More brilliance from LeBron James reduces Eastern Conference final to a best of three

LeBron bullied his way to 44 points against Celtics. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2018
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More brilliance from LeBron James reduces Eastern Conference final to a best of three

  • Le Bron racks up 44 points
  • Eastern Conference finals is now locked at 2-2

CLEVELAND: LeBron James knows the path to the NBA Finals better than anyone in today’s game.
And unless the Boston Celtics do something soon, he’ll get there again.
James bullied his way to 44 points, surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar atop a postseason list and helped the Cleveland Cavaliers even the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2 on Monday night with a 111-102 victory over the Celtics, who are looking forward to getting home before their adoring fans.
Pushed by a raucous crowd that wasn’t so confident a few days ago, the Cavs held off Boston’s comeback in the fourth quarter and squared a tight series that is now a best-of-three.
Cleveland is trying to become the 20th team — out of 300 — to overcome a 2-0 deficit and James, who has already orchestrated two such rallies and is seeking his eighth straight finals, is a step closer to a third.
To do it again the Cavs will have to win in Boston, where the Celtics are 9-0 this postseason.
“We know it’s going to be a hostile environment,” James said. “We know their fans are going to be very energetic. But we have to just have our same mindset we had when we came home for these two games. If our minds are there, we put ourselves in a position to be victorious.”
Game 5 is Wednesday night at TD Garden, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens is trying to stay positive with a team that has given up a 2-0 lead and fell to 1-6 on the road in these playoffs.
“It’s the best two out of three to go to the NBA Finals. Doesn’t get better than that,” he said. “Ultimately, anybody that didn’t think this was going to be tough, I mean, everything is tough. In this deal, it’s a blast to have to grit your teeth, get up off the mat and go after it again.”
Kyle Korver added 14 points and Cleveland’s sharp-shooting 37-year-old added three block and several hustle plays, outrunning three Celtics in one sequence and diving for a loose ball.
“I’ve loved Kyle ever since we made the trade to get him here” James said. “I don’t remember Kyle falling too much like that. I’ve got to keep his body as fresh as possible. But listen, he’s doing whatever it takes to try to help us win, with the blocks, with the strips. Obviously his shot making is very key for our team as well, but it’s just the intangibles he’s doing for us defensively.”
Tristan Thompson had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavs, who won despite 19 turnovers and two assists in the second half. Kevin Love had just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting and was in foul trouble, but he made a big 3-pointer and follow shot in the fourth quarter.
Jaylen Brown scored 25 and Boston had all five scorers in double figures, but the Celtics fell behind by 19 in the first half and didn’t have enough to catch Cleveland.
And, of course, they didn’t have James, who moved past Abdul-Jabbar (2,356) for the most field goals in playoff history. James also recorded his 25th career postseason game with at least 40 points — his sixth in this postseason.
The Celtics hung around in the second half and pulled within 100-93 on Marcus Smart’s basket with 4:29 left. But Thompson got free for a dunk, and after a miss by Boston, James recovered after making his seventh turnover by making a steal and layup.
Moments later, James drilled a three-pointer from the left wing to finally put away the young Celtics, who will now feel the immense pressure of trying to hold off the three-time champion.
“He’s the best in the game at evaluating the court and figuring out what he wants and where he wants it,” Stevens said. “The thing about it is that you just have to battle. You just have to make it as hard as possible, because he’s going to find a matchup that he ultimately wants.”
Stevens considered changing his starting lineup, but decided to stick with the same first five — Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Al Horford, and Terry Rozier — as the first three games.
Boston’s starters held their own, but none of them was able to match James when it mattered most.
“You hope he misses, that’s about it,” Rozier said. “He’s a big body and you’ve just got to keep him in front, and hope he misses.”


Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

Updated 18 min 19 sec ago
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Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

LONDON: The post-mortem on Los Angeles’ Lakers season has begun after the storied franchise missed out on the NBA playoffs for a sixth consecutive year this weekend.
It was not meant to be like this, especially after the signing of LeBron James — the man who single-handedly dragged his hometown team Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 and was instrumental in Miami Heat’s dominance in the first half of the decade.
James’ mercurial talent was often the difference for those two franchises in clutch situations throughout the season, but for all the fanfare on his arrival at the Staples Center last summer, the “James Effect” has failed to materialize in California.
He has often called his own superhuman efforts in the run up to — and during — the postseason the “Playoff Mode,” but even the genius of James was not enough to put his new franchise into the picture.
It did not help that as soon as it became clear they were not going to be appear beyond April 10, made all the clearer by a recent humbling defeat to the league’s worst team (New York Knicks), James has been benched more and more by the management.
And it speaks volumes about the problems at the Lakers that it will be the first playoffs without James featuring since 2005. Not only had he played in the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, he had also played in eight straight NBA finals.
Granted, James — a three-time NBA champion and four-time league Most Valuable Player — was adamant back in September that the task of rebuilding the Lakers, who had missed the playoffs for five straight seasons would be a long-term project.
“Obviously, I would love for the team to be in the post-season,” James said as soon as it became clear he and the team would miss out on the playoff party.
“But right now, it’s not the hand I was dealt, so you play the hand that you were dealt until the dealer shuffles the cards and you’re dealt another hand and can do that.”
So what has gone so terribly wrong with the Lakers this year?
A big factor was injuries, not only to James but to other key players, throughout the season.
Everything looked rosy for the Lakers toward the end of December when they thrashed reigning champions Golden State Warriors, but a groin injury to James was a sign of the bad run to come. In his 17-game absence, the Lakers won just six games.
Then Lonzo Ball sprained an ankle in January, leaving the Lakers defense very vulnerable while Brandon Ingram, who had been influential in the team reaching the dizzying heights of fourth place in the Western Conference, was ruled out for the rest of the season due to a blood clot in his arm. Those certainly were damaging injuries.
The Lakers, also, have built too much of the team and its tactics around James. They have a good core of young talent in Ball, Ingram and Kyle Kuzuma, but management has not utilized them nearly well enough. Instead, for the first half of the season definitely, there was too much focus put on James and he was expected to win games almost by himself. Even the greatest player of a generation needs help from time to time.
The boardroom has to take some responsibility, too. Letting players like Brook Lopez (having a remarkable season with this year’s huge surprise package the Milwaukee Bucks), Julius Randle who averages 20 points per game at New Orleans and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell (picked as an All-Star this year) leave was a major mistake on the Lakers’ part.
There will need to be a big rethink in the off-season at the Lakers, but with James admitting a break from the high-pressure playoffs will give him time to “recalibrate body and mind,” you cannot rule out “King James” coming back better and stronger than ever to claim a fourth NBA title and bring back the good times to LA.