NBA Playoffs: Heat can’t survive career-low scoring performance from LeBron

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For the fourth time in the 2011 NBA Finals, the Heat came into the fourth quarter with a big lead. For the second time, they came away with a loss, this time by a final score of 86-83. And for the second time, the Heat’s failure to secure a victory can be traced directly back to the play of LeBron James, who spent the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs clearly establishing himself as both the league and the team’s best player.

In Game 2, LeBron didn’t shoot much, but it was his fourth-quarter performance that was the real problem: James was efficient for the first three quarters, then, along with Wade, hijacked the offense and fired long jumpers as the Heat watched their lead dwindle away and a commanding 2-0 series lead turn into a tie series.

In Game 4, LeBron was off from the opening tip to the final whistle. Even though he was guarded by the 6-4, 38 year old Jason Kidd for much of the game, James never looked to be aggressive offensively, and missed easy shots when he did. James made some nice passes and had some nice rebounds, but the Heat desperately needed some scoring from James to put the Mavericks away, and he responded with the lowest-scoring game of his playoff career, with zero points in the fourth quarter.

LeBron has had some tough playoff exits in the past, but the blow was always softened by poor performances from his supporting cast, even in the infamous Boston games that ended his time with the Cavaliers. That’s not the case here. The Heat’s bench outplayed the Mavericks’ in terms of +/-, Wade was again spectacular, and Bosh added 24 points on his own. After this loss, LeBron has nobody to blame but himself.

It was hard to imagine how LeBron could have thrown away the goodwill he earned with the dominant all-around and crunch-time performances that beat the Celtics and the Bulls, but he seems to be finding it.

This is now a best-of-three series, and there’s no doubt that these next three games will be the most important ones of LeBron’s eight-year career. The Heat sweeping the Mavericks with Wade as the clear head of the snake would have been an interesting compromise for LeBron’s legacy; he would have finally gotten that elusive ring, but would have had to rely on a teammate to bring it home for him.

That’s still in play, but now there are two other possibilities. If the Heat lose, this will be the absolute nadir of his career. I didn’t think that LeBron’s public perception could reach a new low after his final Boston performances and the “Decision” fiasco that followed it, but that possibility is now in play. On the biggest stage, LeBron has failed to deliver, and the Heat would already be planning their parade if he had.

On the other hand, LeBron could realize just how important these next three games are to his legacy, turn things around, and put the Mavericks away with one or two dominant performances, which will make the Heat’s two losses a little-known footnote in the Story Of LeBron.

The Heat can win with LeBron playing a role other than that of the primary scorer and crunch-time assassin. They cannot survive James playing passively and waiting for his superstar teammates, the teammates he sacrificed his public image to play with, to hand-deliver him a ring.

With the NBA Finals coming down to the wire, just like three of the four games played in it so far have, LeBron needs to step up and make his mark. The fans know it, the media knows it, his coach knows it, and his teammates knows it. Over the next week or so, we’ll find out if LeBron has what it takes to silence his doubters once and for all and win a championship, or if he’s content to have more games like this and be the laughingstock of the NBA until he finally gets that championship ring on his finger.

 

Marcus Smart responds to Jimmy Butler: ‘It ain’t hard to find me’ (video)

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Jimmy Butler said Marcus Smart is “not about that life.”

Smart, via MassLive:

Laugh at that. This about the Celtics versus Chicago Bulls, not Marcus Smart versus Jimmy. I ain’t got to sit here and say this and that. I’m this. I’m that. I ain’t that type of guy. My actions speak louder than words. It ain’t hard to find me. But, right now, I’m focused on my teammates and this series.

That led to a few excellent follow-up questions:

Are you about that life?

Like I said before, I ain’t got to talk about what I am about. I just show you. I can show you, but I’m not going to tell you. Like I said, it ain’t hard to find me. You heard him. He said, “I don’t think Marcus Smart is about that life.” Last time I checked, if you’re going to say somebody ain’t about that life, you should know, right? But like I said, we’re going to keep this Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics, not Marcus vs. Jimmy.

Has anyone accused you not being tough before?

Never.

What was your reaction to that?

Haha.

Smart flops too much. He gets overly emotional.

But he’s way too tough to let Butler’s comments pass without rebuttal.

The real test will come on the court in Game 5 tomorrow.

Damian Lillard ‘obsessed’ with beating Warriors

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The Warriors just eliminated the Trail Blazers for the second straight year.

Portland star Damian Lillard sounds hardened by the experience.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

After the Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the Golden State Warriors on Monday, point guard Damian Lillard told ESPN he’s developed a newfound obsession with trying to take down the Warriors.

“You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they’re so good that they’re going to be there,” Lillard said after a 128-103 loss in Game 4. “That’s who you’re going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That’s what it is.”

I have no doubt this will drive Lillard. He just finds way to lift himself.

But will the rest of the Trail Blazers keep up with a team that features Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson?

C.J. McCollum is a solid co-star, but it gets dicey beyond that with several players locked into expensive long-term contracts. Portland will have to pry enough production from Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard and the Nos. 15, 20 and 26 picks in the upcoming draft.

The Trail Blazers have a path upward, but needing to climb as high as Golden State, the road is narrow.

Pat Riley says he wishes he gave Chris Bosh’s max contract to Dwyane Wade

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Heat president Pat Riley has said he should’ve given Dwyane Wade a max contract in 2014 after LeBron James left Miami.

Instead, Wade stayed with the Heat on what became two one-year contracts. That lack of long-term security bothered Wade, who took discounts in prior years, and contributed to his exit to the Bulls.

But paying Wade and Chris Bosh, who got a max contract from Miami two years ago, so much into their late 30s likely would have cost the Heat dearly. It’s nearly impossible to build around two declining max players.

Riley apparently has a retroactive plan for that – re-signing only Wade, not Bosh.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

But of course, Riley says, almost immediately after LeBron left, Bosh’s camp wanted to reopen a deal they’d just finished, knowing the Heat had money and felt vulnerable. Bosh threatened to sign with the Rockets. In the end, Riley gave Bosh what he wanted. Now he wishes he’d said no to Bosh’s max deal and given all that money to Wade.

Riley says that Wade’s agent asked to deal directly with the owners instead of Pat, so he merely honored that request. Mostly, he just wishes the whole thing had gone differently. “I know he feels I didn’t fight hard enough for him,” he says. “I was very, very sad when Dwyane said no. I wish I could have been there and told him why I didn’t really fight for him at the end. … I fought for the team. The one thing I wanted to do for him, and maybe this is what obscured my vision, but I wanted to get him another player so he could end his career competitive.”

When he describes his reaction to Wade’s leaving, it’s always in terms of how sad it makes him feel

Riley has done a much better job explaining to the public how sad he is about Wade leaving rather than actually doing something while he had the chance or even expressing his regret to Wade after the fact.

It’s almost as if Riley knew excommunicating a Heat Lifer would be both good for the franchise long-term and a terrible look in the short term and is trying to mitigate the damage. Wade might even realize that, too.

To a certain degree, Riley could be speaking in hindsight. Bosh’s deal has not worked out, with Riley believing the big man’s career is over due to blood-clot issues. But hindsight also says giving Wade, now 35, a five-year contract two years ago would’ve been disastrous.

There’s sentimentality at work here. Wade is the greatest player in Heat history. Riley drafted him, groomed him and built three championship teams in two eras around him.

I just can’t figure out how much Riley is exploiting that sentimentality to warm Miami fans after coldly letting Wade walk and how much Riley genuinely regrets contract negotiations with Wade. This is almost certainly shades of both.

Raptors’ Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker wear same outfit to Game 5 (photo)

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I can’t verify Raptors forwards Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker wearing the same outfit to last night’s Game 5 against the Bucks is the happenstance Patterson presents it as. But there’s a saying in journalism: It’s too good to check out.

Whatever led to this, Toronto ought to keep doing it. The Raptors smashed Milwaukee.

Patterson: