Celtics

LeBron deals with cramping, lifts Heat in Game 4

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LeBron deals with cramping, lifts Heat in Game 4

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A limping, grimacing LeBron James shook off the pain of leg cramps to hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer and the Miami Heat held on to edge the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 on Tuesday, taking a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. No team has ever blown a 3-1 lead in the finals, so James' resilient basket with 2:51 remaining looks likely to be the moment that clinches the title for the Heat. "He was hurting," teammate Dwyane Wade said. "But that's what it's about this time of the year. It would hurt more if we lose the ballgame, so it feels a little better if you can win it." Imagine how good it will feel if the Heat get one more victory. Better get well fast, LeBron -- you're one win from the biggest party of your life. Game 5 is Thursday and James will have a chance to finish a nine-year chase that started in Cleveland before he left for South Florida before last season. "Of course it's there to think about," said James, making it clear he plans to play. "I'll be ready for Game 5." With James watching the final moments, Mario Chalmers finished off a stellar 25-point effort that matched Wade. James had 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, missing a shot at a triple-double only because he was on the bench at the end with the thigh cramps. The Heat needed all James could give and more to hold off Russell Westbrook. He scored 43 points for the Thunder, who wasted an early 17-point lead but were never out of the game because of their sensational point guard. Kevin Durant had 28 points but James Harden threw in another clunker, finishing with eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Westbrook and Durant were the only Thunder players to score in the last 16:46. "Shots were falling," said Westbrook, who was 20 of 32. "It really doesn't mean nothing. We didn't come out with the win." James stumbled to the court on a drive midway through the fourth quarter, staying on the offensive end of the floor as the Heat regained possession on a blocked shot, and he made a short jumper that made it 92-90. After Westbrook missed a jumper, the Heat called timeout as James gingerly went to the court. Unable to walk off, he was carried to the sideline. He returned to a huge roar with a little over 4 minutes left and the Heat down two, and after Chris Bosh tied it, James slowly walked into a pull-up 3-point attempt -- perhaps doing so knowing he couldn't drive by anyone -- and drilled it. "That 3 was just sheer will and competitiveness, to contribute in some way," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. That made it 97-94, and when Wade followed with a layup with 2:19 left, the Heat finally had enough room to withstand Westbrook, who kept coming all night. "I was just trying to make a play," James said. "If I was out on the floor, I wanted to try to make a play with the limited mobility I had at that time, and I was happy I was able to come through." Chalmers, the player who was struggling so badly that the Thunder put Durant on him in hopes of avoiding further foul trouble, made 9 of 15 shots, scoring more points than he had in the previous three games. "LeBron James is one of the most dominant players in the game, and he explodes many nights scoring-wise," said Wade. "But we've always got his back, and certain nights like tonight when he wasn't feeling his greatest, you have guys like Mario Chalmers step up, big plays, big moments. "That's what this team is built on, and that's the reason we're playing together." The Heat led 2-1 in the finals last year but James' struggles were their biggest problem as they lost the next three to Dallas. He tried to play through the pain, but the Heat had to call another timeout and remove him for good shortly after his go-ahead basket, and Spoelstra said Miami couldn't keep playing four against five. Bosh finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Heat, who quickly climbed out of the 17-point hole by scoring 16 straight points, with Chalmers and backup Norris Cole helping steady them until James and Wade got going. "We're going to keep fighting," Durant said. "It's just frustrating, but we're going to keep fighting. That's how we've been since I got here." In foul trouble the last two games, Durant began the game covering Chalmers, an adjustment that freed him from the burden of defending James. It kept Durant safe from fouls -- but the Thunder probably didn't count on the scoring explosion from Chalmers after he totaled just five points over the previous two games. "I took that as a little sign of disrespect," Chalmers said.

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”