NEW YORK – LeBron James had done his part to put the Miami Heat in control of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and one last free throw was meaningless except to him.
He missed, leaving him one shy of his first 50-point playoff game, muttering to himself after.
“That’s the first time I’ve been disappointed in myself in a win,” James said.
Then he smiled, realizing his performance left nothing to complain about.
James tied his playoff career high with 49 points, Chris Bosh made the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 57 seconds left, and the Heat beat the Brooklyn Nets 102-96 on Monday night for a 3-1 lead.
James carried the Heat nearly the entire way until Bosh hit the shot that put Miami ahead for good — a play where James resisted the temptation to force a shot, instead passing to Mario Chalmers, who swung it to a wide-open Bosh.
Ray Allen followed with four free throws and James finished it off with one more, putting the Heat in position to wrap it up at home Wednesday in Game 5.
James was 16 of 24 from the field and 14 of 19 from the free throw line in matching the 49 points he scored for Cleveland against Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. He missed his second free throw with 1.1 seconds left.
“He was what was needed on the road and that’s what makes him the best player in the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Spoelstra talked to James about coming out in the fourth quarter, but had about as much success as the Nets’ defenders.
“He asked me and I didn’t know if he was serious or not, and what I told him I cannot say again,” James said. “So I wanted to finish out the game. I felt like it was a must-win for us.”
Joe Johnson scored 18 points for the Nets, who were 15 of 25 from 3-point range in their Game 3 victory but only 5 of 22 in this one. Paul Pierce added 16 points.
“This is very difficult to swallow,” Nets center Kevin Garnett said. “Hard to take, but it’s what it is. Coulda, shoulda, woulda doesn’t help us at this point.”
Dwyane Wade scored 15 points on the night his Heat postseason record of 46 points was shattered. Bosh finished with 12.
Miami pulled out a thrilling victory in a game neither team led by double digits and has won at least one road game in 14 straight series, breaking the record set by the Chicago Bulls from 1991-94.
Garnett’s two free throws tied it with 2:30 remaining. Bosh then missed a pair of 3-pointers before getting a third crack at it in the corner in front of the Brooklyn bench for a 97-94 lead. Johnson then missed a jumper while trying to draw James’ sixth foul — Johnson said afterward James “flopped” — and Allen’s free throws put it away.
“Obviously the series is not over but we really have to have some urgency going to Miami and we’ve got to come out of there with one,” Johnson said.
Wade scored 46 points against Boston in the 2010 playoffs, and James’ best in a Heat uniform had also come against the Celtics, his memorable 45-point performance that saved Miami’s season in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.
Pierce, who asked to guard James after Game 1, was on the wrong end of this LeBron masterpiece.
Trail Blazers 103, Spurs 92
In Portland, Damian Lillard scored 25 points and the Trail Blazers staved off elimination in the Western Conference semifinals with a victory over San Antonio.
Nicolas Batum had 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists to cut San Antonio’s advantage in the series to 3-1.
Portland held Tony Parker to 14 points after he had scored 29 points or more in three of his last four playoff games. Coach Gregg Popovich sat Parker and Tim Duncan after Portland built a 20-point lead in the final quarter.
The Spurs are looking to head to the conference finals for the third straight season.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in San Antonio.
No team has ever lost a seven-game NBA playoff series after going up 3-0.