Game 4 of the NBA Finals did not fit the convenient narrative that LeBron James is not "clutch," but it still managed to offer the quintessential LeBron experience.
The rise with Cleveland, the bolt to South Beach, the perceived shrinking in the fourth quarter ... all those forces -- some beyond his control, some very much his doing -- have caused James to become one of those rare ultra-talented athletes who is defined more by his failure than his success.
And that's how Tuesday night felt. When LeBron left because of cramping in his left leg and his team leading by two points in the fourth quarter of the pivotal game of the finals, you weren't waiting for his triumphant moment of return. You were expecting it to be another punch line in his career.
When he returned on that gimpy leg -- with the Heat down two - and drilled the game's biggest shot with a tiebreaking three pointer (after which the Heat never trailed again), it did not feel like a moment you would have experienced with Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. It was all LeBron, because it was less about what he did and more about what would have happened if he didn't do it.
It didn't feel like this generation's greatest NBA player (and possibly its greatest athlete, period) had delivered the defining moment of his career. It merely felt like he had averted disaster.
It's the curse of LeBron (and Alex Rodriguez, and pre-Super Bowl Peyton Manning). When it matters most, we simultaneously expect that they should succeed but anticipate that they will fail. Then we react with shrugs when they succeed and pitchforks when they do not.
It's a bizarre dynamic, one that wasn't solved for James with a Game 4 victory and probably still won't go away if the Heat follows suit in Game 5 -- unless you were swayed by A-Rod hitting .365 with six homers in the 2009 postseason when he finally won a World Series. Chances are, though, that you already forgot that and are back to ripping the slugger for not being clutch -- just like you will with LeBron when he misses his next fourth-quarter shot.