2012 NBA Playoffs

Big Or Small, Perk Rolls With Brooks

MIAMI — Kendrick Perkins wasn’t too happy after the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 104-98 loss in Game 4 of The Finals on Tuesday. And Perk was quick to blame a lineup change for the Thunder’s inability to hold onto a 17-point, first-quarter lead.

“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did,” Perkins said, “with the lineup that we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on.”

Through the first three games of the series, the Thunder starting lineup had been outscored 46-18 in the first quarter (20-12 in Game 1, 16-2 in Game 2, and 10-4 in Game 3).

But in Game 4, the Thunder actually started out strong, outscoring the Heat 15-8 in the first quarter before Scott Brooks went to his bench. Nick Collison came in for Serge Ibaka and then James Harden subbed for Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder stayed big (with Collison and Perkins together on the floor) and continued to build their lead.

They were up 23-12 when Brooks decided to go small, subbing Derek Fisher in for Perkins. And that seemed to be what Perkins was upset about.


Moment Of Truth Arrives For Big 3

MIAMI – How does one react to a situation he has never faced before? Especially one that’s heavy enough to be career-changing, even life-changing?

Dwyane Wade knows about being in a championship-clinching game. The other two members of the Heat’s Big Three, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, do not. And so it’s no surprise Wade has taken upon himself to be the leader and the calming influence here, with Miami on the cusp of a title.

“I think we understand ‘the moment’ is the big thing,” said Wade. “Try to stay in the moment.”

Pretty easy to do, right? Especially for three players who have seen and felt it all the last few turbulent years. The realization of a possible first title together can be daunting as well, once you consider this series could shift into an uncertain phase if the Thunder learn how to make plays down the stretch and send the NBA Finals back to Oklahoma City.

Above all, the composure of James and Bosh will be tested in Game 5 like no other time in their NBA lives, because of what’s at stake. Win, and they celebrate at home and bask in the glory. Lose, and they invite skepticism and earn a trip to a place where anything can happen.


Wizards Poised To Make A Splash?

MIAMI — The Washington Wizards have been down this road before, making moves as the draft approaches and preparing themselves for what could be, if everything falls into place.

Their ongoing real franchise makeover that began at the trade deadline with the addition of Nene for JaVale McGee was followed up with this afternoon’s announcement that the Wizards have acquired Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza from the New Orleans Hornets for Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 pick in next week’s draft.

“We are pleased to add two more solid pieces as we continue to build our roster with a balance of proven veterans and the core of young talent that we have developed,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement released by the team. “Emeka’s defensive presence and rebounding ability will combine with Trevor’s versatility to add new dimensions to our frontcourt, and both players fit in very well with the type of team-first culture that we have been working to establish.”

The Wizards get two starters to flank John Wall and Nene from the Hornets in exchange for Lewis and the cap flexibility he will bring. Lewis can be bought out for $13.7 million by the June 30 deadline, which is roughly half of the nearly $23 million he is owed next season. The Hornets have not indicated what direction they plan to go with Lewis, but his expiring deal will give them some room to work with in free agency sooner or later.


‘Cole World’ Jump Started Heat Rally

MIAMI — The Miami Heat can thank Norris Cole and the whiff of raw competition for cranking up the energy and jump starting their comeback from a 17-point early deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of The Finals last night.

Without a mercurial seven minutes and 53 seconds from the high-top fade-wearing Cole, Mario Chalmers might not have gone on to tie his career-playoff high of 25 points or drain those 12 fourth quarter points to help the Heat hold off the Thunder.

Chalmers might not have felt the internal pressure to raise his game to another level without the contributions of Cole, a rookie point guard thought by many to be Chalmers’ possible replacement this season.

When he entered the game for Dwyane Wade with 2:59 to play in the first quarter, the Heat trailed by 13. When Shane Battier replaced him with 8:30 to play in the second quarter, the Thunder lead was just two points and the Heat had already completed their soul-crushing comeback.

Eight points — a driving layup and back-to-back huge 3-pointers, the first with 3.1 seconds left in the first quarter to ignite the crowd — from Cole forced Chalmers to answer that internal challenge. It also put LeBron James in play-maker mode and sparked his aggressive nature on offense.

As much praise as was heaped upon Chalmers after the game, Cole deserves his fair share for his work as well. Fellow Heat reserve James Jones handled that after the game in the Heat locker room when he called Cole the “man of the hour.”

Westbrook Complicates Brilliant Performance With Brutal Mistake

MIAMI — Russell Westbrook was having such a brilliant game. It was like he was waving one of those giant foam fingers at those who have criticized the way he plays, except it wasn’t the index finger that was sticking up.

He scored 43 points, making more field goals (20) than anyone else in any game in the last two seasons. He attacked the basket, while also shooting an incredible 9-for-12 from mid-range. And he carried his team late, scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter, including two buckets in the final two minutes to keep it a one-possession game.

He was doing it like he always does. There were no attempts to be the traditional point guard that he isn’t. No apologies for taking 32 shots in 45 minutes.

Yeah, he took 13 more shots than Kevin Durant. But that had a lot to do with the way the Heat were defending the league’s leading scorer, denying him all over the floor. And when he was shooting 63 percent, who’s going to complain about that?

It was a huge performance in the most important of games. Win and this is a 2-2 series, with two of the three remaining games in Oklahoma City. Lose and the Thunder are facing a 3-1 deficit that no Finals team has ever overcome.

Then, the brain cramp. A mistake that may have cost his team the game they so desperately needed.


‘Mr. Clutch’ Comes Up Big For The Heat

MIAMI — LeBron James is on the bench nursing a cramp, Dwyane Wade has all eyes on him and the game of the Miami Heat’s season is on the line. So naturally, the play called out of the timeout was for Mario Chalmers to save the day?

Well, that’s not exactly the way Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew it up in the huddle with his team clinging to a 99-96 lead with 44.6 seconds to play Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

But that’s the way Chalmers envisioned it in his head (and on his arm, where the “Mr. Clutch” tattoo rests). It’s also the way it played out, with Chalmers stepping up time after time to help the Heat rally and hold off the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 for a crucial Game 4 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead in The Finals.

His driving layup for a 101-96 lead was the separation the Heat needed late to seal the deal and put the Thunder away. It was a moment Chalmers is familiar with, having nailed a huge shot to help Kansas win the NCAA title in 2008.

“Coming out of that timeout I told D-Wade, ‘Find me. Let’s get this win,’ ” Chalmers said. “He found me and I was able to get to the hole.”

Chalmers was able to hit his marks repeatedly, coming up with huge plays all night long as the Heat got everything they could out of their forgotten man. He was a bit player through the first three games of this series before his breakout effort in this most crucial of games for both teams. (more…)

Riley Wins Chuck Daly Award

MIAMI — LeBron James isn’t the only member of the Miami Heat family to collect a little postseason hardware. The three-time KIA MVP was joined Tuesday by Heat president Pat Riley, who won the National Basketball Coaches Association 2012 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award.

A member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame’s Class of 2008, Riley adds this latest honor to his long list of achievements. One of the most accomplished coaches and team executives in NBA history, Riley has spent 43 years in the league as a player, coach and executive.

“It’s good to be back … for a minute,” a smiling Riley said from the podium at AmericanAirlines Arena Tuesday night, where he received the award before Game 4 of The Finals between his Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Chuck and I were rivals back in the 80s but there’s a connection that goes back so long.”

Riley praised Daly and all the coaches he’s competed against and learned from in his four decades, and counting, in basketball.

“The only thing I know anything about in my life has been taught to me by coaches,” he said. But he stopped short of saying he’d rather be back on the bench than orchestrating from behind the scenes.

“As far as me missing it, I don’t miss it,” he said. “I feel it in the gut right now. We have a very, very good young coach who’s growing leaps and bounds. I did 30 years. That’s enough.”

Riley joins a distinguished list of coaches who have won the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior winners include Lenny Wilkens in 2011, Tex Winter and Jack Ramsay in 2010 and Tommy Heinsohn in 2009.

James Doesn’t Care What Ibaka Says

MIAMI — Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka apparently disagrees with the media (who had LeBron James fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting) and coaches (who had James as the top vote-getter for the All Defensive Team).

“LeBron is not a good defender,” Ibaka told the Palm Beach Post on Monday, in reference to James defending Kevin Durant. “He can play defense for two to three minutes but not 48 minutes.”

That comment, of course, called for a response from James at shootaround on Tuesday morning. Such is the media cycle in a playoff series.

“I don’t really care about what he says,” James said of Ibaka. “For me, as a defender, I just try to make plays. I try to keep my body in front of such a great player.

“I’m not sitting here saying that I’m a Durant stopper, because there’s no such thing. I’ve got to rely on my defense behind me to communicate with me. But I don’t really care what he says. It’s stupid. Everyone says something to me every series. You guys keep trying to get a quote from me.”

James clarified the “stupid” remark, saying “It’s not towards him though. I don’t really care what he says.”


Five Players With Room To Improve

MIAMI — We all know who’s playing at peak level in these NBA Finals, a list that starts with LeBron James followed closely by Kevin Durant, despite missing that Game 2 shot and the foul trouble.

But who needs to shift to a higher gear? Well, the complexion of the series can change, even drastically,if one or more of the following raise their game:

1. James Harden. Clearly and correctly, stopping Harden has been a priority for the Heat, and they’ve done so in two of the three games. Make that 2 1/2 games, because Harden didn’t do much damage in Game 2 after the first half. And the only question now is who’s to blame for turning the Sixth Man of the Year invisible. Is it coach Scott Brooks? Shane Battier? Erik Spoelstra? Or Harden?

“It isn’t any defense that I haven’t seen before,” said Harden. Maybe his issues are due to Brooks being slow to insert Harden into the flow? Or maybe, the guy just isn’t getting it done so far. (more…)

The Game 3 Meltdown You Missed (Video)

MIAMI — The Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t the only ones who struggled with their composure down the stretch in their Game 3 loss to the Miami Heat Sunday night.

Another member of Team Thunder (the child in the video below) had a late-game meltdown of his own: