Paul Pierce asked to guard LeBron James in Brooklyn’s Game 3 victory, which was both a noble gesture and one for which the veteran drew large amounts of praise over the last few days.
So, it was probably inevitable that LeBron would answer back in Game 4 with one of his supernova performances because that’s how this kind of thing works. James was relentless. He punished Brooklyn’s smaller defenders down low and bullied his way into the paint en route to tying a playoff career-high with 49 points.
Not content to hang out behind the arc and direct Miami’s offense, LeBron pushed through his normal halftime rest and willed the Heat to a 3-1 series lead on a night when Dwyane Wade was mortal, Chris Bosh was silent and Mario Chalmers was in foul trouble.
Yet James is hardwired to make correct basketball plays. On the game’s pivotal sequence he willingly dished to Chalmers who dutifully swung it to Bosh in the corner for a three that snapped a 94-94 tie and broke Brooklyn’s spirit. This was LeBron at his best, playing at a level no one can match. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. -Paul Flannery
More like Zero Ball
The play you see to the right is what sealed the Heat's victory. It was a bona fide play, with multiple elements that was beautifully executed.
It would have been very easy for Erik Spoelstra to give the ball to LeBron, a monster all night, and let him create something. He didn't. And then, you have the Nets, who elected to isolate Joe Johnson on LeBron twice in a row while the other four players were statues. The logic at the time: LeBron had five fouls and maybe he'd draw his sixth having to defend Johnson.
Instead, Johnson missed badly on a fadeaway, then grazed a floater off the rim. That was the difference in the game.
Jason Kidd has too many options on his team to resort to this kind of late-game behavior. Even if Johnson is option 1, there's far more that can be done to set him up. The rookie coach should take a page out of his playoff counterpart next time. -Mike Prada
Human after all
The San Antonio Spurs might have known a sweep wasn't in the cards on Monday night when they headed into the locker room at halftime trailing by two instead of holding a massive lead. This series has been defined by the Spurs' ability to blowout Portland in the first half, leading by no less than 19 points going into the break in each of the first three games of this series.
In Game 4, the same Spurs offense that so often looks like a methodical killer simply wasn't clicking. Whether it was a point of emphasis from the Portland defense or merely an off-night from a group of normally good shooters, the Spurs lost the chance to sweep their way into the conference finals one missed three-pointer at a time.
After hitting seven three-pointers in each of the first three games of the series, San Antonio shot only 3-for-18 from downtown on Monday. Every clank sounded like another night of work, with the Spurs' next opportunity to close out the series coming Wednesday at home. There was still scoring balance for the Spurs, because there is almost always scoring balance: five players reached double-figures, but Tony Parker's 14 points were a team-high. The same team that has ruthlessly stomped the life out of Portland in the first three games just didn't have it in them to complete the sweep.
These Spurs might actually be human, but no one is worrying about them just yet. To know the Spurs is to recognize that, even in defeat, another big victory is merely a formality. -Ricky O'Donnell
The People's Champ
After a devastating first three games, Portland came out on the attack in Game 4 on Monday night, scooping up a win and saving their series, 103-92. At the head of the charge was the man known around Rip City as "The People's Champ", second-year guard Will Barton. Along with Thomas Robinson, Barton provided 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting, a bit of organic bench production that no one -- not even Portland -- had planned for.
With his team's season on the line, Terry Stotts became a mad scientist in Game 4. For the first time all series, Portland seemed to have made major adjustments, with Damian Lillard coming off pick-and-rolls early to shoot rhythm jumpers, stealing a page from San Antonio's playbook from the first three games. The Blazers ran out lineups that didn't include Lillard or backup point guard Earl Watson, and Stotts' unconventional strategy was capped by a lob play to Barton coming out of a timeout with 3:32 left in the fourth quarter that put Portland up, 98-81.
No team has come back from down 3-0 to win a playoff series in NBA history, but with a win on Monday night, the Trail Blazers kept their unexpected season alive against one of the postseason's best teams. On Wednesday, the Portland will need everything they've got to hold off whatever diabolical scheme Gregg Popovich has in store for them. Maybe this time, he'll gameplan for the People's Champ. -Dane Carbaugh
It's what every sports commissioner dreams of: a racist owner giving a troubling interview on CNN during a playoff game. And so it was, as The Internet took a break from its Solange Knowles jokes and delayed its feast of LeBron to watch Donald Sterling make an incredible ass out of himself ... again.
Adam Silver's immediate reaction to the interview -- he apologized to Magic Johnson and reiterated that the league is trying to excommunicate Sterling ASAP -- was good, but it's really unfortunate that he's in this position. What a nasty little timebomb David Stern left him. Meanwhile, Shelly Sterling continues her slightly more sane rehabilitation tour, one we hope will be fruitless given her troubling role in Sterling's housing discrimination plots.
I'd like to be able to say that compelling playoff basketball (which we got on Monday) is a salve for Sterling's poison. But knowing how many people agree with the idiot owner, and to watch him deride Magic Johnson for a national audience, is disturbing enough to spoil it all. -Tom Ziller
Washington Wizards at Indiana PacersIndiana leads 3-1 | 7 p.m. ET, TNTBankersLife Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City ThunderSeries tied 2-2 | 9:30 p.m. ET, TNTChesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Okla.
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