Hate on LeBron, Heat all you want, but Miami deserves to win the title
Miami is now one win away from a title after a 104-98 victory over OKC in Game 4
Despite criticism, the Heat have done things right this year and are worthy champs
The Thunder might win another game, but it's clear the Heat will claim this Finals
MIAMI -- It is all there for LeBron James now, so close that he can touch it, or at least reach for it and plead for a foul call. Deal with it, America. This is LeBron's moment, and he earned it.
James is one game away from the championship that will affirm his legacy and further validate his Hall of Fame career. And he will get it, too. If you watched the first four games of this Heat-Thunder NBA Finals, that seems pretty clear. Maybe the Thunder can win one more game, but the Heat have enormous advantages in the areas that separate the very good from the great: discipline, mental toughness, intelligence under duress.
James finished Game 4 with 26 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and cramps. He was the best player on the floor, unless you count Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who didn't touch the floor at all in a transcendent performance.
Westbrook had one of those nights where the shots kept falling and the Heat couldn't keep up with him. James' performance was impressive because it wasn't one of those nights for him, but he controlled the game offensively and defensively anyway. That is the sign of an all-time great, and yes, of a worthy champion.
He also hit a three-pointer after leaving the game because of cramps, and for once, James could say "I was just trying to make a play," and he wasn't justifying a mistake. He was explaining his brilliance.
James has answered his critics in every possible way, short of redesigning Miami's jerseys so the front says "CLEVELAND." He has become a great defensive player. He has added a post game and used it in so many ways: to score, to set up teammates, to control the pace, to get to the free-throw line. (In Game 4, LeBron lobbied for at least two possessions for a James Harden foul in the post -- and then the refs called a foul on Harden in the post.)
For all the talk last year that this was really Dwyane Wade's team, I have news for you: If this were Wade's team, Miami wouldn't even have made the Finals. Wade is either playing the worst series of his life (if he is healthy) or one of the best (if he is hurt). LeBron likes to talk about game-changing plays. Wade has made a ton, for both sides.
James did not do it alone. That has always been the point: Nobody does it alone. Mario Chalmers scored 25 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, reminding some people of his famous shot to lift Kansas over Memphis in the 2008 NCAA championship game. That memory is fonder for some than others ("I had Memphis picked to win it in my bracket," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said Tuesday), but it confirmed Chalmers' faith in himself. Chalmers played so well in Game 4 that James and Wade might even let him stay up past bedtime and watch an R-rated movie with them.
Meanwhile, the Thunder are suddenly the extremely talented team that is splintering and stumbling at the worst possible time. Center Kendrick Perkins, one of the team's most respected leaders, openly questioned coach Scott Brooks' substitution after the game. Harden bought a pump-fake and fouled Dwyane Wade, violating the edict that you never foul jump shooters. After a jump ball, Westbrook committed an intentional foul he didn't need to commit, essentially ending the game.
And suddenly, the Thunder can't get the ball to the purest scorer in the world. Durant still got his points in Game 4 -- he finished with an efficient 28. But the offense rarely went through him. The Heat trapped and harassed him at every turn, forcing the ball out of his hands. Durant normally makes his teammates better by drawing defenders and creating space for them, but he can only do that if he has the ball.
The calendar keeps moving forward, but the Thunder look younger every day.
Now Oklahoma City can hope for another incredible game from Westbrook, a monster night from Durant and perhaps even Harden hitting a shot. But circumstances in the last two games favored the Thunder, and Miami won anyway. If you can't beat LeBron James when he has cramps, how can you beat him when he feels good?
"It was warm in the building," Heat coach Erik Spolestra said, and even after the game, the air-conditioning was out in the Heat locker room. Maybe that explains the cramps. Or maybe this just has to be hard for LeBron James, hard enough for him to prove his greatness.
Hate the Heat all you want, but this year's team has done it the right way. There has been no preening, no premature declarations of greatness. Early in 2010-11, James' camp planted at least one story undermining Spoelstra; this year there hasn't been nearly as much scheming.
We're running out of criticisms, which doesn't happen often in this country, and this brings us to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Two summers ago, when James bolted, Gilbert wrote an angry public letter, shredding James for his "cowardly betrayal" and vowing that the Cavs would win a title before James did. Last year, after Dallas eliminated Miami, he gleefully tweeted "Old Lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE."
And Tuesday night, shortly after Game 4 ended, all Gilbert could muster was this tweet:
Hey @cavs fans: Only 8 days until 2012 NBA draft. We are evaluating impressive options. Who do you like at#4 and think is best fit for Cavs?
Roughly 20 minutes later, LeBron James walked out of his press conference and toward a waiting golf cart. He wore the attire of the rich, glamorous and inanely fashionable: sunglasses after midnight, tight pants that would have fit him perfectly in eighth grade, and a smile that nobody on the planet can wipe off his face.