It's a make or miss league.
That may have never been more true for the Miami Heat than in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, down 2-1 in the series, came out like gangbusters, racing out to a 33-16 lead on James Harden's layup with 21 seconds left in the first period.
The Heat were forced back on their heels. It wasn't that they came out flat; it was that Oklahoma City came out that much sharper, led by Russell Westbrook and getting a huge contribution from back-up center Nick Collison after Serge Ibaka went out with two early fouls.
Down 17, you need someone to show you the way. That someone was rookie point guard Norris Cole, whom LeBron James found in the corner for a huge three to stunt the Thunder onslaught.
James would find Cole for another three-pointer early in the second quarter. For the game, five of his 12 assists led to Miami threes.
So what happens if guys are missing these shots instead of knocking them down?
Even on a night when James was repeatedly attacking the basket, scoring 16 of his 26 points in the paint, cynics would have said he was deferring to his teammates and shrinking from the moment instead of leading the way.
There are several ways to lead and James, perhaps understanding this game would not be won by two or three players, looked to get others involved.
James, Cole and company would eventually tie the game at 35 on a Dwyane Wade three-pointer.
The Thunder took a 49-46 lead into halftime, but Miami looked like the more desperate team out of the locker room, using a 20-11 burst to wrestle the lead away from the visitors.
Wade scored 10 of his 25 in the third quarter, which the Heat lead by four after Westbrook and Durant combined for a three-point play on a Heat foul away from the ball.
After another Westbrook jumper cut the deficit to one, Miami pushed it out to seven, 90-83, on a Wade three-pointer.
Westbrook, enjoying one of the better finals games in recent memory, answered with a personal 7-0 run to knot the score at 90 with 6:11 remaining. Seventeen of his 43 came in the final stanza.
Eighteen seconds later, James crashed to the floor with leg cramps.
Two plays later he was on the bench and the Thunder would take advantage, going up 94-92 on a silky Durant score from the right wing.
James immediately returned, leading a 7-0 run to give Miami a lead it would not again relinquish.
His tie-breaking three-pointer with under three minutes remaining was the biggest shot of this series up to that point.
But James would go out again, this time for good.
No worries. Enter Super Mario Chalmers. Repeatedly getting to the basket on broken plays, Chalmers scored a dozen in the fourth, none bigger than his lay-up with less than 45 seconds to go in the game.
Ahead by just three with seventeen seconds left, Wade's shot went long, leading to a jump-ball. Miami controlled the jump after Shane Battier tipped it out to Chalmers.
Miami would have just five seconds to get a shot up, but Westbrook inexplicably fouled Chalmers, apparently unaware of the shot-clock situation.
Chalmers calmly stepped to the line and pushed the lead to five, essentially sealing a classic game on an unfortunate gaff.
Westbrook had one of the best games of his young career, scoring at will at a break-neck pace. But beyond his efforts and Kevin Durant's 28 points, Oklahoma City struggled to find additional offensive support.
Miami's trio of James, Wade and Chalmers however, became the first set of teammates to score 25 or more in a Finals game since the 1985 NBA Champion Lakers.
James finished one rebound shy of his first triple-double since Game 5 of last year's NBA Finals.
The Thunder still have one more chance to take this series back to the Sooner state. A win in Game 5 restores the home-court advantage in their favor and pushes the pressure back on Miami.
This series could easily be tied or even 3-1 Thunder. Both teams know it. Expect an encore on Thursday night.
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