ORLANDO • If the Miami Heat were to have any chance of clawing back from a 3-1 deficit in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals tomorrow, they must first stop the Los Angeles Lakers from taking the lead after three quarters.
LeBron James and the Lakers maintained their remarkable fourth-quarter winning streak as they secured a 102-96 Game 4 victory on Tuesday that left them on the brink of a 17th NBA crown.
Los Angeles took a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series in Orlando, with the result also extending their record of remaining unbeaten this season whenever they have led going into the fourth quarter. The team are 56-0 when taking a lead into the fourth.
“I think the fourth quarter, obviously it’s winning time,” Lakers star James said of the game in which he team took a 75-70 lead after three periods.
“You’ve got 12 minutes to buckle down defensively with the lead, kind of hold that lead, and then you have to execute offensively.
“That’s the mindset for us. We’ve got 12 minutes. If we have the lead, it’s our job to outscore the opponent or to hold them to (as many) points as us, which is the same exact thing, because if we win the quarter, we win the game. That’s kind of been our mindset all year long.”
James, who will win a fourth championship ring if the Lakers win one of the remaining three games in the series, is already looking forward to Game 5 tomorrow.
“I get so excited – like right now, I’m excited about our meeting tomorrow watching film and breaking that down and seeing things that we can do better,” he said.
“Seeing things that we did do well. Thinking about the adjustments that they possibly will do… that’s the best part about it. It’s a chess match.”
While James led the scoring for the Lakers on 28 points, the team’s win came off of a Herculean defensive effort from Anthony Davis (22 points), who shut down Miami danger man Jimmy Butler.
Butler, the 40-point hero of Miami’s win on Sunday, was restricted to 22 points, frustrated throughout by Davis.
“Jimmy is so great, it’s hard to even slow him down but AD did a great job,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “It starts there but you have to credit our guys’ competitive spirit. They were flying around and just competing at an extremely high level that end of the floor.”
He added that he had not needed to motivate Davis after a disappointing outing in Sunday’s Game 3 defeat.
Miami points on 80 offensive possessions with LA Lakers’ Anthony Davis on the floor, less than a point per possession.
“You don’t have to say anything to Anthony Davis,” Vogel said. “He wants this more than anything. Obviously he’s a great player capable of imposing his will on the game on both ends of the floor.”
Tyler Herro scored 21 points for the Heat and Duncan Robinson had 17.
Bam Adebayo returned from two games missed with a neck injury to score 15 while Goran Dragic (foot) remained sidelined.
Despite the defeat, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra backed his team to bounce back tomorrow.
Only once before in NBA Finals history has a team overturned a 3-1 deficit, when a James-inspired Cleveland Cavaliers stunned the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
But Spoelstra struck a defiant stance, saying: “Our guys love competition and love the challenge.
“We are here for a purpose. We never expected this to be easy. We’ll just rest and recover tomorrow.
“Recalibrate, get back to work on Thursday. I know our group’s going to be ready. We’ll respond, that’s academic at this point. We’ll just rest up and get ready for the next one.”
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS