NBA Basketball playoffs

Dwyane Wade watched the three-pointer drop perfectly through the net, then turned upcourt and extended the fingers on his right hand. And he screamed.

Wade’s last stand?

Heat 101 Celtics 97

MIAMI — Dwyane Wade watched the three-pointer drop perfectly through the net, then turned upcourt and extended the fingers on his right hand.

And he screamed.

“In kid-friendly terms,” Wade would say later, “I was telling him he was hot.”

That hand — that player — had never been hotter in a post-season game, either. And that’s why Miami’s season isn’t over.

Playing what might have been his final game in Miami, Wade scored 46 points, 30 in the second half — both franchise records — and the Heat beat the Boston Celtics 101-92 on Sunday in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. He made 16-of-24 shots, 5 of 7 from three-point range, and outscored the Celtics 19-15 in the fourth quarter.

“Phenomenal,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

“Greatness,” offered Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Heat forward Quentin Richardson went even further, likening his teammate to a superhero.

“Sometimes, you know, he puts on the cape, man,” Richardson said. “There’s not a lot of things you can do when he’s playing that way.”

Boston would concur.

The Celtics still lead the best-of-seven 3-1, and get a chance to close it out in Boston on Tuesday night. But their worst fear came true Sunday.

Miami has hope.

“They did what they were supposed to do, which is defend the home court,” Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. “And now we’re thinking the same thing going back home.”

Richardson scored 20 points and Michael Beasley added 15 for the Heat, who wasted an 18-point, first-half lead before digging deep to extend the season.

Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 23 points. Garnett had 18 points and 12 rebounds, Paul Pierce scored 16 and Ray Allen added 15 for Boston, which was bidding for its first 4-0 sweep of a series since 1986.

“It’s not a big deal,” Rondo said.

“We just have to close it out now in five. We’re confident.”

So is Miami.

Especially Wade.

Leg cramps kept him off the court for the deciding moment of Game 3, the jumper that Pierce hit at the buzzer to give the Celtics a 100-98 win. So he spent Saturday getting his body right, chugging fluids, jumping into the cold tank, hanging out in the pool with his mother Jolinda, visiting from Chicago.

On Sunday, it showed, never more than down the stretch.

He shot 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter and made all four three-pointers, all coming in a five-minute stretch and the last putting Miami up 93-82 with 6:12 remaining.

“I just thought, time to be aggressive,” Wade said. “Very aggressive. So I was shooting all those shots, no matter what was going to happen. And I started to make a couple, so I got hot at the right time. Just wanted to will my team to this victory.”

Of course, it’s never easy for Miami against Boston.

The Celtics were 6-0 against Miami this season, and had won 14 of the last 15 between the clubs since April 2007. And yes, Boston made a big run, getting within 96-92 on a free throw by Allen with 2:36 left.

Then a funny thing happened.

Or, more precisely, three funny things.

Not only did Allen — a 91 per cent foul shooter this season — miss the second, he missed two more with 1:50 left, keeping it a two-possession game. And when Dorell Wright missed a jumper with 1:29 left, Beasley swooped in, got the rebound and scored, making it 98-92.

Exhale, Miami. The season will go until at least Tuesday.

Wade will opt to become a free agent after the season, and on the slim chance that this was his final home game in Miami, it was nothing short of scintillating.

“He just put it all on his shoulders,” Pierce said. “And did a good job of it.”

Hill, Spurs push Mavericks to brink

Spurs 92 Mavericks 89

SAN ANTONIO — George Hill sank yet another big shot from the corner, this time right in front of the Dallas Mavericks bench, and ran back upcourt flashing three fingers.

He probably meant three-pointer.

Or maybe it was three down, one to go.

While Tim Duncan had a miserable 34th birthday and Manu Ginobili looked as rough at times as his bandaged-up broken nose, Hill scored 29 points to help the Spurs push the second-seeded Mavericks to the brink of elimination with a 92-89 victory on Sunday night.

“From the day they drafted me, I knew I belonged,” said Hill, found by the Spurs late in the first round two years ago.

Hill’s playoff performance was, in the Duncan era of the Spurs, virtually unprecedented.

The 23-year-old guard became the first player other than Duncan, Ginobili or Tony Parker to lead the Spurs in scoring in a playoff game since the first round in 2007. That’s a span of 41 playoff games.

Put in even more remarkable context, one of the Big Three has been the top scorer for San Antonio in all but two post-season games since the Spurs won their second championship in 2003.

Michael Finley was the first in 2007. Hill became the other after Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined for just 31 points in a physical Game 4 that left tempers flaring.

“If you tell me before the game we hold the Big Three to those numbers, we figure we win the game,” Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said.

Heading home to Game 5 on Sunday night, the Mavs have other numbers to worry about.

One is being on the verge of their third first-round playoff exit in four years. Considered one of the deepest teams in the West while claiming the No. 2 seed, Dallas is now tasked with trying to become just the ninth team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series.

It was three years ago that the top-seeded Mavericks were shocked in the playoffs by eighth-seeded Golden State. Dallas is now in danger of getting ousted by the No. 7 Spurs.

After the game, Nowitzki climbed up a dais in the media room, took the microphone off the stand and slouched back in his chair with a heavy sigh.

He scanned a copy of the box score: Duncan getting four points on 1-of-9 shooting. Ginobili getting a modest 17. Parker scoring just 10.

“It’s tough. I’m not going to sit here and lie,” said Nowitzki, who was held to 17 points, his worst outing in the series. “In Game 2 we should have had it at home and we feel we should have had one here. We didn’t and it’s frustrating, but we have to keep fighting until it’s over.”

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Dallas.

If Game 4 was any indication, it could be a rough-and-tumble elimination game. Officials rang up three flagrant fouls, pouring more fuel on an already intense Texas rivalry.

Tempers flared as the Mavs threw away a 14-point lead in the third quarter, none more so than when Eduardo Najera was ejected after hooking a hand around Ginobili’s head and sending him belly flopping to the floor.

King James back in control

Cavaliers 121 Bulls 98

CHICAGO — LeBron James insisted there was nothing unusual about the shot, that he’s perfectly comfortable taking it.

Never mind that he unleashed it from nearly halfcourt.

James’ jumper — from a spot that requires a heave for many players — was just part of the show on a day when he delivered his fifth career post-season triple-double with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. That led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 121-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday and a 3-1 lead in their first-round series.

“I’ve done some great things in the past, I’ll do some great things in the future,” he said. “But we’re in the present now, and I’m feeling pretty good.”

The Cavaliers led by 10 at halftime after scoring 38 in the second quarter and broke it open with a 37-point third, putting them in position to close it out at home on Tuesday.

James was at it again after scoring 40 and 39 the previous two games, connecting whenever he wanted and from wherever he wanted. He was 6 of 9 on three-pointers, including a jumper from just inside midcourt at the end of the third that made it 99-76.

“I can comfortably shoot that shot,” James said. “It was a regular jump shot for me. Comfortably, I can walk and dribble into a halfcourt 3.”

James certainly made it look easy against the Bulls.

“He was extremely active all over the place,” coach Mike Brown said. “He really set the tone defensively. He was terrific for us on the weakside. He was great for us on the ball, and he talked defence the whole game.”

He had plenty of help from Antawn Jamison, who scored 12 of his 24 in the third quarter, not to mention Mo Williams (19 points).

Chicago got 21 apiece from Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, who also pulled down 20 rebounds, but the Bulls settled for jump shots once they fell behind. Now, they are on the verge of their second straight first-round exit after a thorough beating by the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

“I just think we weren’t very tough mentally today,” Noah said. “We were playing good ball and then just collapsed. We’re a young team and have to learn from this.”

The Cavaliers were simply locked in after a two-point loss in Game 3. They shot 53 per cent and outscored Chicago 40-34 in the paint after being dominated there 94-70 the previous two games.

Jazz dance to 3-1 lead over Nuggets

Jazz 117 Nuggets 106

SALT LAKE CITY — Carlos Boozer had 31 points and 13 rebounds, Deron Williams added 24 points and 13 assists, and the Utah Jazz held off a late charge to beat the Denver Nuggets 117-106 on Sunday night for a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference playoff series.

Carmelo Anthony finished with 39 points and led the Nuggets back within range late in the fourth quarter, but Denver never caught all the way up and lost for the third straight time in the series.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Denver, where the Nuggets will need to win at home to stay alive.

The Jazz controlled the first three quarters, seeming quicker and more determined than Denver while chasing down loose balls and firing up the fans with every hustle play. The frustrated Nuggets battled foul trouble, losing Chauncey Billups while trying to rally in the fourth quarter.

Denver trailed by 18 entering the final period but was able to get within 113-106 on back-to-back three-pointers from Anthony, but that was as close as it could get.

C.J. Miles scored 21 and Wesley Matthews added 18 points for Utah. The Jazz led by as much as 20 and had the Nuggets off balance until Anthony led a surge early in the fourth.

Anthony converted a three-point play, then hit a three-pointer to cut Utah’s lead to 90-79, but he was called for his fifth foul with 8:45 left to play when he got tangled up with Williams while going for a rebound. Anthony pleaded to the officials while still on his back outside the lane, but there was no changing the call and he was carrying five fouls for the third straight game.

Anthony sat for a couple of minutes and the Nuggets were still trailing 98-85 when he returned. Denver put together a few more runs that got it close enough for Jazz fans to get quiet and worry, but Utah was able to hang on.

Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups scored 14 apiece for the Nuggets. Nene and J.R. Smith both scored 10.