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Heat on the verge of closing out a title
MIAMI (AP) - LeBron James played until his legs had nothing left. Mario Chalmers went from struggling to sensational in the span of about two quarters. Dwyane Wade wore yet another pair of silly eyeglasses to a postgame news conference. And the Oklahoma City Thunder failed to win the game that they said was a must-win.
So are these NBA Finals over? The Miami Heat say no, even though they're up 3-1 in the title series. The Thunder say they're conceding nothing either. And with that, here's five talking points for where we are in these finals:
LEBRON'S HEALTH: LeBron James is a player who, on more than one occasion this season, has twisted his ankle and refused to come out of the game. So when he waved to the bench for help midway through the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Heat knew right away that something was wrong with the NBA's three-time MVP. A cramp stopped James in his tracks, so Juwan Howard and trainer Jay Sabol _ armed with a bottle of Gatorade _ went onto the floor and eventually carried James off. He wasn't right the rest of the way, though he returned to hit a huge late 3-pointer before returning to the bench. Hey, for once, the James-bashers out there can say he did nothing in the last minute of a finals game and not hear any argument, at least. For the record, James says he was doing much better an hour or so after the game.
THUNDER DOWN? It'll be an immense challenge for Oklahoma City to shake off this Game 4 loss. Remember, the Thunder were up by 17 points in the first quarter. They smashed Miami right from the opening tap. Russell Westbrook scored 43 points and was unstoppable. Kevin Durant scored 28 more. So how did they lose, exactly? Well, the small matter of no one else scoring a single point for the Thunder in the final 16 minutes was one reason. Thunder coach Scott Brooks loved how so many people counted his team out when it was down 2-0 to San Antonio in the West finals. We'll find out Thursday if they have one more comeback push left.
CLUTCH CHALMERS: Guess Game 4 of the NBA Finals was a big game. Mario Chalmers likes those. Chalmers still gets asked all the time about the shot he hit over Derrick Rose to help Kansas beat Memphis for the NCAA title. Hey, the man's got "Clutch" tattooed on one of his arms. It sure seemed to fit in Game 4 against the Thunder, when he scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half and 12 of those in the fourth quarter. LeBron James yells at Chalmers all the time for mistakes on the court. Guessing Chalmers gets a pass from LBJ during film study on Wednesday. Maybe.
THUNDER BENCH: Nick Collison gave the Thunder a spark early in Game 4. And that was about it for the Thunder reserves. When this road trip began, James Harden had seven games all season where he shot 20 percent or less from the field. He now has nine, after going 2 for 10 in each of the games in Miami. Derek Fisher was scoreless in 22 minutes. Daequan Cook didn't get into the game, again. Yes, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are young and gifted and athletic. That doesn't mean they aren't getting worn down by the demands of having to carry the Thunder. And for as great as Westbrook and Durant were in Game 4, they just can't do it alone.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Oklahoma City will either come out early in Game 5 and announce that the series is not over, or LeBron James can start thinking about parade routes. It's going to be the game he's waited his whole professional life to play _ 48 minutes from a championship for the first time since turning pro. He might be a tad motivated by that realization. Keeping emotions in check might be more difficult for the Heat than the Thunder, actually, just because of how much Miami has gone through since the summer of 2010. So if the Thunder don't throw the first punch, the Heat might be in position to roll. The way this series has gone, it's probably a safe bet that the Thunder will try to do exactly what worked in Game 4. They'll get Russell Westbrook going early, know that Kevin Durant will get his points, and hope that a third scorer shows up Thursday night. Miami's plan won't change much. If anything, it might simplify. The trophy will be in the building Thursday night. It was hoisted in front of Miami's fans last year. The Heat would give anything to be the ones actually doing that hoisting this time around.
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