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NBA Finals Notebook

Paul Silas fondly recalls coaching LeBron James

CLEVELAND — He was LeBron James’s first NBA coach and he also helped the Celtics win two NBA championships in three seasons in the mid-’70s. Can you name him?

He’s Paul Silas, and the longtime NBA player and coach was filled with reflections on his time with James, whom he coached for most of his first two seasons. Silas was one of the rare coaches fired despite a winning record, dismissed with a 34-30 record during the 2004-05 season.

The Cavaliers eventually missed the playoffs under Brendan Malone. Silas, who will turn 72 next month, was notably hard on his 18-year-old phenom in 2003 but said his tough love was necessary.

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“When I first got LeBron he was a very good player but he really didn’t understand the game that much,” Silas said. “And a lot of the players that were playing with him, it’s not that they didn’t like him, they didn’t think he was that good a guy because the newspapers were talking about how great he was going to be and our guys were saying, ‘They just talk about him, they don’t talk about us.’ ”

Silas said he he found James despondent at times because of the pressure of carrying a franchise at such a young age.

“I would have to get him and tell him these things are going to happen to you, but you can’t think about this. You’ve got to play the game and understand it’s up to you if we’re going to win, you have to play hard and your mind has to be right,” Silas said. “He really started to change. I didn’t have a point guard, so I made him my point forward.”

Before the 2004-05 season, Silas said James learned the entire offensive and defensive schemes for the whole team.

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“I couldn’t believe it; he wasn’t only 19 years old at the time but he understood everything about this game and eventually I knew he was going to be a great player,” Silas said. “And now he is just tremendous.

“He understands that he is the guy to get it done, but he likes the rest of the players and he tells them, ‘I’m going to lead, but you have to do the right thing also.’ He does a great job. For Kyrie Irving not to be there [for Game 2] and for them to win, I just couldn’t believe that.”

In that second season, James averaged 27.2 points, shot 47.2 percent from the field, earned his first All-Star Game, and was ninth in MVP voting.

“He was so young and he needed me to tell him what he had to do mentally,” said Silas, who also won a title with the SuperSonics. “Physically and athletically, he was just a heck of a player. But it was in his head that the rest of the players that played with him and how he has to deal with them.’’

“LeBron was running the ballclub. When I needed a hoop, I would give him the basketball and he would go at it.

“When I got let go, we were still up [four] ballgames. Now even though he has guys around him that haven’t won a championship, they are all ready [to help], so we’re going to see how this [series] goes.”

Silas spoke prior to Game 3, which, in the end, went just fine. James scored 40 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and had 8 assists in 46 minutes, as the Cavaliers held off the visiting Warriors, 96-91.

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Not a straight line

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, like Brad Stevens did unsuccessfully for the Celtics in their series with Cleveland, tried implementing the intentional foul strategy on Tristan Thompson in Game 2.

Thompson, a 64 percent free throw shooter during the season, sank two of four free throws after being fouled twice. Kerr said he’d rather not use the hack strategy.

“To me, it’s a dumb rule,” Kerr said. “It takes away from the flow of the game. Everything that the league has done over the last 10 years, which has been fantastic in terms of increasing pace and keeping the game going, that rule sort of is counterintuitive to the league’s goal in the last 10 years, as is instant replay.’’

“So it’s interesting. We’ve created a lot of rule changes to help speed up the game, but then we’ve added instant replay, and we’ve got the hack-a-whatever, and so it’s kind of back and forth. But as a general rule, I like the game to continue and for guys to play and the whole thing to keep rolling. I hate all these pauses.”

The Cavaliers, behind their strong third quarter, handily won the battle at the line Tuesday. The Cavaliers took 24 shots (making 17), while the Warriors took only 12 (making 7).

Commissioner Adam Silver said last week he doesn’t envision any adjustments to the rules that would benefit teams whose players are intentionally fouled.

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Call reversal

The NBA admitted Tuesday that officials Tony Brothers, Zach Zarba, and Scott Foster missed on three key calls during Cleveland’s 95-93 Game 2 overtime victory on Sunday.

The league said Draymond Green made contact with the shoulder of James, which affected his ability to control a jump ball with 45.4 seconds left in OT. The officials did not make a call but the league said it was an “incorrect noncall.”

Also, the league said officials missed a hack call on James by Andre Iguodala with 1:37 left in overtime, but also said they missed James’s travel before that play.

For the first time this season, the league has released reviews of all calls made in the last two minutes of regulation and overtime.


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.