1. LeBron James said he expected facing Paul Pierce to be "fun."
It sure didn't seem so Saturday night, when James was yapping back at the Nets forward before leaving the Barclays Center floor.
It sure didn't seem so Sunday afternoon, when the media relayed Pierce's latest comments to him.
"You guys should know Paul by now, man," James said, prior to indicating that he didn't want to engage.
No one knows Pierce, as a competitor and instigator, quite like James does. They've faced each other 34 times in the regular season and 28 in the postseason. James has outscored him in the past 12 playoff matchups, including an epic 45-point scorching in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals in Boston, where James made 19 of his 26 shots and Pierce made four of his 18.
Still, that apparently hasn't put Pierce in his place, not enough to muzzle his mouth.
James knows by now that the only way to reduce the noise is to run Pierce's team out of the postseason.
Yet James acknowledged that he responded to something Pierce said Saturday on the court, after the Nets' 104-90 victory.
"But I'll leave it there," James said. "He decides to take it elsewhere. I'll leave it right there on the court."
Pierce was apparently still enjoying the afterglow Sunday as he spoke to reporters at the Nets' practice facility, revealing that he went to his coach, Jason Kidd, before Game 2 to ask for the James assignment, since "I know his tendencies a little bit more and I just try to step up in that role and try to lead that way," and he's not asked to also carry the Nets offense as he once carried that of the Celtics.
He also spoke of the importance of confidence "against a juggernaut" and "when you go against the best."
"A lot of series are won on fear factor," Pierce said. "Or the nonbelief. When you have that nonbelief then you have no chance. What I try to do in this locker room and with my teammates is just try give them belief. We can beat this team. They’re not unbeatable. You've got to have that mental [approach] if you're trying to get over that mountain that you're trying to climb."
That all sounds respectful enough, but James didn't hear it from reporters in complete context, so his irritation was evident when asked to respond.
"It's not how I play the game," James said. "I don't play the game by getting into words and [then they are] used as bulletin board [material]. It's about us just trying to win a series. It's not about what Paul has to say. I really don't care what Paul has to say. We don't really get involved in that. I don't even know what he said until I saw you guys, because I don't watch or read or anything, so for me, it doesn't matter."
Asked about the "fear factor" specifically, James scoffed: "Why should there be a fear factor? It's just basketball. Not trying to win a war here. It's just basketball. That's all it is. We're all grown men. Who cares about who is fearing who? For us, we've never been a team that talks, we don't get into that, we've never been a bulletin board team. We just want to play the game the right way and give ourselves a good chance to win when we play our type of basketball, and [Saturday] night we didn't do that."
They need to do it Monday, or else Pierce's pride—and that of his team—will swell at the sight of a tied series.
And, as always, it needs to start with No. 6.
Certainly, Erik Spoelstra can assist, by making one his superstar's requested rotation tweaks. James tends to praise any of the teammates he's asked about, whether it was Michael Beasley early in the season, Greg Oden after the center returned to NBA action, Toney Douglas when the guard was filling in for Dwyane Wade, or Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem, both of whom James said "should be in the rotation" after they played well in a March 26 loss at Indiana.
But rarely has James been as specific and as strong as when he was asked about his exceptional numbers playing alongside James Jones, numbers he seemed to know. They have now played 70 minutes together in the playoffs, and the Heat are plus-48. Yet Spoelstra didn't turn to the sharpshooting Jones until nine minutes were left Saturday, when he was looking to trade three-for-two. Jones made all three of his three-point attempts, but it was too late to make up much of the margin.
First, Sunday, James compared Jones favorably to Brooklyn's Mirza Teletovic, as a guy who, when he lets it go, "You believe it's going in." Then he explained his desire for Jones to go into the game more often.
"It's the space, and his ability to shoot the ball," James said. "You can't do both when he's out on the floor. You can't help on my drives and try to contest threes on him. You know, you have to keep an eye on him. We have to find some minutes for him. I don't see why he shouldn't play. He's huge for our team when he's in the lineup. He's big time."
This was no small statement of public support, consistent with what other Heat players have been saying privately for weeks. Just as they wanted Mike Miller to play more last season and postseason—until Spoelstra finally relented in the Eastern Conference Finals—they want Jones to play more now.
Still, a series probably won't come down to that decision.
It will come down to what James does, often when he's guarded by Pierce. He can't let the veteran annoy or derail him. He can't settle.
As James said, when asked if he is as confident in this Heat team as the one last season, "I feel real good about our team. Why wouldn't I? I'm on the team."
He's on the team, Pierce is on his nerves and a fun four quarters are on tap for Monday. Fun for the rest of us, anyway.
2. Ray Allen may have surprised some by jostling and jawing with Alan Anderson since he has a reputation as more of a scholar than a scrapper.
He shouldn't have.
Born on an Air Force base, Allen has spoken about how, when he was growing up, he felt the need to prove himself to family members and military men, and that sometimes meant getting physical on the court.
And in the NBA?
"He's gotten in a couple scuffles," Dwyane Wade said.
3. Mario Chalmers has played well in the playoffs, shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range while recording an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.3-1.
He just hasn't had that moment yet.
History suggests it's coming.
Recently, Bleacher Report collaborated with Chalmers—and one of his teammates—to create a list of his biggest postseason shots as a pro.
At first, Dwyane Wade wasn't sure he could offer assistance.
"That you made?" he said with a smile, to his teammate of six seasons. "How the hell am I supposed to know that?"
Needling aside, his memory was rather useful.
"I know one, vs. the Thunder, the layup on Serge Ibaka," Wade said. "That's got to be No. 1."
That was in Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
"The three in Game 7," Chalmers said.
"The three at the end of the third?" Wade said. "Is that on there? That was big."
It's on there, from the 2013 NBA Finals against San Antonio.
"The one to tie it up vs. Dallas," Chalmers said of a three-pointer in Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals. "Dirk [Nowitzki] hit the layup to win the game, but remember I tied it from the corner."
"Yeah, you did," Wade said.
That's on this next video if you scroll ahead to 3:40 on the clock.
Getting to make shots like that, on this stage, are why Chalmers says he's been comfortable sacrificing some statistics and spotlight to serve as "the quiet guy" on the Big Three-dominant Heat.
"I'd rather be remembered as a champion," Chalmers said. "That's how I look at it. I've won on each level. That will be my legacy."
It's not a bad one. And those are words to remember when he's a free agent this summer, when more lucrative opportunities—in terms of money and shots—may be available elsewhere.
4. Erik Spoelstra, in Game 4 and the games to come, will pull together his players and assistants, pull out his marker and grease board and pull inspirational words or innovative strategy from his past.
Some will come from his rapidly accumulated experiences as a head coach, throughout six regular seasons, 15 playoff rounds and two championships. Some will come from his exposure to others, among them some of basketball’s brightest minds, over the course of nearly four decades.
"I don’t have a lot of voices," Spoelstra told Bleacher Report last week. "But I have a small circle of influence that I trust and is endearing to me."
That was most evident after the April 28 passing of former coach and Heat broadcaster Jack Ramsay, with Spoelstra sharing touching recollections of interacting with the coaching legend, whether as a camper or a champion—even taking a play suggestion, calling it "Ramsay" and using it for a critical basket in Game 7 of the 2013 Finals.
He can't quantify the effect of watching Ramsay as a kid, "when you don't know you're going to be a coach, but seeing an example of excellence every single day," but he knows there was one. Just as being around the recently retired Rick Adelman, whom he credits for much of the modern offensive evolution, played a role in "wanting to get into the profession."
Ramsay, Adelman and current Pacers assistant Dan Burke were part of what Spoelstra calls his first NBA family, the Portland Trail Blazers, the organization for which his father Jon worked as an executive.
"And then my professional NBA family has been the Heat," Spoelstra said. "Those are the only two families I've known."
That second family continues to raise him, even if his resume suggests he's fully grown, and even if he is now its frontman. His primary mentors have been Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy, whose styles he calls "completely different, and I think that's one of the most valuable experiences I had, was working for the two of them." Through Stan, he met another guide, Jeff Van Gundy. On the Heat staff, he took tips from two senior assistants since departed, Jeff Bzdelik and Marc Iavaroni, and he continues to take them from one, Ron Rothstein, who stuck around.
"He's been through everything," Spoelstra said. "You're talking about almost 40 years of NBA experience; he was the first Heat coach. I love more than anything his Detroit experiences, and hearing Chuck Daly stories. Those are my favorite stories that he has, and he has them for days. He also tells me stuff, like, 'Chuck would have maybe run this in this situation.'"
Spoelstra has drawn upon this small cadre of illustrious advisers, while otherwise remaining fairly insulated in the NBA. He counts few head coaches as friends ("I don’t know other people well enough"), which caused him to venture outside the league in order to "broaden my horizons," meeting with prominent college coaches and attending coaching clinics.
He takes that collected knowledge into these playoffs, these series, these games and these huddles.
As always, as the competition stiffens, he will need every bit.
5. Dwyane Wade had a decent overall game Saturday, scoring 20 points on 50 percent shooting, though often letting the Nets' Shaun Livingston elude him on the other end.
He made more of a statement with his overalls.
When told later of the stir his sartorial selection had created, Wade replied, "Overalls are coming back. Just like I did with capris. Now everyone's walking in arenas with their ankles showing."
Yes, that was unforgettable.
Wade left the overalls' top unhooked so his dress shirt showed.
"I won't go that far," he said of pulling it up.
Either way, the Heat will be happier if he breaks some Nets' ankles in Game 4, rather than simply showing his own.
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