Miami Heat's James dribbles against Memphis Grizzlies' Pondexter in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida

Heat overcome off night from LeBron to beat Grizzlies for 13th straight win

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One streak was going to come to an end in Miami on Friday, with the Grizzlies having won eight in a row and the Heat riding a 12-game winning streak of their own.

It wasn’t surprising that the Heat were the ones that left victorious by pulling away late for a 98-91 victory, the team’s 13th straight. But the way that it happened, with LeBron James struggling mightily offensively and Memphis getting the tempo it wanted for most of the night, made it a struggle for Miami to get this one into the win column until the game’s final minutes.

James, fresh off his fourth consecutive Conference Player of the Month award, couldn’t get much of anything to go his way on the offensive end of the floor in this one. Credit the Grizzlies’ defense to a certain extent, of course, but a lot of the shots James missed are ones we’ve seen him make time and again.

Take a look at LeBron’s shot chart from Friday, via NBA.com/stats.

source:

James went 1-4 from the field in the first quarter, connecting only on a three-pointer from the top of the arc. He didn’t attempt a shot the rest of the half, but did get to the line for two free throws, though he sank just one. He went 0-3 from the field in the third and didn’t score in the period, leaving him just 1-7 through three with four points, with his team clinging to a one-point lead.

In the fourth, due to the tightness of the contest, James began to force the issue, though the results were mostly the same. He managed to go just 3-7 from the field, but his aggressiveness got him to the free throw line for 10 attempts, of which he hit seven. Despite the poor shooting night overall, with the game on the line James came through when his team needed him the most. He drained a dagger of a three-pointer from straight away to give his team the two-possession lead at 93-89 with 24 seconds remaining.

LeBron finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists in the final period, so even on a night where he didn’t have it offensively, he found a way to get the job done. Miami got solid games from Dwyane Wade (22 points) and Shane Battier (14 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point distance), and James ended up with 18 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists.

The size advantage the Grizzlies have over the Heat and the way they defend inside was a concern for Miami coming in, and it proved to be a legitimate one. Chris Bosh had a very pedestrian game trying to battle the likes of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph down low, and Memphis almost was able to come away with the win.

All things considered, on a night where the Grizzlies shot 42.9 percent from the field and slowed LeBron defensively for three quarters, they came about as close as could be expected.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.