The Miami Heat took firm control of the NBA Finals with a 104-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4. The narrow triumph moves LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company to within one win of a championship and temporary relief from the critics.
There were several key storylines to emerge from the game, which saw the Thunder take an early lead before Miami began to take over in the second quarter. Let's take a look at some of the most important factors of Tuesday night's clash and examine how they'll impact the rest of the series.
James Harden Struggles
Harden hasn't lived up to the hype in the finals. Oklahoma City was expected to match Miami's big three with its own terrific trio. While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have held up their end of the bargain, Harden has struggled mightily at times.
He's averaging just 11 points per game in the series and has scored less than 10 points in three of the four contests. Since none of the Thunder's other role players have stepped up to fill the scoring void, Harden's lackluster play has stood out like a sore thumb.
If the Thunder are going to complete a comeback for the ages, Harden must elevate his game in a major way. Oklahoma City simply doesn't have enough firepower to hang with the Heat unless the bearded star plays at an elite level.
Which team will win Game 5?
LeBron James Gets Injured
Heat fans around the world held their collective breath as James writhed in pain on the sidelines after suffering from cramps. Luckily for them, it wasn't anything more serious and it would take a lot more than that to keep James out of a potential series-clinching game.
No player in sports receives more criticism, often unwarranted, than James. If the Thunder would have came back to win last night's game, there would have been countless articles today about how Michael Jordan always played through the pain.
Make no mistake, James would love nothing more than winning his first title and shutting everybody up, at least for a couple of months. Look for him to come out as a man on a mission in Game 5, showing no ill effects from his cramping.
Mario Chalmers Closes
With James getting treatment on the sidelines, it was Chalmers—not Wade—who stepped up to close out the game for Miami. He scored the team's last five points, including a tremendous driving layup and some clutch free throws.
As basketball fans know, the Kansas product has never shied away from the big moment. His key three-point jumper in the 2008 national title game helped propel the Jayhawks to a championship, and his performance on Tuesday sets the Heat up to do the same.
Chalmers is a perfect example of the difference between the two teams through four games. The Heat are getting big plays from some unsung heroes, while the Thunder remain overly reliant on their stars. Unless that drastically changes, which is unlikely, Miami will be the champs.