Players explain dunks they had ready in case they advanced to the final round of the Dunk Contest

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HOUSTON — Only two contestants out of the field of six advanced to the final round of the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday, and Terrence Ross and Jeremy Evans were the ones who earned their way there to get a shot at this year’s title.

That means we had other capable dunkers who had to have some spectacular stunts prepared in case they were the ones battling it out for that championship trophy in the main event of All-Star Saturday night.

It turns out, there were some pretty good ones left on the shelf.

“I had between the legs from the free throw line [ready], and I was going to try to dunk from the top of the key,” James White said, and did so rather nonchalantly given the athleticism that would be required to pull either of those feats off.

White is a YouTube dunk contest legend, and a veteran champion of these types of events in the past. But he simply didn’t have it in this one, and missed over and over again participating for the first time in the NBA’s slam dunk showcase.

“I usually don’t miss dunks,” he said. “Usually that’s the one thing I do, I make the dunks on the first try. But tonight, they weren’t going down.”

White was clearly having trouble holding onto the ball, and said he tried switching but still couldn’t get enough of a handle to be able to do what he’s become famous for.

“I couldn’t grip the ball at all, man,” he said. “Both basketballs. I tried to switch balls the second dunk, and that basketball didn’t even bounce. So when I was coming out for my approach to go dunk, the ball was going everywhere.”

Kenneth Faried got some good ones to go down, but he too struggled and missed all of his tries during one of his official attempts. His plans for final-round dunks were even more intriguing.

“I was going to go under both legs,” Faried said. “If I made it, I was just going to do basically double under the legs. Then, I was going to jump over the panel of judges.”

Now that would have been impressive. But what was the plan exactly, logistically speaking?

“It was going to be more of them sitting down over the Sprite thing,” he said. “I was going to jump over them, sit down, and drink a Sprite.”

As an added bonus, that one might have gotten him a nice opportunity for a personal sponsorship.

“No, not really that,” Faried said. “I wanted to do it because it was called the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.”

Gerald Green also struggled to complete a dunk attempt, but the one he was trying was by far the most adventurous of the bunch. He opened things up by cutting down the net, before trying multiple times to throw it down with one hand, then catch the ball as it came through the hoop with the other hand and dunk it again while still in midair.

He actually did pull it off, but after his time allotment had run out and all of his official attempts had been exhausted.

While Green did not ultimately advance, his plan for what he had ready was among the most inventive.

“I was going to do a dunk where I involved Paul George and Lance Stephenson,” Green said. “It was going to be something like the halftime show, but without the trampoline.”

I needed some clarification.

“It was going to be to where, Lance was going to throw Paul an alley-oop off the glass, Paul was going to catch it, jump pretty high and throw it, and then I come out of nowhere and put it between my legs [before dunking].”

Ah, now it made sense.

Green was asked why he kept trying a dunk with such a high degree of difficulty with his time running out, and after already missing it so many times. He had no regrets with the way he chose to play things out.

“I wanted to try something that was really hard,” Green said. “That’s always been me. Even with the dunk my second year when it was in New Orleans, when I dunked without my shoes on, I didn’t really get a good score. But dunking with no shoes on is very difficult, so I wanted to try something that was just as difficult. That’s how I grew up watching dunk contests.”

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.