MIAMI — A limping, grimacing LeBron James shook off the pain of leg cramps to hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer and the Miami Heat held on to edge the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 on Tuesday at the AmericanAirlines Arena, taking a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.
No team has ever blown a 3-1 lead in the finals, so James' resilient basket with 2:51 remaining looks likely to be the moment that clinches the title for the Heat.
“He was hurting,” teammate Dwyane Wade said. “But that's what it's about this time of the year. It would hurt more if we lose the ballgame, so it feels a little better if you can win it.”
Imagine how good it will feel if the Heat gets one more victory. Better get well fast, LeBron; you're one win from the biggest party of your life.
Game 5 is this Thursday, also in Miami, and James will have a chance to finish a nine-year chase that started in Cleveland before he left for South Florida before last season.
“Of course it's there to think about,” said James. “I’ll be ready for Game 5.”
With James watching the final moments, Mario Chalmers finished off a stellar 25-point effort that matched Wade’s. 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 with the thigh cramps.
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. He was 20 of 32 but said, “It really doesn't mean nothing. We didn't come out with the win.”
James stumbled to the court on a drive midway through the fourth quarter but stayed on the offensive end of the floor as the Heat regained possession on a blocked shot and he made a short jumper that made it 92-90. After Westbrook missed a jumper, the Heat called timeout as James gingerly went to the court. Unable to walk off, he was carried to the sideline.
James returned to a huge roar with a little over 4 minutes left and the Heat down 2 and, after Chris Bosh tied it, James slowly walked into a pull-up 3-point attempt — perhaps doing so knowing he couldn't drive by anyone — and drilled it. “That 3 was just sheer will and competitiveness to contribute in some way,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“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.”
Photo: Mario Chalmers