LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks

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Once Kyle Korver was ruled out for the remainder of the postseason, the prospect of the Hawks winning even a single game against the Cavaliers seemed highly improbable.

Once Al Horford was ejected in the second quarter of Game 3, that task became essentially impossible.

Atlanta battled throughout, and forced an overtime session. But in the end, Cleveland got the 114-111 victory, and took a 3-0 series lead that has the Cavaliers one game away from the NBA Finals.

It certainly wasn’t easy.

LeBron James opened the game by missing his first 10 shots — the first time in his career, regular season or playoffs, that it’s ever happened. He found other ways to impact the game, however, setting up his teammates with on-point passes, or crashing the boards when shots were missed.

James was laboring overall, and may have been dealing with the effects of a season’s worth of minor bumps and bruises beginning to take their toll. He finished with his 12th career playoff triple-double — 37 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists, while launching a career-high 37 shots.

The Hawks were in this one for most of the contest, and even seemed to have control of it at times. That changed for a stretch late in the second quarter, though, when Horford was ejected for appearing to throw an elbow at Matthew Dellavedova after the two had gotten tangled up, and Dellavedova had already fallen to the floor.

This play was reminiscent of the one that involved Dellavedova and Taj Gibson in the previous round of the playoffs that saw Gibson get ejected. The final action by both Gibson and Horford may or may not have been worthy of the flagrant-two all by itself, but when looking at the plays in their entirety, a case could certainly be made.

With Horford, he had Dellavedova with a Kelly Olynyk arm-lock that caused the two to fall to the floor in the first place. Dellavedova fell awkwardly into Horford’s leg, the same way he did in (inadvertently) taking Korver out for the remainder of the playoffs. Horford obviously felt it was intentional, and retaliated. But Dellavedova may have flashed back to Kevin Love’s season-ending injury when Horford had a hold of him, and could have felt justified in attempting to inflict some damage. Either way, the call by the officials — while harsh, controversial and appearing initially to be the final nail in Atlanta’s coffin — seemed to be correct.

The Cavaliers led by as many as 10 points in the fourth, but couldn’t put the Hawks away. Atlanta played with a level of desperation that Cleveland couldn’t match, and had a chance to win it at the end of regulation. But hero-ball in isolation is not this Hawks team’s strength, and Jeff Teague dribbling down most of the final 17 seconds remaining before launching (and missing) a tough three-pointer at the buzzer wasn’t the best use of Atlanta’s resources.

In the overtime session, the difference was James.

LeBron scored his team’s last five points, hitting a corner three with 36 seconds left to give his team the lead for good, before sealing the victory with a driving bank shot going to his left to give the Cavaliers a three-point lead which would remain in place when the final buzzer sounded.

It was an incredible effort by the shorthanded Hawks. But this game will ultimately be remembered for the brilliance of LeBron James, and the way he was able to overcome a career-worst start to finish with an historic effort that put his team one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.