Jun 20, 2012, 8:57 AM EDT
That, right there, is the signature moment all superstar champions have.
Michael Jordan has the flu game. Magic the baby sky-hook. Think of Dr. J and you think of the up-and-under scoop in the finals. And so it goes for every superstar.
LeBron James needed one because he is soon going to both have a ring and an NBA finals MVP trophy. Now he has his signature moment to go with that first title — a three to spark a 7-0 run with his legs cramping so bad he could barely run. Yes, the Heat still must close out this series, but up 3-1 history says that they will — maybe as soon as Thursday — and when that happens you will see that clip above a lot over the years.
It wasn’t just that three. Miami took a commanding 3-1 in the NBA finals because of the brilliant 43 minutes LeBron played before his quadriceps cramped up. The Heat have used him more and more as a power forward and in this series that has proven to be a nearly unstoppable matchup for the Thunder — LeBron is too strong and backs Thabo Sefolosha or James Harden down into the paint and score, he’s too quick if you put a big man out on him to stop those post ups.
More than the 26 points it was the 12 assists that really keyed Miami in Game 4 — LeBron was distributing the ball as well as he ever has and that had role players like Mario Chalmers stepping up. LeBron had 10 points and 4 assists in the third quarter alone as the Heat took the lead for stretches of time after having been down 17 in the first half. LeBron was the focal point of the Heat offense and defense. He was the MVP.
Then it happened. Following a slip-and-fall on a fourth quarter drive LeBron was in in serious pain, his quadriceps cramped up. He had to be helped off the court and could barely move.
“I sat on the bench, got rehydrated as much as I could while we had a long time out, and sat through a few plays and I was able to go back into the game.” James said.
Just his presence coming back in was a boost for the Heat. And that’s when the play happened — LeBron was forced to take a three as the shot clock wound down.
And he drained it.
Maybe you can argue Thabo Sefolosha should have been out tighter on the hobbled star, but somehow LeBron found the lift in his tired legs to get one more shot off.
A signature shot.
That wasn’t the dagger, but that was the moment you knew this game would belong to the Heat. A couple plays later the cramps retuned and coach Erik Spoelstra sat LeBron because, as Spoelstra said, the Heat were playing 4-on-5 with LeBron hobbling around out there.
But this has been James’ series. He is not going to silence all his critics, but his performance in this series must make his detractors at least respect his game. He has become comfortable with who he is and used that “happy place” as a launching pad for a finals MVP run. He has played great with the game on the line.
There is more work for the Heat to do — the Thunder are not going to roll over — but right now it’s hard to doubt LeBron will rise to the challenge. He already has this series.
He has his signature moment and now he just needs the ring to go with it.