LeBron James Miami Heat

NBA Finals: Mavericks, Heat should mean fun fourth quarters

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The Miami Heat put on an incredible show, an amazing comeback. Ice-cold Dwyane Wade coming alive in the fourth quarter, eventually knocking down a ridiculous four-point play. Then LeBron James with a brilliant fourth quarter, including the pull-up 3-pointer to tie it and the block at the end to secure the 83-80 clincher in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

We haven’t seen a comeback like that since … well, a few nights ago when the Dallas Mavericks did the same thing to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Which sets up an interesting NBA finals starting next Tuesday in Miami — the two teams that have come together with the best execution, the two teams that have been putting together brilliant fourth quarters, will clash.

Dirk Nowitzki on the turnaround fadeaway, followed by LeBron taking a hard step to create space then draining the jumper. Jason Terry draining a late three. Wade draining a late three.

This folks, is going to be fun.

The Heat put their closing skills on display Wednesday night. Chicago had a 12-point lead with 3:14 left in the game.

But then Wade hit a little 8-footer. Rose turned over the ball and Wade got the layup and the and-1 (but he missed the free throw). Wade, who had been cold all game, suddenly had to be respected again. Then LeBron hit a three and it was a five-point game. Chicago took a timeout but the air had come out of the building.

Rose made an insane spinning shot in the lane, a highlight-reel shot that reminds you in the clutch he has to hit a lot of those because the Bulls have no other options, no other guys who can create their own shot.

The Heat have options. They didn’t even tap into all of theirs.

First, it was Wade with the game-changer of a four-point play when Rose fouled Wade on a 3-pointer. Another Heat stop, a pull-up LeBron three to tie it. And at that point you just knew. Like you knew in all the Heat comebacks this postseason.

The Heat scored on eight straight possessions down the stretch, a big change from the 38 points they scored on 45 possessions in the first half (stats by John Schuhmann of NBA.com). They have that something when the game is on the line.

The Mavs will see your LeBron and Wade with a Dirk. Remember what he did to the Thunder in Game 4? He dropped12 points in the last five minutes of the game, knocking in a shot at the rim, two midrange jumpers, a three and getting to the line in that stretch. When the Thunder overplayed him in overtime, he hit Jason Kidd with a pass that led to the three that put the Mavericks up for good.

Dallas is dangerous because you have to defend Kidd, and Terry, and Dirk. And if you do all that, J.J. Barea will drive on you or Shawn Marion will drop 26 on you. Lots of weapons.

Both the Heat and the Mavs benefited last round from teams that are still figuring out how to execute in the clutch, how to deal with the pressure.

That will not be the case in the finals. We’ve got two teams that know exactly how to play in the fourth and are in the finals because of it.

That is going to make this a lot of fun.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.