Miami Heat Defeat OKC Thunder for 3-1 Series Lead

June 20, 2012

For Thunder fans, it was a gift from the basketball gods. For Heat fans, it was a nightmare.

And for casual basketball fans, it was the most anti-climactic event possible in perhaps the most climactic game of the 2012 season.

With the Heat up 2 points late in the fourth quarter of Game 4 Tuesday night, the almighty Lebron James went down due to injury.

Miami’s chances of winning the game, and perhaps the series, seemed to diminish with every hobbling step that Lebron took as he limped off the court. The once rabid atmosphere inside America Airlines Arena had been momentarily killed. It was the worst possible scenario for Miami unfolding before the eyes of 20,000 stunned fans.

But Lebron knew what was at stake. He couldn’t sit on the sideline and watch the series swing in his absence. He’d already failed in the finals twice before, and a third would be nothing short of devastating.

Within a minute after coming out, he was kneeling at the scorer’s table, ready to check in, ready to give himself one more shot. Ready to continue his quest for a first NBA title.

As soon as Lebron checked back into the game, Miami answered OKC’s 11-2 run with a 7-0 run of their own, effectively turning a two-point deficit into a five-point lead with just over 2 minutes left to play.

During that stretch, Miami took back the lead for good with a three-pointer from Lebron -- a rarity given his reluctance to take jump shots all series long. Perhaps it was Lebron’s injury which gave him no choice but to shoot a rather flat-footed 25-footer as the shot clock expired, but regardless, he delivered when his team needed him most, in the most important game of the year.

However, James -- who finished with 28 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds -- was not enough alone to win Game 4. Nor was Dwayne Wade, who finished with 25 points.

The Heat needed a role player to step up. In Game 2, it was Shane Battier who knocked down three after three at crucial moments.

Tuesday night, it was Mario Chalmers.

After scoring a grand total of 16 points in the first three games combined, Chalmers went off for 25 points in Game 4, none bigger than the driving layup he made in the final minute with Lebron back on the bench.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City's youth and inexperience got the best of them tonight. Russel Westbrook scored 43 points, but his brilliant offensive performance was overshadowed by a catastrophic blunder on his part in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, which effectively cost OKC any chance of sending the game into overtime.

With Miami up 3 and with just 5 seconds left on the shotclock, Westbrook intentionally fouled Mario Chalmers after Chalmers secured a jump ball. Clearly unaware of the situation, Westbrook should have just played defense for 5 more seconds, which would have likely resulted in a bad shot from Chalmers.

But Westbrook's foul allowed Chalmers to knock down two free throws. As a result, Oklahoma City is now faced with a daunting task that has never been accomplished in NBA Finals history: Come back from a 3-1 hole and win three straight games.

OKC was able to win four straight against San Antonio when faced with a 2-0 deficit in the last round. But Miami is not San Antonio. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Ginobili – those guys have won multiple titles.

Lebron is still in the hunt for his first. He’s hungry, and has the experience to know what it takes to get it done.

And being only one victory away, he can smell it now.

Game 5 is Thursday night.

It may not be Oklahoma City’s choice whether there will be a Game 6.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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