NBA Finals 2012: LeBron's Cramps and the Play That Won Game 4

Colin Kennedy@ColinKennedy10Featured ColumnistJune 21, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 19:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives for a shot attempt against Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat 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

Pivotal Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals produced a plethora of intriguing story lines that have gone widely unnoticed thanks to LeBron James' right calf muscle.  

From Russell Westbrook's one-man show to the surprising contribution of Mario Chalmers, several key performances have sat modestly in the shadows of an insignificant injury to the most heavily scrutinized athlete in the history of sports.

Underlying stories could also be made about Kevin Durant's disappearance in the fourth quarter or James Harden's absence from the entire series. But for nearly 48 hours since the Miami Heat took a 3-1 series lead, almost all of the talk has been about LeBron.

His dramatic departure, followed by a sideline scene from a Hollywood script, has the media obsessing over an "injury" to which any common athlete can relate. Sure, his go-ahead three with just over two minutes left is worthy of discussion, but the comparisons to Jordan's flu game and Willis Reed's 1970 Game 7 need to stop.


Because, while LeBron undoubtedly carried his team to victory for the third straight game with yet another MVP performance, it wasn't his play(s) that changed the outcome of the game in the final seconds. 

It wasn't James who drove by three defenders to put the Heat up five with 44 seconds remaining. And it wasn't LeBron who miraculously retained possession for the Heat following a jump ball with 16 seconds left.

Nope. That was Shane Battier.

The same guy who many believe changed the dynamic of the series with 17 points in Game 2 also sealed Game 4 with an incredible hustle play that has shockingly gone unnoticed.

The Heat led by just three points when a Dwyane Wade air ball caused a tie-up between two players underneath the Thunder basket. With 16 seconds left on the game clock, a jump ball won by James Harden was headed in Oklahoma City's direction when Battier hustled from halfway across the court to leap and tip it into the hands of Mario Chalmers.

An ensuing and ill-advised Russell Westbrook foul sent Chalmers to the free-throw line where he put the finishing touches on a decisive victory that has left OKC in an historically impossible position.

Now let me be clear when I say that I do not wish to take anything away from James and his utter greatness throughout the entirety of the playoffs. If it weren't for him, OKC would have already won the series. But for some fan who missed the fourth quarter of an epic NBA Finals matchup, a petty leg cramp might be the only thing about the game that they heard or read.

LeBron's near triple-double and Chalmers' unexpected 25 points put Miami in the position to win on Tuesday night.

But it was a play that doesn't show up in the box score that ultimately made the difference.

I realize it's a bit of a reach, but imagine a scenario without Battier's exceptional hustle play; we might be talking about an entirely different outcome.

Say, Battier simply accepts the fact the ball didn't bounce his way and runs back on defense.

With LeBron on the bench, Wade matches up against Durant as he dribbles up the floor. Arguably the game's clutchest shooter then uses his severe height advantage to rise above Wade and send the game into OT, where the Thunder exploit a James-less Heat defense to even the series at two games apiece.

Unlikely? Maybe. But certainly feasible.  

Erik Spoelstra summed it up perfectly in his post-game press conference when he said the series has come down to three or four plays. And while he watches the media obsess over a trivial leg cramp, Shane probably doesn't matter flying under the radar, knowing his team stands one win away from a title.

If the Heat can wrap this thing up as history says they will, there is no doubt LeBron James will have a Finals MVP award to complement his first ring on his way to the Hall of Fame.

But even then I will have reason to say the "King" hasn't done enough...

He owes Shane Battier dinner.