Heat’s Big Three dominate Game 4 to even the Finals at two games apiece

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SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James was the one who took the bulk of the criticism for the Heat’s 36-point loss in Game 3, largely due to a 15-point outing that didn’t include a single free throw attempt.

But Dwyane Wade knew better. He was well aware that for Miami to bounce back and remain in the hunt for a second consecutive title, it would take all three of Miami’s stars to come through in a big way to hold off a very formidable Spurs opponent.

“Obviously it starts with us three,” Wade said on Wednesday. “We have to do a better job of being that quote, unquote, Big Three and leading our team … If us three don’t lead the charge, we’re not going to be NBA champions. Our teammates count on us, so we have to step up.”

Wade personally led that charge on Thursday, and LeBron and Chris Bosh were just as dominant as the Heat evened the Finals at two games apiece with a 109-93 Game 4 victory.

Despite the ultimate margin, this was an incredible game played at the highest level, especially in the first half. Each team held a lead of as many as 10 points, and the game featured dominant performances from several key players.

No one, however, was more important to the final outcome than Wade.

A knee injury has limited Wade for much of the postseason, both in terms of his athleticism as well as his ability to play with his customary level of intensity. But in Game 4, Wade was active from the start. He was aggressive in looking for his shot early, and came away with 10 first quarter points. He was flying around the court defensively, and ended up with six steals. Most critical, though, was his ability to provide a scoring punch that the Heat have been sorely missing.

Wade finished with 32 points on 14-of-25 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and four assists. He hadn’t been great in second halves of games in this series, and the fatigue of the knee issue was likely the main reason why. But with a little under nine minutes to play and the Heat leading by five, he came through on consecutive possessions.

After hitting a jumper in close, Wade reached into the passing lane and grabbed a steal. He headed out on the break, eluded a defender in the open floor, and then exploded for the one-handed slam which pushed the lead back to nine.

Wade’s performance was incredible, but it wouldn’t have been enough against these Spurs without some help from his teammates. And he got more than enough of it from James and Bosh.

LeBron came through on his guarantee to be more aggressive in this one, and once his team was down by 10 about halfway through the first quarter, that’s when he flipped the switch. James not only brought the ball up the floor to initiate the offense, he was running at three-quarter speed and attacking the paint with purpose on seemingly every first half possession.

James often found his teammates after forcing the defense to collapse, and was big on the boards, as well. He finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, to go along with a couple of steals and blocked shots.

Bosh completed the Big Three performance with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but his defense inside is what really gave his team the extra push they needed to complement the offensive prowess displayed by Wade and James.

On the Spurs’ side, Tony Parker showed no ill effects of the hamstring injury he suffered in the previous game, getting to the rim multiple times and scoring with spectacular finishes, or finding his teammates for open looks. But he did almost all of his damage in the first half, and didn’t score in 13 minutes of playing time over the final two periods.

In a game where Miami got top-level performances from all three of its stars on the same night, San Antonio wasn’t flawless enough in its execution to be able to match. The Spurs didn’t help themselves by turning the ball over 18 times, and they were unable to slow even one of the Heat’s three stars, and that made the proposition of coming away with the win virtually impossible.

“When Bosh, Wade and James score the way they did tonight and shoot it the way they did tonight, teams are going to have a difficult time if you help them and shoot poorly from the free‑throw line, as we did, and give over 20 points on turnovers,” Gregg Popovich pointed out afterward. “It’s not going to happen. When those guys play like that, you better be playing a more perfect game.”

On this night, perfection belonged to Wade, James, and Bosh.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves starts with Paul George question

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.

Fans to vote on “Best Dunk,” “Best Assist,” other categories handed out at NBA Awards show

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Fans are going to get their say at the NBA Awards Show, coming June 26 on TNT. Drake will be the host, and we to come up with an under/over on the number of players Drake gives a bro hug to during the ceremony.

That’s the night the NBA will hand out its Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and every other major postseason award — except for All-NBA Team, which has to come earlier. The media have already cast their votes for these awards.

Where the fans get to come in is the fun awards, categories created just for this event:

• Dunk of the Year
• Best Style
• Block of the Year
• Assist of the Year
• Game Winner of the Year
• Top Performance of the Year

The NBA already narrowed down the list of choices for each category to three, and voting opens tonight. Just go to  www.nba.com/nbaawards and cast your ballot, or on Twitter or Facebook just post the #AwardName and First/Last Name of their winner (for example, #DunkOfTheYear  Larry Nance).

These awards should add some energy — and good highlights — to what has the potential to be a stuffy event. It’s a bunch of NBA players in suits in a ballroom in New York, this is going to feel like a branding event at times. The NBA is hoping the fans can liven it up.

Here are the categories, with the hashtags for voting:

#DunkOfTheYear
• Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance, Jr. vs. Brooklyn

• Minnesota’s Zach LaVine vs. Phoenix

• Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo vs. Atlanta

#BestStyle
• Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert
• Chicago’s Dwyane Wade
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook

#BlockOfTheYear
• San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston
• New York’s Kristaps Porzingis vs. Brooklyn
• Miami’s Hassan Whiteside vs. Toronto

#GameWinnerOfTheYear
• Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving vs. Golden State
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver
• Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis vs. Boston

#TopPerformanceOfTheYear
• Phoenix’s Devin Booker 70-point game vs. Boston
• Houston’s James Harden nets 53-16-17 triple double vs. New York
• Golden State’s Klay Thompson scores 60 in three quarters vs. Indiana
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook with most points in a triple-double, 57-13-11, vs. Orlando

#AssistOfTheYear
• Golden State’s Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
• Denver’s Nikola Jokic with no-look pass
• LA Clippers’ Chris Paul with wraparound pass

Report: USC’s Elijah Stewart intended to declare for NBA draft, forgot

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Declaring for the NBA draft is like declaring bankruptcy: You can’t just bellow it and expect it to take effect. You actually have to fill out the paperwork.

That’s why USC’s Elijah Stewart wasn’t among the 192 early entrants to the 2017 NBA draft.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Stewart:

Givony’s report will do little but embarrass Stewart. It’s unlikely Stewart would’ve been drafted, and he likely would have withdrawn to return to USC for his senior season. Perhaps, he would’ve gotten helpful feedback from the NBA before that point, but that’s minimal.

The real problem, though, isn’t Stewart’s inattentiveness, to whatever extent is exists. It’s that the NCAA won’t allow players to maintain eligibility while having an agent.

If Stewart had proper representation, there’d be no questioning whether he intended to declare for the draft. His agent would’ve handled it, one way or the other.

If the NCAA were truly about educating players, it’d allow them to have guidance from experienced professional agents. Agents don’t have to conflict with amateurism (not that amateurism is a worthy goal, anyway).

But teaching players is not the NCAA’s true goal. The NCAA prioritizes keeping its cartel in tact and money flowing to coaches and administrators.

Agents might steer players from that corrupt system entirely or at least help them leverage their immense power to gain better compensation than a wage-fixed scholarship.

This incident should spark discussion about the unseemly lengths the NCAA goes to to protect its money-makers from its revenue-generators. Instead, it’s much easier to make Stewart a punchline.