MIAMI, Fla. — LeBron James limped to the scorer's table with 4:36 left in the game, and American Airlines Arena came alive.
So did the Miami Heat.
Its hero was returning. Its hope remained.
Before game officials could get LeBron checked in, Kevin Durant had sunk a silky jumper that gave the Thunder a two-point lead, and the NBA Finals seemed to be turning Oklahoma City's way.
But even on one leg, LeBron is a heck of a ballplayer. Step aside, Willis Reed. Another limping legend has been born in the NBA Finals.
With 2:51 left in a tied Game 4, LeBron let fly a 3-pointer that swished and sent the clear message that this pivotal night, this game that very well could determine the NBA champion, was going Miami's way.
The Heat beat the Thunder 104-98 in a rousing Game 4 that will be remembered for Russell Westbrook's monster game (43 points on 20-of-32 shooting) and Mario Chalmers' Heat heroics (25 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter).
But Game 4 became an instant hardwood classic mostly because LeBron shook off cramps — that a few minutes earlier wouldn't even let him walk off the court — and willed the Heat to victory.
“He was just trying to will his body to get in there and make something happen,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “That 3 was just sheer will and competitiveness, to contribute in some way.”
LeBron was hurting, no doubt about it. With 55 seconds left and the Heat still up just three, Spoelstra even took out LeBron, because Miami seemed to be playing four-on-five.
Had the Thunder known that LeBron indeed had turned into a peg-leg pirate, maybe Thabo Sefolosha crowds him more on that 3-pointer. Maybe Thabo dares LeBron to drive to the basket, which you'd never otherwise invite him to do.
After all, LeBron would finish with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, typical night at the Finals office for LeBron. He was having a landmark game — driving down Triple Double Avenue — even before the cramps sucked the breath from Miami faithful.