LeBron James continues to build on his legacy, a legacy far different from the one established last year when he shrunk in the NBA Finals. No, this LeBron James is one of purpose and courage—and he is one more victory from being crowned King.
He got to this prime position Tuesday night when he and the Miami Heat overcame a sluggish start, a mercurial performance by Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and James’ late-game cramps to pull out another hotly contested game, this time taking Game 4, 104-98, to earn a 3-1 series lead.
If history is taken into account, this series is over. To wit: No team in the NBA Finals has ever overcome a 3-1 deficit. The potential clincher is Game 5 on Thursday back in Miami. If OKC pulls out a victory, the series shift back to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder are in a desperate state because, just like in the last three games, all losses, their youth showed in late-game execution. Meanwhile, the Heat just got it done. It was not quite the New York Knicks’ Willis Reed coming out of the Madison Square Garden tunnel with a wretched knee in 1969 or even Michael Jordan’s “flu game” when the Chicago Bulls won on the road in Utah in 1998.
But James did pull himself together after having to leave the game with cramps late. He stumbled to the court on a drive midway through the fourth quarter, staying on the offensive end of the floor as the Heat regained possession on a blocked shot, and he made a short jumper that made it 92-90. After Westbrook, who had 43 points, missed a jumper, the Heat called timeout as James gingerly went to the court. Unable to walk off, he was carried to the sideline by a pair of teammates.
He returned to a huge roar with a little over 4 minutes left and the Heat down two, and after Chris Bosh tied it, James slowly walked into a pull-up 3-point attempt—perhaps doing so knowing he couldn’t drive by anyone—and drilled it. Miami had the lead for good.
”I was just trying to make a play,” James (26 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds) said. ”If I was out on the floor, I wanted to try to make a play with the limited mobility I had at that time, and I was happy I was able to come through.”
Mario Chalmers came through for the Heat in a big way. He was guarded early by Kevin Durant as a way of protecting OKC from getting into foul trouble. Chalmers took it as an insult and scored 25 points and was huge in the final moments, when James finally had to be taken out of the game for good.
”I took that as a little sign of disrespect,” Chalmers said.
Said Dwyane Wade, who had 25 points: ”Obviously LeBron James is one of the most dominant players in the game, and he explodes many nights scoring-wise. But we’ve always got his back, and certain nights like tonight when he wasn’t feeling his greatest, you have guys like Mario Chalmers step up, big plays, big moments. That’s what this team is built on, and that’s the reason we’re playing together.”
One more win and James’ nine-year pursuit of a title ends.
”Of course it’s there to think about,” James said. ”I’ll be ready for Game 5.”
For the Thunder, it is another bitter defeat. Charged by Westbrook’s brilliance, they led by 17 early. But they got nothing from James Harden (2-for-10 shooting) and were unable to get quality shots or turned the ball over in the key late moments. Now, they are on the brink.
”We’re going to keep fighting,” said Durant, who had 28 points. ”It’s just frustrating, but we’re going to keep fighting. That’s how we’ve been since I got here.”