LeBron gets a little help from his friends - NBC Sports

LeBron gets a little help from his friends
Chalmers, Wade, Bosh step up after Heat star is sidelined with injury
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Miami's Chris Bosh (1), Mario Chalmers (15) and Dwyane Wade celebrate in the fourth quarter of their victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
June 20, 2012, 11:06 am

And when it was over, when another chapter in this most compelling of NBA Finals was written, the numbers were staggering. Forty-three points. On 20 of 32 shooting. But also seven rebounds and five assists.

When Heat-Thunder became a reality a week ago, such overwhelming statistics were expected to regularly appear on one side of the ledger. But not on this side.

Tuesday, the numbers did not belong to LeBron James, who wasn't even able to make it to the finish, cramps reducing him to a seat on the bench at the end, save for one huge, go-ahead 3-pointer.

No, these numbers belonged to Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who this time made his share of shots, even as they reduced Kevin Durant's overall total.

The debate after this 104-98 Heat victory that pushed them within one victory of vindication, was about one player trying to do too much. And it wasn't about LeBron.

The role reversal was stark.

On a night Durant was good but not great, James Harden again disappeared and Serge Ibaka learned never to doubt James' defense, the Heat was the team with balance.

It was James with 26 points, Wade with 25, and even Mario Chalmers (Mario Chalmers?) with 25. It was Bosh coming up one rebound shy of a third consecutive double-double in his pushback from a three-week absence with a lower-abdominal strain. Heck, it was Norris Cole (Norris Cole?) starting a 16-0 rally from a 17-point first-half deficit, making this the largest playoff comeback in the Heat's 24 seasons.

On a night Pat Riley received a lifetime coaching achievement award from the NBA's coaches association, the result was his reward for recognizing that his team needed more than Wade, more than LeBron, in fact more than even just those two.

Tuesday, though, was a celebration of a roster than could afford to have James finish the game on the bench, with even Shane Battier contributing a huge hustle play on a late jump-ball.

"That's the reason that we all came here together, and I'm not just talking about Chris, LeBron and myself," Wade said. "I'm talking about Shane Battier, I'm talking about Mike Miller, I'm talking about all these guys.

"That's the reason we all wanted to play together. It's very hard in this league to win, to win it all. You've got to have guys that on any given night they can carry what you call your own weight, and nights that you've got to do it together."

This was that night, that moment.

"Obviously LeBron James is one of the most dominant players in the game, and he explodes many nights scoring-wise," Wade continued. "But we've always got his back, and certain nights like tonight, when he wasn't feeling his greatest, you have guys like Mario Chalmers step up, big plays, big moments. That's what this team is built on, and that's the reason we're playing together."

One more victory would now validate it all, the one that never came when James had to do it all in Cleveland, the one that never came when he felt he had to do it all in last year's Finals against the Mavericks and crumpled under the self-imposed pressure.

No one was more appreciative than James, who finally got hydrated enough to offer his own postgame thoughts.

"It's a big time team win," he said. "We needed everyone's effort, and everyone came up and made a play. You know, from the starters to Rio's spectacular game, to Norris, as well. We was down in that first quarter, Norris came in and gave us a spark, hit a couple threes, got into the lane, got a lay up and made some plays to kind of help us get into a rhythm."

So often this season, James has been the lone voice. This time, Chalmers, Bosh and Wade preceded him to the interview room after making their own statements on the court.

"It's a big time team win," James said, "and we needed every point, we needed every rebound and everything that everyone had to get it."

By then, Westbrook was gone, quieting the naysayers for one night, but still left feeling like James had after so many such performances earlier in his career and even earlier this season.

Standing out.

But also standing alone.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.


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