MIAMI — LeBron James had 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, missing a triple-double only because he was on the bench at the end after hurting his leg with a fall to the court.
Game 5 is Thursday. No team has blown a 3-1 lead in the finals.
Westbrook scored 43 for the Thunder, who wasted an early 17-point lead but were never out of the game because of their 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; 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 a pair of teammates.
He returned to a huge roar with a little more than four minutes left, 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 had enough room to withstand Westbrook, who kept coming all night.
“Whatever it takes. No excuses,” Wade said. “You don’t want to leave this arena saying you missed opportunities.”
Chalmers, 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.