The Heat's James making most of it

The Heat's Chris Bosh shoots over the Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha during Game 4 in Miami. The Heat, up two games to one, led BY 79-75 after three quarters.
The Heat's Chris Bosh shoots over the Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha during Game 4 in Miami. The Heat, up two games to one, led BY 79-75 after three quarters. (MIKE EHRMANN / Getty Images)
Posted: June 21, 2012

MIAMI - The conversation was about LeBron James, and his Miami Heat teammate Udonis Haslem offered a rhetorical question.

"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 took a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series into Tuesday's Game 4 in Miami. (The game ended too late for this edition.)

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 seven 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.

Thabo Sefolosha lost James after running into Chris Bosh's pick.

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.

Durant took a couple steps toward the rim, looking for a rebound that never came.

The basket gave Miami an 86-79 lead, and was essentially the game-winner. Oklahoma City scored the next six points, but no more after that. James passed the ball to where only Bosh could catch it with 1:19 left, setting up two free throws to stop the Thunder run. James hit a free throw for a four-point Miami edge, and moments later grabbed the last rebound of the night, dribbled over midcourt and flipped the ball to an official as time expired in the 91-85 Heat win.

"I just try to be a leader, out on the floor, in the locker room, and do whatever it takes for us to win basketball games," James said. "You know, at the end of the day, they look at me to make plays. They look at me to lead them. But I'm not the only leader of this team."

Afterward, the Thunder simply tipped their caps.

"He's an aggressive player," Harden said. "He's been aggressive all year, all postseason. He's tall, strong, and physical. He's a tough matchup."

And he certainly looks tougher than he did a year ago at this time.

"He's pretty much done whatever we've asked him to do," Haslem said.

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