LeBron James did his best Paul Pierce impression by fighting through late-game cramps to help power the Miami Heat to a 104-98 victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. The win put the Heat one win away from a series victory and moved James one step closer to his first NBA title. It wasn’t quite Willis Reed, but for a player who has dealt with endless scrutiny for his late game failures over the years, James’ clutch three-pointer that gave the Heat the lead with 2 minutes, 34 seconds left could prove to be one of the biggest shots of his career. As Michael Lee reported:
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 an 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.
“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.
James’ performance — 26 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists — continued his run of dominant play in this series, and after his display of determination on Tuesday night, he is receiving more well-deserved praise. As Mike Wise wrote:
It’s getting harder and harder to keep referring to LeBron James as a king without a throne. By Thursday night, it might be impossible.
With little more than five minutes left in a Game 4 gem Tuesday night that felt as seminal as any elimination game, LeBron came up lame. Carried from the court by Juwan Howard, a hush fell over American Airlines Arena — a worry almost as great as the euphoria that swept over the building when he rushed back to the scorer’s table to re-enter the game less than a minute later.
Hobbling with leg cramps, he could only give the Miami Heat three minutes of physical fortitude and skill before his body betrayed him again and he sat for the final minute. But those three minutes — featuring an assist and a monstrous three-pointer to give the Heat the lead for good — were enough to propel Miami to a three-games-to-one lead over Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals, a deficit no team in league history has recovered from since the 2-3-2 Finals format was introduced.
Whatever his condition and availability for Game 5 here on Thursday night, when the Heat can clinch its second title in franchise history and the first in the LeBron era, he chiseled his name into the annals of clutch playoff performances in June — a Willis Reed Lite moment that goes down as one of his most memorable postseason games and easily his most resilient.
James was feeling better at practice Wednesday, but said he will continue to undergo treatment for leg cramps ahead of Thursday’s Game 5. As the Associated Press reported:
LeBron James practiced with the Miami Heat on Wednesday, one day after leaving Game 4 of the NBA Finals in the fourth quarter because of leg cramps.
The league’s MVP says he’s feeling better. He plans to continue getting treatment until Game 5 of the series on Thursday night, when a Heat victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder would clinch the championship that James has been chasing for nine pro seasons.
Even up three games to one in the best-of-seven series, James says he’s keeping his focus. “My job is not done,” he says.
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