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NBA FINALS NOTEBOOK: James back to old tricks in search of second crown

LeBron James and the Heat will look to take a 3-2 series lead today.

LeBron James and the Heat will look to take a 3-2 series lead today.

SAN ANTONIO — The script felt familiar enough, complete with a dog-eared corner or two, that it had to be true.

LeBron James answered his critics, once again.

It never used to happen this way. James used to fold into himself, the setting and the stakes too much for him.

There was the championship sweep in 2007 by San Antonio when he was still in Cleveland. There was his eight-point effort in Game 4 of the NBA Finals two years ago against Dallas, the Heat ultimately losing to the Mavericks.

And there were curious games to start these Finals against San Antonio. The Spurs handed Miami its worst-ever playoff loss in Game 3, James saying in the aftermath, “can’t get no darker,” as he scored 15 points on bewildering seven-for-21 shooting, failing to earn a free throw in 41 minutes.

But the new James, the one bolstered by his first NBA championship a year ago and a 27-game winning streak a handful of months ago, answered the call.

The shadows faded, just like they did last year in the Eastern Conference finals when he scored 45 points to beat Boston in Game 6. And again in the deciding game of last year’s NBA Finals, James coming up with a triple-double.

James delivered 33 points Thursday in Miami’s 109-93 victory, crashing to the rim again and again, forcing himself on the Spurs and his haters to tie up the Finals two games each.

“As bad as I played in Game 3 ... it hurt,” James said after Game 4. “I watched the film. It hurt watching it. I didn’t like the way I was playing. But I just came in with a whole new clean slate [Thursday]. I was blessed to be able to make a few plays to help us win.”

A few plays? Score one for understatement.

James made it known from the start he’d be part of this thing, scoring 11 points in the first quarter while outscoring four of the Spurs’ starters combined. He bookended it with nine points in the fourth quarter on four-for-four shooting, making sure the Spurs had no life left.

He guaranteed this would happen, promising reporters the previous day he would play better “for sure.”

Game 5 is in San Antonio on Sunday but James and Dwyane Wade (remember him?) made sure the Heat already had wrestled away home-court advantage.

“It’s good [James] puts so much on his shoulders because he can man up to it and he’s mature enough to handle that kind of situation,” said Chris Bosh, who upped his recently dormant game with a 20-point, 13-rebound effort in Game 4.

Ginobili slumping: What to do, Manu?

The Spurs’ sixth man has tumbled in the Finals, averaging 7.5 points on 34.5% shooting.

Crunch time was often Ginobili time in past playoff runs, but not here for the 35-year-old. Not now.

“Yeah, we definitely need Manu,” Tony Parker said. “I’ve been playing with him for a long time. I just know he’s going to have a big game soon.”

Game 4 was another little game for Ginobili.

He had five points on one-for-five shooting. He missed all three of his three-point attempts and had as many fouls (four) as rebounds and assists put together in almost 26 minutes.

He wasn’t even the first player off San Antonio’s bench. It was guard Gary Neal.

“He knows he’s got to play better for us to be successful,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said Friday.

Ginobili should look for his shot more often in Game 5 instead of trying to make the perfect pass, Duncan said.

“I think he’s just trying to be incredibly unselfish right now,” Tim Duncan said. “We need him to be a little more aggressive, be a little more selfish.”


Popovich a man of few words at NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is known in NBA circles as a man of few words and the curt speaker has been in top form at this year’s Finals.

With media seeking sound bites during a two-day break in a best-of-seven series that is tied 2-2, the two-time NBA coach of the year was in no mood to deviate from his often hilarious style.

“I’d hate to be trite and say anything is possible. Your question demands my triteness,” Popovich told a news conference on Saturday when asked about his strategy for today’s Game Five against the defending champion Miami Heat.

The crusty 64-year-old cut off another reporter mid-question when he was asked to offer his perspective on the state of the game of basketball.

“You’re not serious. You want me to talk about the state of the NBA?” Popovich replied.

Still, the 29 words he used to field those two questions were four more than he used during his entire news conference ahead of Game Three earlier this week.

In the previous round of the playoffs, Popovich used one word — “turnovers” — to answer two questions during a mandatory in-game interview of a nationally televised game.

That exchange has over 70,000 hits on YouTube, where many other compilations of interviews from Popovich’s NBA coaching career can be viewed.

Another reporter on Saturday was looking to get Popovich to talk about the impact of Miami forward Chris Bosh, who has recorded double-doubles in each of the last three games.

“Chris has played very well,” said Popovich, who was then asked if there was anything specific the eight-time All-Star was doing different.

“No. What he’s doing, I’ve seen him do a lot.”

PARKER FIGHTING INJURY: San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker told reporters after Saturday’s shootaround his injured hamstring is at risk of getting much worse but he will try to play through it.

The Spurs take on the visiting Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals today

“My hamstring can tear at any time now, so if it was the regular season I would be resting,” Parker said. “But now it’s the NBA Finals. If it gets a tear, it’s life.”

However, Parker did say the injury has improved because of rest the past couple of days.

“It feels good,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting stronger with it. My goal is to be close to 100 percent by (today). I felt confident, being disciplined with all the treatments, with the ice. Hopefully I’ll be good by (today).”

Parker was injured during the second half of Game 3 on Tuesday. He managed to score 15 points in Thursday’s Game 4, but none in the second half of the 16-point loss.

Parker is averaging 13.8 points and 7.0 assists and shooting 43.4 percent in the series.

STOP THE TREND: For the past 10 games, it’s been the same.

The Miami Heat win. The Miami Heat lose.

The pattern is the only consistency in their inconsistency. Today, they have an opportunity to end the trend that players agree is becoming annoying. The Heat want to regain the feeling of winning consecutive games in a playoff series, and there’s no better time for it than Game 5 against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.

“We can’t wait until our back is against the wall every time to respond,” forward LeBron James said. “We have to build some momentum. And we can use [Thursday’s victory] as momentum, but we still have work to do.”

The Heat have not carried momentum into the next game during the last two series. After sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks and defeating the Chicago Bulls in five games, they have been unable to string together consecutive victories.

They went back-and-forth with the Indiana Pacers before winning Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals. Things have repeated in the Finals versus the Spurs, but a win Sunday would at least provide a bit of relief.

“We still got to get better,” James said. “There were stretches [Thursday] where we didn’t play well. And if we understand and if we own it, we come in with a mind-set (today) that we are desperate again and our back is against the wall. It’s going to be a challenge for us, and we have to be ready for that.”