NBA Finals: Heat’s Big 3 get back to basics, even up the series

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For the sake of argument, forget about the Durant no-call for a second. Simply put, the Heat won Game 2 of the NBA Finals because all 3 of their best players went back to doing what they do best: playing off of each other, playing with energy, and, most importantly, playing near the rim.

Before Game 2, Erik Spoelstra noted that the Heat took more jumpers and less free throws in Game 1 than they had in the entire rest of the playoffs, and his players got the message, especially the ones that got the team to the NBA Finals. James, Wade, and Bosh scored 72 points in game 2. Guess how many of those points came on 3-point shots? Zero. Guess how many of those points came on shots outside of 15 feet? Just 10. (Bosh and James had one made jumper apiece, while Wade, the worst jump-shooter of the bunch, was able to get 3 outside shots to go.)

LeBron James set his NBA Finals career high for the 2nd straight game because he was determined to get inside — by using his shiny new post game in the first half and his tried-and-true ability to get to the rim from 30 feet away in the 2nd half, LeBron made 9 baskets from inside the paint and shot 12 free throws, all of which he made. And while James’ passing wasn’t as deadly  as it has been in other games, he had some huge plays that weren’t scores in the fourth quarter, notably a bullet pass from the free throw line to Chris Bosh for a wide-open dunk and a beautiful screen that allowed Wade to set up Bosh with another wide-open dunk.

The scary thing about James, and one that he hasn’t realized in Finals past, is that he doesn’t need to be hot like he was in Game 6 of the Miami series to be the best player on the floor — he just needs to use his unprecedented blend of size, strength, speed, and skill to give himself good looks. When LeBron’s hitting jumpers, we all know he’s unstoppable, but things don’t get much easier for the defense when he decides to essentially abandon the jumper entirely and bring each one of his “250” (scouts agree that his actual weight is at least 260, and possibly around 274) pounds to the basket.

James going off wasn’t much of a surprise — after all, 30-point nights have been the norm for him lately. It was Wade and Bosh who really rounded back into form on Thursday night, and each of their contributions were invaluable to the Heat.

Wade finished #3 in PER over the course of the regular season, but it’s been a long time since he looked like himself on the court, and it was an open question whether the 30-year old Wade’s knees were wearing down after a compressed schedule and two straight ultra-long playoff runs.

Right from the opening tip of Game 2, Wade was out to prove that rumors of his knees’ demise were greatly exaggerated. Wade had two assists, two dunks, and one trip to the free throw line in the first quarter alone, and was zig-zagging through the defense, going hard to the rim, hitting the deck all over the place, and generally putting pressure on the Thunder’s defense at every opportunity. Wade still settled for a few too many of the mid-range jumpers that have been costing the Heat points for the last few weeks, but he actually managed to make an acceptable 3 of the 8 outside jumpers that he took in Game 2. Wade nearly cost the Heat the game with a horrible turnover in the waning moments of the fourth, but the Heat should still be encouraged by the fact that the 2006 Finals MVP looked like himself again on Thursday night.

Finally, Chris Bosh made his long-awaited return to the starting lineup in Game 2, and it sure looks like he belongs there. Bosh didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but he gave the Heat a dimension they’ve been lacking. Bosh missed some easy shots inside and let a few passes bounce off of his hands in the paint, but he attacked Oklahoma City’s defense  off the dribble, gave Wade and LeBron someone to pass the ball to inside, and was an absolute monster on the glass, as he finished with 15 rebounds, with 7 of them coming on the offensive glass.

None of the Big 3 played a perfect, or even a great, game, and without Shane Battier’s 5 3-pointers (one of which was banked in), or a few calls going Miami’s way, the team would be going home in an 0-2 hole. But for now, they’ve got a tie series because the three players who were supposed to win Miami all those rings got to doing what they do best on the game’s biggest stage.

Warriors put up historic 45 in first quarter on way to 128-103 Game 4 rout, sweep of Blazers

Associated Press
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This game was never in doubt. Much like the entire first-round series.

Golden State had Kevin Durant back and he hit a three to open the game, and pretty soon the Warriors had stretched the lead to 12-0 on a Klay Thompson three.

That led to the Warriors putting up a historic 45 points in the first quarter, the most in an NBA first quarter ever. The Warriors were up 23 after one, and never looked back on their way to a 128-103 Game 4 rout, completing the sweep of Blazers.

There’s not much to analyze here, this game is was similar to so many games over the past couple seasons where the Warriors overwhelmed their opponents. Portland fought, but this was not going to be their series. Here are some highlights.

Stephen Curry had 37 points, Draymond Green 21, and Klay Thompson had 18.

Damian Lillard had 34 points for Portland.

It may have been a disappointing ending to the season for Portland, but the team found a center late this season in Jusuf Nurkic who balances out what Lillard and C.J. McCollum bring on the outside. The Blazers have to figure out become a better defensive team this summer, but they took a step forward after the All-Star break that they can build on.

The Warriors will get some rest before taking on the Jazz or Clippers in the next round.

Hawks battle back to knot series with Wizards, 2-2

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Paul Millsap shoved Markieff Morris out of the way, grabbed an offensive rebound in the middle of the paint and pushed through a shot while Marcin Gortat bumped him to the floor.

The Wizards knocked down Atlanta. They didn’t stop the Hawks.

Millsap and Atlanta showed plenty of fight, topping Washington 111-101 in Game 4 Monday to tie their first-round series 2-2 after falling behind 2-0.

Have the Hawks seized meaningful momentum? History says no.

Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home then lost the next two on the road have won 81% of the time. The Wizards’ regular-season superiority still speaks loudly, and up to two more home games – starting with Game  5 Wednesday – also help.

Still, credit Atlanta for making the series competitive after digging such a big hole.

Millsap (19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals) soundly outplayed Markieff Morris (nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, -10) in the latest round of their personal feud. Millsap also got plenty of help with seven Hawks scoring double digits.

Kent Bazemore (16 points, seven assists and three steals) played meaningful defense and hit a couple big shots. Jose Calderon (10 points, five assists, +29 in 20 minutes) provided a huge spark. Dwight Howard (16 points and 15 rebounds) asserted himself for the first time this series. Taurean Prince (11 points on 5-of-7 shooting) picked his spots well. Dennis Schroder (18 points on 6-of-15 shooting) had his ups and downs. Tim Hardaway Jr. (15 points) at least offset some of his defensive shortcomings.

This was a total team win.

Washington, on the other hand, got little outside its starting backcourt. Bradley Beal (32 points) thrived, and John Wall (22 points and 10 assists) was still good in an off-by-his-standards performance. But the Wizards crumbled when either sat – especially with both on the bench in the late third/early fourth quarters. Erasing those few minutes with staggering would’ve helped, though it wouldn’t have been the answer tonight.

This has become a far less certain series than Washington hoped, but the Wizards don’t need a wild fix. They just need their top players to play better. Maybe going home will help.

Raptors break out best game of postseason, rout Bucks 118-93 to take 3-2 series lead

Associated Press
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Norman Powell was draining threes, throwing down dunks that would have won the contest All-Star weekend, and he finished with a career playoff-high 25 points on just 11 shots. Plus defensively he caused Khris Middleton trouble.

The Raptors finished with 28 assists, the most in a playoff game since Dwane Casey took over as coach.

Toronto shot 57.7 percent overall, a franchise playoff best.

The Raptors bench played well pitching in 27 points and growing the lead when they were in, part of an overall strong night from the role players in Toronto.

Combine that all with the expected good nights from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and you get the Raptors best game of the playoffs. It looked like a different team than the one in Milwaukee.

Toronto raced out to an early lead and went on to rout the Bucks 118-93, giving the Raptors a 3-2 series lead.

This was a game where the Bucks tried to force the ball out of the hands of Lowry and DeRozan as much as they could, using their length and athleticism. However, Lowry had 10 assists, and DeRozan would get the ball off pindown screens and feel the double coming, move the ball, and another quick pass or two later the role-playing player Raptors were getting good looks and knocking them down. Or throwing it down like this.

Or this.

Toronto just looked more comfortable against the Bucks pressure, having seen it for so many games in a row, than they have all series.

Powell had 25 points for Toronto, Serge Ibaka had 19 and three blocks, Lowry had 16 points and 10 assists, DeRozan had 18 points and six assists, even DeMarre Carroll had 12 points on six shots.

The question for the young Bucks team is how does it bounce back from this kind of loss in the biggest NBA game most of them have ever played? Can they get their defensive edge back?

“We’re going to miss some shots, and we can’t let our offense dictate our defense,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said postgame. “And also the turnovers, again. Right off the bat we had three…

“Our defense kind of got hit there in the first quarter, we knew that they were going to come after us, we had to expect that. And we just couldn’t respond.”

The Bucks had some runs in the second quarter and got the lead to nine at one point, but the Raptors always seemed to be in control.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had another strong game with 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and rookie Malcolm Brogdon pitched in 19 points on 11 shots, but for the most part the Bucks struggled with their offense in this game. As their coach noted — and as often happens to young teams — they let their offensive woes impact the other end of the court.

At home, the Bucks will likely feel more comfortable, and they will fight for their playoff lives.

The question is, can the Raptors be this sharp again and close them out? Or will the yo-yo nature of this team continue?

 

Kevin Durant will play in Game 4 for Warriors vs. Trail Blazers

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In case you were curious how serious Golden State was about closing out Portland in four…

After missing the last two games with a strained calf, both Warriors wins to put them up 3-0 in the series, the Warriors are bringing back Kevin Durant for Game 4.

Steve Kerr is also out tonight for Golden State, Mike Brown will coach the team.

There was buzz that Durant could have gone in Game 3 if needed, but the Warriors felt confident they would win without him and they don’t want this injury to linger. There’s no more holding him back now.

Durant averaged 25.1 points a game, and thanks to the space created by the other stars on the team had his most efficient season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.1. He also pulled down 8.3 rebounds a game, dished 4.9 assists, and had his best defensive season in a long time as well. If not for an injury after the All-Star break that had him missing games, he would have made a lot of voters’ All-NBA team.

He adds to Golden State’s size advantage against Portland. The Warriors would like to close out the series tonight and get additional rest before facing the Clippers or Jazz in the next round.