Three Stars of the Night: LeBron plus Wade equals too much for Lakers

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We really should just rename this the LeBron James and two other great performances of the night, considering the fact that when James is dialed in and chooses to exert maximum effort, all is lost for anyone trying to stop him.

Before we get to James, however, let’s highlight a couple of other guys who made their teams go on this night — one who plays alongside James, and another who isn’t nearly as well-known, but who can be equally important to his team just the same.

Third Star: Larry Sanders (19 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks)

The Bucks won in Phoenix for the first time in 25 years, and that feat doesn’t come without some terrific performances, despite this being a down season for the Suns. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis did their usual amount of heavy lifting offensively, but Sanders was a huge part of the team’s winning effort, and deserves to be noticed.

Sanders kept his team in it during a dismal third quarter, scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds in the period. Then, the blocked shots came in a crucial stretch late, where he rejected Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola on consecutive possessions to dominate defensively as his team pulled away for the victory.

Second Star: Dwyane Wade (27 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists)

In a tight battle between teams loaded with superstars, the Heat used their championship mettle to pull away late and get a victory over a Lakers club that seems to be improving. While LeBron James was the ultimate reason Miami was able to win, they may not have been in that position at all without a stellar start and great all-around performance from Wade.

Wade was focused from the start going up against Kobe Bryant, and had a couple of dunks early — two on consecutive possessions — while being aggressive on the drive all night long.

Perhaps even more importantly, Wade’s swarming and athletic defensive efforts helped his team maintain their intensity on a night when the Lakers, despite their 20 turnovers, just seemed to keep coming and had the game tied with under two and a half minutes remaining.

First Star: LeBron James (39 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals)

This was utter dominance from James, and on a night when he had it going like this — especially with Wade playing the way he did right alongside him — you can see why the Heat are the defending champs.

LeBron simply did whatever he wanted to do, and did so essentially all night long. His speed allowed him to get out in transition early, and his size and athleticism allowed him to score essentially at will, and get to the rim whenever he wanted. There’s no shame in losing to the Heat when James and Wade have it going like this at the same time, since there isn’t a team in the league that could beat Miami when James is truly focused and in a mode where he refuses to lose.

Cavaliers tie series with Pacers in Indiana, 2-2

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Sunday night’s game between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was raucous. Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rocking, and despite Indiana’s best effort to put back seemingly every offensive board it encountered, LeBron James‘ 32 points was just too much to overcome.

Facing the possibility of going down 3-1 in the first round, the Cavaliers pulled out the win, 104-100, and sent the series back to Ohio for Game 5.

The game came down to the final period following a surge by the Pacers to end the third quarter. The teams were tied several times midway through the fourth, but a tip shot by Thaddeus Young wth 6:13 left gave the Pacers the lead as fans in Indiana went wild.

Cleveland then came roaring back. At the three-minute mark, James drove to the basket and scored. Thirty seconds later, Kyle Korver hit a big-time 3-pointer to put the Cavaliers up by four points, a mark the Pacers couldn’t recover from.

LeBron scored again with 1:52 left, and despite some weird late-game antics — featuring none other than Lance Stephenson — the Cavaliers were able to remain resolute down the stretch.

James finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. Kyle Korver added 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting from deep, and Kevin Love had five points with 11 boards.

Victor Oladipo struggled for Indiana, scoring 17 points but shooting just 25 percent from the floor. Seven Pacers finished in double-digits, with Young notching an impressive double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Game 5 will be played in Cleveland on Wednesday, April 25.

Wizards beat Raptors in Game 4, tie series at 2-2 heading to Toronto

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The Toronto Raptors were far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference this season. The Washington Wizards were … well, very Wizard-y.

So considering their regular seasons, the fact that Washington was able to tie the first round series between the two teams at 2 games apiece on Sunday is pretty astonishing.

Bradley Beal had 31 points and five rebounds for the Wizards while teammate John Wall added 27 points to go along with a whopping 14 assists. Washington shot an impressive 41 percent from 3-point range as four of five starters finished in double-digit scoring.

Despite Beal’s performance, it was Wall who saved the day for the Wizards. Beal was disqualified after fouling out with around five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Beal didn’t agree with the call, and could be seen throwing a towel near the Washington bench.

For his part, Wall either scored or assisted on 10 of the Wizards’ final 14 points of the game. That helped stave off the likes of DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 35 points.

The series heads back to Toronto for Game 5, which will be played on Wednesday, April 25.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.