LeBron James Injury: How Heat Star's Injured Leg Shakes Up NBA Finals

Austin GreenCorrespondent IJune 20, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on from the bench late in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 19, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Miami Heat took a commanding 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they were dealt a potentially devastating blow when LeBron James limped off the floor with 5:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.

ABC's Doris Burke confirmed shortly after that he was suffering from leg cramps, as the Heat training staff could be seen stretching his legs and rubbing his thighs with ice.

James returned for a few minutes and buried a critical three pointer, which put Miami up 97-94 with 2:51 remaining. It looked as though he was going to tough it out and deliver one of the more gutsy performances in NBA Finals history, a la Michael Jordan's flu game or Isaiah Thomas' sprained ankle game.

Unfortunately, James was forced to check back out with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and he never returned.  

Now, LeBron James makes headlines every time he sneezes, so you can expect an onslaught of media speculation over how these leg cramps will affect the Heat's chances.

However, I'm not expecting this injury to have a dramatic impact on the series.

James has a relatively clean medical history, and the diagnosis of leg cramps is much more encouraging than a sprain, dislocation, tear, or any other kind of injury that a player can suffer on the court. As long as he stays hydrated and stretches a lot over the next two days, he should be fine for Thursday's Game 5.

His team also proved that they can execute with him out of the game.

Obviously they would prefer to have the three-time league MVP at 100 percent, but Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on the roster for a reason. They can carry Miami's offense for stretches of the game, and if Mario Chalmers can play like he did in Game 4, the Heat will have another offensive weapon at their disposal.

Miami also has the luxury of the 3-1 series lead, with Game 5 being held on their home floor. Since the Finals switched to the 2-3-2 format in 1985, 13 teams have gone up 3-1, and all 13 have gone home with the Larry O'Brien Trophy. In fact, none of those series even went to seven games.

Of course, none of the 13 failures were the 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder, who are capable of some amazing feats. Let's not forget that they advanced to the Finals by beating the San Antonio Spurs four times in a row, immediately after the Spurs had ripped off 20 straight wins.

If any team can come back from down 3-1 in the Finals, it's this insanely talented Thunder team. But if they do pull off the improbable, it will be because of their own skill level and mental toughness, not LeBron James' leg cramps.