LeBron James a happy cramper as Heat takes 3-1 lead
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com June 20, 2012 12:29AM
LeBron James, who had 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, drives in for a layup attempt in the second half against Thabo Sefolosha. | Getty Images
Heat vs. Thunder
HEAT leads series 3-1
All games on Ch. 7, 1000-AM.
G1: at Thunder 105, Heat 94
G2: Heat 100, at Thunder 96
G3: at Heat 91, Thunder 85
G4: at Heat 104, Thunder 98
Thursday: at Heat, 8 p.m.
x-Sunday: at Thunder, 7 p.m.
x-Tuesday: at Thunder, 8 p.m.
Updated: July 21, 2012 6:28AM
MIAMI — It wasn’t exactly the ‘‘flu’’ game. But for LeBron James, it’ll do.
Grimacing in pain on the bench as trainers worked on his cramped-up legs with his team trailing by two points with 4:05 to go, James had a Michael Jordan moment perfectly set up for him Tuesday night.
With little left but his indomitable spirit and the sheer will to win, James got off the bench, limped onto the court and made a tiebreaking three-pointer with 2:57 to go, giving the Miami Heat a lead it would not relinquish in a 104-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena.
‘‘[The cramps] really didn’t go away,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ‘‘At that point, he was just trying to will his body to get in there and make something happen. That three was sheer will and competitiveness.’’
Truth be told, Mario Chalmers put the finishing touches on James’ fairy-tale game that gave the Heat a 3-1 series lead and a chance to win the NBA championship Thursday on its home court.
After James shot an air ball and returned to the bench in pain with 55 seconds to go, Chalmers scored on a scintillating drive past Russell Westbrook for a huge hoop that gave the Heat a 101-96 lead with 44 seconds left.
‘‘It got to the point that it was four-on-five, so we had to make a change,’’ Spoelstra said. ‘‘He wanted to go back in, but it was obvious that he was going to hurt us if we kept him out there.’’
It almost cost the Heat anyway. Westbrook, who had an even more vintage Jordan-like performance with 43 points on 20-for-32 shooting, scored on a drive off the glass to make it 101-98 with 40 seconds left. Dwyane Wade missed a baseline jumper, but Udonis Haslem forced a jump ball off the rebound.
Shane Battier tipped the jump ball to Chalmers, who was fouled by Westbrook with 13 seconds left — even though only five seconds remained on the shot clock — and made both free throws to all but clinch it at 103-98.
‘‘It was just a miscommunication on my part,’’ Westbrook said of the ill-advised foul. ‘‘Nothing I can do about it now.’’
Chalmers, who came into the game shooting 7-for-22 in the Finals, finished with 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting, including 3-for-9 from three-point range. Wade also scored 25 points.
‘‘When one of our leaders is down, I have to step up,’’ Chalmers said. ‘‘Coming out of the timeout [with 55 seconds left], I told D-Wade, ‘Find me. Let’s get this win. Let’s put a dagger in them.’ He found me, and I was able to get to the hole.’’
Though he limped to the finish, James had another stellar game, with 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds, 12 assists and two steals.
‘‘We talked about it before the game, that you had to play with an intensity that you had nothing left by the end of the game, and he did,’’ Spoelstra said.
Westbrook almost willed the Thunder to victory after the Heat took leads of 79-72 late in the third quarter and 90-83 with 7:35 to go. Almost playing by himself, Westbrook scored 17 of the Thunder’s 23 points in the fourth quarter.
But he, too, ran out of gas. With the Thunder leading 94-92, he dribbled the ball off his foot for a turnover and missed a jumper as the Heat scored seven consecutive points — including James’ three — to take a 99-94 lead with 2:18 to go.
‘‘I’ve got the smile, but we’ve still got business,’’ Chalmers said. ‘‘We’ve got one more win, and we want to take care of business.’’