LeBron James grimaced and groaned, unable to play and unable to sit on the bench because of a throbbing pain in his right leg. James had been such a impactful force against the Oklahoma City Thunder, given so much of himself that he was too exhausted to finish. With the win within his grasp, James was forced to be a spectator for the final, unsettling 55.5 seconds of Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant leading a furious charge, the Miami Heat was placed in a difficult position to hold on. But after letting James carry the team for most of the night — with his dominant presence inside and impeccable passing — the Heat lifted James to the finish with a gritty 104-98 victory that put the three-time league’s most valuable player within one victory of hoisting that elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Miami Heat topped the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 Tuesday night, despite the Thunder getting 43 points from Russell Westbrook and taking a huge early lead.
The Washington Post’s Jason Reid offers some perspective on the Heat-Thunder series and what has been a historically strong postseason run for LeBron James while Dan Steinberg laments that James gets too much respect from the referees.
“It’s a big-time team win, and we needed every point. We needed every rebound and everything that everyone had to get it,” said James, who has worn a mouth piece with XVI — the Roman numeral for 16 — to symbolize the number of postseason victories required to win a title. “If we come out with the mind-set that we’ve come out with during the playoffs, we’re going to give ourselves a good chance to win.”
Mario Chalmers matched a playoff career high with 25 points, including the final five points — a driving underhanded layup and three free throws — as Miami took a three-games-to-one lead over the Thunder. The Heat, a team built through free agency wizardry and James’s controversial defection from Cleveland, is close to capturing the first of the many titles James predicted during a smoke and laser introduction two years ago — and completing the exorcism of a disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks that lingered with them for more than a year.
Dwyane Wade also had 25 and Chris Bosh chipped in with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Heat, which has a chance to make sure that his series never goes back to Oklahoma City, with Game 5 on Thursday at American Airlines Arena.
“That’s what the Finals is about, giving everything you have until you can’t walk no more,” said Bosh, who joined forces with James and Wade in the summer of 2010 for this opportunity. “It’s about will. It’s about nothing else. . . . We know it’s not over until it’s over, so we have to finish this job that we started.”
James pulled up lame while falling on a drive to the basket with 5 minutes 49 seconds remaining and was forced to leave the game, getting to the bench with the assistance of reserve Juwan Howard, shortly thereafter. He returned with a limp, hobbling around the floor as he knocked down an inspiring three-pointer that broke 94-all tie, but he was forced to sit for good with a leg cramp about five minutes later after finishing with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
Chalmers overcame a severe shooting slump, missing 16 of 18 shots dating back from Game 2 before finally breaking through and rescuing the team with 12 points in the final period — more than James and Wade combined (11).