Dwyane Wade landed on his tailbone. Given Wade’s vertical leap, it’s a long descent to the hardwood. And humans don’t bounce like basketballs.
He grimaced, clutched his lower back, rolled on the floor.
It didn’t look good.
Later, at crunch time, LeBron James tripped and fell. He bit his lower lip, dragged his right leg, had to be carried to the bench.
It didn’t look good.
In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Heat was down.
But not out.
The Heat stumbled.
But got up.
Miami’s quest for a title became acutely painful Tuesday.
But afterward, bliss.
It took a collective effort – big baskets from Mario Chalmers, a timely tip by Shane Battier, three-pointers by Norris Cole, and grace under duress from Wade and James, but the Heat survived a frantic onslaught by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the closing minutes to take a 3-1 lead with the 104-98 victory.
The Heat displayed a trait that is often overlooked with this supposed glamour team: Resilience.
James, limping, his muscles shot through with cramps, swished a three-pointer.
Wade, stiff and bruised, sank a driving scoop shot, then saved a ball from going out of bounds with a midair toss over the back of his head, then nicked a three-point attempt by Thabo Sefolosha.
The ending was crazy, dramatic, utterly unpredictable and so fitting for these two teams.
The Heat could finish it Thursday by Biscayne Bay but you almost wish this series could go on and on.
The Thunder has been in contention but the Heat has made the key plays down the stretch.
“Whatever it takes,” said Wade, who scored 25 points. “No excuses. You don’t want to leave this arena saying you missed this opportunity.”
The unlikely lifeguard was Chalmers, the guy most often scolded by James and Wade for his sometimes inexplicable plays. He drove past Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka for a layup after a pass from Wade for a five point lead with 44 seconds left.
Chalmers started the game 0-for-3 – and was mired in a 2-for-18 slump -- but finished with 25 points, including 12 on 4-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter. His three three-pointers deflated OKC.
“Mario has that thing called heart and no matter how tough we are on him, he actually thinks he’s the best player on this team and that’s a gift and a curse,” Wade said. “He always believes, ‘Find me, I can make a shot.’”
James did not have his usual gaudy point total, with 26, but he nearly had a triple-double with 12 assists and nine rebounds. James showed why he is the best all-around player in basketball and the league MVP.
In the end, the Heat worked the way the team was designed to work. Devote extra resources to James and Wade will make you pay. Or vice versa. Sag off Chalmers or Battier or James Jones and they will make you pay.
Westbrook tried furiously to save his team with 43 points and a heroic 17-point fourth quarter but it wasn’t enough.
“It doesn’t mean nothing,” he said.
Westbrook erred by fouling Chalmers after he caught the jump ball tip from Battier. The Heat led by three with 13.8 seconds left. Westbrook did not need to foul. Chalmers calmly sank both free throws.
“Just miscommunication on my part,” Westbrook said.
Kevin Durant, who scored 28 points but had only two rebounds, said the Thunder won’t think about the odds against them.