LeBron James and the Miami Heat are one game away from a championship.
In a back-and-forth affair, the Heat fended off the explosive Oklahoma City Thunder, 104-98, to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the 2012 NBA Finals at American Airlines arena in Miami.
James did everything for his team, scoring 26 points, dishing out 12 assists and pulling in nine rebounds.
He endured some serious cramps midway through the fourth quarter, and it terrified everyone in attendance. He was forced to sit out for roughly a minute before coming back for the final stretch. At the time, Oklahoma City held a 94-92 lead with 3:55 to go in regulation.
The Heat outscored the Thunder 12-4 from there to put themselves in position to close out the Thunder without having to travel back to Oklahoma City.
Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 43 points on a ridiculous 20-of-32 night from the field, but key turnovers and missed shots down the stretch doomed his team.
No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2-3-2 format, and now the Thunder are going to be facing elimination Thursday night.
History is not on their side.
Westbrook's athleticism is unbelievable.
In the second quarter, he reminded us of as much with this incredible put-back slam off the Thabo Sefolosha miss:
But that doesn’t mean even the high-flying Westbrook doesn’t get denied by the rim every once in a while:
The Thunder jumped out to a 17-point lead right off the bat in the first quarter, but the Heat went on an incredible run that was aided by some scorching-hot shooting, as USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt noted:
During Miami's 16-0 run, Thunder went 0-for-5 and Miami 6-for-8, including 3-for-5 on threes.— Jeff Zillgitt (@usat_jzillgitt) June 19, 2012
The flopping wasn’t too bad in Game 4, but Dwyane Wade’s reaction after taking contact in the second quarter was probably the worst. He held his back and seemed to be in serious pain, but never showed any effects the remainder of the game. The parody account Not Bill Walton wasn’t amused:
Wade flopped so hard to the floor that he actually hurt himself. Oh, the humanity.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) June 19, 2012
The lack of a point guard presence for the Heat has gotten to the point where LeBron is forced to be the distributor. As Grantland’s Sebastian Pruiti tells us, James is completely reinventing the point guard position in these finals:
Miami has basically turned LBJ into the PG from the block...he goes one on one, help comes, he hits the open man— SebastianPruiti (@SebastianPruiti) June 19, 2012
While I may disagree with the word perfect, Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports isn’t far off with his evaluation of LeBron's Game 4 performance:
LeBron has been perfect tonight. Impeccable decisions, playmaking. If he erupts in 4Q, you'll see some swooning— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) June 19, 2012
One of the biggest disappointments for the Thunder has been James Harden. The Sixth Man of the Year has played incredibly poor basketball throughout this series, as Dan Wolken of The Daily points out:
James Harden is blowing this series for the Thunder in so many ways.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) June 19, 2012
Grades For Key Thunder Players
Kevin Durant: B-
You knew he had to have a huge game after getting saddled with foul trouble in the last two games. Well, he did…kind of.
One of the oddest facts about Game 4 is that Durant's first rebound came in the fourth quarter despite playing 46 minutes.
He finished with 28 points, but only had two rebounds. He wasn’t very aggressive and didn’t take over in the fourth as Westbrook struggled with fatigue. Not the performance the Thunder were looking for from their leader.
Russell Westbrook: A-
He scored 13 straight points for the Thunder at one point in the fourth quarter as the true savior of his team. Durant was struggling to get open and Westbrook picked up the slack. That may be the understatement of the century.
He had 18 at the half and somehow only had three tries from the charity stripe. He was draining everything, and was practically un-guardable for the first half of the fourth quarter as he brought his team back into the game.
The Thunder would have lost by double digits without Westbrook.
Although his boneheaded foul with 13 seconds was inexcusable.
James Harden: F
The beard is no longer feared.
He shot 2-of-10 from the field en route to a mere eight points and four turnovers. He had no real impact on the game and has some serious soul-searching to do in the next 48 hours.
Grades For Key Heat Players
LeBron James: A
That’s what LeBron has been for the duration of this NBA Final, and he was at it again for Game 4.
His three-point shot and subsequent limp back down the floor with just under three minutes remaining will not be forgotten for a very long time. That put Miami up for good.
He is destroying a ton of demons in these finals and is now on the cusp of shutting up all of the haters.
Dwyane Wade: A-
His questionable flop and subsequent back injury is what most fans will remember from Wade this performance, but that’s not fair.
His defense down the stretch was incredible. He also scored 25 points while hitting 7-of-9 from the free-throw line. He played like an NBA Finals veteran and showed the world he is far from finished as an elite player in this league.
Chris Bosh: C
He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in a rather quiet effort. He wasn’t aggressive in attacking the basket and seemed much more tentative than he was in Game 3.
Miami needs more from its big man.
Deciding Factor: Heat Point Guards
Raise your hand if you predicted Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole to combine for 33 points and only one turnover.
They were incredibly calm and never tried to create something that wasn’t there. Chalmers hit the clinching layup with just under 50 seconds remaining and finished with 25 gigantic points. After a horrible start to the series, all is forgiven.
The Heat only committed nine turnovers, and the biggest reason was the play of their point guards.
Game MVP: LeBron James
He knows what’s on the line and is finally getting his points in the paint. He doesn’t need to be a hero when the game is already in hand in the final 30 seconds.
His three-point shot with the limp will forever live in glory if the Heat win this series.
The Heat will have a chance to close out the Thunder once and for all Thursday night at home in Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
LeBron is one game away from erasing all of his demons and will have his first ever closeout game in the NBA Finals.
Can he do it without traveling back to OKC?