MIAMI — One more victory. One more victory for validation.
Perhaps Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 5 of these NBA Finals, when the celebration would be at its most robust, 20,000 believers along for the ride.
Or perhaps in one of this best-of-seven series’ final two games, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But the Miami Heat are on the verge of turning those July 2010 promises of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into reality.
With Tuesday night’s 104-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat moved to a 3-1 series lead, on a night James fell one rebound shy of his eighth career triple-double, with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
Every one of those numbers was needed, as were the 25 points from Wade and a 25-point reemergence from Heat point guard Mario Chalmers, which tied his career playoff high.
Because on this night, it was the Thunder who had the singular scoring sensation.
And, no, it wasn’t 2011-12 scoring champion Kevin Durant, who did his part with 28 points, but rather all-or-nothing Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who closed with 43.
The Thunder entered, and exited, well aware of the stakes. Since the 2-3-2 Finals format was instituted in 1985, 13 teams had trailed 3-1 in the series, with none of those 13 teams going on to win the series, or even forced a Game 7.
Oh, it wasn’t easy, and got scary for a few minutes late, when James had to be helped off the court midway through the fourth quarter with a cramp, only to return to convert a 3-pointer that put the Heat up three late.
From there, Wade scored on a scoop shot for a five-point lead, but Bosh was off with a point-blank inside attempt.
Westbrook scored on the other end to draw the Thunder within 99-96 with 1:43 to play. James then was off with a jumper, but so was Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha from beyond the 3-point line on the other end.
That’s when Chalmers, who had scored 17 points in the series’ first three games, shooting 2 of 15 in the previous two, cashing in with a driving layup with 44.6 seconds to play for a 101-96 Heat lead.
A Westbrook layup drew the Thunder within 101-98, with a jump ball then called with 17.3 seconds to play, the Heat controlling the tip off a hustle effort from Shane Battier.
Chalmers then was fouled with 13.8 seconds to play. Having attempted only one free throw the entire series to that point, making it in the second period, he hit the first for a 102-88 lead and the second to put the Heat up 103-98.
The Heat held on from there, completing the largest comeback in franchise playoff history, from 17 down early.
The Heat led 79-75 at the end of the third quarter. The 33 points they scored in the period were their high for any period in these Finals, playing the third without a turnover.
The third quarter ended with James one rebound shy of his triple-double, never to get it.
James had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds at the intermission, the first time he ever had reached three thresholds that high in a postseason first half.
It was a wild first half, filled with thrills, chills and even one spill of concern.
The spill came when Wade fell hard on his back after a second-quarter blocked shot by Thunder forward Serge Ibaka. Wade remained in the game after a Heat timeout.
The Thunder, who had not led by more than 11 points at any stage over the first three games, this time pushed their lead to 17 in the first quarter and took a 33-19 lead into the second period.
As a matter of perspective, the Thunder had led a grand total of 36 seconds in the first halves of the series first three games.
But as dynamic as the Thunder were early, the Heat were even more impressive with a 13-0 run to start the second period.
The rally, which was 16-0 when counting a Norris Cole 3-pointer to end the first period, included a 3-point play by point guard Mario Chalmers, who had not even been to the line in the series before that attempt and had not converted a field goal since the opening stages of Game 2.
Chalmers and Ibaka, however, were forced to the bench with their third fouls during the second period.
The Heat, though, got an early boost from rookie guard Norris Cole, who helped the Heat rally at the end of the first period.
The Thunder changed up their defensive assignments at the outset, with Durant, who had spent the previous two games in foul trouble, switching away from the defensive assignment on James and instead opening defensively on Chalmers. That put Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha on James.
Durant entered with 12 fouls in the series through three games, after being called for 15 in the conference finals. This time he was not called for a first-quarter foul when freed of the defensive assignment on James.
James continually was able to get into the lane against Sefolosha, closing the first half with 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
Westbrook, who had been accused of shooting too much in the series’ first three games, kept firing early, with 18 points at the intermission, on 9-of-15 shooting, supported by 12 over the first three periods by Durant.
The Heat’s 14-point deficit at the end of the first quarter was their largest going into a second period this season, regular season or playoffs. Only the Celtics in 2008 and 1957 had overcome such deficits at the end of a first quarter to win a Finals game.
The Heat entered having outscored the Thunder 82-57 in the first quarters of the series’ first three games.