Trans. May 26 6:59 ET (May 26 6:59 ET ) It's often difficult to judge the quality of a LeBron James dunk. The Miami Heat superstar has had so many amazing finishes, with such brilliant combinations of power and style, that a dunk that would register as amazing for any other player seems like the bare minimum for LeBron. How do you judge a highlight when it happens so often?
Luckily for all basketball fans, James seems to come through with the truly spectacular often enough to keep us from becoming totally jaded. In the final minute of the first half of Monday night's Eastern Conference finals Game 4 , LeBron dribbled past defending Indiana Pacers guard George Hill at the top of the 3-point arc, took a foul from George, spun past Ian Mahinmi as he tried to disrupt the coming shot attempt and slammed down an emphatic, twisting dunk for two points and the foul. Take a look below:
Feel free to watch the video as many times as you like. It could be the best dunk of the 2014 playoffs.
The subsequent free throw gave the Heat a 49-39 lead, although the Pacers managed a David West lay-up and Paul George 3-pointer in the final 36 seconds to head into the locker room down just five points. Regardless, LeBron's dunk still stands as one heck of an exclamation point for the opening 24 minutes.
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The Washington Wizards will enter Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday with their season on the line. Randy Wittman's club needs a win in Game 5 to begin its climb out of a 3-1 hole, send the action back to the nation's capital for a sixth game on Thursday and, if they're lucky, resurrect some of the demons of doubt that plagued the Pacers after the All-Star break, throughout their opening-round set against the Atlanta Hawks, and in a Game 1 that saw them forfeit home-court advantage to a relentless, bombs-away Wiz gang.
As the Wizards look to rage against the dying of the light and the Pacers aim to put the final nail in Washington's coffin, here are two big things to keep an eye out for when you tune in on Tuesday night.
1. Can John Wall find some room to maneuver?
There's a reason that most discussion of the Wizards' fate and Game 5 chances has focused on their point guard. He is the engine of their offense, their lone All-Star, the player whose combination of speed, vision and daring can bend opposing defenses beyond their breaking point … and he has been completely swallowed up since Game 1.
Wall has logged 109 minutes over the last three games. The Wizards have been outscored by 46 points in that span. He has made less than one-third of his shots since Game 1, including just one of his eight 3-point tries, and passed up an open look late in Game 4 that had some wondering whether the former No. 1 overall draft pick has lost some confidence amid his second-round struggles. (It's worth noting that Wall's pass created an even-more-open look for Bradley Beal, the Wizards' leading scorer in this series, who had made two of his previous three triples in Game 4 and is shooting 40 percent from deep against Indiana.)
Indiana's methods of defending Wall haven't changed drastically since the regular season. As USA TODAY Sports' Adi Joseph notes , he's seen heavy doses of strong on-ball defense from Pacers point guard George Hill, backstopped by a behemoth big man — either resurgent 7-foot-2, 290-pound starting center Roy Hibbert or 6-foot-11, 250-pound backup Ian Mahinmi — ready to corral the hiccup-quick Wall if he slips past the initial line of defense, close off the paint from penetration, and force the former Kentucky star into either dribbling out, passing it up for a reset, or firing a midrange jumper.
Wall knocked down those between-the-paint-and-arc attempts at a 36.6 percent clip during the regular season — not elite by any means and a bit of a dip from last year (37.8 percent), but a significant step up from what he's managed this postseason (14-for-51, 27.5 percent thus far) and over the last three losses in particular (3-for-12, 25 percent). Again, though, this is in line with the way Wall worked against the Pacers during the regular season, when he missed 20 of his 27 midrange shots (25.9 percent), most of which came over the outstretched arm of Hill, Hibbert or Mahinmi.
The key, then, would seem to be to find more opportunities for Wall to operate without having to stare down all those big bodies in a shrunken half-court setting, whether for himself or for others; 11 of Wall's 30 assists in the second round have come on the fast break, according to a video review. The Pacers have also been very good there, though, preferring to foul Wall when he begins to build a head of steam rather than letting him get all the way to the paint — just three of his 16 made field-goals in this series have come off transition opportunities, whereas seven of the 15 personal fouls he's drawn have come courtesy of a Pacer hauling himself back to prevent a run-out bucket.
There is, of course, value even in that. If Wall pushes at every opportunity from the opening tip and forces clutch-and-grab fouls on members of the Pacers' vaunted starting five, then Frank Vogel could have to go to his bench earlier and more often than he'd like. But such gains could come at the price of Wall getting gassed early. Then again, if the run of play continues apace and unless the touch on his jumper magically returns before Tuesday's tipoff, the Wizards' only chance at extending the series might be Wall charging the Pacers until either he or they drop.
Indiana Pacers backup center Ian Mahinmi found himself on the business end of a posterization by Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott during Indy's Game 6 win on Thursday . With the Pacers hosting Game 7 and fighting for their postseason lives on Saturday, Mahinmi wasn't about to be victimized again, much to the chagrin of hard-charging Hawks point guard Jeff Teague:
The thunderous at-rim rejection blew the roof off Bankers Life Fieldhouse, capping a strong second quarter that saw the Pacers hold the Hawks to just 13 points on 4-for-20 shooting en route to taking a 47-36 lead into intermission.
Mahinmi didn't make a monstrous impact on the stat sheet — just one point, two rebounds, two blocks and an assist in 14 minutes of floor time — but his block helped the Pacers keep momentum heading into halftime rather than mitigating a strong start and giving the Hawks some life going into the final two quarters of the series.
Frank Vogel's club ran its lead as high as 18 in the third quarter, but the Hawks came back, briefly rediscovering their shooting touch in the late third and early fourth to draw within nine points just after the start of the final stanza. The Pacers pulled away, though, with Paul George (eight of his game-high and playoff-career-high 30 points in the fourth) and Lance Stephenson (four of his 19 points and five of his 14 rebounds in the last 12 minutes) giving them just enough breathing room to finish off a 92-80 win that gave the Pacers a 4-3 series victory and advanced them to the second round, where they will take on the Washington Wizards.
It wasn't a dominant performance, but after a harrowing couple of weeks that saw the top-seeded Pacers struggle with their very identity and the prospect of completing one of the worst midseason collapses in NBA history, they've survived and advanced. Hopefully, this will help team president Larry Bird feel a bit better about his team's makeup, and help Pacers fans feel a bit stronger about their team's chances of making it back to the Eastern finals.
OK, cool. Everything's looking up!
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Ian Mahinmi started in place of Roy Hibbert to start the second half of Thursday's game in Atlanta.
The Scoop:Odds are Hibbert is done for the night after playing just seven minutes in the first quarter. He did commit two fouls, but Chris Copeland was at the scorers table before Hibbert committed his second. Hibbert didn't register any stats or shots besides those two fouls. He was an All-Star this season.