The Miami Heat battled back from a 17-point first half deficit and the fourth period leg cramps of LeBron James to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 104-98, last night in Miami. The Heat are now one win away from capturing their first NBA title since their “big three” of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were introduced to Heat fans in July, 2011.
This makes the second time in as many games that the Thunder have failed to extinguish the Heat after reaching double-digit leads—13 points in Game 3 and 17 last night. James ignored personal adversity to hit for 26 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds. But it was the super clutch play of guard Mario Chalmers - particularly in the last quarter - that was the difference maker. Having scored a total of only 17 points in the first three games, Chalmers tallied 25, including several important free throws in the final minutes.
Chalmers’ heroics were crucial in helping the Heat tamp down the Herculean effort of Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who dropped 43 points on Miami and almost singlehandedly got the Thunder a win in the last quarter. As with Chalmers, Westbrook hit from virtually everywhere on the pine – going a remarkable 20-of-32 from the floor. This is even more noteworthy when considering it's the first time the 20+ field goal plateau has been reached in the NBA in two seasons.
And though teammate Kevin Durant added 28 to the Thunder’s effort, he was effectively controlled from the outside, hitting only nine of 19 shots from the field while going 1-for-5 in three-pointers. In fact, Oklahoma City was collectively only 3-of-16 from beyond the arc (19% as opposed to Miami’s 39%). Aside from Westbrook and Durant, the Thunder’s scoring woes were profound. In a total of 36 minutes on the floor, big men Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka scored a total of eight points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Reserve specialist James Harden, who had markedly stepped up his performance in previous games, virtually disappeared last night, scoring a mere 8 points in 37 minutes of playing time. All told, the Thunder bench was invisible – scoring only 14 of the team’s 98 points.
Miami also won the battle in reaching the free throw line, getting there 25 times as opposed to the Thunder’s uncharacteristic 16. And though they made a lower percentage of those shots for the night, it underscored how much more aggressive Miami was on the inside—particularly through drives by Chalmers, James and Wade.
But arguably one of the most important—though under-the-radar—contributions of the night for Miami was the timely shooting of rookie and former Cleveland State star Norris Cole. At the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second and with Oklahoma City reaching the crest of their gaudy double-digit lead, Cole hit two huge three-point shots to get Miami’s home town fans as well as momentum back in their corner. And during one lengthy Heat scoring surge toward the end of the second quarter, the Thunder were unable to get a point on the board in over five minutes—allowing Miami to whittle down Oklahoma City’s scoring advantage to three points (49-46) by the half. [Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Mr. Cole's alma mater.]
In the end, this night truly belonged to LeBron James and his performance in the last few minutes of the game. Like something out of James Brown’s cape routine, Lebron collapsed from leg cramps and exhaustion after banking in a shot in the post with just over five minutes remaining. He was helped off the floor after a timeout, spent a few minutes limbering up on the sidelines, and then figuratively threw off his “cape” in a triumphant return in which he hit a huge three-pointer with just under three minutes remaining. “Please, Please, Please!” indeed. The series could possibly end in South Florida with Game 5 on Thursday night.