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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.

Thunder get off to fast start, survive wild ending to win 98-97, even series with Spurs

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, center, scramble with San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, right, for a loose ball as time expires in the second half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. Oklahoma City won 98-97. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Associated Press
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When the playoffs are all over, and all the confetti has fallen at the parade celebrating the 2016 NBA champion, we are still going to be talking about this game. The Spurs and Warriors gave us everything — great shooting, leads and comebacks, and a wild, controversial ending.

What ultimately matters is the Thunder bounced back from a rough first game, were aggressive from the start and raced out to that early lead using their transition offense. Then a team that blew a lot of leads this season hung on through multiple Spurs comebacks and ultimately got a 98-97 win behind 29 points from Russell Westbrook and 28 from Kevin Durant (who played well at the four spot much of the night). The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Oklahoma City.

All the controversy at the end doesn’t change that fact, or that the Thunder did some things much better in Game 2.

The Thunder have had moments like this throughout the season, where they defended better, got transition points, and Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter (or someone else) would step up and make plays — but they didn’t sustain that high level of play for very long. They still won 55 games because Durant and Westbrook are talented, but we will see if they can sustain a “beat the Spurs” level of play for most of the next couple weeks.

San Antonio helped out by having their offense not as sharp, and just missing shots — the Spurs started 2-of-15 from the field and finished the game shooting just 26.1 percent from three. The missed shots allowed the Thunder to get out in transition more and get the easy buckets that fuel their offense.

But that’s not what anybody is talking about, this is:

Those final 13 seconds, when the Spurs were down 1 and the Thunder were trying to inbound the ball, is the topic of the day. The referees swallowed their whistles to the point that a rugby scrum broke out.

The most discussed part of the play was the inbound — Dion Waiters reaches across the boundary line to shove Manu Ginobili back, which is a clear foul and a change of possessions. Ginobili had stepped on the end line, which could have been ruled a technical but was not as egregious as Waiters’ blatant foul. There were a host of other fouls in those final seconds: Kawhi Leonard grabbing Westbrook’s jersey, a Spurs fan grabbing Steven Adams when he fell out of bounds and not letting him back in the play, and Ibaka hacking LaMarcus Aldridge in the final seconds.

But that’s not what decided the game. The Spurs made a lot of mistakes and missed a lot of clean looks before that, things they needed at the end. Aldridge had 41 points, and Leonard added 12. However, Tim Duncan was 1-of-8, and Tony Parker was 3-of-9 — those guys are not the top offensive options anymore, but the Spurs need them to be efficient. The hustling Thunder defense had something to do with this, but that doesn’t change that the Spurs need more from these two key players.

The Thunder offense worked not because they shared the ball — as per usual, it happens only in spurts — but because Westbrook and Durant hit their shots, and because they got transition buckets.

If they can do that for a couple more games at home, they will be in command of this series. But it’s not going to be simple or easy.

Referees miss Dion Waiters push off, multiple other calls in final seconds of Thunder’s win over San Antonio

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Manu Ginobili said it perfectly after the game: This one play, this one sequence is not why the Spurs lost Game 2 of their series against the Thunder.

However, I can’t remember a time the referees swallowed their whistles on so many calls in the final seconds of a game.

Oklahoma City was up one with 13.5 seconds left (after Serge Ibaka made a silly foul on LaMarcus Aldridge shooting a three), the Thunder just needed to inbound the ball, get fouled and hit their free throws. But it wasn’t that easy.

First and most notably, Dion Waiters was trying to inbound the ball and pushed off on Manu Ginobili guarding the inbound play. That’s a foul, or a technical depending upon which rule you want to apply. But the Spurs should have had the ball out of bounds, the referees just missed that one and both Chris Webber on the call and the TNT Inside the NBA crew harped on that one. They were right.

The officials admitted as much, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Ken Mauer, lead referee from tonight’s game: “On the floor we did not see a foul on the play. However, upon review we realize and we agree we should have had an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play we’ve never seen before, ever. We should have had an offensive foul on the play.”

The question Thunder fans are asking: Why wasn’t Ginobili called for stepping on the out of bounds line? In the final two minutes that’s a technical (the rule book says it’s a foul if he “crosses or breaks the plane of the boundary line,” Ginobili has a toe on the line). Also Leonard had Russell Westbrook‘s jersey through that entire inbounds play.

Waiters did throw a leaping inbound pass as Ginobili stumbled backwards, and he threw it to Durant — who was held as he went for the ball by Danny Green. That should have been a foul call (although Waiters’ inbound foul would have nullified it if that call had been made).

The Spurs get the ball in a scramble for the rock and end up kicking out to Patty Mills for a corner three (not sure that was the best shot), but he missed. In the rebound scramble there could have been a few calls, but the most obvious was Ibaka hacking Aldridge trying to get a putback. It was another clear foul.

All that obscured some great plays — Ginobili with the no-look, behind the head pass to Mills in the corner, or Steven Adams with an amazing closeout to get a piece of Mills’ shot, to name a couple.

I get it, the referees don’t want to decide the game with their whistle, but when it turns into a rugby scrum there should be calls, and the referees shouldn’t be afraid to make them.

Watch LeBron James make plays when it matters in fourth quarter

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On paper LeBron James didn’t have a great fourth quarter — 2-of-7 shooting, both his buckets right at the rim, and he’d been passive for long stretches of the game.

But when the Cavaliers made a 17-2 run late in the game that earned them the Game 1 win over Atlanta, LeBron was at the heart of it all. He had assists, a key steal, and a powerful and-1 dunk. You can check out LeBron’s impressive play in the last five minutes above.

Revived in crunch time, LeBron James pushes Cavaliers past Hawks in Game 1

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LeBron James  hadn’t scored in more than 10 minutes, and it was getting late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on 11-0 and 10-0 runs since his last points. And Paul Millsap forced LeBron to lose control of the ball as he went up for a left-handed layup.

A moment of truth for the Cavaliers?

LeBron pushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand while being fouled.

If you didn’t get the message, he flexed and slapped his right bicep once he landed.

It wasn’t always smooth, but Cleveland overpowered Atlanta 104-93 in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday. The Cavaliers have won seven straight overall against the Hawks, including a sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and LeBron is now 9-0 against Atlanta in the playoffs.

“Obviously, you could tell that they went through a longer series than us,” said LeBron, whose Cavs swept the Pistons eight days ago. The Hawks beat the Celtics in six four days later.

Home Game 1 winners have won the series 85% of the time, and Atlanta will have its work cut out to become an exception.

LeBron’s offensive passiveness during Atlanta’s comeback was unwelcome, but when needed, he delivered. His 3-point play highlighted a 17-2 run that would’ve ended the game if not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by the Hawks. LeBron (25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block) also stole the ball from red-hot Dennis Schröder on consecutive late possessions. This was two-way excellence when it counted, the type of production that has taken LeBron to five straight Finals.

The Cavaliers had such a big lead (18) to blow because they were hot from beyond the arc (15-for-31, 48%). When they missed, Tristan Thompson (seven offensive rebounds) got them extra opportunities.

Kevin Love (17 points and 11 rebounds) threw his body around enough to get a double-double despite shooting 4-for-17. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting and eight assists) forced too many bad shots, but he made some tough ones and kept the ball moving.

At times, it seemed Irving was going one-on-one with Schröder (27 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and six assists). As impressive as Schröder was from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, Kent Bazemore (16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) was his only reliable scoring sidekick.

After allowing 30 points in the first quarter, Atlanta cranked up it defense to the frenetic level showed against Boston. Millsap (17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals), Al Horford (10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Bazemore (two steals) led the effort.

And Cleveland surrendered open 3s when the Hawks moved the ball, which they usually did. If they make more of those open looks, it’s easy to see them winning.

But can they win four of the next six games?

As long as LeBron plays for the Cavs, that’s a monumental challenge.