback that tied the score at 90-90 midway through the fourth quarter.
He sank 20-of-32 shots to keep the Thunder close but with 17.3 seconds remaining and Oklahoma City trailing 101-98, a jump ball was called between Udonis Haslim and the Thunder's James Harden, and the shot-clock set at five seconds for Miami.
As the ball was tipped toward the corner, Miami's Mario Chalmers scrambled to gather it in for a desperation heave at the basket with barely any time left on the 24-second shot-clock.
Westbrook, however, was unaware of the situation and fouled the Heat guard to prevent the clock from ticking down any further.
Instead of Oklahoma City getting the ball back with a chance to force overtime with a three-pointer, Chalmers was able to sink a pair of free throws to seal a victory that put Miami 3-1 ahead in the series and one win away from the title.
No team has ever come back from such a deficit to win the National Basketball Association crown.
"It was just a miscommunication on my part," Westbrook told reporters after the 104-98 loss.
"Nothing I can do about it now."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks refused to blame Westbrook for the error.
"I tell our guys, one play does not determine the outcome of a game," Brooks said. "There's 200 plays involved in every basketball game. It doesn't come down to one play. It was a tough play, but we move on from it.
"I thought Russell was terrific tonight. The guy played relentless, was aggressive. He kept us in this game, and he gave us a chance to win."
Harden said the team was not gathered together by Brooks to make sure they all knew the time-clock situation.
"Kind of a funky play, a weird play," Harden said in the quiet Thunder locker room. "We should have been at the bench. We weren't too together on that particular play and then we fouled."
Nick Collison said he did not think Westbrook caused the defeat. "I think it was a mistake on our part to foul, for sure. I think it was a bad break," he said.
Harden said the Thunder just had to beat the Heat on Thursday to send the series back to Oklahoma City.
"We still have one more chance at it."
(Editing by John O'Brien)