By ANDRE KHATCHATURIAN
MIAMI – LeBron James was grimacing in pain after he suffered a cramp late in the fourth quarter.
However, that didn’t stop him from draining a three-pointer with 2:51 left in a tie ball game that gave the Miami Heat a lead they would not relinquish in their 102-96 victory in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After suffering a cramp, James was forced to sit out on two separate occasions of the fourth quarter, including the last 56 seconds of the game. The times he was on the floor, though, James rose to the moment.
James finished the game with one rebound shy of a triple-double, scoring 26 points, 12 assists, and nine rebounds in the enormous Heat win that gives them a commanding 3-1 series lead. No NBA team has ever blown a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. In fact, they’re 30-0.
The 26-point performance also means that in James’ 22 playoff games this year, he has scored at least 26 in all but two of them. He also became the first player with a 26-12-9 stat line in the Finals since Larry Bird did it in 1986.
Despite his explosive performance, James was nowhere near of becoming the premier player on the floor. That honor belonged to Russell Westbrook, who responded strongly after being benched in Game 3 with a 43-point performance on 20-of-32 shooting in a losing effort.
That said, what hurt the Thunder throughout the game was their inability to build on their own momentum. The Thunder had major scoring runs in the first and fourth quarters, but they couldn’t hold onto either lead.
In the first quarter, the Thunder struck with a 33-16 lead, but literally 4:24 later, the game was knotted up at 35 after a 19-2 Miami run. Norris Cole was a major reason why the Heat were able to come back immediately and not fall into a deeper hole. He hit two consecutive three-pointers to close the gap to 11. From there, Miami built off their momentum and rallied.
Then in the fourth quarter after LeBron was knocked out of the game, the Thunder opened up a 94-92 lead only to have it evaporate after James returned and hit the game-sealing three with 2:51 to go.
Mario Chalmers looked like the point guard we all saw during his Kansas days when his clutch play led the Jayhawks to a national title. He scored 12 fourth quarter points, five of which came in the final minute with LeBron sitting out. He finished with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Dwyane Wade also had a bounce back game, scoring 25 points in a rejuvenated effort.
Chris Bosh also continued his dominance on the glass, grabbing nine rebounds. He is averaging ten boards per game in this series, up 25 percent from his season average. On the defensive side, he’s cancelling out Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in the paint, who combined for just eight points.
In fact, other than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder did not receive much offensive support from anybody. Westbrook and Durant scored 71 of the team’s 98 points, exemplifying the notion that role players (including James Harden, who hit two shots for the third time this series) are not stepping up.
The team has looked predictable all season long as 62 percent of their total points in this series have come from Westbrook and Durant
They’ve also fallen in love with the three pointer and this hasn’t been beneficial for the team as they’ve shot just 7-for-34 from long distance on the road in this series.
If the Thunder are going to get back in the series, they’re going to need to rely on more guys than just Durant and Westbrook and they also need to stay away from the three-ball.
As for the Heat, they’re thrilled that James’ injury was only a cramp. They’re only one win away from silencing all their critics, but they won’t be able to have their collective sigh of relief until they have more points than the Thunder in the next game when there are triple zeroes on the clock.