LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LeBron James sensed the moment and the opportunity.
Before the game he sent a text to his teammates calling Game 4 a must-win, and after the game, he called the fourth quarter winning time.
In between, James did what he often does. He took over in the fourth quarter with the game up for grabs.
The Los Angeles Lakers star scored nine of his 11 fourth-quarter points in the final 6:08, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 102-96 victory and a 3-1 series lead against the Miami Heat on Tuesday.
Calling it one of the biggest games of his career, James finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
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James knows what’s at stake for his legacy, the Lakers franchise and his teammates, especially Anthony Davis, who is seeking his first title.
The difference between a 3-1 and 2-2 series might be a game in the win column, but mentally, it's a considerable gap.
Just three times in James' career has his team had a 3-1 series lead and lost Game 5. The other 12 times, including all three rounds of the Western Conference playoffs this season, James finished off the opponent in five games. And just twice in James' career has his team won three games in a series and failed to win.
And in more bad news for the Heat and good news for the Lakers, James is 3-0 in the Finals with a chance to clinch the series.
LeBron James scored 20 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, including nine in the final six minutes. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
This is important to him, to win another title under these conditions. If the Lakers win another game in the series, it will be James’ fourth title, easing criticism of his Finals record, and his third championship with a third team, joining John Salley and Robert Horry as the only players to do that.
"When I woke up from my nap this morning after our team meeting, I just felt that," James said of the need to send his teammates a text. "I felt that vibe. I felt that pressure. I felt like for me personally, this was one of the biggest games of my career. I just wanted to relay that message to my teammates, the type of zone I was in, the type of moment it was, and the kind of team we were playing against. …
"I feel like if we're going to be a championship ballclub, if we want to really be a championship team, that we got to have that same grit and that same attitude. It was my mindset. I'm still in it. You can see my mind kind of working right now."
The score was 83-83 midway through the fourth quarter, and Miami was playing well enough to win the game. That’s when James exerted his dominance. In the next four minutes, James scored six points and assisted on two 3-pointers, and the Lakers had a 95-88 lead.
LeBron James made it clear: Up 3-1 in the #NBAFinals, rest is the last thing he’s concerned about. pic.twitter.com/ZjqM0sjrhD
Los Angeles is now 56-0 this season when leading after three quarters.
"The fourth quarter, obviously it's winning time," James said. "You've got 12 minutes to buckle down defensively with the lead, kind of hold that lead, and then you have to execute offensively. Obviously, I didn't know the stat coming into tonight. But for us, that's just the mindset. We've got 12 minutes."
James has been special in the last quarter of the Finals. Of a possible 48 fourth-quarter minutes, he has played 46 minutes, 23 seconds and is averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists and shooting 48.1% from the field.
"At this point in the season, I don't care about rest. I really don't," said James who stayed up until 4:30 a.m. breaking down film after Game 1. "I don't care about sleep. I don't care about resting throughout the game. Obviously, I come out of the game. Coach (Frank Vogel) has a rhythm and rotation that we live by and we go by. But I don't care about resting because I can rest in a week, max, if it happens to go there. I could rest for a month straight, which I won't do because of who I am. You guys know that. But I can rest then. I can sleep eight hours and get up and eat and then go right back to sleep if I want to."
One more victory and James can get all the rest he wants.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
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