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GAME 4 at Miami
HEAT 104, THUNDER 98
As quickly as James has accumulated signature moments in the playoffs—the 25 consecutive points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit in 2007, the 49-point Game 1 against Orlando in the conference finals in '09, the 40-point, 18-rebound, nine-assist effort in Game 4 against Indiana this season—they have just as easily been forgotten. That's what happens when you fail to win a title. Big games become more of a scourge than a fond memory, painful reminders of a season that failed to meet expectations.
James had played well in the first three games of the Finals this year, accumulating at least 29 points in each. Game 4, however, was a masterpiece. Operating out of the low post, James carved up the Oklahoma City defense. When the Thunder sent double teams, James dished out of them, picking up 12 assists. When it didn't, he dropped his shoulder and went right through Harden and Sefolosha en route to scoring 26 points. Oklahoma City jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first half, but backed by James, Miami erased it with astounding efficiency in the second quarter.
James had help and, with Westbrook shredding the Heat defense for 43 points, he needed it. In the first three games Battier stepped up to provide unexpected offense; in Game 4 it was Chalmers. For two years he has been Miami's resident punching bag, frequently drawing the ire of James, Wade and Bosh. His inconsistency is maddening, mostly because it masks superior talent.
Chalmers displayed the breadth of that talent in Game 4. After shooting a combined 2 for 15 in Games 2 and 3, Chalmers knocked down nine of his 15 attempts in Game 4. He made three-pointers (three of them) and free throws (4 of 5) and, with Oklahoma City surging late, converted a driving layup to put the game out of reach. "He thinks he's the best player on this team," said Wade. "That's a gift and a curse. But tonight it was a gift for us because he never gets down on himself. He always believes, 'Find me, I can make a shot. I can make a play.'"
The moment belonged to Chalmers, but the night belonged to James. With Miami up by two and just over five minutes left, James cramped up. As he hobbled toward the bench, he collapsed and needed to be carried off the floor. While trainers stretched him on the sideline, the Thunder scored four unanswered points to reclaim the lead. A minute of game time after leaving the court, James limped back on. He was a decoy for one possession, but on the next he drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc—with the shot clock running down—to put Miami back on top.
He subbed back out two minutes later—"we were basically playing four-on-five," said Spoelstra—and James watched as Chalmers, Wade & Co. preserved that advantage and pushed Miami to the brink of an NBA championship. After years of failure, James was on the cusp of making this signature moment count. "We've been through a lot as a group," Spoelstra said. "It might not be textbook, but everyone just contributes and helps make it happen. That was LeBron's sheer will and competitiveness to make a play when he really wasn't physically able to be out there."
GAME 5 at Miami