Posts Tagged ‘James Jones’

Overtime: 24-second thoughts


VIDEO: All-Access: 2015 NBA Finals

What?  No Game 7?

Well, some of us still have some final thoughts on The Finals:

24 — Even in fantasyland, you’ve got to start things off with the National Anthem. How about ultimate fantasy from Bay Area — the Grateful Dead, circa April 1993.

23 — The Catch. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. The Decision. The Kneecap. Every major league city has its own share of heartbreak. Cleveland’s just seems larger than Lake Erie.  This one doesn’t belong on that list of hurt.  The Cavs battled proudly.

22 — The Warriors danced harmoniously and gorgeously from October to June with a roster that stayed virtually intact, and in some corners they are asked to apologize for this? As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”

And durability is a talent.

21 — Irony is that the only significant injury suffered by the Warriors all season, David Lee’s strained left hamstring in the final game of preseason, opened the door for Draymond Green and the championship lineup.

20 — Before Golden State gets pigeonholed into history as banner carriers for jump shots, don’t forget the Warriors had the No. 1 defense in the NBA all season. And were No. 1 in assists.

19 — The best reason ever why coach Steve Kerr didn’t rub the nose of 3-point-shooting critic Charles Barkley in the Warriors’ championship: “I mean, guy picked up every bar tab I ever was part of when I was at TNT. So he can say whatever he wants.”

18 — Is there just the smallest part of Kerr that would be tempted to drop the mic and walk off after one flawless season? How’s that for Zen, Phil Jackson?

17 — Will say it again: For a team that has players with size and strength in low post — LeBron James, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson — the Cavaliers don’t finish strong at the hoop nearly enough. That especially goes for LeBron. Stop going off the glass and make them foul you and pay the physical price.

16 — Hula Hoops, Pet Rocks, Sea Monkeys, Mood Rings, Cabbage Patch Kids, Matthew Dellavedova.

15 — Somebody will have to explain that Beats headphone TV ad that makes the relationship between Draymond Green and the media look so contentious. For one, nobody has ever asked Green why he acts so arrogant, because he doesn’t. For another, he’s the long-after-the-podium guy who loves to stand in front of his locker way past the final horn and chat. With anybody. It’s like Michele Roberts wrote the script.

14 — The nit-pickers say Stephen Curry still has something to prove since each round of the playoffs featured an opponent with an injured point guard — Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Patrick Beverley, Kyrie Irving. They don’t mention that he was also on the first team in history to beat every other member of the All-NBA First Team — LeBron, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Marc Gasol — on the way to the title.

13Is LeBron (2-4) on his way to becoming the 21st century version of Jerry West, who lost eight times in The Finals? One could do far worse than being on the same page of history as The Logo.

12 — “We ran out of talent.” James catches flak for this from some corners? A third quarter lineup by the Cavs in Game 6: J.R. Smith, Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Thompson, James Jones. If the NBA playoffs were the NCAA Tournament, they’d be a No. 16 seed playing Kentucky.

11 — If you thought the team that LeBron single-handedly dragged to The Finals and then was swept by the Spurs in 2007 was in deeper water over its head than these Cavs once Irving went down, face it, you’ll never be satisfied with anything he does.

10 — To think it all could have unraveled for the Warriors right at the beginning if Andre Iguodala, who started the first 758 games of his 10-year NBA career, didn’t buy into the program and Kerr’s plan to come off the bench. Unhappy? Yes. Unwilling? No. That’s the definition of a pro’s pro. And don’t forget no grousing from Andrew Bogut when he was benched in The Finals.

9 — So what happens if David Blatt gets that timeout in Chicago?

8 Iggy as Finals MVP? Yes, because it was his move into the starting lineup for Game 4 that began to turn the series around and made what Curry did possible.  And he was the one who made James work so hard and wore him out.

7 — LeBron as MVP? From this corner, to become the historic second player from a losing team to get the honor, James had to pull his bunch into a Game 7.

6 — If you want to follow one more member of the Twitterverse next season, for raw emotion and lots of fun, make it Draymond’s mama:

5 — “I’m the best player the world.” OK, it wasn’t modest. But truth is a defense. And LeBron was clearly just trying to instill confidence in a worn-down, flat-out spent band of merry men that he could somehow get them through Game 6.

4 — Plenty of people and reasons to feel good about in the glow of the Warriors’ championship. Few more than Shaun Livingston, eight years removed from the horrible knee injury that had at least one person at the hospital tell him that he might need his leg amputated.

3 — Two biggest roadblocks to a Warriors repeat: chip-on-his-shoulder Kevin Durant and scarily-fast improving Anthony Davis.

2 — Does Kevin Love stay in Cleveland? Only if winning matters to him.

1 — Same two, same time, next year. Everybody healthy.

Game 6: 24-second thoughts

VIDEO: Warriors ball movement wore down the Cavaliers defense.

24 — No Hollywood or recording industry celebs for this one. At Game 6 desperation time, Cavs pulled out their big gun in 19-year-old Marlana VanHoose. Blind since birth, the native of Denver, Ky. was undefeated when she sang the national anthem at University of Kentucky women’s basketball games. Her version on Tuesday night was the stirring, emotional call-to-duty the Quicken Loans Arena crowd and the Cavs needed.

23LeBron James in pre-game huddle before tip: “Ain’t no tomorrow.” Personally, I would have channeled John Belushi: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

22 — Size matters. For all the talk about the Warriors taking control of the series with small ball, whether or not there’s a Game 7 depends on how long Cleveland can pound inside with bigs and control the pace. No secrets: Get the biggest guy on the floor (Timofey Mozgov) the ball in the paint.

21 — On a night when the Cavs’ margin for error has practically vanished, they start out with six turnovers in the first seven minutes. Cleveland running down too much of the clock to make decisions, get off a shot. Now third shot clock violation already. Cleveland G.M. David Griffin could probably make a trade to get LeBron James some help in time between shots by the Cavs.

20 — This is what desperation looks like. First quarter Warriors 11 assists on 11 baskets and Cavs nine turnovers with just six FGs. It seemed the one thing Cleveland could not afford to do was let Golden State play from ahead.

19 — Cavs coach David Blatt keeps asking for more effort when he should actually be asking for more players.

18 — Helluva time for LeBron to be worried about the feelings of his teammates. Time to be Terminator, not Facilitator.

17 — Does nobody believe in going up strong to the basket for Cavs? Not even LeBron.

16 — There is one reason why the Cavs are even still in this game: Mozgov’s defense. Exhibit A: block on Draymond Green in low post.

15 — You have to love the enthusiasm and fire of Green. But if he’s going to hang onto Mozgov’s neck, the big guy has every right to put an elbow into his face.

14 — He had 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists in the first half. But it sure looked like LeBron might as well have played the first half from a La-Z-Boy. Was he saving himself for the 24 minutes to save the season?

13 — While Warriors keep moving and moving the ball, Cavs killing themselves by trying to do too much individually. There is not a single Cav who should be permitted to dribble the ball more than once except LeBron. And he’s got to go all the way to the hole.

12 — After Cavs briefly take the lead, Golden State comes back to rip off 7-0 spurt and there’s blood in the water. Cavs are gonna need a bigger boat.

11 — Doesn’t matter if James Jones didn’t catch the ball perfectly on inbounds pass. If you’re gonna be at the rim and miss dunks, you’re heading for summer.

10 — The on-court screamer with the microphone at The Q is standing a midcoast virtually begging the hometown fans to stand up and scream. But it seems they know reality when it smacks them right in the face and Warriors up by a dozen.

9 — For all that he’s done, as brilliantly as he’s played, LeBron and his somewhat passive approach to tonight are costing him a shot at becoming joining Jerry West (1969) as the second player ever from the losing team named MVP of The Finals.

— You want one more reason for the Cavs to worry? Steph Curry goes to bench for a pre-4th quarter rest with Warriors holding 70-58 lead.

7 — End third quarter, Warriors lead 73-61 and one word to describe Cavs: Spent.

6 — Just in case you haven’t filled out your MVP ballot yet, here’s Steph to bang in back-to-back 3s. But Iggy ties him for leading scorer with 25 points, five assists, five rebounds, two steals and all of that splendid work on LeBron. Oh yeah, and Draymond Green has a triple-double (14-10-10)

— Share the ball, share the rewards. Warriors put on the crowning touch with the kind of move-the-ball passing game that had them setting pace in NBA since opening night — 28 assists on 37 buckets.

4Been a while.

June 16, 1975:

No. 1 single U.S. — Sister Golden Hair, America.

No. 1 TV show — All In The Family.

3 — Can you top this? Steve Kerr posts 83-20 (.801) overall record and becomes first rookie coach to win NBA championship since Pat Riley in 1982.

2 — Andre Iguodala becomes first player who never started a regular season game to be named Finals MVP. Curry and Iggy become first pair of championship teammates to split regular season and Finals MVP awards since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in 1980.

Iguodala: “I want to be Steph Curry when I grow up.”

1 — Wire-to-wire thoroughbreds:

American Pharoah.

Stephen Curry.

1A — Last Western Conference NBA champion not from California or Texas: Seattle SuperSonics, 1979.

 

The Finals Live Blog Game 5

@wardell30 with the speedy dribbling! 🏀💨💨#NBAFinals

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

OAKLAND — The biggest game of the season.

That’s what Game 5 is to both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, and not just because it’s the next game in these NBA Finals.

It’s the biggest because when it’s over the winner will be a mere four quarters from being able to finish this thing and claim that Larry O’Brien Trophy, feed a championship-starved fan base and etch their names in NBA lore among the other championship teams that preceded them.

Games like these come with the pressure that shows the true character of the men involved. We’ll find out if Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Splash Brothers, are truly ready for prime time? If LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers just needed a little rest to continue engineering one of the all-time great upsets in NBA and sports history (they are a robust 15-0 this season on exactly two days of rest)?

Fifteen just happens to be the magic number tonight.

The Warriors are undefeated this season (a staggering 57-0) when they get a 15-point lead in a game.

#15isthemagicnumber

And they’ve got karma in the house thanks to the Barrys (Rick and Brent “Bones” Barry, one of just three father-son combinations to have won NBA championships joining the Walton and Goukas clans as the only duos to accomplish that feat).

Warriors champ Rick Barry with the crew! #NBAFinals

A photo posted by @nbatv on

Lineup changes and defensive tweaks are fine. And they worked well for the Warriors in Game 4. Now it’s the Cavaliers’ turn to throw a wrinkle or two into the mix.

LeBron said there will be no lineup change. An extension of the rotation from seven players to say eight or nine, however, seems to be a must. Mike Miller and Shawn Marion need to be on high-alert tonight. But really, guys like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are the ones who need to step up for the Cavs.

Shump in the corner, getting ready for Game 5.

A photo posted by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

Someone is due for a breakout effort tonight, either the Splash Brothers or Smith and Shumpert (they get a nickname if and after they have that breakout game).

Game 5 is the time someone needs to get it done. Because it’s all on the line tonight, right here at Oracle Arena. Winner takes the commanding 3-2 advantage and the chance to finish this series off Tuesday in Cleveland ….

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#15isthemagicnumber

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He whose name should not be spoken … at least until he starts playing better!

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Same starting five as Game 4. No need to fix it if in ain’t broken.

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If you go strictly by the numbers …

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Ugh!

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Brutal start for both teams. Turnovers, bricks, turnovers, etc.

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Warriors pick it up. Cavaliers keep turning it over.

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Why wait?

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Good Draymond vs Good JR

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Well, until JR flattened Draymond and picked up a Flagrant 1

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LeBron playing all five positions. Biggest Cavs player on the floor and running the point. Cavs 17, GSW 16 #unreal

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Still waiting on that Splash Brothers reunion …

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MVP stuff

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I believe the proper term is #BeastMode

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Warriors better pick up the pace because JR is hot!

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Swish

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Don’t know how easy they are, but he is getting whatever he wants, whenever he wants and wherever he wants it.

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Delly with a dive, draws Draymond’s second foul

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Meanwhile, LeBron is in #BeastMode

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Best way for LeBron to keep JR engaged?

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Dirtyvedova … hmmmm!

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Bogut with the assist.

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Two full days of rest = #BeastMode

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Eyes in the back of his head.

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Common foul indeed.

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Harrison Barnes goes up big late and LeBron goes on the poster. Warriors rally for the 51-50 lead at the break.

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It doesn’t matter what language you use, it’s called Ballin’

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Lots of basketball to be played Sir. But it is something worth pondering.

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Small Ball is the name of the game right now.

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I want mine. Strawberry Banana #JambaJuice

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Steph cannot get loose. Simply nowhere for him to go with the Cavs cutting off all angles.

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Stripes messing with us tonight. Don’t let the whistles get in the way.

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Looming large!

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What do you do with a two-day wait for Game 5? Apparently a few people went to the movies.

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Pretty good company …

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Welcome to the new NBA … No Bigs Allowed!

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Down to the wire …

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No LeBron, No business!

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And then there’s that …

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Anything Kerr can AI can do better.

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Mozgov’d again?

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@kingjames with his 2nd triple double of the 2015 #NBAFinals. Watch on ABC!

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

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Just another #NBAFinals triple-double for @kingjames… 29-12-10 early in the 4th qtr

A photo posted by NBA on TNT (@nbaontnt) on

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You never say that word!

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The MVP back and forth is breathtaking to watch. Klay and JR can get it on the fun, too.

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Your turn JR …

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LeBron is so preposterously good at this game of basketball. Does it all.

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Coaching shots fired?

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Finals MVP if the Warriors win?

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Extremely inaccurate!

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#StephBack MVP … Delly had no chance.

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Love from Down Under even

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LeBron with another 3 from the Oakland Hills. Wow!

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#BeastMode

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#StrengthInNumbers

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Back & forth we go on ABC in Game 5 of the 2015 #NBAFinals!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

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Told you, #15isthemagicnumber

Warriors biggest lead … 15!

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LeBron was unreal. Unreal. But the MVP gets the win.

Right & Wrong: Warriors even Finals in impressive fashion


VIDEO: The Hang Time crew report on an impressive Warriors win in Game 4

CLEVELAND — Trailing 2-1 in the NBA Finals, it was natural to expect Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr to make some sort of adjustment heading into Game 4. He did, alright, deploying a handful of moves that tipped Game 4 into Golden State’s tempo, helping them defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 103-82, evening the series at 2-2.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 4…

Right: After allowing Cleveland to dictate pace and progress for the majority of Games 1 through 3, in Game 4 the Warriors shook things up by benching center Andrew Bogut and instead starting forward Andre Iguodala for the first time all season. Considering the Cavs had been dominant on the boards, going small had potential to work against the Warriors. Although Cleveland got off to a 7-0 start, The Warriors quickly bounced back and closed the quarter by outscoring the Cavs, 31-17. Kerr also had the Warriors double-team LeBron James more often, and inserted David Lee into the rotation, all moves that helped the Warriors regain the tempo and swagger they played with throughout the season.

“We controlled the tempo and the rhythm of the game,” said Steve Kerr. “But that, I think, had more to do with us competing and getting to long rebounds and loose balls. I thought the first three games they were the more competitive team. Maybe it’s our first trip to The Finals, we thought we can play hard. It’s not just about playing hard. It’s about playing every single possession like it’s your last. And I thought tonight our effort took a step up and that’s why we were able to win.”

Wrong: With the Warriors focused on making LeBron give up the ball, James finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. That’s a terrific line to be certain, but James’s lowest scoring total of the Finals. While James is happy to play the role of facilitator, his teammates weren’t able to do their part, combining for just 22 made field goals. Although he scored 20 points in Game 3, Matthew Dellavedova finished Game 4 with 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting with 3 turnovers. After arriving for Game 4 on a hands-free scooter, J.R. Smith went 0-for-8 on 3-pointers. He also left on that scooter. “I think also the fact that we didn’t make shots tonight from outside, that really had an impact on [LeBron’s] ability to find seams and to score the ball,” said Cleveland coach David Blatt. “Because there is a dynamic to that. When you’re constantly, constantly on the defensive end, it’s just like in football with possession time. When your defense is on the field all the time, you know you’re in trouble.”


VIDEO: The Cavs shot an abysmal 4-for-27 on 3-pointers in Game 4

Right: Before this season, Andre Iguodala had started every game of his NBA career. This season, he didn’t start a single game. So when Steve Kerr moved Iggy into the starting five on Thursday, it was nothing new. Iguodala reacted as such, finishing with a team-leading 22 points in 39 minutes, and contributing 8 boards and tough defense against LeBron James. The front line of Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green gives up size to the Cavs, but also provides the Warriors with a versatility and ability to stretch the floor they don’t have when Bogut is in the game.

Wrong: It’s no surprise to note that the Cavaliers’ depth is being tested right now — with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao all out injured, the Cavs’ roster was sure to be tested. But the Cavs aren’t able to get anything of value out of Mike Miller, Kendrick Perkins, Joe Harris, Brendan Haywood or Shawn Marion. It’s nice to have veteran leadership and locker room presence, but it would probably be nicer right now for Cleveland to get some minutes out of these guys. The Cavs were reduced to using a 7-man rotation for the majority of the game, including 18 minutes from James Jones, a 3-point specialist who only shot one trey. Against the newly revitalized Golden State offense, the Cavs looked increasingly slow and worn down. And there are no options remaining to be played for coach David Blatt from the bench for the Cavs.

Right: Through injury and necessity, the Cavaliers have discovered a nice two-man team in the post in Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. And in Game 4, Mozgov had his most effective game of The Finals, finishing with 28 points and 10 boards. Golden State went small, and the 28-year-old seven-footer made them pay, repeatedly backing the ball in and finding easy buckets, and also displaying a nice sense of timing within the offense and understand when to flash to the rim. The Cavs had to give up two first-round picks to get Mozgov, a haul that seemed questionable at the time. If he keeps playing like this, it might even seem like a bargain.

Wrong: Just before halftime, LeBron James took a foul and landed among the cameramen on the baseline, slicing open his head and requiring stitches following the game. “I was just hoping I wasn’t bleeding,” said James. “But obviously the camera cut me pretty bad. Our medical staff did a great job of stopping the bleeding. I knew I had to shoot the free throws or I wasn’t going to be able to come back into the game, so it didn’t matter what was going on with my head at that point in time. I had to go up there and shoot those free throws so I could continue to play.”


VIDEO: LeBron James takes a hard spill in the first half of Game 4

Right: One more right, at least for tonight, as Golden State’s Shaun Livingston came off the bench and scored only 7 points, but he finished with a plus-minus rating of +25 in 24 minutes of play. Livingston is in many ways emblematic of all the things that made the Warriors so dangerous this season. At 6-foot-7 with guard skills, Livingston is ideal as a secondary defender, coming over to double-team and distracting a ball-handler. He’s also big enough to switch on screens, and at least momentarily defend  James until help arrives.

Right & Wrong: Warriors come out and play in Game 1


VIDEO: Relive the Warriors’ Game 1 victory

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It was a game that had more rights than wrongs, at least until overtime. But after Cleveland and Golden State ended regulation tied at 98, in the bonus time, everything went wrong for Cleveland, who were outscored 10-2 as Golden State cruised to a Game 1 victory. LeBron James showed why he’s still the king, but the best player eventually fell at the hands of the best team, 108-100.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 1.

Right: Playing in Oakland before one of the loudest crowds in the league, Cleveland got off to perhaps the best possible start, jumping ahead to a 29-15 lead. Meanwhile, the Warriors couldn’t get a bucket, beginning 3-for-15 from the floor, as the Cavs harassed them defensively. That kind of performance from the Cavs over 48 minutes (or 53) is likely untenable, but they’ll need more stretches like that in order to compete with Golden State’s breathtaking offensive runs.

Wrong: We don’t know the extent of the injury, obviously, but if Cleveland is without Kyrie Irving for any extended period of time going forward, it could be a death knell for the Cavaliers’ chances in these Finals. Irving, who missed extensive time in the Eastern Conference finals dealing with left knee tendinitis, logged 43 minutes in Game 1 of The Finals, and posted 23 points, six assists and seven rebounds. His biggest play may have been on the defensive end, when Irving made a chase-down block against Stephen Curry with 26 seconds remaining in regulation, preserving the tie. With 2 minutes remaining in overtime, Irving re-injured his left leg and left the court in obvious pain.

Right: Golden State’s depth was huge during their 67-win regular season. And after a slow start in Game 1 of The Finals, the Warriors got a jump-start from their bench. Marreese Speights returned from injury to score six quick points, and Andre Iguodala picked up the task of defending LeBron James. Of course, James was terrific, finishing with 44 points, eight boards and six assists, but he made just 1 of his last 6 shots, with Iguodala hounding him on every possession.

Wrong: Cleveland used a short bench, only playing J.R. Smith, James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova. That can work in the postseason, when teams have a few days off between games. But tonight those three combined for nine points, all from Smith, who shot 3-for-13. Jones, a great 3-point shooter, played 17 minutes and only attempted one shot. If the Cavs are going to make a run at the Warriors, their only production can’t come from just James and Irving.

Right: Golden State coach Steve Kerr may be in his first campaign as a head coach, but he made multiple moves that worked out in his favor. And perhaps no decision was bigger (figuratively) than going small in overtime. After Cleveland turned to a “big” lineup with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov playing together, Kerr countered by going small, using Draymond Green at center with Harrison Barnes and Iguodala as forwards. It gave the Warriors a jump-start, and helped their offense click into place in the overtime session.

Wrong: Cleveland has had an advantage on the boards throughout the postseason, with Thompson, Mozgov and James controlling the paint. And while those three continued their work — particularly Thompson, who finished with 15 rebounds — the Warriors put in work on the boards and finished with 56 rebounds, the same as Cleveland. Golden State used a team approach, as ten members of the Warriors each had at least three rebounds.

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

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No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

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No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

***

No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

***

No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Morning Shootaround — May 4


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s playoff action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets | Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason | Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? | Parade plans being made in Golden State

No. 1: The Clippers have an edge over the Rockets — Even with Chris Paul “questionable” for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Western Conference semifinal against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers are confident. They have an edge, of sorts, over the Rockets, according to Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times:

After edging the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, the Clippers have advanced to face a team with a lesser recent playoff pedigree than themselves.

The Houston Rockets have won two playoff series since 1997, one fewer than the Clippers have won since Chris Paul arrived in December 2011.

It’s true that Rockets guard Jason Terry won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and stars James Harden and Dwight Howard each advanced to the Finals with other teams, but the group has done little collectively besides getting past the Mavericks in a relatively breezy first-round series this season.

The Rockets and Clippers each won 56 games in the regular season, finishing tied for the league’s third-best record. The Rockets were awarded the second seeding in the Western Conference and the accompanying homecourt advantage in this conference semifinal series against the third-seeded Clippers by virtue of winning the Southwest Division.

The Clippers have dominated Houston in recent seasons, winning 11 of the last 14 games. But the Rockets won the final two games between the teams this season and Howard did not play in any of the four games in the series this season.

“Obviously, they have a good thing going,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “James has had an unbelievable year, Dwight had a huge series against Dallas and really all the way down the line. They’re a great team.”

***

No. 2: Rugged Wizards still unblemished in the postseason — The standard for toughness and determination in this postseason, at least in the Eastern Conference, is the Washington Wizards. Playing on the road to start both their first round series and the conference semifinals, the Wizards remain unblemished, perfect after five games. They are the embodiment of toughness, says Mike Lee of The Washington Post:

Bradley Beal and John Wall showed up at the postgame podium looking as if they had just been sparring for 12 rounds instead of playing basketball for four quarters. Beal had petroleum jelly covering two scratches under his right eye that came after Atlanta Hawks reserve guard Kent Bazemore inexplicably kicked him in the face while chasing down a loose ball. Wall had his left wrist and hand heavily taped after an awkward landing that was exacerbated by Beal tripping and falling on him.

At different times during the Washington Wizards’ 104-98 victory over the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Beal and Wall provided moments of spectacular play and trepidation for a team that suddenly doesn’t know how to lose. Beal matched his playoff career high with 28 points, his third 20-point game this postseason. Wall added 18 points and a game-high 13 assists , extending a string of four consecutive double-doubles that has seen him dish out 55 assists over those games. Beal and Wall have been a representation of the mental and physical toughness required to win at this time of year, having already led the Wizards to more postseason wins in the past two seasons than the previous 27 seasons combined.

“We two guys that’s going to fight until the end,” Wall said after winning at Philips Arena for just the second time in his career and first time this season. “If it ain’t broke, you can’t get us off the court.”

The win almost felt bittersweet after Beal sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter when he landed awkwardly on Hawks center Al Horford. Beal returned to hobble around for a few minutes but finally got benched, pulled a towel over his head and sobbed uncontrollably as the final seconds ticked off. He continued to weep through a postgame television interview and on his way for X-rays , which turned out negative. With a protective sleeve on his right leg, Beal walked with a slight limp after the game, and Coach Randy Wittman was uncertain about Beal’s availability for Game 2.

***

No. 3: Can the Cavaliers handle the Bulls without Love, Smith? — No Kevin Love. No J.R. Smith (for the first two games). Some think that’s a “no go” for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they open their Eastern Conference semifinal series tonight against the Chicago Bulls. But LeBron James and Kyrie Irving might have something to say about that. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer raises some questions and provides some answers as this long awaited series gets ready for tip off:

1. It’s impossible to know how the Cavs will play in the first two games. Once General Manager David Griffin made his two deals in January, J.R. Smith sat out only one game with the Cavs. That was a 117-78 loss to Boston when the Cavs rested most of their key players, a game meaning nothing. So it’s only this game where we’ll see what the Cavs look like without Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and Smith (two-game suspension).

2. That’s why it’s so hard to know how the Cavs will perform against the Bulls. It’s great to have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, they give your team a chance in nearly every game. But the Bulls are a tall team, and they also have some skilled scorers. I’m very, very worried about this matchup.

3. The 6-foot-10 Love would have been a big deal in the Bulls series. He probably would have been defended by Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol — pulling one of the Bulls big men away from the basket. Coach David Blatt loves a power forward — “a Stretch-4″ — who can shoot. That’s Love. Without him, James Jones will be the best option for some parts in the game when the Cavs want a power forward who can shoot. But Jones won’t demand the defensive attention of Love.

4. When the Cavs start Smith and Love, the have two guys capable of making jump shots from long range. That helps keep the middle open for James and Irving to drive to the rim. Of course, Irving and James also can shoot from the outside. But they are even more dangerous when they drive to the rim.

5. When Smith returns from his suspension, the Cavs can play three guards — Iman Shumpert, Smith and Irving — with James at power forward and a big man (Timofey Mozgov or Tristan Thompson) at center. Not sure what they will do in the first two games with no Smith, other than Shawn Marion will see some action at forward — and Mike Miller at guard.

***

No. 4: Parade plans being made in Golden State — Five down and 11 more to go for the Golden State Warriors, who have looked every bit of the championship caliber team many assumed they would after an epic regular season. Sure, there is a long way to go, but the path is there for them to grind all the way to a championship. Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News has done the math and is convinced that there will be parade through the streets of Oakland this summer:

There was one moment among the many, one move among the multitudes, one particularly providential part of Game 1 at Oracle Arena on Sunday.

It was presumptive MVP Stephen Curry casually dribbling into a high screen-and-roll, luring Zach Randolph to the perimeter … and then a sudden Curry fake that sent Randolph lunging to the right, a Curry sublime flash to the left, and a 3-point splash.

It was poetry. It shook the walls of the old building.

What opponent can stop that? Who can beat the Warriors when they have everything going at full throttle?

Nobody. That’s sort of important to know and point out, 11 victories from a title.

And though it was just a single play on the way to the Warriors’ commanding 101-86 victory over Memphis, it communicated everything important about this team and that player.

This is why the Warriors are already in total control of this series, this is why Curry will win the MVP on Monday (reported first by CSN Bay Area, with a 1 p.m. news conference as reported by this newspaper’s Marcus Thompson II).

And this is why the Warriors are in such a special place, time and mood.

Curry and his teammates know they can’t look too far ahead — not even to potentially winning the MVP, Curry said Sunday.

They realize that any little stumble or loss of focus could put them in jeopardy at any time.

But if they play like this for the rest of the playoffs, the Warriors are going to win the championship, there just isn’t much doubt anymore.

“It’s a fun time,” Curry said after his 22-point, seven-assist, four-steal performance. “The pressure is on.

“The vibe around the league is at a high, and I think we’re ready for the moment, just trying to stay in the moment.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks have dug themselves a hole and must grind their way out of it, with the starting unit on the floor more, in the Eastern Conference semifinals … Grizzles look ordinary without Mike Conley in their first blush against the Warriors … Spurs still dancing around questions about the future of Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and the crewIman Shumpert is the X-factor for the Cavaliers against his hometown Chicago Bulls …  Tom Thibodeau still has the blueprint for defeating a LeBron James led team …

With Love in the air, Cavs’ time is now


VIDEO: Relive Kevin Love’s top plays with the Timberwolves

Almost from the moment last month when LeBron James said in a Sports Illustrated essay that he was returning to Cleveland, the sports books in Las Vegas made the Cavaliers the favorites to win the 2015 NBA title.

With a roster then full of young, unproven talent in a city that took pride in being wanted again, that was largely about pure emotion.

Now it’s about (Kevin) Love.

With the official completion of the long-awaited deal that sent a package including No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers have vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league.

Oh, there will be plenty to be heard from out of Chicago, where former MVP Derrick Rose tries yet another comeback as he joins up with a formidable group of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic.

But the simple truth is that arrival of Love to Cleveland gives the Cavs with James and Kyrie Irving the best young All-Star threesome in the NBA.

James himself had cautioned everyone not rush to judgment and expect too much too soon. He said it would be a long road for the Cavaliers to reach a champion’s level and that was speaking from the experience in Miami.

That was also speaking from as the lone playoff-tested veteran on a team where the rookie Wiggins would have had to learn about the league and about himself. But all of a sudden, James and the Cavs have a shortcut.

Love, 26 in a couple of weeks, is a completely different animal, a top 10 level talent, who can produce double-doubles every night and has 3-point shooting range. Love is someone who changed his body and has changed his game to become one of the most consistent number producers in the league, the kind of front-line anchor right now that the Cavs could only have hoped they’d get from last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who was included in the deal with Minnesota.

The critics will say that Love never got the Timberwolves to the playoffs in six seasons, point to a sometimes detached attitude and something less than a whole-hearted enthusiastic commitment to that franchise.

Yet the perpetual state of turmoil that has been a trademark of the Timberwolves certainly is responsible for much of that. He missed 64 games in the 2012-13 season due to a broken bone in his hand, but otherwise has been the guy who scored the ball and attacked the backboards equally with as much hunger as anyone in years. Love is the only player in the past 30 seasons to have a 30-point, 30-rebound game.

Maybe Love wasn’t a lead horse who could pull the weight of the entire wagon. Not everyone is. Now he doesn’t have to be.

There are sharp edges that will have to be honed in the playoffs, just as there are with the gifted and not-always-clued-in Irving. But those are edges for James to sharpen as he returns to his old neighborhood as the wise head who has been to the mountaintop and held the Larry O’Brien Trophy (twice).

Love had reached a crossroad in his career where he was simply going to pile up mountains of stats or make the transformation to being part of a contender’s foundation. It is no coincidence that in the weeks since the trade was agreed upon and had to wait for a 30-day embargo, the Cavs reeled in James Jones and Mike Miller from Miami, Shawn Marion from Dallas and could still add Ray Allen, if he chooses to play again next season. The role-playing veterans recognize the potency of the juiced up lineup and the immediate potential. With LeBron and his kiddie corps, the Cavs were still facing a long, hard slog to be able to truly compete with the Bulls in the East, not to mention the crop of contenders — Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies — in the A-list Western Conference.

The next task for Cleveland is to get Love to sign a contract extension that keeps him around past the end of the upcoming season. That shouldn’t be difficult. This is the situation he’s been searching for, the kind he’s needed, a place to learn and grow and win all at the same time.

When the oddsmakers tabbed the Cavs as the team to beat in the aftermath of James’ homecoming, that was as much about hope as anything. Now it’s about Love and reality.

NBPA can finally move forward with election of new executive director


VIDEO: Michele Roberts Interview

LAS VEGAS — Eighteen months after Billy Hunter was fired, the National Basketball Players Association elected a new executive director,

Amid chatter of unhappy agents and with former player Jerry Stackhouse speaking publicly against the process before it was done, the NBPA executive committee was unified in their approval of Michele Roberts, a Washington D.C. trial lawyer.

After a search process led by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, three finalists — Roberts, Dallas Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery and tech industry CEO Dean Garfield — each gave 45-minute presentations to a group of 117 players in attendance at a Las Vegas hotel. Roberts then received 32 of a possible 36 votes from team reps and executive committee members.

“We’ve never had this amount of players here for a meeting, to give their input and feedback,” NBPA president Chris Paul said. “After all the hours and time our executive committee, along with an amazing search committee that helped throughout this process, it’s an unbelievable feeling to have the wonderful Michele Roberts now as a part of our team.”

“Anytime you get 90 percent of the vote or more and full participation from the entire body,” secretary-treasurer James Jones added, “it signals that guys understand that this is a very big deal. This is a big decision and we did not want our guys to take it lightly, to do as we’ve done in the past, which is rubber stamp a process. When you have discussions, you have emotions, but as you see with the result tonight, our players are unified. Outside influences, outside forces may look at what happens in our room differently than we do. But we all knew that our players want what’s best for the union and we showed it.”

Paul made it clear that Roberts was more than impressive in both her interviews and in her presentation on Monday.

“From Day 1 in interviews,” Paul said, “she tackled every question head first. She did it first with the executive committee and search committee, and then today with our players.”

The fact that she’s a woman, now the first woman to run a major North American sport’s players union, was not a factor.

“My sense was the only thing people cared about was my resolve,” Roberts said. “If I had been a man, who exuded less confidence in my ability to do the work, I don’t think I would’ve got the job.

“I’d like to believe, as I’ve believed for most of my career, that I’ve earned something because of who I am and what I do, not because I’m a woman.”

“Even though she’s a female,” Paul said, “she’s very relatable to a lot of our players.”

In a text to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, one committee member said simply, “She’s a beast.”

Stackhouse, a former NBPA vice president who wasn’t allowed to watch Monday’s presentations because he’s no longer an active player, didn’t seem all that impressed. Shortly before the vote was taken, he insinuated that the executive committee forced Roberts’ election upon the players, because the other two candidates didn’t come close to passing muster.

But Stackhouse admitted that he would have loved the job himself. And the members of the executive committee didn’t seem concerned about his agenda.

So now, they can finally move forward and begin preparing for the next round of collective bargaining, likely to take place in 2017. Roberts said that preparation for those negotiations began “yesterday.”

“We understand that this is a defining moment in sports,” NBPA vice president Roger Mason Jr. said. “A $2 billion sale [of the Clippers], a lot of good things going on in our league, some of the most recognizable faces around the globe. And we understand that next time we have a chance to go through collective bargaining, we have a whole lot more to talk about, and the discussion is going to be different.

“I think what we wanted to do is to make sure we had a leader in place who understood that vision, who realized that opportunity at hand and who could give us a vision on how we can get where we want to go.”

Though Roberts doesn’t have much of a basketball background — she’s a fan who watched a lot of hoops with two older brothers — she’s a leader. She’s also clearly a fan of the TV show “Scandal”, calling the team she intends to build “gladiators,” like the group of fixers from the hit ABC drama.

“What we’re talking about here is predating or allowing for a system that will empower these players to run their union,” Roberts said. “They’ve got their union back, and I’m going to make sure that they are empowered to take their union exactly where they want their union to go.”

 

Heat pushed to unfamiliar place


VIDEO: San Antonio puts Miami on the brink of elimination

MIAMI — In their most important game of the season, a game that Chris Bosh had referred to hours earlier as a “must-win” game, the Miami Heat lost, at home, to the San Antonio Spurs by 21 points, 107-86. This just two days after losing, at home, to the Spurs by 19 points, 111-92.

To be fair, calling these two games “losses” by the Heat may be selling the Spurs a bit short. In Games 3 and 4, the Spurs have systematically dismantled the Heat, exposing almost every flaw of the two-time defending champs while on the game’s biggest stage.

“I mean, they smashed us,” said LeBron James. “Two straight home games, got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these two games. It’s just that simple.”

“Well, I think they’re getting to their game a lot better than we are,” said Dwyane Wade. “They’re doing what they want to do better than we are. So right now they’re playing better than us, no question about it. We’ll see at the end of the series. Whoever wins is the better team. But the Spurs are playing better than us. They whipped our butt here at home, and you’ve got to give them credit for coming out, getting to their game plan, their game for 48 minutes, and we haven’t been able to do that. So if we want to get back into the series, we have to be better than them on Sunday. If not, then it will be over.”

For a team built around three superstars, during Games 3 and 4, the Heat have looked suspiciously like a team with one star who has been getting precious little support. While James finished Game 4 with 28 points, eight boards and eight assists, Bosh and Wade combined for just 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. The only other Heat player to score more than eight points was James Jones, who scored 11 once the game was out of reach.

As this series has played out, the Heat have looked like a tired team, a squad that has played every one of the 86 playoff games they’ve logged over the last four years. While the Heat players dismissed talk of exhaustion, the eye test has seemed to show a Heat team relying on making plays that haven’t always been there when needed.

Which isn’t to say this series has been all about the Heat’s failures. The Spurs have shown on possession after possession, on both sides of the ball, that simple things like ball movement, spacing, help defense and teamwork still hold ultimate value. According to James, the Spurs present a singular set of challenges, almost a perfect basketball storm.

“Man, they move the ball extremely well,” said James. “They put you in positions that no other team in this league does, and it’s tough because you have to cover the ball first, but also those guys on the weak side can do multiple things. They can shoot the ball from outside, they can also penetrate. So our defense is geared towards running guys off the three-point line, but at the same time those guys are getting full steam ahead and getting to the rim, too. The challenge is as well, with them, implementing [Boris] Diaw into the lineup has given them another point guard on the floor. So Manu [Ginobili], Tony [Parker], and Diaw and Patty Mills on the floor at once, they’ve got four point guards basically on the floor at once. So all of them are live and they all can make plays. So it’s a challenge for us all.”

This Heat core was assembled to win numerous titles, as James famously said at their introductory press conference: “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.” They’ve got two, but number three had looked more and more elusive as the 2014 Finals has played out. Yet for a Heat team that has put together four consecutive runs to the NBA Finals, perhaps their biggest test yet still awaits beginning with Sunday’s Game 5 in San Antonio, as the odds are stacked against Miami — no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win an NBA championship.

“I don’t care about odds,” noted Bosh. “Odds are for people that can’t do it.”

“Obviously, I do know the numbers,” said James. “It’s never been done before, but we’re still a confident bunch, even though our heads are lowered down right now. Of course, being down 3-1, and losing two straight games at home, that’s just human nature. But we’ve still got to go out and play on Sunday.”