NBA Playoffs: LeBron Carries Miami

You can’t say LeBron James answered his critics on Sunday—that will take at least one championship, probably more, all with him winning Finals MVP honors, before that happens. But LeBron delivered the kind of game everyone’s been waiting to see—a completely dominating performance with all the money on the table—as Miami beat Indiana 101-93 to even their NBA Eastern Conference semi-final series up at two games apiece. TheSportsNotebook recaps this game, along with San Antonio’s closeout against the Los Angeles Clippers, and we look ahead to tonight’s doubleheader…

Miami 101 Indiana 93: The final numbers are staggering—40 points, 18 rebounds and 12 assists. That’s what King James put on the board as the Heat reversed a halftime deficit and took the game over in the third quarter. And they overshadow a big-time performance from Dwayne Wade, who dropped 30 and got nine rebounds of his own. LeBron and Wade not only carried the scoring load, they did it efficiently—getting almost 70 percent of the team’s points, while taking a less than two-thirds of their shots. And the two stars were the reason the Heat won the rebounding battle 47-38. And they got their teammates involved with good assist numbers. Udonis Haslem was the biggest beneficiary of the latter, scoring 14 points, most in the fourth quarter.

Indiana suffered because it’s frontline couldn’t get into the game offensively. Roy Hibbert was a non-factor on Sunday, as was David West. If you’re an Indiana fan you can take heart in this—two of the three players who have to play well for you (the other is Danny Granger, who had 20 points) were missing in action, LeBron and Wade had a dominating game and you still had a chance to win in the end. And while Miami has to feel good about reclaiming homecourt advantage, I don’t know realistic it was to think Indiana would win all three home games to begin with. I think at this level of the postseason, an underdog has to think of terms of getting a 2-2 split on the road and the Pacers will have the chance to do that in Game 5. But that’s to talk about tomorrow. The aftermath of Game 4 is about LeBron, and if this is the year for him to get the monkey off his back, Sunday’s is the game that will live on for the ages.

San Antonio 102 LA Clippers 99: The balance of the Spurs stood out again, as did their ability to get the free throw line. San Antonio got eight more free throw attempts than the Clippers and scored seven more points at the stripe, thus creating the difference in a closely contested game at the Staples Center and closing out the Spurs’ second consecutive four-game sweep of the postseason. Tony Parker once again got the line consistently, hitting  7-of-9 and while Tim Duncan stepped up with a 21 points/9 rebounds night, consider the play of the role players—Daniel Green knocks down 14, Tiago Splitter has 11/7 in Duncan’s backup role, Parker backup Gary Neal hit 5-of-7 from the floor and scored 14 and Manu Ginobli, coming off the bench at this stage in his career, scored 11 and shot 44 percent from the floor.

The only nitpick to have is that it took 53 percent shooting for the Spurs to win this game. When the conference finals start, presumably against Oklahoma City, San Antonio will have to tighten up the defensive reins. As for the Clippers, Chris Paul was ready to go, with 23 points and 11 assists, but Blake Griffin again disappeared on the boards with only five. If Los Angeles was going to have a chance, Griffin needed to be attacking the glass each night and Game 3 was the only time he did. Perhaps it’s the knee strain he suffered in the Memphis series. Perhaps it’s the growing pains of a kid in the playoffs for the first time. Whatever the reason, it has to be something that doesn’t happen next year, because for the time being Los Angeles can feel good about making the playoffs and winning a series as they go into the offseason.

The Clippers may be followed into the offseason by their crosstown brethren tonight, when the Lakers visit Oklahoma City for Game 5. The Lakers were already dealing with a tough loss in Game 4 and now are dealing with some fallout from Kobe Bryant’s decision to throw Pau Gasol under the bus in the postgame interview. If this means that Kobe’s frustrated and is going to try and singlehandedly win this game, we may as well start the OkC-San Antonio conference finals series right now. If this means that Kobe is trying to motivate Gasol to be in position to get the ball and to hit the glass with more frequency, then we’ll have a ballgame on our hands. I think the Thunder are going to come out roaring and clinch this series tonight, but if they don’t, I consider it a virtual certainty that it ends up going seven.

Boston hosts Philadelphia in the pivotal fifth game of a series knotted at two. Three of these four games have been nail-biters and it’s been the young Sixers, not the veteran Celtics, who’ve made the key plays down the stretch, winning 2 of these 3. A combination of law of averages and homecourt makes it likely that the tide turns the other way if Game 5 comes down to the wire, and I really see no reason to think it won’t.