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Brooklyn Net forward Paul Pierce (34) defends Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) in the second half of Game 4 of their second-round NBA playoff basketball game at the Barclays Center, on May 12, in New York
James scores 49, lifts Heat to 3-1 series lead Portland top Spurs to stay alive

NEW YORK, May 13, (AFP): LeBron James scored 49 points to carry the Miami Heat to a 102-96 victory over Brooklyn on Monday and within one win of advancing in the NBA playoffs. James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, matched his career playoff high as two-time defending champions Miami took a commanding three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference second-round series. The Heat will try to wrap up the series when they host game five on Wednesday. James’s mammoth effort kept the Heat on pace with the tenacious Nets throughout, but it was team-mate Chris Bosh who hit a crucial three-pointer from the right corner with 57.3 seconds left to play that gave Miami the lead for good. “(James’s) biggest play of the game after scoring that many points was getting off the ball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the play that ended with Bosh’s key trey.

Double-teamed by Nets veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, James fired the ball to team-mate Mario Chalmers, who passed it to Bosh. “He just showed great poise and trust to be able to make a great play, a basketball play,” Spoelstra said of James, noting the superstar has been criticized plenty of times when he failed to shoulder the burden of late-game shots. Bosh’s shot broke a 94-94 tie in a tense fourth quarter, and the Heat stretched their advantage with four free-throws from Ray Allen. James completed the scoring with one more free throw — missing the second with 1.1 seconds left to fall short of scoring 50 points in a playoff game for the first time. He admitted he was momentarily disappointed.

Instead he contented himself with the victory and tying his career post-season high of 49 points, first achieved while he was with Cleveland against Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. James made 16 of 24 shots from the field and 14 of his 19 foul shots and pulled down six rebounds. Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd said the Nets tried to keep James out of the paint — where he scored 22 of his points. Dwyane Wade added 15 points for the Heat, Bosh scored 12 and Ray Allen contributed 11 off the bench. Joe Johnson led the Nets with 18 points, one of five Brooklyn players to score in double figures. Pierce added 16 and Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston both scored 13 points apiece. The winners of the series will face either the Eastern Conference top seeds Indiana or Washington in the conference finals. Indiana lead that series three games to one and will try to finish off the Wizards when they host game five on Tuesday.

Portland 103, Spurs 92
In Portland, Damian Lillard scored 25 points as the Portland Trail Blazers stayed alive in the NBA playoffs with a 103-92 victory over San Antonio on Monday. LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points for the Trail Blazers, whose victory in game four of the Western Conference second-round playoff series prevented a Spurs sweep. They’ll head back to San Antonio for game five on Wednesday, with the Spurs still up 3-1 and looking to wrap up the series and reach the conference finals for a third straight season. “We did what we needed to do and we’re looking forward to going to San Antonio and keep competing and keep playing our basketball,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “It was a good game, but we’ve still got another three to go,” he added. No NBA team has ever won a best-of-seven playoff series after losing the first three games.

The winners of the series will face either the Los Angeles Clippers or Oklahoma City in the conference finals. The Clippers and Thunder are 2-2 going into game five at Oklahoma City on Tuesday. The Spurs had dominated the first three games against Portland, winning them by a combined 56 points. But with their backs against the wall, the Blazers came through, using a strong third quarter to pull away. Portland led throughout the second half, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested stars Tony Parker and Tim Duncan after his team fell behind by 20 in the final quarter. Nicolas Batum scored 14 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and handed out eight assists for Portland, while Will Barton contributed 17 points off the bench.

“We had a lot of good performances out there tonight,” Stotts said. “Nic was aggressive. He was the backup point guard and got us through the spells where Damian was out of the game. I thought it was a very good all-around team effort.“Defensively, we were solid. We didn’t have very many lulls that have enabled them in the past to have their runs.” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the Blazers played “with great passion and physicality” that his team didn’t match. “That’s why they won,” Popovich said. The Blazers outscored the Spurs 62-44 in the paint and 15-8 in second-chance points. Tony Parker led the Spurs with 14 points, after scoring at least 29 in three of his last four games. Tim Duncan had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Spurs, who connected on just three of their 18 attempts from three-point range. Portland led 50-48 at halftime and stretched that lead with an 11-2 scoring run. Portland led 85-68 after three and San Antonio never cut the gap below 10 in the final frame.

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