Dwyane Wade comes through for Heat in Game 7

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After the Heat lost Game 6 to the Pacers in Indiana, Dwyane Wade came out and said that both he and Chris Bosh would need more touches offensively if the team was going to be successful.

That was Miami’s formula for the majority  of the season, of course, but the two members of the Heat’s Big Three not named LeBron James hadn’t really earned it through six games of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Wade has been bothered by a lingering knee injury that’s been clearly limiting, and he hasn’t looked to be anywhere near himself physically. He’s been slow to react, while playing without the speed and lift we’re used to seeing. Yet his team heeded his advice in Game 7, and Wade delivered in a big way with 21 points and nine rebounds to help his team get back to the Finals.

Obviously, Wade felt better physically in order to turn in this type of performance. There was a play during the first quarter, when he grabbed a steal and went the length of the floor before dropping a Euro-step move on Lance Stephenson and finishing with the slam that he wouldn’t have been able to make earlier in the series.

But besides the amount of athleticism Wade was able to summon in this one, an adjustment the team made defensively seemed to be just as important in Wade’s offensive success.

LeBron James took the assignment of guarding Paul George, which was Wade’s through the first six games of the series. Not only did James shut down the Pacers’ All-Star, but it freed up Wade and allowed him to use his energy on the offensive end of the floor instead.

“Well, I mean, any little pressure I could take off D‑Wade I wanted to do that, especially in tonight’s game,” James said. “I told him we kind of talked about it this morning, about the match‑ups coming out. I told him I would take Paul George. I want to allow him to focus on his offense, not have to worry about stopping Paul George every possession and allow him to get out in transition, allow him to get out in transition, allow him to make a couple of cuts and get to the line. I think that was huge for him.”

It certainly seemed to be. But it also didn’t hurt that the Heat were looking to get Wade involved in the offense from the very start, just as he had requested.

“The first play of the game I called a play for D‑Wade,” James said. “Even though he didn’t shoot the ball, he got a good touch in the paint. Just to make him feel like he was a part of the offense, make him feel in a good rhythm. I called a couple of sets for him early in the game, just to get a feel for it. And it showed throughout the whole game that he was in the rhythm. He started to make lay‑ups, he started to attack, he started to make his free throws. So it was big time.”

The change in defensive assignments and looking to Wade to produce early were important in his getting involved and being able to contribute from the jump. But as for him stepping up and somehow being able to get right physically when he’s struggled to do so the entire series, that’s something uniquely special to Wade as an individual, according to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Dwyane just ‑‑ you know, he just found a way to dig deep,” Spoelstra said. “We all know what he’s dealing with right now. He knew this was a moment that we had to have, and somehow he was able just to will that game, despite what he’s going through.”

Wade talked about his struggles battling injury afterward, and said he’ll continue to do whatever it takes in order to be on the floor to help his team win another title.

“I’m going to play through pain because this is my job,” Wade said. “My team depends on me. Like I said a couple of series ago, I would love to be one of the players who never has to deal with these conversations, never have to deal with these injuries. But that’s not my path. I’ve been through so much away from the game and in the game that I’ll find a way. I’ll figure it out. Some way, somehow, you give me enough time, I’ll figure it out. That’s what I was able to do tonight.

“There will be some moments next series where I won’t be looking so great,” he added. “I’m sure there will be some great headlines out there about myself. I’ll continue pushing. I’ll continue to try to do what I can to help the Miami Heat win another championship.”

 

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

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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.

Serge Ibaka is dunking and Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t going to stop him. Twice. (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors had their best half of their first-round series against the Bucks, taking an early lead and, despite a little shooting slump midway through the second they were up nine at the half.

That was all topped off by two emphatic Serge Ibaka dunks. Ones Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t going to stop.

Ibaka dunked around him more than over the Greek Freak, but still.