NBA Playoff Suspense: Will LeBron's Elbow Hold?

In the NBA playoffs, all eyes were on the elbow of Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James Friday night. Plus, the Phoenix Suns are hot, up 3 games to 0 against the San Antonio Spurs. Host Scott Simon talks to NPR's Tom Goldman about playoff action.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Time now for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: The most watched body part since ah, you fill in the blank. All eyes were on the elbow last night, the ailing elbow of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us.

Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: The elbow looked el grande(ph), wouldnt you say?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Certainly did, and I think there was something hurting LeBron James even more, and that was his pride. After his passive performance in Game 2 and Cleveland's passive performance - because the Cavs follow his lead - there were whispers that he was letting his ow-ey get the better of him and that he wasnt tough enough. Last night was his answer to those whispers.

(Soundbite of music)

GOLDMAN: Thirty-eight points, 28 to 21 in the first quarter, a playoff record...

SIMON: You're imperturbable, Tom. Can you hear that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Yeah. What is that?

SIMON: It's "Cleveland Rocks."

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Go ahead. I was trying to drown out the bad news. Yes?

GOLDMA: I'm bulling right ahead, just like LeBron James. Anyway, he got very angry and as a result, every Cleveland player switched on. They beat the Celtics by 29 points, Boston's worst home playoff defeat ever, and that's saying a lot considering Boston's legendary status - the team with 17 titles, most of any NBA team in history. So as Doc Rivers, the coach of the Celtics, said last night, I think we can put this elbow thing to rest and go ahead and focus on basketball.

SIMON: The Cavs are suddenly looking suddenly, because they have the best record, obviously, but they're looking very good at the moment, aren't they?

GOLDMAN: Very good. They're up two games to one now. And they have grabbed the home-court advantage back from Boston. They lost it after the Celtics beat them once in Cleveland - although I'm not sure the advantage of playing on the home court in this series. Both teams have won big on the road. I think what NBA fans are hoping is that both teams show up to play on the same night wherever the game is being played, instead of like the first three games, where one team was really on and aggressive and the other not.

SIMON: Meanwhile, Los Suns are caliente, aren't they?

GOLDMAN: Los Suns are caliente, thanks to the Slovenian Slinger. And I think we're combining a lot of international stuff here. That's...

SIMON: That's the game, Tom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: That would be the left-handed backup point guard Goran Dragic for the Suns, who's considered the heir apparent once the great Steve Nash retires. But last night, Dragic announced maybe he's ready now. He scored 23 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter. Five for five from long distance, three-point range.

Phoenix's Grant Hill said, I think it's safe to say that may have been the best fourth-quarter performance I have ever seen in a playoff game. Now, Scott, aside from red-hot performances like this, the Suns are resurgent because they're just a much more complete team than they've ever been in the Steve Nash era. And that's thrilling for Phoenix fans.

Last year, the window for Steve Nash seemed to have shut. The experiment bringing Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix failed miserably. The Suns had lost the tag as the most entertaining team in the league. General manager Steve Kerr was the least popular guy in Phoenix. But now, the Suns have rebounded - literally.

Although San Antonio had more rebounds last night, the Suns have been pounding the bigger, more physical Spurs on the boards. And winning in a very un-Suns-like way. Nash is still brilliant. Amar'e Stoudemire is playing like a kid. Grant Hill is having an amazing, late-in-his-career surge. They have a strong, athletic, fearless bench. And they're just exiting people again.

SIMON: As we round out the week, we don't want to overlook the Orlando-Atlanta series, because maybe we're learning you shouldnt overlook Orlando. They sure look strong.

GOLDMAN: They sure do. Winners of 12 straight since the end of the regular season. They're pounding Atlanta in that series, up two games to none. They shouldn't be flying under the radar. They are, but they're OK with that. They'll just keep winning games.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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