At Pro Basketball Talk last night, Matt Moore wrote about "You got to be kidding me" guys. These are the little buggers on the opposing team who jump up and bite you when you think you've covered all your bases; you take care of the superstars, and the "you got to be kidding me" pops up out of nowhere and starts hitting shots and beating you. You can't cover everybody, after all. Last night, Mario Chalmers gave one of the all-time "You got to be kidding me" performances, scoring 25 points and nailing some huge final-minutes shots, but even in Chalmers's late-game brilliance, everything he did, everything everybody did, came down to LeBron James. This has been LeBron's series in every way, and last night his signature highlight, perhaps of his career, came while he was on the bench.
The Heat beat the Thunder 104–98 in Game Four of the NBA Finals last night to take a 3-1 series lead, and the indelible image of the night will be LeBron, having failed so often that he's pouring all he has into every second of these finals, cramping up after pushing himself as far as he could go. This being LeBron, even his pain feels scripted and milked for self-aggrandizing drama, but that doesn't mean he wasn't actually hurt and that doesn't mean he hasn't put together one of the best NBA Finals performances of all time. When we went to Miami to see the Heat play earlier this year, we noted that Heat fans clearly preferred Dwyane Wade to LeBron. We don't think that'll be the case anymore.
Thunder fans, who had to have assumed they'd be seeing their team again when this series left Oklahoma City tied 1-1, probably won't take much solace in the fact that this series could very well be over, and by that we mean the Thunder could have swept. Last night was yet another game that the Thunder weren't composed enough to salt away late, the reason they're almost surely going to lose this series. Russell Westbrook, in particular, was amazing, scoring 43 points and looking all the world like the best player on the court. That is, until an absolutely brutal, dunderheaded foul with thirteen seconds left when the Thunder only needed to defend for five seconds to earn the last shot. It was the type of temporarily brain-dead mistake that will erase a night in which Westbrook was the only reason the Thunder were still hanging around. (This was not a night when anyone was arguing LeBron-Kevin Durant, that's for sure. For that matter, what in the world has happened to James Harden?) It was yet another example of the Thunder imploding late, providing more, almost conclusive evidence that this overwhelmingly talented team, alas, just isn't ready yet.
But LeBron: LeBron looks ready. For all that guy has been through — for all we fans have put him through, for all he has put us through — he has taken his game to the highest level that we've all been waiting for, that we've all been lambasting him for not reaching. We still think it's more fun to cheer against him, with good reason, but disliking LeBron is starting to feel like being on the wrong side of history. LeBron is one win away from the title that validates everything. If he gets it, no one will remember anything else, or care.