Hoopster: LeBron still rules
THE King (LeBron James) still rules. At age 33.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have reached the third round of the four-tier National Basketball Association playoffs for the fourth year in a row and will face the winner of the other East semifinal series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in the conference finals.
The Celtics own a 3-1 lead over the Sixers and look to advance to the next phase when they host Game Five today (Manila time) at the TD Garden, where the Hub City unit is unblemished with a 6-0 record in the ongoing postseason.
Philadelphia had staved off early elimination and lived for another two days with a 103-92 success in the fourth game at the Wells Fargo Center last Tuesday (MT) behind forward Dario Saric, who netted 25 points (9-17 FGA), three-year vet Timothy John (T.J.) McConnell Jr., a 6-foot-2 undrafted point guard out of Duquesne University and University of Arizona who was elevated to a starting role and proved equal to the task with 19 points (9-12 FGA), seven rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes and Cameroonian center Joel Embiid turned in a fourth straight double-double in the series with (a series-low) 15 points (6-15 FGA) and (series low-tying) 13 rebounds.
Boston was led by rookie forward Jayson Tatum, who knocked in 20 points for his sixth straight 20-plus playoff game – a record by a Celts frosh that even a fellow by the name of Larry Bird was unable to accomplish during his distinguished NBA tenure.
Cleveland, which was stretched to a maximum seven games by the Indiana Pacers in the first round, swept the East’s top-seeded Toronto Raptors, 4-0, in their East semifinal duel for the second consecutive year. Overall, it was the third straight year that the Cavaliers victimized the Raptors in the playoffs.
In Cleveland’s latest 4-0 conquest of Toronto, LeBron James averaged 34 points, 11.3 assists, 8.3 rebounds, 1.75 steals and 1.0 block in 41.8 minutes per game.
The 6-foot-8 forward notched a triple-double in Game Two and made a game-winning basket at the buzzer for the second time in the 2018 playoffs in Game Three.
In the series-clinching 128-93 rout in Game Four, James racked up 29 points (12-of-19 FGA), 11 assists and eight rebounds in 38 minutes as the Cavs blew out the Raptors with a 35-point win that was the largest playoff series-clinching victory in James’ career.
Overall, James, arguably the world’s most gifted and dominant physical specimen at age 33, went .553 (57-for-103) from the field, including .167 (3-for-18) from three-point range, in the four-game series. From the foul line, however, he was a pedestrian 19-for-33 (.576).
LeBron’s No. 1 sidekick, Kevin Love, broke out of an extended playoff slump during the series against Toronto. The 6-foot-10 natural power forward-turned center normed 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds an outing. In the series clincher, he racked up 23 points (8-13 FGA, 2-4 3FGA) but had the first single-digit rebound effort of the series with six boards. Love punched in scores of 31, 21 and 23 in the final three games, with each one of them besting his previous high of 19 points in his first eight games in the ongoing playoffs.
Three-point artists Kyle Korver (16 points, 6-8 FGA, 4-5 3FGA) and J.R. Smith (15 points, 6-6 FGA, 3-3 3FGA) also combined for 31 markers for Cleveland, which shot .590 (50-of-84) from the field and .462 (12-of-26) from beyond the arc.
For Toronto, which was eliminated by Cleveland in the playoffs for the third year in a row, 7-foot Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas got 18 points (7-14 FGA) after being relegated to a reserve role. DeMar DeRozan finished with 13 points on a 5-for-11 FG clip and his All-Star backcourt mate Kyle Lowry (was he pouting?) was held to single-digit score for the first time in the series with a measly five points (2-7 FGA) to go with his 10 dish-offs.
Houston beat Utah, 112-102, on Game 5 of their West conference semifinal series to earn a berth in the third round (conference finals) for the second time in four years.
Chris Paul racked up 41 points (13-22 FGA, 8-10 3FGA), 10 assists and seven rebounds in 38 minutes, forward PJ Tucker netted 19 points (7-9 FGA, 5-7 3FGA) and top MVP candidate James Harden had 18 points on 7-of-22 field shooting.
Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell topscored for the Jazz with 24 points along with nine assists.
Houston will meet the reigning titlist Golden State in the best-of-seven West finals armed with the homecourt advantage.
The Warriors blasted New Orleans, 113-104, at the Oracle Arena in Game Five to clinch their own conference semifinal series, 4-1, and advance to the West finals for the fourth consecutive year.
Three Warriors scored 20 or more points – Stephen Curry (28), Kevin Durant (24) and Klay Thompson (23) – and Draymond Geeen collected 19 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists in the series clincher.
Anthony Davis had 34 markers and 19 boards for the Pelicans.
During the regulars, Houston beat Golden State, 2-1, in their head-to-head duel.
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