Grizzlies start hot, finish strong in another overtime, takes 3-2 series lead over Thunder

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Four straight overtime games.

For fans this Grizzlies/Thunders series has been a classic. For the coaches it has cost them sleep, stress and maybe a couple years off the end of their lives.

For the players… well, Memphis is good with it right now.

Memphis started hot opening the game on a 10-2 run, and with smart execution (they played faster, got into their offense earlier and kept making the extra pass) they led by 20. But nobody runs away with a game in this series — Oklahoma City responded with a 13-0 run of their own, they got points from Caron Butler as the much needed scoring option. This was a game again.

An overtime game. Again. But in overtime Mike Miller hit two threes and a missed Kevin Durant free throw — after Joey Crawford interrupted his rhythm — plus a Serge Ibaka tip in that was a fraction of a second too late gave Memphis a 100-99 win.

Memphis now leads 3-2 and is heading home with the chance to eliminate the Thunder on Thursday night.

If the Grizzlies play like they did early in this game offensively come Thursday they may well pull off the upset.

Memphis put up 30 points in the first quarter, shooting 60 percent, as they worked hard to get into their offense more quickly, which let them get deeper into their sets and that led to an extra pass and a good look. Also their bigs running the floor and beating their match down the court led to some easy buckets on rim runs. As they have done all series the Grizzlies had balanced scoring — the leading scorer for Memphis was Mike Miller with 21.

Meanwhile, early on the Thunder were just a lot of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook isolations. Those two combined for 55 points, but again the Thunder were a team looking for a third scorer. Down 18 there were a few boos from a frustrated crowd.

Enter Caron Butler in the third. He had 12 of his points in the second half and sparked a run an 27-6 OKC run to close out the third and start the fourth. The Thunder executed their offense better and, more importantly, just started hitting looks they had missed earlier. They also got help — Westbrook had 30 points, Durant 26 points (on 24 shots) but both Butler and Serge Ibaka had 15 and that was the extra scoring the Thunder offense needed.

Memphis started the fourth 0-of-7 shooting, opening the door for a Thunder squad growing confident and more aggressive with their defense. Then with a Durant three the Thunder took a one point lead with 6:30 left.

That’s when Memphis responded with 9-3 run of their own on 3-of-3 shooting. It’s been like that all series — one team makes a run, the other responds.

The Grizzlies thought thy would win this in regulation — up two with 28 seconds to go they just needed a foul or a shot — instead Westbrook striped Mike Conley out top and tied the game with a breakaway dunk with four seconds left.

Memphis had a last shot, but they made two passes (Conley to Gasol to Zach Randolph) and the shot didn’t get up in time. Memphis scored just 14 in the fourth quarter.

So it was overtime. Again.

In overtime the Thunder were down two with 27.5 seconds left and Memphis played good defense and forced a contested shot at the buzzer — but Tony Allen went over the back of Kevin Durant going for the rebound. Foul and two shots. Durant drains the first, one point game. As he goes to take the second referee Joey Crawford blows his whistle and sprints out to stop the shot, then went over to the scorers table to correct the number of team fouls on the scoreboard. Then Durant gets another chance to shoot, and with a blown rhythm misses.

However the Thunder defended well and down 1 with 2.6 seconds left OKC got one last chance — a Kevin Durant three missed but Ibaka was right there for the tip in and shot. Just after the buzzer sounded. The referees looked at the replay and made the right call, Ibaka did not get it off in time.

Memphis won. They can close out the series Thursday, but will probably need overtime to do it.

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.