Dribbles: LeBron's magic act saves Cavs from dread
Random dribbles on the Cavaliers' thriller of an 86-84 win over the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday:
1. That's what having a superstar can do for you. We've seen it time and again in the playoffs, dating back to the NBA's beginnings. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan -- all were known for their ability to come through in important games. You can put LeBron James in that category, too.
2. Of course, LeBron's buzzer-beating game-saver from the corner took place just one game after Chicago's Derrick Rose won it with a banked-in 3-pointer. Rose is another winner and almost rescued the Bulls yet again -- hitting a layup to tie it with 9.4 seconds to go. But in Game 4, the Bulls left James with 1.5 seconds too many.
3. The Cavs trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter. Kyrie Irving could hardly contribute because of a sore foot. Nothing much was happening on offense. LeBron couldn't make a shot. Everyone still seemed deflated after the bitter Game 3 defeat.
4. But as Cavs coach David Blatt said: "What a difference a day makes." Then he smiled and corrected himself. "Actually, it was two days," he said.
5. One day, two days, what does it matter? Bottom line is the Cavs tied the series at 2-all and basically saved their season. "You don't want to go down 3-1 to anyone," James said.
6. Overall, James (25 points) struggled yet again with shooting. He was a miserable 10-of-30, including just 1-of-7 on 3-pointers. He's now 2-of-19 on threes for the series. He also went just 8-of-25 overall in Game 3.
7. On top of all that, he committed eight turnovers -- one game after committing seven. Still, he pulled down a team-high 14 rebounds and passed for a game-high assists. Mostly, though, he got it done when it mattered most. That, folks, is a champion.
8. James on The Shot: "I hate being this inefficient. But it's the postseason. Whatever it takes."
9. Immediately after the game, he told ABC: "I made mistake after mistake after mistake. But The Man Above granted me one."
10. Of course, the Cavs don't win without J.R. Smith. The fact no one could get it going from the perimeter seemed to spell doom. Then Smith changed that by making all four of his attempts to score 11 points in the fourth quarter. He finished with 13.
11. As for Irving, it's obvious he's nothing close to the same. But he deserves tons of credit for gutting it out, driving to the basket and burying all eight of his free throws in a tight game. Irving is a combined 5-of-23 over the past two outings. You can tell his foot is really bothering him. Sadly, I don't suspect it will get better with so little rest between games.
12. Kyrie was still out there for 41 minutes, and the Cavs outscored the Bulls by seven with him on the floor. "Whatever's needed, I'm just gonna will myself to do," he said. "Obviously I'm not even close to playing my game right now. But I'll be alright."
13. James also turned his ankle when he stepped on Rose's foot on a drive. It looked bad, and to make matters worse, James was called for a charge on the play. The ankle may be a little sore, but don't bother asking: LeBron has already said he's playing in Game 5 (at Cleveland on Tuesday).
14. J.R. Smith noted that not only was James' shot remarkable, but it happened "right in front of their bench." Smith seemed to really enjoy pointing out that second part.
15. As usual, Tristan Thompson came up big with another highly underrated performance. You could say the same about Timofey Mozgov. They attempted 11 shots between them, and missed just two (one apiece).
16. Mozgov finished with 15 points and nine boards, and Thompson went for 12 and seven, respectively. Both also did a fine job defensively against aggressive Bulls big men Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson -- who started in place of the injured Pau Gasol (hamstring).
17. Most of all, the Cavs simply stuck with it and kept grinding away in a game they had every reason to lose. At times, Rose and his talented batch of Bulls looked like they were about to run away with it.
18. More from Blatt: "We didn't lose our confidence on defense even though we weren't making shots. I thought that was the key."
19. Overall, the Cavs out-rebounded the Bulls by a 44-40 count. The team with more rebounds has won every game in this series.
20. Another big stat: The Cavs finished 23-of-24 from the line. That's huge in a game like this, particularly where nothing else is falling. At the very least, you can make your free throws. Mozgov did a nice job by going 7-of-8.
21. For the record, LeBron now has the same number of game-winning buzzer-beaters in the playoffs as Michael Jordan (three).
22. Kyrie on LeBron's shot: "That's what great players do. He was prepared for it and he wanted it."
23. Interestingly, Blatt drew up another play for the final shot in the huddle. But LeBron said he "scratched" that one and told his coach: "Just get me the ball. We're either going to OT or I'll win it."