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.

 

Warriors beat Bulls 119-112 for 14th straight road win

Associated Press
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CHICAGO (AP) — When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.

Such is life for the Golden State Warriors.

Klay Thompson scored 38 points, Stephen Curry added 30 and the Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls 119-112 on Wednesday night for their franchise record-tying 14th straight road win.

“It was an old-school Splash Brother game,” coach Steve Kerr said.

The “Splash Brothers” nickname for Thompson and Curry has faded in prominence since Durant joined the duo before last season, but the sharpshooting guards can still put on a show. Thompson was 7 for 13 from 3-point range and Curry was 6 for 11 from behind the arc; no other player made a 3 for the Warriors.

“When they got it going like that, you just play your role and know your place, man,” Durant said.

Durant had 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Golden State moved into a tie for the third-longest road winning streak in a season in NBA history. The Los Angeles Lakers hold the record with 16 straight road wins during the 1971-72 season.

Next up for the NBA-leading Warriors (37-9) is a prime-time showdown with Houston on Saturday in the finale of a five-game trip.

“It’s going to be a very tough game Saturday, probably the toughest of the trip,” Thompson said, “and if we could go undefeated on this road trip that would be incredible.”

Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points for Chicago, which dropped to 14-8 since its 3-20 start. Robin Lopez scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, and Kris Dunn also had 16.

“We played three quarters of really good basketball, but you take one off against a team like this, you’re not going to win,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

The Warriors played without Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala due to injuries, and Jordan Bell sprained his left ankle when he challenged Lopez’s dunk on the Bulls’ first possession. Bell stayed down for a while and then was helped to his feet. He tried to put pressure on his leg and grimaced before he opted for a wheelchair ride off the court.

The 23-year-old Bell was selected by the Bulls in the second round of the June draft and then dealt to the Warriors for financial considerations. X-rays were negative, but he was using crutches and a walking boot after the win and will have an MRI on Thursday.

“It was definitely way worse than a normal sprain,” Bell said. “Like I said, I thought I broke it.”

Thompson and Curry led the way as Golden State outscored Chicago 32-12 in the third quarter to open a 95-78 lead. Curry made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 9:23 left in the period, sparking a 19-0 run for the Warriors.

The Bulls made a late charge, closing to 112-107 on Dunn’s fast-break dunk with 2:55 left. Dunn landed awkwardly on the play and his face slammed into the floor. He was being evaluated for a possible concussion after the loss.

The NBA champion Warriors responded with Thompson’s driving layup and a three-point play for Durant. Thompson also made two foul shots with 17.4 seconds left to help Golden State secure the win.

 

PBT Extra: Fan votes from twitter on MVP, other awards

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We reached the middle of the NBA season, which is a good time to consider where things stand for the end-of-season awards such as MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year. We have made our picks and even broken them down in a podcast.

Now it was time to ask you who you thought should win awards.

I put it out there on Twitter in some polls, and I cover your responses in this PBT Extra. I’m with you on Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, although I think it’s close. Did you choose LeBron James or James Harden for MVP? Watch and find out.

Michael Carter-Williams and Tim Frazier ejected for altercation, leading to hilarious Dwight Howard free throws (video)

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Jason Smith pushed down Michael Carter-Williams while going for a rebound. Carter-Williams pulled Smith to the floor. Tim Frazier flew in heated.

It was more than a typical NBA altercation – Carter-Williams clenched his fist, though never swung – but it wasn’t quite a fight. It was just reserves getting feisty late in a blowout, the Hornets’ 133-109 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Carter-Williams and Frazier were given double technical fouls and ejected.

One catch: Smith was called for personally fouling Carter-Williams, who was due free throws. With Carter-Williams unavailable, Washington could pick his replacement at the line.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks chose Dwight Howard, a poor free-throw shooter who’d been resting the entire fourth quarter and surely figured his night was over. Maybe it was only about Howard’s team-worst 53% shooting from the line, but it’s also possible Brooks was trying to make an opponent uncomfortable.

The Charlotte crowd went wild, and Howard only added to the fervor.

He sunk both free throws – padding his stats (18 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks and two steals) – and blew Brooks a kiss. Howard might appreciate the extra points Brooks afforded him, but they’ll likely come at a cost. Howard celebrated with the Sam Cassell/big-balls dance, which usually draws a fine from the NBA.

Kent Bazemore hits game-winner to lift Hawks over Pelicans (video)

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Just when it seemed as if the Pelicans were rolling… they lose to the lowly Hawks.

This was the second game of a back-to-back after beating the Celtics in overtime, and New Orleans looked the part, blowing a 15-point lead in the final 19 minutes.

Kent Bazemore‘s jumper with 2.1 seconds left stood as the game-winner when DeMarcus Cousins missed a rushed post-up on the other end.