MIAMI, FL - JUNE 19: Mario Chalmers #15 of the Miami Heat looks on during his post game press conference against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 19, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Just one more victory and the championship that's been talked about endlessly since the Big 3 came together almost two years ago will finally occur.
It didn't come easy of course but that was to be expected. Three straight tightly-contested victories against a tough but flustered Oklahoma City Thunder was something no one could have predicted. Costly errors by the Thunder, none bigger than a foolish late foul by Russell Westbrook that gift-wrapped two free throws for Mario Chalmers, gave the Heat the just enough of a window of opportunity to hold off the visiting team for the 104-98 victory and the commanding 3-1 series lead.
"Four or five plays," remarked coach Erik Spoelstra afterwards. "That's what this series is coming down to. That's what this game came down to. This is incredibly competitive on both sides and there's not much of a margin for error either way, and it's a lot of things and intangibles in between."
The Thunder came out with a vengeance at the start of the game, quickly building a lead behind Russell Westbrook's early scoring flurry and once he got going, he really heated up quickly. The Heat's defense seemed content enough to give him enough mid-range space to knock down jumper after jumper and he was unstoppable in the fourth quarter driving left towards the rim when the Heat tried to build on their lead.
When it was all said and done, Westbrook sat dejected next to a gloomy-looking Kevin Durant. He blamed the foul off the jump ball on an "miscommunication" on his part. Asked about his amazing stat line, he kept his answer short.
"Well, (I was) just trying to stay in attack mode," he responded, "Shots were falling. But it doesn't really mean nothing. We didn't come out with the win."
Durant was then asked about Westbrook's performance. "Yeah, he had it going since the beginning of the game, and when a guy has got it going, we've got to keep feeding him. He was making shots and keeping us in the game, and we just tried to play off of him. He had a really, really good game.
"Unfortunately, like he said, it doesn't matter if we didn't get the win. We've just got to keep pushing and keep fighting. We did some good things."
The 17-point deficit in the first half was the largest the Heat have ever come back from in their postseason history. None other than rookie Norris Cole got the comeback bid started with two three-pointers and a driving layup in the final two minutes of the opening quarter and followed that up with another three-pointer for the Heat's first basket in the second quarter.
"He keeps himself ready," Spoelstra observed. "I love that kid. Even when he didn't score in the other games, those have been important minutes, three or four minutes of a burst to give these guys."
After layups by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and a three-pointer by James Jones, the Thunder lead was essentially gone and the game remained tight for the rest of the game. Once again though, the Heat were able to outlast the Thunder's crunch time offensive onslaught with some timely scoring, defensive pressure and a little luck.
Udonis Haslem was the first Heat player to emerge at the locker room after the game. Exhausted, he made his way to his locker and took a seat where he was quickly surrounded by the media. The first question directed at him was about the resiliency of this year's Heat team.
"I think it's just the character that we built starting last season, with the way it ended and throughout the season this year with the new guys and then throughout the playoffs." he said. "We've been tested a lot and we've built a lot of character and we just find different ways to win. Tonight, obviously we were able to pull it out and be fortunate once again."
James Jones was the next to appear and was asked the same question as his fellow hometown teammate.
"We've been here before. That's not where we want to be but we understand that this was the situation we were in. You can't lay down. You have to find a way and that's the great thing about these guys. We all understand and we face challenges. We're going to be down and that's an explosive team. We won't be in the lead all game but when we get an opportunity to impose our will, we'll do it."
Once Cole got the team going with his quick scoring run, Chalmers re-entered and slowly began to emerge from his recent shooting slump. He ended up scoring 25 points, his career high for a playoff game, and with 12 of them coming in the fourth quarter.
"I just tried to step up," Chalmers explained. "I've always been a person to step up in big moments. And what bigger moment besides tonight to step up?"
Should the Heat be able to take care of business and raise another banner at the AmericanAirlines Arena, Chalmers' performance will live on as an extraordinary moment in the history of the Miami Heat.
"You got to love his mentality," remarked Chris Bosh. "He wants to be the best and that's where it starts. He puts in the work all the time and he truly believes in his talent. It's really contagious. Once you see it, you can't help but believe in him. We've been staying on him because we need him. We knew that we needed him coming into this series to be a better point guard. We all had to get better but he's just outlasted a tremendous amount of pressure and he's responding every time and that's just what he does."
Spoelstra's faith in his starting point guard was rewarded and the young coach on the cusp of winning his first championship as a head coach is that much closer to the finish line because of the young point guard from Kansas.
"He's a gamer. He's got guts. You can't quantify that. You can't measure it. You can't necessarily evaluate that with a kid that you're drafting. But he obviously had a big moment in college. But he's done it time and time again in big games in college, big games in the pros. He's not afraid of the moment. You can't teach that.
"You know, he gave us a lift tonight we really needed. We needed another guy that could make some plays for us."