Heat force a Finals Game 7 with thrilling overtime win over Spurs

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MIAMI — The Spurs were on the brink of winning a championship. With 28 seconds remaining in the fourth, they held a five-point lead, were on a 10-2 run over the last four minutes, and fans were heading for the exits while arena staffers lined the court to rope off the crowd in preparation for the trophy presentation.

But it wasn’t over yet.

The Heat had it back to a single-possession game with 19 seconds left, and Ray Allen made an incredibly difficult shot to send it into overtime, where Miami was able to prevent the Spurs’ championship celebration with a thrilling 103-100 victory that forces a Game 7 on Thursday.

Erik Spoelstra said he wasn’t aware of the machine that was in process, in terms of the building readying to crown the Spurs as champions.

“Come on,” Spoelstra said with a smile. “At that time I don’t think anybody noticed. That’s probably the best way to live in life is in the moment, and that will guarantee you’re in the moment.”

The Heat’s head coach may not have noticed, but key players on his team told a different story.

Chris Bosh said it “pissed him off” seeing all that happening before the game was officially decided, and LeBron James echoed that sentiment.

“Yeah, I noticed it,” James said. “It kind of did the same to all of us. There’s a few guys in the locker room that talked about it. We seen the championship board already out there, the yellow tape. And you know, that’s why you play the game, to the final buzzer.”

Before we got to that point, and due to the way that it finished, this game was an all-time classic.

Miami got out to a lead of as many as seven points in the second quarter, thanks to some early Spurs turnovers and some hot three-point shooting. James was in facilitator mode for the Heat, and consistently found his open shooters. But his offense was lacking, and when the Spurs made their push from the end of the first half on through to the start of the fourth, it was a problem as the Heat struggled with an offense that was tentative overall.

Through three quarters, James had 14 points on just 3-of-12 shooting, the Spurs held a 10-point lead, and Miami appeared to be on the ropes.

LeBron wasn’t going to go out like that, however, and his aggression in the final period was the reason the Heat were able to bring themselves back. He had 16 points in the fourth on 7-of-11 shooting, and attacked, attacked, attacked, finally forcing a Spurs team that was so effective defensively into impossible situations.

James finished with a triple-double line of 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, while playing 50 of the game’s 53 minutes.

Before Allen’s clutch game-tying shot, there were two big ones from Tony Parker — a fadeaway three-pointer, followed by a 12-foot jumper — that turned a three-point Spurs deficit into a two-point San Antonio lead with under a minute to play. The Spurs played stifling defense on the next couple of possessions to force two James turnovers, and free throws pushed the lead to five that began to put the plans in motion for the Spurs and the title celebration that was anticipated.

The Heat rallied, and the big-time three from Allen — which came after James missed a three to tie, and Chris Bosh secured the offensive rebound — got them five more minutes to stave off elimination. He took us through that crazy sequence near the end of regulation.

“Well, LeBron took the shot, and I knew we had time, I had to go,” Allen said. “I went into the paint to try to get the ball and make something happen. At that point there’s no guarantee who is going to get the ball or what may happen, and when I seen CB get the ball, I just backpedaled right to the three‑point line, and I was hoping I was where I needed to be — but I wasn’t quite sure. But just from years of shooting, I got to my spot.”

The overtime session featured two teams that were completely gassed from the intensity of the first 48 minutes. The Spurs trailed by three with just over a second left, and while Danny Green received the ball and rose up to try to tie it, Chris Bosh was there to block his shot as time expired.

We got this far without even mentioning Tim Duncan, who was on track to post one of the greatest games of his career, and one of the best in Finals history. He dominated early with 25 first half points on 11-of-13 shooting, and finished with 30 to go along with 17 rebounds. Had the Spurs held off the late Heat comeback, Duncan’s performance might have netted him the Finals MVP.

But talking about the Spurs and their title prematurely was not a good idea on this night, and the early arena prep may just have given the Heat the little extra push they needed to turn things around.

“It was a helluva game,” Gregg Popovich said afterward. “It was a helluva game. It was an overtime game. It’s a game of mistakes, and they ended up on the winning side.”

LeBron took it a step further, after just competing in one of the greatest games we’ve seen in recent Finals history.

“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” James said. “The ups and downs, the roller coaster, the emotions, good and bad throughout the whole game.  To be a part of something like this is something you would never be able to recreate once you’re done playing the game. And I’m blessed to be a part of something like this.”

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.