A limping, grimacing LeBron James shook off left leg cramps to hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2:51 remaining and the Miami Heat held off the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 104-98 victory Tuesday night and a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals that no team has ever blown.
”I was just trying to make a play,” James said. ”If I was out on the floor, I wanted to try to make a play with the limited mobility I had at that time, and I was happy I was able to come through.”
Game 5 is Thursday night and James will have a chance to finish a nine-year chase that started in Cleveland before he famously — or infamously — left for South Florida before last season.
”Of course it’s there to think about,” said James, making it clear he plans to play. ”I’ll be ready for Game 5.”
With James watching the final moments, Mario Chalmers finished off a stellar 25-point effort that matched Dwyane Wade. James had 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, missing a shot at a triple-double only because he was on the bench at the end after thigh cramps emerged following a fall near the Thunder basket.
The Heat needed all James could give and more to hold off Russell Westbrook. He scored 43 points for the Thunder, who wasted an early 17-point lead but were never out of the game because of their sensational point guard. Kevin Durant had 28 points but James Harden threw in another clunker, finishing with eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Westbrook and Durant were the only Thunder players to score in the last 16:46.
”Shots were falling,” said Westbrook, who was 20 of 32. ”It really doesn’t mean nothing. We didn’t come out with the win.”
– Reported by Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press
Westbrook delivered an ill-advised foul to Mario Chalmers with 13.8 seconds remaining, sending the malign but red-hot Miami guard to the foul line where he sealed the Thunder’s fate with swishes that swelled the Heat’s series lead to 3-1.
The foul came after Heat guard Dwyane Wade missed a floater while falling out of bounds with 17.3 seconds remaining. The rebound fell to Miami forward Udonis Haslem, but Thunder guard James Harden got his hands on the basketball to force a jump ball before Haslem could go back up with a shot to beat the expiring 24-second clock.
Under league rules, the 24-second clock remains the same as when play was interrupted or is reset to five seconds, whichever is greater, any time on jump balls retained by the offensive team as the result of a held ball caused by the defense.
When the jump ball got tapped out to Chalmers with just five seconds showing on the shot clock, Westbrook chopped down on Chalmers hands after a dribble in the corner.
Just three seconds were left on the shot clock. The Thunder was down only three.
– Reported by Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman
Playing with constant pain in his legs, James offered a heroic effort in the final period. He scored six points in the fourth quarter despite severe leg cramps and finished with 26 points in the game on 10 of 20 shooting.
“We talked about it before the game that you have to play with an intensity like you have nothing left by the end of the game and he did,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
James entered the fourth quarter two rebounds shy of a triple-double and finished the game with 12 assists and nine boards. In a scary moment, he was carried off the court by team trainer Jay Sabol and reserve Juwan Howard with 5:15 left in the game. James was treated for leg cramps on the sideline and James Jones took James’ place briefly in the lineup.
“I knew I wasn’t injured,” James said. “Your muscles just basically lock up on you. I wanted to walk to the bench but my muscles wouldn’t allow me to.”
– Reported by Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald