“Where would we be without him?” Haslem asked.
Well, at minimum, not leading these NBA Finals would be one safe guess.
A year after being shredded for not rising to the moment on the league’s biggest stage _ and vowing that he would change that perception this time around _ James has helped carry the Heat back to the spot where it all went wrong in 2011. They’re halfway home in these finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and will take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series into Game 4 in Miami on Tuesday night.
So far in the series, James is averaging 30.3 points and 10.3 rebounds. A year ago against Dallas, he averaged 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds when Miami lost the title round in six games.
“He’s here,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “This is what he’s dreamt about his entire life so he’s going to make the most of his chance.”
This time, that seems to be exactly what’s happening.
James has not been flawless in fourth quarters against the Thunder _ far from it, really. He’s shooting just 5 for 14 during those periods in the series, but leads the finals in fourth-quarter free throws made (11) and attempted (13). He’s averaging 7 points in the last quarter, second-best in the series behind the gaudy 12.3-per-game clip being put up by Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
But he did more than enough down the stretch in Games 2 and 3, both Miami victories. One example: His layup with 2:19 left in Game 3 came on a play that would be difficult for most players and seemed commonplace for him. James dribbled with his left hand down the left side of the lane toward the basket. He jumped, spun about 180 degrees, put the ball in his right hand, then flipped it over his shoulder, off the backboard and through the net.
“Yeah, that was a gifted shot,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t know if he can really work on that one.”
Making it better for the Heat _ and in turn, worse for the Thunder _ is that every Oklahoma City player on the floor at that time probably could have done something a little better on that play.
_ Kendrick Perkins was the next line of defense, and offered little resistance.
_ Russell Westbrook, a few feet away on James‘ left, crouched in defensive position but never moved.
_ James Harden was under the basket and seemed to just get out of the way.