Style points don’t really matter when closing out a series in the playoffs. The Miami Heat’s Game 5 performance wasn't exactly their absolute best effort. The Brooklyn Nets led for most of the night, but let the Heat hang around long enough for LeBron and Co. to make a run late in the fourth quarter. From there, the predictable happened. Brooklyn made some crucial mistakes. The Heat hit some huge shots. LeBron did some LeBron things. Somehow, the Heat walked away with a 96-94 win and are moving on.
It certainly wasn’t a gorgeous, wire-to-wire win -- Miami didn’t get any epic 49-point performances like they did in Game 4, after all -- but they got the win and that’s all that matters. We haven't seen the Heat play at their very best yet this postseason, but their competition hasn’t really pushed them to the limit. The Bobcats and Nets didn't challenge Miami to put together performances in which LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all played to the best of their abilities. Maybe the Pacers or Wizards will be able to really challenge the Heat, but maybe not.
There’s another gear Miami can hit, but we might just have to wait until the Finals for it to be revealed. -Conrad Kaczmarek
In appreciation of Joe Jesus
The best part about Joe Johnson’s game isn’t his ability to score from seemingly impossible locations. It’s not his durability or his accuracy from long range. The best part about Joe Johnson is he genuinely doesn’t care what anyone thinks about his game.
That trait has served him well through a career that has seen everything, from his outsized paychecks to his seven All-Star appearances mocked endlessly by fans and pundits. Johnson may never be worth the mega maximum contract he received from Atlanta, but he is a very good player.
During the postseason he was Brooklyn’s best player, and it wasn’t close. Johnson carried the Nets past Toronto and almost pulled off a huge Game 5 upset against Miami when he scored 34 points and made ISO-Joe a viable strategy. It’s unfortunate for Joe that it ended with him unable to get a shot off from yet another impossible situation -- a deep sideline inbound with no space and little time.
The Nets have a ton of huge questions looming, but Johnson isn’t one of them. -Paul Flannery
LeBron James' greatest quality is his steadfast devotion to making the right play. While other stars demand the ball and won't pass it, James dissects late-game possessions the same way he would in the second quarter and executes them even against dialed-in defenses. Amazingly, this has been used against him because of the NBA's macho late-game culture in the past.
No longer, though. Now, we can appreciate James unselfishness and lauding his versatility. We can appreciate him acting as the trigger on a brilliant late-game set, doing his job by drawing the defense and kicking it out to the open man. In Game 4, James ran pick and roll with Wade, slipped the screen, drew three defenders and found Mario Chalmers, who swung the ball to Chris Bosh in the corner for three. In Game 5, James was the ball-handler and Chalmers was the screener. Chalmers slipped to the three-point line, James drew two defenders and found him and Chalmers made the extra pass to Ray Allen for the game-sealing three.
These two plays aren't possible without LeBron perfectly executing two different roles. His only individual rewards were two hockey assists, but he didn't care. All that matters is that his team won. -Mike Prada
No Tony, no problem
The Spurs don't blow you away with on-paper talent. They rarely sign big money free agents or swing major trades. While the rest of the NBA is trying to align multiple superstars for a tangible shot at title contention, the Spurs get there by continuing to grow organically at their own incredible pace. It shouldn't look as easy as it did for San Antonio in completing a five-game series victory over a very good Portland Trail Blazers team, yet it usually does.
Consider that the Spurs didn't even have Tony Parker in the second half as they blew out the Trail Blazers by 15 points on their way to a 104-82 Game 5 victory. Parker had what the Spurs were calling tightness in his hamstring, but the decision to keep him out sounded more like rest .
What other team would have the audacity to not rush its best player back in a playoff game if he could still play? That's business as usual in San Antonio, and it's possible because every other cog in the machine is custom built to pick up the slack. Kawhi Leonard was incredible, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds and five steals while making nine of his 15 shots from the field. Patty Mills did enough to make you forget Parker was even out, adding 18 points. Danny Green, once a second round draft pick, added 22 of his own.
Methodically and inevitably, the Spurs are back in the Western Conference finals. The other two teams still playing in the West might have more style, but there's no one that can compete with San Antonio's unique form of substance. -Ricky O'Donnell
Last summer, Blazers GM Neil Olshey's singular goal was to build a playoff contender around LaMarcus Aldridge. The brilliant power forward had gotten antsy; his contract is up in 2015, and without success this year, there would have been pressure to trade them to ensure he wasn't lost without compensation. Rumors were rampant about LMA's future ...
... until the Blazers raced out to a quick start and held on to make the playoffs. Advancing to the second round served as some sweet gravy. Not only did Olshey's additions -- including Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson -- work out, but LMA's returning co-stars played well under Terry Stotts. Portland heads into the offseason looking to augment the roster a bit more, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Aldridge signed an extension to ensure the Blazers know what they are building around for the next few years.
Olshey did exactly what he had to do, and now he gets his spoils in the form of stability. -Tom Ziller
Indiana Pacers at Washington WizardsIndiana leads 3-2 | 8 p.m. ET, ESPNVerizon Center, Washington, D.C.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles ClippersLos Angeles leads 3-2 | 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNSTAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
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