Miami, FL – LeBron James suffered a severe case of thigh cramps but Russell Westbrook's brain cramp may have sealed Oklahoma City's fate as the Miami Heat crept to the precipice of an NBA championship with a 104-98 Game 4 win over the Thunder.
Haters are always gonna hate but even the most ardent LeBron detractors had to tip their cap to "The King" on Tuesday.
James fought through the painful cramps to bury a monster go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:51 left in the contest as the Heat put the Thunder on the brink of elimination.
James' left leg gave way midway through the final frame in a scary scene for the Heat. The superstar had a very difficult time getting to his feet and remained on the Miami side of the floor before depositing a bank shot after a Dwyane Wade block at the other end.
That paled in comparison to what he did later, however. The reigning MVP returned to the contest despite still suffering from the cramps and knocked down the trey to put Miami back on top for good.
"I don't know how he did it," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "That's what's being in these Finals is all about, giving everything that you have until you can't walk anymore."
It was a legacy defining almost Willis Reed-like moment for James, who finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 26 points, 12 assists and nine boards.
"At that point he was just trying to will his body to get in there and make something happen," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of the big shot. "That three was just sheer will and competitiveness to contribute in some way."
The mercurial Westbrook, meanwhile, was spectacular for the Thunder and was the best player on the floor in Game 4, pouring in 43 points. However, he made a costly mental error off a jump ball in the final seconds that cost Oklahoma City its final chance.
The Thunder were down by three when Udonis Haslem hustled for a loose ball after Wade missed a floater and the Heat got possession of an ensuing jump ball. With the shot clock re-set to five seconds, Miami had no good look. But Westbrook, thinking the clock went back to 24 seconds, wrapped up Mario Chalmers and the Heat guard hit two foul shots to seal it.
"It was a tough play," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "Could have been a communication thing. I tell our guys, one play does not determine the outcome of a game. There's 200 plays in every basketball game, it doesn't come down to one play. I thought Russell was terrific tonight. The guy played relentless, was aggressive. He kept us in this game."
"It was just a miscommunication on my part," Westbrook added "Nothing I can do about it now."
Similarly it's likely that the Thunder can't do anything about Miami's march to the NBA crown. The three consecutive wins in the series have the Heat, who lost to Dallas in the 2011 Finals after taking a 2-1 advantage, a victory shy of their first NBA championship since 2006 and James ever so close to his first crown, one he has spent nine seasons chasing.
No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in NBA Finals history and the Thunder must first figure out how to stave off elimination in Game 5 set for South Florida on Thursday..
As for James it started in Cleveland for the game's best player and will now seemingly end in South Beach as part of the NBA's marquee team.
James and the Heat truly represent the city they play in.
If you've ever crossed over the Miami River into downtown or looked out onto Biscayne Bay in the 305, it's almost like you want to grab a pastel suit jacket and sport a five o'clock shadow.
But before you crank up the Jan Hammer or search out the nearest Cocaine Cowboy if that's your proclivity, you start to see all the "For Lease" signs in this tropical paradise and realize people in South Florida have problems too.
They get the flu, engage in arguments with their significant others and struggle with the same daily tasks the rest of us do, the weather is just a heck of a lot nicer here. The homeless in Coconut Grove are a couple football fields away from Sailboat Bay as opposed to the ones on Front Street in Philadelphia, who are steps away from the murky Delaware River.
The Heat are a microcosm of Miami. There is the glitz and glamour of LeBron, Wade and Bosh and the gritty reality of role players like Shane Battier and Chalmers.
From the outside, looking in James and the Heat have it all but they've had to fight tooth and nail for a championship and have one significant hurdle left to go.
Outside observers may envy LeBron and his team from afar but Spoelstra has a set of problems that few others have to deal with. Miami's basketball team has quickly surpassed the New York Yankees as the one team in professional sports that has to win a title each and every year.
Anything less and the season has been an abject failure. That's a lot of pressure and that's what the Heat deal with that on a daily basis.
In fact you get the feeling that winning the NBA championship wouldn't set off a celebration for this organization, it would just ease the Xanax use until the 2012-13 season commences.
Anxiety and leg cramps aside, Miami is now one step away from its ultimate goal thanks to James.