The only other time LeBron James was sent to his knees in agony, roughly a year ago actually, he didn’t get up. He curled himself into a fetal position and stayed that way all summer, pummeled by a left-right combination of epically bad fourth quarters and a lost championship and a public relations season from hell.
But Tuesday? Dropped by a leg cramp? Carried off the court with five minutes to go? Getting pressed on the bench by frantic trainers, who treated his leg like a tube of toothpaste? Feeling the deep sting of the cramp? Hearing the frightening moan of the crowd, who sensed doom at that point? Watching his team lose the lead?
“He was just trying to will his body to get back in there and make something happen,” said coach Erik Spoelstra.
Well. If that’s what he had to endure to grab this game and series by the throat, then fine. James wasn’t going to be denied. He would not be curled again; he would be cured. This isn’t 2011. The calendar has flipped in his favor. And so, it seems, has the NBA Finals.
When James shook off the injury and checked back into a tight Game 4, everything changed. For him. For the Heat. He promptly plunged a 3-pointer right through the Thunder’s heart. Then his teammates took the cue from there and fell in line, mainly Mario Chalmers, and nowMiamiis one win from doing what it was specifically created to do.
With the Heat up 3-1 in the series after the 104-98 win, the curtain is starting to close forOklahoma Cityand a new one is opening forMiami.
Sports is funny that way, isn’t it? All the depictions, the narratives and the image created for this team by an annoyed public and partly by the Heat themselves, it’s starting to crumble. A year ago the Heat and especially James were being laughed at, lampooned, picked apart for their frailties and mostly cited for their failure in the clutch.
But what you saw at the end of Game 4, well, that … was … clutch.
That was Wade picking up the slack when James went down. That was Chalmers, the team’s designated punching bag, shaking off a poor shooting stretch with some gutsy baskets in the stretch. That was Shane Battier deflecting a stray jump ball into the hands of Chalmers. And obviously, that was James, hobbling onto the court to continue assembling what would be, if he pulls this off, the NBA’s Triple Crown: Season MVP, Finals MVP, championship.