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NBA Finals: Miami endures, wins Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead over Dallas

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Game 3 of the 2011 NBA Finals was a 48-minute spectacular. It was a heartbreaker and a series changer. It was valiant, defeating, and entertaining, and it was decided by an incredibly slim margin. With a single bucket — a Chris Bosh baseline jumper, to be exact — Miami topped Dallas, 88-86, in a riveting game between well-matched foes that no self-respecting basketball fan could soon forget.

Yet as we try to explain the game’s final, uncompromising two-point differential, attention will naturally be drawn to items of similarly minimal magnitude. One could — and surely will — argue that the difference in the game was a foul call, an errant game-winner, or a single costly turnover. The truth is none of the above, or really, all of the above and more. The Heat won Game 3 because of a flurry of convoluted, interrelated factors that go far beyond the scope of a single play, and extend outward from player rotations into just about every aspect of team play.

“This series is turning out to be an absolute series of endurance, mental and physical,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We didn’t expect anything less than the competitive physicality of this game tonight. Our guys really competed. At times it was a little uneven, but we found ways to make plays on both ends of the court, to grind this game out in a very enduring win.”

That Spoelstra placed so much emphasis on endurance is fascinating, and fitting. Play-specific strength isn’t important; without longevity and consistency, the Heat would have been in no place to win this game, and the Mavericks would have been in no place to compete in it. Dwyane Wade’s fantastic performance didn’t come in a quick burst, but started with a pair of amazing finishes and ended with a well-executed 2-3 pick-and-roll with LeBron James some 46 minutes later. Wade may not have been brilliant for every second he was on the court in between, but his continued impact was undeniable, and to reduce his performance to anything less than the fantastic sum that it was — for the sake of creating a small, manageable talking point, no less — would be a damn shame.

The same is true of the entirety of the performances of both teams. It wasn’t just Chris Bosh’s ability to hit the game’s final made shot that put the Mavs away, but Spoelstra’s willingness to run James and Wade in a pick-and-roll, their ability to execute it, Udonis Haslem’s fantastic screen to free Bosh for the jumper, and the incredible medley of factors that led to that point. The Mavs defended that 2-3 pick-and-roll in a particular way for a particular reason based on the complexion of the game and all that had happened up to that point, and to isolate that particular sequence as a sole determinant for the game’s verdict is disingenuous considering the context that created it.

You have to look at it all and weigh it all when coming to terms with why Miami won this game, and took a 2-1 series lead.

Weigh Dallas’ turnover problems, and the defense that caused them. Jason Kidd began his evening with some big shots, but also a few careless passes; Kidd had two giveaways by the end of the first quarter (in a low-possession game, mind you) and finished with four. J.J. Barea matched Kidd’s four turnovers, and Dirk Nowitzki contributed three of his own. As a result, Dallas had a pretty horrible turnover rate for much of the game, and their poor (but less horrible) final turnover rate of 16.9 is only such because of a stretch of careful play.

Weigh the free throw disparity in what can only be considered an oddly officiated game. Loose ball fouls galore helped to send the Mavs to the free throw line 27 times, while the Heat attempted just 15 free throws. Dallas needed the respite of the free throw line; Miami’s half-court defense was downright oppressive, and to be able to score without expecting a rotation was invaluable for the Mavs.

Weigh Dwyane Wade. He was that good, and Dallas had no counter for his post-ups, his isolations, or even his three-pointers.

Weigh the absence of Brendan Haywood. Ian Mahinmi played eight minutes as the Mavs’ back-up center, and acquired five fouls in the process. His single-game plus-minus was a -6, in part due to Mahinmi handing out free throws and generally looking lost on defense. It’s no real fault of Mahinmi’s; he tried (sometimes to his detriment, or as Rick Carlisle said: “I thought Mahinmi’s energy was good. At times, [he was] maybe a little too energetic, but that was expected.”), but he’s just not the caliber of defender, rebounder, or finisher that Haywood is. The Mavs missed the luxury of having a reliable center behind Chandler, and while the effects of Haywood’s absence are most conveniently measured in what Mahinmi did or didn’t do, we also can’t neglect the impact of fatigue and foul aversion on the play of Tyson Chandler.

Weigh Chalmers’ work as a spot-up shooter, and the indirect influence that his mere presence had on the development of plays. Weigh the Mavs’ incredible team defense against LeBron James, anchored by Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler. Weigh the injury to Chris Bosh’s eye, which may have played a part in him missing a handful of jumpers and scoring opportunities. Weigh Jason Terry’s tendency to fire up quick jumpers under duress, likely in the fear that shots wouldn’t be coming his way all that often against this particular defense. Weigh Joel Anthony containing Nowitzki one-on-one, until Nowitzki again proved that such a thing impossible.

Weigh all of these numerous individual elements and then some, and never lose sight of the fact that huge, interrelated factors and themes decide the outcome of any game — even one decided by a single made basket. Bosh’s jumper wasn’t the difference, even if it did provide the ticks on the scoreboard that brought Miami to a “good enough” 88 points. It was all of it. All of this, all of Wade and Dirk and LeBron and Ian Mahinmi and all of everything. That might not make for the same compelling narrative as a spotlight on a single play, but such storylines betray the endurance that makes great games great.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.