Updated: April 20, 2010, 11:44 AM ET

1. LeBron Closes Out Cleveland Victory

By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine

CLEVELAND -- Jamario Moon tried his best, draining killer 3s all night long. But it's hard to steal the show when you play with LeBron James.

On a night when Moon, a 32 percent 3-point shooter, hit 4-of-5 from behind the arc, the marquee still belonged to James.

With the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls playing his Cleveland Cavaliers even, applying the type of pressure the Cavs weren't supposed to see for another round or two, James put together a three-minute highlight reel that buried the Bulls.

Scoring 11 straight Cavs points, James willed his team to a 112-102 victory and a 2-0 lead in this first-round Eastern Conference series. The late run was the defining stretch of a terrific outing by the soon-to-be two-time MVP, who turned in a dazzling 40-point, 8-assist, 8-rebound, 2-block performance at Quicken Loans Arena.

"It was a sight to see,'' said teammate Antawn Jamison, who followed LeBron with 14 points. "To see how close the game was and for him to take over, you just have to realize that you're witnessing history. There's only a certain amount of guys who can do that. I've seen my fair share of that as an opponent and it's gratifying to be on the same team as a guy like him.''

The Cavs needed every bit of LeBron's 40, 8 and 8 because these undermanned Bulls, showing all the guts and resiliency they did a year ago in stretching Boston to seven games, were their equal for most of the night. With Derrick Rose (23 points, 8 assists) attacking the paint, and Joakim Noah (25 points, 13 rebounds) owning the offensive glass, Chicago was within three at 96-93 with 4:45 to play.

That's when James said, "Enough."

First, with the 6-foot-11 Noah breathing down his chest and raising his wickedly long arms, he sank a 3-pointer. Then he grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul and hit two free throws. Then came a driving layup. Suddenly, the lead was 10 points.

But James wasn't done. He answered a jumper by Rose with a 19-footer. Then, after a 3-pointer by Kirk Hinrich, James hit a 20-footer. Having fun by now and keenly aware he was in "The Zone,'' James threw up the proverbial heat check -- an off-balanced 19-footer over Hinrich and Luol Deng -- just for good measure. Finally, he missed.

But by that time The Chosen One, King James (as if he needs another nickname), had more than lived up to the new moniker his teammates have for him.

"They call me The Closer every time I come in in the fourth quarter,'' said James, who made 16 of 23 shots. "That's my time to put the game away or do what I do best, and that's just try to close the game the right way. Am I always successful? Not all the time, but it makes me stronger when I'm not always successful. I know how to react the next time I'm in that situation. So it's great to actually live up to what those guys now are starting to call me, The Closer.''

While Chicago did most things right Monday, they did one thing horribly wrong: They taunted James. Even though he was butchering them at will the whole night through, the impudent visitors talked trash.

"They were talking the whole game,'' James said. "Every time I caught the ball over there [by the Bulls' bench], they were daring me to shoot the ball, telling me that I couldn't shoot or 'You can't make jump shots, so take the shot.' So that's what I did. They asked me to shoot a jumper and I did that, over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.''

For all his late-game excellence, though, it was a play in the first quarter that will most likely reign supreme on SportsCenter's Top 10. James Johnson, a brash young rookie for the Bulls, was assigned to cover James late in the first quarter.

The 6-9, 245-pound Johnson tried to muscle LeBron -- hounding him, holding him, pushing him. You could see James getting tired of Johnson's nonsense, and with 59.9 seconds left, he finally erupted.

And that's putting it mildly.

Driving hard toward his right, he blew by Johnson and elevated. Johnson elevated as well, just not as high, and in one powerful, arena-shaking motion, LeBron threw down a one-handed flush that was at least the equivalent of his famed dunk over Boston's Kevin Garnett two years ago. Johnson was actually pushing him away from the rim as James was throwing it down.

Simply put, the dunk was ferocious.

"In that situation, when I turn the corner and I see the rim, it doesn't matter if there's a guy in front of me or a guy behind me, I'm going to attack the rim at it's highest level,'' James said. "And that's what I did tonight. I knew I got around him and I didn't believe he was going to jump. But once I saw him out of the corner of my eye, I decided to jump just a little higher.''

Oh yeah, Moon had a nice game for the Cavs, too, scoring 12 points -- all on 3s -- in just under 20 minutes off the bench.

"J-Moon was excellent,'' LeBron said. "He's probably the main reason why we won tonight because he knocked down big shot after big shot after big shot. They cut it down to three [points], they cut it down to two, and J-Moon just kept knocking down 3s.''

But when it came time to knock down the Bulls for good, it was James, as usual, who delivered the blow.

Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.

Dimes past: March 30 | 31 | April 1 | 2-3 | 4 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 17 | 18

2. Don't Count Out the Utah Jazz

By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com

Williams
Williams

DENVER -- A beleaguered Utah Jazz team entered Game 2 in Denver with a litany of worries. In Game 1, they lost starting center Mehmet Okur for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon, thrusting the very green Kyrylo Fesenko into the starting lineup for Monday night's Game 2. Meanwhile, the Jazz were already without their best defender, Andrei Kirilenko, whose absence put excessive pressure on his understudies, C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews. Carmelo Anthony torched the young tandem for 42 points in Game 1 and arrived hungry for more.

Undermanned on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, the Jazz had only one saving grace -- their lethal screen-and-roll combination of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. The pair orchestrated a clinic, baffling the Nuggets' defense with their two-man waltz -- with Williams as the lead. Williams finished with 33 points and 14 assists, vaulting the Jazz to an improbable and frenetic 114-111 win over the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center, evening the series 1-1.

"This is a big win for us," Williams said. "Nobody was really giving us a shot. We just wanted to come out here and put that to rest. We feel like we still have a great team that can compete and we're really proud of how we played and battled tonight."

Williams had a series of offensive imperatives on Monday night, and he succeeded at every one. First, he attacked Denver off the dribble every chance he got, looking for either a seam to the basket or contact against a collapsing Nuggets defender. Williams made his way to the free throw line for 18 attempts, draining 16. Second, Williams engaged Boozer in their classic middle pick-and-roll. Finally, if Williams was unable to find a seam or his post option was covered, he empowered weakside threats like Kyle Korver by executing the Jazz's offensive system to perfection.

"[Williams] set the tone from the beginning," Boozer said. "He came out aggressive, got to the basket, hit shots -- jumper after jumper -- then got to the free throw line."

Williams' most exquisite play came out of a timeout with 1:43 remaining in the game and the Jazz trailing 106-105. At the top of the circle, he broke down Chauncey Billups off the bounce. When the Nuggets' wing defenders collapsed on him in the paint, Williams threw a dart to Kyle Korver in the right corner, where the sharpshooter drained a 3-pointer to give the Jazz a 108-106 lead they would never relinquish.

For more on the Jazz win, go to TrueHoop

3. Still Searching For A Ring

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

Nowitzki
Nowitzki

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki's display of remarkable scoring efficiency during Sunday's playoff opener added to a case that he'd rather not make.

He's one of the best postseason performers in NBA history who doesn't own a championship ring.

Nowitzki's playoff production places him among the all-time elite. He's one of five players with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, joining Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit and Shaquille O'Neal.

To read the entire column, click here.

4. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Monday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?