If Spurs win, it is LeBron’s legacy that will take biggest hit

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Only LeBron James could average 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.2 steals a game through the NBA Finals and look like he is being passive and not doing enough.

He has for much of the NBA Finals looked like the physically best player on the floor but one that couldn’t impose his will on the game for any extended period of time. It’s true of LeBron and the Heat as a team.

If the Spurs win Game 6 Tuesday night — they are up 3-2 and you know they are going to come out with a great game plan and exploit every Heat mistake — it will signal a shift in the conversation about LeBron’s ultimately legacy.

After last year’s Finals we started to wonder if he would live up to his potential, if LeBron would end up in the Magic, MJ, Kareem “greatest of all time” tier. Lose and will appear to be more in the Wilt Chamberlain tier — the greatest physical specimen of his day, a guy ahead of his time, who could not get his team to beat the best teams of his era.

LeBron is 28, in the prime of his career, it is too early to say what we will think of him a decade from now. It’s a world of instant analysis (this blog is certainly part of that) but some things take time to fully come into focus. Legacy is one of those things.

But another loss, making LeBron 1-3 in the NBA Finals, starts to change the conversation.

“I have to come up big, for sure, in Game 6,” LeBron said after Game 5. “Me being one of the leaders of this team, I do put a lot of pressure on myself to force a Game 7, and I look forward to the challenge. We have to worry about Game 6 and going back home, being confident about our game, being confident about getting a win, which we are.”

You could explain away LeBron’s first loss in the NBA Finals — he single-handedly carried an inferior Cavaliers team to the big stage, only to fall to a much better Spurs team. Even the 2011 Heat you can say was a great team still figuring out who it was. Those Heat were learning to play together and had a thin bench. Last season’s NBA Finals win, where LeBron owned games late, seemed to suggest LeBron and the Heat had figured it out.

But all season he — and Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and all the Heat —coasted for long stretches. After cruising through two rounds of the playoffs, the Heat have been intermittently dominant and pedestrian, unable to impose their will on games for a full 48 minutes. Particularly in the Finals the counterpunching Spurs have taken advantage of Heat mistakes and withstood almost every Heat run. The Spurs have been the more consistent, and better, team.

The pressure of legacy in Game 6 is not on the Spurs — they already go down as one of the greats of their era — it is on the Heat. Miami doesn’t have the excuses of not knowing how to play together or a thin bench anymore.

The pressure is self-imposed; LeBron went public with “not two, not three, not four” and set the bar high.

Now he has to reach it or get called out for it.

Markieff Morris calls Paul Millsap a “crybaby,” Millsap responds “It definitely got personal now”

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The Atlanta Hawks owned the Washington Wizards from the opening tip Saturday, making it a 2-1 series with an easy win.

It’s a series now — and that includes trash talk.

Paul Millsap had 29 points, pulled down 14 boards, got to the line 11 times, and led the Hawks to the win. He got the calls he wanted this game, but Washington’s Markieff Morris was not exactly down with high praise for Millsap.

The key line here: “”He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”

Millsap was asked about that comment in his postgame presser — and the best part may be Dennis Schroeder’s reaction.

“It definitely got personal now, yes. I mean, I don’t care. So what? He can take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”

These two have already had a beef this series.

Game 4 in this series just got a lot more interesting.

Marc Gasol game-winner tops Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance, evens Spurs/Grizzlies series 2-2

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Best. Game. Of. The. Playoffs.

So far at least.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 consecutive points for the Spurs down the stretch of regulation to force overtime, then in OT hit a corner three with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game at 108-108. Leonard finished the game with a career playoff high of 43 points.

It wasn’t enough. Because in those final seconds Marc Gasol did this.

The 110-108 Memphis win ties the series at 2-2 as it heads back to San Antonio for Game 5. I might not want to sit next to Gregg Popovich on the flight home.

While Gasol hit the big shot, he never gets the chance if Mike Conley isn’t every kind of amazing through the clutch parts of this game. Conley finished with 35 points, and that includes a floater in the lane that forced OT (although Leonard got a pretty good look to end it in regulation and just missed). I’m surprised the Spurs switched on the pseudo pick on this play.

The Spurs struggled to get stops down the stretch, mostly because they had David Lee and Tony Parker both on the floor and Memphis did a good job getting switches onto those defenders. Spurs starting center and best defensive big Dewayne Dedmon missed the game due to an illness, and that ended up mattering.

Hawks take control early, romp past Wizards 116-98

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 29 points, Dennis Schroder had 27 and the Atlanta Hawks delivered an early knockout blow against Washington, cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday that sliced the Wizards’ lead to 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series.

After two tight losses in Washington exposed some bad blood between the teams, Atlanta returned home and built a 25-point lead by late in the first quarter.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged by the Wizards, who were essentially a one-man team. John Wall kept up his dazzling play in the series, scoring 29 points, but the point guard got no help from his teammates.

The other Washington starters combined to score 30 points on 14-of-45 shooting.

Millsap also had 14 rebounds, while rookie Taurean Prince chipped in with 16 points.

Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks came out intent on moving the ball, getting open looks and cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first two contests.

Talk about following the game plan.

Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 3 minutes old and stretched the margin to 38-13 with just under a minute to go in the opening quarter on Schroder’s 3-pointer.

Wall did everything he could to spark the Wizards. He posed along the baseline after a thunderous dunk, which might have had more effect if the Wizards weren’t losing by 23 at the time. He also darted through the lane against a collapsing defense to bank in an improbable shot, drawing gasps from the Atlanta crowd.

Wall made all but one shot and scored 21 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 64-46 heading to the locker room. The other four Washington starters had just 18 points.

Beal, in particular, had a miserable night after averaging 26.5 points in the first two games. He was held to 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting, missing all six of his attempts beyond the arc.

TIP INS

Wizards: Wall is averaging 31 points per game in the series. … F Otto Porter Jr. left in the third quarter with a strained neck and didn’t return. … After a video review, Jason Smith was called for a flagrant foul against Millsap late in the third quarter.

Hawks: C Dwight Howard remains a non-factor in Atlanta’s offense. He scored five points and took just four shots, giving him a mere 15 attempts over the first three games. He did have 11 rebounds. … Schroder had some issues at the free-throw line, making only half of his eight attempts. Millsap did, too, going 5 of 9. … Atlanta had a double-digit lead for the final 44:24 of the game. … Prince picked up a technical foul for taunting the Wizards after an alley-oop dunk in the closing minutes. … The Hawks had just 11 turnovers.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic to play, start vs. Golden State in Game 3

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In 20 games after the Trail Blazers traded for him, Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15.2 points 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Portland was 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and went 14-6, a surge that helped get them into the playoffs. Then a leg fracture had him sidelined for the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Until Saturday.

He will play limited minutes, but the Blazers will take it.

Portland is down 0-2 to the Warriors but are coming home to take on a Golden State team that will be without Kevin Durant again (strained calf) and coach Steve Kerr (illness).

Nurkic gives Portland some hope, he certainly helps their defense. We’ll see if that’s enough.