CLEVELAND – Welcome to LePlayoffs.
LeBron James was more than ready for his NBA playoff debut, recording a triple-double while leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 97-86 win over the Washington Wizards in their Eastern Conference series opener on Saturday.
James, playing his first postseason game since winning a state title as a high school senior, scored 32 points with 11 rebounds and 11 assists – including a Magic-like, no-look number late in the third quarter that all but put the Wizards away.
Cleveland’s first game back in the playoffs since 1998 couldn’t have gone much better.
The 21-year-old James got plenty of help from his supporting cast. Donyell Marshall added 19 points, Eric Snow 14 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Flip Murray 10 apiece for the Cavs.
Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Wizards have some work to do before then. Not only do they have to re-think their defensive strategy on James, who did what he pleased, but Washington needs to work on its free-throw and 3-point shooting.
The Wizards were only 25-of-36 from the 15-foot line and just 3-of-22 from long range.
Spurs 122, Kings 88
SAN ANTONIO – Wow, that was Quick.
The San Antonio Spurs got their NBA title defense off to a blazing start with 25 points from speedy Tony Parker and a surprising boost from Nick “the Quick” Van Exel, who scored 11 points in the decisive second quarter of a series-opening 122-88 victory over the stunned Sacramento Kings on Saturday.
San Antonio’s fleet-footed point guards led a 41-15 run in that quarter, staking the Spurs to a 34-point halftime lead. The second half was all garbage time in San Antonio’s seventh victory in the last eight playoff series openers – and the biggest postseason loss in the Kings’ history.
Parker’s frenetic dominance was no surprise after his excellent regular season as the Spurs’ leading scorer. But three 3-pointers from Van Exel, the seldom-used veteran guard who’s retiring after this season, were shockers from which the Kings couldn’t recover.
San Antonio made eight 3-pointers and 68 percent of its first-half shots – both franchise records for a playoff half. Ten Spurs scored at least six points apiece in the game, and coach Gregg Popovich still got to rest his stars for Game 2 on Tuesday in the best-of-seven series.
Tim Duncan had 11 points and seven rebounds while sitting out the fourth quarter along with Parker and Bruce Bowen. Nazr Mohammed added 18 points and eight rebounds, hitting the first 3-pointer of his NBA career in the final minute.
Heat 111, Bulls 106
MIAMI – When the Miami Heat needed him most, Dwyane Wade found a way.
Wade scored 30 points, including six straight in the fourth quarter to lead the Heat back from their only deficit of the night, and added 11 assists to help Miami beat the Chicago Bulls 111-106 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference series on Saturday night. Shaquille O’Neal added a monster night, 27 points and 16 rebounds for Miami – which played the last 8.6 seconds without Wade, who hobbled to the locker room apparently riddled by cramps.
But by then, he’d done enough to doom the Bulls’ chances of stealing the opener.
Wade had two huge rebounds in the final minute, first an offensive one that allowed Miami to run 20 critical seconds off the clock, then a defensive board off Andres Nocioni’s missed 3-pointer with 16 seconds left. He was fouled and hit both free throws to give the Heat a five-point lead with 14 seconds remaining.
Ben Gordon scored 35 points and Nocioni had an 18-point, 15-rebound effort for Chicago, which connected on 13 tries from 3-point range.
Kirk Hinrich scored 19 points and had eight assists for the Bulls, who entered the game as the NBA’s hottest team, winning 10 of their last 11 in the regular season.
One of those wins was last Sunday in Miami, a 117-93 blowout where Wade and O’Neal spent the final 11/2 quarters watching because the game was meaningless, standings-wise, for the Heat.
Chicago could only have wished Wade wasn’t out there in this one.