Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson celebrates in the closing seconds of Sunday’s victory.
James near-unanimous choice for fourth MVP award
Miami Heat forward LeBron James was named the NBA Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in the past five seasons in the results of voting announced Sunday.
James was one vote short of being a unanimous selection. He received 120 of 121 first-place votes and 1,207 points in the balloting among sportswriters and broadcasters in the United States and Canada and from online fan participation via NBA.com.
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (765) was second and New York’s Carmelo Anthony (475) finished third. Anthony, the league scoring champion, received the other first-place vote.
Rounding out the top five were Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (289) and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (184).
James averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists this season and shot a career-high 56 percent from the field for a Miami team that compiled the league’s best record at 66-16.
James became the fifth player in NBA history with four MVP awards, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four).
“I’m a historian of the game,” James said. “I know the game. I know these guys paved the way for myself and the rest of us.”
James, 28, previously won the MVP award in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
“I don’t know my ceiling,” James said. “I don’t stop trying to improve my game.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Memphis Grizzlies have branded themselves as a team that plays hard-nosed, physical defense. Once the Grizzlies know what an opposing team likes to do, they clamp down and find a way to take it away.
However, when the Grizzlies faced Oklahoma City Sunday, they met up with a man who hasn’t seen a defense he can’t solve.
Kevin Durant scored 12 fourth-quarter points to lead the Thunder past Memphis 93-91 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, giving Oklahoma City a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
“Kevin is a smart basketball player,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He was a playmaker to his team. I thought he was great. I thought he did a great job in making the right decisions.”
Durant was particularly effective when his team needed him the most.
Trailing 90-87, Oklahoma City came up with a stop on defense. Durant then drove down court and hit a jumper to close the gap to one point with 30 seconds left.
Once again the Thunder made a defensive play. Derek Fisher deflected the ball to Durant and no time-out was called. Then, with Tayshaun Prince in his face, Durant drained a long jumper to give Oklahoma City a 91-90 advantage with 11.1 seconds on the clock.
“In any situation, (Durant) is going to be tough to guard,” Memphis guard Mike Conley said. “But obviously, when they didn’t call a time-out, it is tough to guard a guy when you’ve got a team backing up and you are trying to set up a defense. Either way, we were going to have our hands full.”
Memphis attempted to go to Marc Gasol, who passed it back out to Mike Conley. But Thabo Sefolosha forced the Grizzlies into a turnover with 3.5 seconds left.
Memphis fouled Reggie Jackson to send the second-year pro to the line under pressure. He calmly drained both free throws, putting the Thunder up by three.
However, Jackson fouled Memphis’ Quincy Pondexter while attempting a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. With a chance to tie the score, Pondexter missed the first. He then made the second free throw and purposely missed the third, but the Thunder was unable to get the offensive rebound as the game ended.
“We couldn’t get a stop,” Gasol said. “If you are up three with a 1:30 left, you have to get a stop. We couldn’t get a stop. At the end they played a little better and made a lot of tough shots. We didn’t have too much luck.”
Durant finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. But he was more impressed with the team defense the Thunder played down the stretch.
“I liked the way we stuck with our defense,” Durant said. “We bounced back and were resilient through it all. That shows maturity in our group. When we needed a stop, we got it.”
Kevin Martin came off the Thunder bench to score 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. Jackson added 12 points.
Gasol paced Memphis with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Zach Randolph scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds. Conley chipped in with 13 points and three assists.
Oklahoma City couldn’t have started the game any worse than it did. The Thunder missed their first eight shots from the floor and spotted the Grizzlies a 7-0 advantage before the first time-out.
But Durant began to assert himself. There had been talk before the game that Prince could guard Durant by himself and free up the rest of the Grizzlies defenders. Durant put that to rest quickly with 10 points in the first quarter.
However, Memphis still led 16-14 heading into the second quarter.
Memphis went to Randolph in the second to settle the game down. He worked his way into the paint for a couple of soft jumpers over the Thunder big men.
Martin continued his hot shooting from Game 6 against the Rockets. He came out of the first-round series with more confident in his offensive skills. Instead of just settling for open 3-pointers, he began to take defenders off the dribble and create his own shot.
“It was moving the without the ball, guys getting screens and guys finding me,” Martin said. “We’ve got a nice little flow going right now. We’re just making an extra effort to get everyone involved.”
Oklahoma City led 47-46 at halftime.
Memphis owned the start of the third quarter. A 17-6 run was a continuation of the issues the Thunder have had coming out of halftime in the postseason.
It was the Grizzlies’ perimeter players that got the run started. Pondexter and Prince each knocked down open shots as the Oklahoma City defense sagged into the paint.
Despite that, Oklahoma City had an opportunity to get to within five with Martin at the free throw line and only three seconds on the clock. However, he missed the second attempt and Pondexter made him pay with a shot from just inside halfcourt as the quarter expired. Memphis led 73-64 but was unable to hang on.
“We had opportunities,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We just didn’t execute as well offensively or defensively. They got in transition and Durant made some big buckets.”
Pacers flip home-court advantage with Game 1 win
NEW YORK — The Indiana Pacers dominated in the low post and the perimeter, securing a 102-95 win over the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Game 2 is Tuesday in New York.
The Pacers scored 46 points in the paint, blocked eight shots and shot 36 percent from 3-point range, placing six players in double figure scoring.
Indiana also held a 44-30 edge in rebounds.
David West led Indiana with 20 points, Paul George scored 19, D.J. Augustin chipped in with 16 off the bench and Roy Hibbert and George Hill added 14 points apiece.
Lance Stephenson, a powerful 6-5 shooting guard who grew up a few subway stops from Madison Square Garden and helped Lincoln win four New York City public high school championships, played a solid game for Indiana, contributing 11 points and 13 rebounds.
“The past three games Lance has been one of our best players,” said George. “When he is playing at that level we are a tough team. We feed off his energy anytime he plays at that level.”
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 27 points and 11 rebounds despite being in foul trouble, and Raymond Felton added 17.
Both teams appeared sluggish after just one day of rest following the quarterfinal series finales for both of them. The Knicks committed 10 turnovers and Indiana turned the ball over 16 times.
A total of 41 personal fouls were whistled against both teams with Knick center Tyson Chandler fouling out with 2:36 left in the game. George fouled out with 50.7 seconds remaining.
The Knicks trailed by as many 16 points early in the fourth quarter and never got closer than the final score. Anthony, who has led the Knicks in scoring in every game during the playoffs, scored 15 of his team’s 30 points in the quarter.
Anthony picked up his fourth foul with Indiana leading 60-54 at the 7:48 mark of the third. The Pacers took advantage of the void, outscoring the Knicks 21-11 to end the quarter with an 81-65 cushion with Anthony on the bench the entire time.
The front line of Hibbert, George and West was particularly effective in the third, combining for three blocked shots and eight rebounds.
“We are a grind-it-out physical team,” said the 7-2 Hibbert. “We try to wear people down.
“Melo (Anthony) is one of the best. I’ve watched film on him and when he attacks me, he likes to tip the ball right back in if he misses. It’s a tough matchup and luckily I was straight up.”
Indiana overcame a five-point first-quarter deficit to lead 52-46 at the half. Its quick ball movement around the perimeter produced numerous open looks for George and Augustin.
The Pacers buried three of their four 3-pointers in the quarter, with Augustin accounting for seven points in 4:15. George added five points, including a wide-open trey with 12 seconds left in the quarter that advanced the lead to six points.
Anthony struggled in the first half, knocking down only five of his 13 shots from the floor.
Felton dominated the first quarter with his distribution, penetration and perimeter shooting. He helped the Knicks to a 27-22 lead with 12 points. Indiana turned the ball over five times in the quarter, three by reserve Sam Green in 2:22.
The Knicks’ backup center, 35-year-old Kenyon Martin, played 24:34, the most action he’s seen in this post-season. Martin scored 12 points, but committed four fouls as Knicks coach Mike Woodson tried to counter Indiana’s size with the 6-9 Martin next to the 7-1 Chandler.
“We have to put some sets in come tomorrow that will help the two of them playing together,” Woodson said. “We haven’t played a lot minutes with the two bigs in like that this season.”
The Knicks may get some front-court strength for later in the series should 6-11 Amar’e Stoudemire return from his knee injury.