LeBron James better get well fast. He’s about to play for a championship.
Hardly able to move, James returned from a left leg injury to make the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2:54 remaining, and the Miami Heat held off Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 104-98 victory on Tuesday night and a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals.
With James watching the final moments, Mario Chalmers finished off a stellar 25-point effort that matched Dwyane Wade. James had 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, only missing a triple-double because he was on the bench at the end after hurting his leg in a fall near the Thunder basket.
Game 5 is Thursday night, and James will have a chance to finish a championship chase that started in Cleveland before he famously — or infamously — left for South Florida before last season. No team has blown a 3-1 lead in the finals.
Westbrook scored 43 points for the Thunder, which wasted an early 17-point lead but was never out of the game because of its sensational point guard. Kevin Durant had 28 points, but James Harden threw in another clunker, finishing with eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Westbrook and Durant were the only Thunder players to score in the last 16:46.
James stumbled to the court on a drive midway through the fourth quarter, staying on the offensive end of the floor as the Heat regained possession on a blocked shot, and he made a short jumper that made it 92-90.
After Westbrook missed a jumper, the Heat called timeout as James gingerly went to the court. Unable to walk off, he was carried to the sideline by two teammates.
He returned to a huge roar with a little over 4 minutes left and the Heat down two, and after Chris Bosh tied it, James slowly walked into a pull-up 3-point attempt — perhaps doing so knowing he couldn’t drive by anyone.
That made it 97-94, and when Wade followed with a layup with 2:19 left, the Heat finally enough room to withstand Westbrook, who kept coming all night.
“Whatever it takes. No excuses,” said Wade, who had to shake off his own aches and pains after landing hard on his back in the first half following a spectacular block by Serge Ibaka. “You don’t want to leave this arena saying you missed opportunities.”
Chalmers sure didn’t. The player who was struggling so badly that the Thunder put Durant on him in hopes of avoiding further foul trouble made 9 of 15 shots, scoring more points than he had in the previous three games.
“Mario Chalmers is a winner,” Wade added. “He’s due for a big game and he came through for us.”
The Heat couldn’t have done it without James, who refused to let any pain prevent him from taking the biggest step of his career.
The Heat never got past its second finals victory last year, with James’ struggles the biggest problem as Miami lost the last three to Dallas. But he was at his brilliant best in this one, keeping up his scoring surge but also willingly kicking it out to open teammates whenever he was double-teamed.
He tried to play through the pain, but the Heat had to call another timeout and remove him for good shortly after his go-ahead basket. There was no immediate word on the extent of his injury.
Bosh finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Heat, which quickly climbed out of the 17-point hole by scoring 16 straight points, with Chalmers and backup Norris Cole helping steady things until James and Wade got going.
James and Durant sat alone on their benches moments before the game, Durant staring quietly toward the floor and James saying something to pump himself up. Then they went out to start, and this time Durant stayed away from him.
In foul trouble the previous two games, he began the game covering Chalmers, an adjustment that freed him from the burden of defending James. It kept Durant safe from fouls — but the Thunder probably didn’t count on the scoring explosion from Chalmers after he had totaled just five over the previous two games.
Neither team could gain separation during a dizzying middle two periods, one score quickly answered on the other end as Miami took a 79-75 lead to the final 12 minutes.
Westbrook hit his first four shots and the Thunder made six of its first seven in a 13-3 burst out of the gate. A run of six straight made it 23-12 against the stunned Heat, which started 5 of 17, and it grew to 33-17 on Harden’s fast-break layup with 21 seconds left.
The Heat found its spark in Cole, who hit a 3-pointer and then opened the second quarter with another to kick off a 16-0 burst, and the Heat would come all the way back to tie it at 35 on Wade’ 3-pointer with 7:57 remaining in the half.
With the crowd back in it, Bosh got them even more fired up by diving on the floor for a loose ball, then leaping up after he was fouled and screaming toward the fans.
Yet the Thunder never gave up the lead, Westbrook constantly coming through with a bucket every time the Heat seemed to get within one point in the final minutes. The Thunder took a 49-46 lead into the break after Shane Battier missed a 3-point attempt just before the buzzer.
Miami went in front in the third, Wade hitting two free throws and a basket that made it 50-49.
LeBron James better get well fast. He’s about to play for a championship.
- Local Sports
Prince Automotive donates new baseball equipment
Prince Automotive of Valdosta is supporting the Valdosta community through its partnership with the Valdosta/Lowndes County Recreation Department. The dealership has joined forces with the national Chevrolet Youth Baseball program to provide new equipment, instructional clinics, and a monetary donation.
Needmore holds final races before big Memorial Day weekend
Saturday night racing at Needmore Speedway saw some new faces in victory lane.
That wasn’t the case in the Late Model division, as Valdosta's Gene Ross drove to victory once again, but not without some close competition from Steven Roberts who came in second.
In the Limited Late Model class, it was another win for Cole Exum, with Gene Maine finishing second in the NAPA Auto Parts special.
VSU softball wins South Region, headed to nationals
For the third time in four years, and second in a row, Valdosta State’s softball team will play in the national championship tournament.
The Blazers won their third South Region championship Saturday, beating Alabama-Huntsville 8-3 in game three of the best-of-three series at Steel’s Diamond at Blazer Park.
VSU baseball season comes to an end
Delta State scored seven unanswered runs to defeat Valdosta State 7-2 in an elimination game of the NCAA South Region Tournament at the UT Baseball Field Saturday afternoon.
Blazers take 1-0 series lead
Angela O’Connor launched a pinch-hit two-run home run over the left-field fence, tying the game against Alabama-Huntsville in the bottom of the sixth inning, and sparking the Blazers and their fans along the way.
Blazer baseball stays alive, beats Stillman
Valdosta State scored five runs in the first inning to defeat Stillman 6-2 in an elimination game of the NCAA South Region Tournament at UT Baseball Field Friday morning.
Lowndes’ Harwell, Wortham sign with Valdosta State
Lowndes’ Ty Harwell and David Wortham won’t have to go far to play college baseball.
Blazers host respected rival UAH in Super Regional
One would expect a matchup featuring two of the top softball programs in Division II to come in the national championship game.
Unfortunately for Valdosta State and Alabama-Huntsville, who have combined to appear in four straight national championship games, they won’t be meeting in title game on Memorial Day in Salem, Va.
Pop Warner Football coming to Valdosta
Pop Warner Football is coming to Valdosta.
The nationally known organization that puts an emphasis on education and developing American youth has been established in the Valdosta area and will begin playing football this August.
Blazers lose to Delta State, fall to loser’s bracket
If the Valdosta State baseball team is going to win the South Region Tournament, the Blazers going to have to do it from the loser’s bracket.
The Blazers (33-17) dropped their first game of the tournament Thursday, falling to Delta State 4-2 at UT Baseball Stadium.
VSU will face Stillman College, which lost to No. 1 seed and tournament host Tampa Thursday, Friday at 11 a.m. to advance to the weekend portion of the tournament. The loser will be eliminated.
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