RetroBall: Knicks-Pacers ’95, the night of the finger roll

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Since billionaire owners and millionaire players are bitterly divided over how much money they’ll be splitting over the coming years and have locked us out of actual basketball to talk about, PBT will be regaling you this summer  with RetroBall. Using the advanced powers of the internet and NBATV, we’ll bring you interesting stories from years gone by. If nothing else, it will provide us an opportunity to make fun of fashion and culture from the past, which is always a giggle. We continue our series today with Pacers-Knicks, Game 7 of the 1995 NBA Playoffs.

It was one of the greatest rivalries that was lost for too long in the glow of the Jordan era. Until the “30 for 30” documentary “Winning Time,” centered around the 8 points, 9 seconds event (it wasn’t a game, it was an event; it happened to you, one way or another),  it was really far too forgotten. But man, these two hated each other. Miller always jabbing in everyone’s ear, including Spike Lee, the numerous choke references, the incredible shooting, Rik Smits vs. Ewing. Mark Jackson, Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, Derrick McKey. It was a genuine blood rivalry. And this series gave us two incredibly even matched teams that both were honestly worthy of the title, had Olajuwon not gone all “Contra-code” on us.

Going into Game 7, the Knicks had actually out-scored the Pacers 568-556 in the series. But three of the games had come down to less than a three point differential. The Knicks had momentum. The Pacers had Reggie Miller. The Knicks had home court. The Pacers had Rik Smits’ mustache. And everything would come down to a finger roll. What follows are my observations from watching the game for the first time since I was 13.

  • The opening lineups are preceded by four of the Knicks, including Anthony Mason, smashing into each other in a combination of chest bumps and shoves. It looks violent. Like pretty much everything involving Anthony Mason.
  • Go New York, go New York, go!” is on the intros. Nice. Revel in it, Big Apple.
  • Good to know Pat Riley has the same expression he’s had on his face for the last fifteen years. Last time the man smiled was after the Lakers’ last title with him.
  • Ewing up and under Smits from short-range. One step and a right handed leaner. That’s pretty amazing stuff. This is going to be one of those games that everyone blocks out when they’re talking about how overrated Patrick Ewing was. Well, okay, not really because of the final shot of the game. But we’ll get there.
  • Charles Smith is strutting on his first made basket which makes the score 4-2. Yeesh. He and Nate Robinson should go bowling.
  • You know how if you run off a 3-point shooter and make him take a pull-up J from mid-range, it’s supposed to be a good thing? With Miller you’ve just saved yourself a point. which is great, but his ability to make it is still incredible. Especially when he somehow shoots it where it goes straight up, down through the net and nearly right back to him if no one had grabbed it. It’s like the magic bullet, only it makes John Starks look stupid. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Charles Smith winds up with a 25% usage rate in this game and only scores 12 points. How is that possible if he only shot the ball nine ti… oh, four turnovers. Yeah, that’ll do it in 27 minutes. This is another one of those games where a guy starts out hot and then thinks it stays with him. He hits his first two, then goes 3-7  the rest of the way.
  • Smits turns immediately on the catch for the jump hook. Ewing blocks it, which is kind of insane. The timing on that is difficult, the positioning on that is difficult, the extension on that is difficult.
  • Rik Smits is TOTALLY going to attack Charles Oakley on the drive. Next time. For real.
  • Watching Ewing’s one-handed push hook makes you slam your head into a wall wondering why Dwight hasn’t picked it up.
  • Smits’ movement working in the post with his passer is really impressive. You see a ton today of it just being guys wrestling, having it come down to size. Smits teases Ewing into trying to front him all the way out to the elbow, and then when he catches the lob is already squaring up on the turn to go baseline. Also, if you look at Rik Smits’ dunk and Pau Gasol’s dunk they’re going to look identical.
  • Ewing takes the exact opposite approach. Instead of moving him space, Ewing uses his body to measure where Smits is at to take the corner. Pretty.
  • Jackson with a great pass you don’t see too often, break outlet from top of the key far side to the elbow, a nice soft lob to Miller who two-steps out of it into a pull-up jumper. Normally I would grind my teeth at a PUJIT like that,  but it’s Miller, so, you know, not a bad plan. Hey, maybe MJax can teach that to Curry so he can thread it to Mont…oh, right.
  • Haywoode Workman has replaced Mark Jackson. There. That’s the joke.
  • Mason leans so much when he runs the floor, he’s a foul magnet. He leans hard on one side and then reverses and the other guy slips like he had his chair pulled out, and it looks like a foul. Smart stuff. Artest does the same thing now.
  • Miller goes up, and through Starks and scores on a pull-up jumper. It’s sick. It’s one thing to be awesome at creating space to get your shot. Miller just shoots through it. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Starks drives and lands in the cameras, but hits the floor first. So he jumps, lands, steps, then falls into the cameras. Put some brakes on those shoes, kid!
  • Every close-up of Starks makes me want to pat him on the head and say “You poor, poor man.”
  • Reggie goes baseline off-ball screen, loops off the back screen at the block, catch-and-shoot at the elbow at full speed, stops on a dime, and the net barely moves as he hits again. We have our first Marv Albert “Reggie Miller… ON FIRE!” of the night. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Haywoode Workman played ball in Israel, Italy, Topeka, Indiana, Washington, and Milwaukee. He’s a ref now, and his middle name is Wilvon. There ought to be a book.
  • Pacers start to get their double-teams moving on a string and the Knicks are trying to out-pass it. Can’t outrun the radio, my dad always said. I don’t know if that’s relevant here, but it sounds folksy.
  • Hey, you think Anthony Bonner and Matt Bonner are related? … What?
  • Is there a way for me to say that Rik Smits has tricky hips without it sounding odd? No? Okay.
  • Smits hits a spot-up baseline J, fading left from the left baseline. Yikes.
  • The Knicks had so many guys that when they made shots you couldn’t believe it. Harper splits a double team, double-clutches, and hits glass from 8 feet. Okay.
  • Smith drives his elbow through Byron Scott’s face working through a screen. Today that’s a flagrant foul.
  • MJax dribbled so far out in front of him, it was like he was yo-yoing it.
  • Derrick McKey really wants to play in the post in this game.
  • Is it strange to anyone else that this Knicks team was a bad offensive rebounding team? Want one to blow our mind? The Anthony Mason-Patrick Ewing- Charles Smith 95 Knicks ranked 23rd in offensive rebounding percentage (percentage of available OREBs grabbed). This year’s Knicks team with Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf and Timofey Mozgov for only half a year? 24th. One spot.
  • Pacers are moving in this game. The Knicks are taking a lot of mid-range jumpers, leading to long rebounds, which the Pacers are getting, and that’s sparking the break.
  • Starks swarms Miller on a catch, forces a turnover, then throws a spinning overhead outlet to Smith for an easy dunk.
  • Oakley with a Z-Bound. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.
  • You’ll be happy to know that immediately following this game is the NBA Draft Lottery, where the Golden State Warriors will win and select Joe Smith. Who is still playing. Good God, Joe Smith is old.
  • Miller misses a technical free throw. My world tilted sideways for a minute just watching that.
  • Charles Smith turns the ball over on consecutive possessions and the Pacers get zero points out of two consecutive fast break ops. Yeesh.
  • Miller heaves up a desperation shot at the end of the shot clock, airball, controversy over whether it hit the rim or not, refs have to jump ball it. Remember when there was no other option? Larry Brown is apoplectic, going nuts on the sideline. I miss when Larry Brown would still do that. Now he just does the grin and headshake. Get excited, Minnesota!
  • Brown is opting to leave Smits off the floor for most of the second. It’s one of those “if you lose you look like a moron” things. Larry Drew nods his head.
  • Byron Scott trying to guard Oakley on a lob. Yeah, good luck with that, Coach.
  • Ewing with 17, Miller with 18 at the half. High scoring, fast-pace game. The late 90’s had not yet arrived.
  • Starks torches Miller to the rim. I really wanted Mark Jackson to have been guarding him so I could make a “hand down, man down” joke.
  • The Knicks come undone a little bit to start the third with fouls and turnovers. Ewing actually barks at Starks for passing to Smith who screws up a fast break. And that kind of sums up John Starks’ life this season.
  • Charles Smith just dove at the rim. Anthony Randolph thinks he should slow it down. Tyrus Thomas thought that was raw. Ron Artest found it impetuous. Other jokes.
  • Charles Smith stabs another possession in the face and leaves it to die in the desert.
  • There’s 8:34 to go in the third when Smith finally hits a jumper. He has 12. Guess how many points he ends up with?
  • Mark Jackson hustled his face off. I can’t even make fun of his catch phrases in this game because he’s working so hard. Walk the walk.
  • Oakley takes Smits for a possession to keep Ewing out of foul trouble. Smits moves to the face up, Oakley bites on it, and Smits goes right around him with those wonky hips of his. Sideways jam.
  • The Pacers decide that not closing out the baseline and allowing the Knicks to force Smits’ fourth foul is a great plan. This is flawed thinking. You know what’s not flawed? Smits’ mustache.
  • source:
  • Miller. Jab-step, step-back 3. Sweet Bejesus. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Starks misses a three, Miller leaks out in transition, the Knicks realize it too late, bang, and the staredown of Spike Lee. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • How did any Knicks fan have any nails left on their fingers with Starks running point? His decision making reverts to “drunken toddler” mode half the time.
  • Harper with a HUGE three out of a double-team. He was 3 of 4 in this game, and they needed all 9 of those points.
  • Brown doesn’t keep Smits out deep into the fourth, and Smits picks up his fifth. Life for the Knicks.
  • Can’t say enough about the Garden crowd. Incredible energy on every play.
  • Ewing shake and bake left baseline, makes it one-point game. That’s 24 for Ewing.
  • Hubert Davis hits one shot in this game. It’s to tie the game late in the fourth.
  • The Knicks were really good on their rotations at pushing the drive to where they wanted it to go, which was often behind the backboard.
  • Unfortunately, they’re not so good with stopping the double-split, as Miller slices it, then dishes to Smits for a J.
  • Harper gives Davis a very Artest-like flagrant, which is both arms slapping and driving forward into the body. Probably not a flagrant, but it’s called as such. Would definitely be called as such today.
  • Off the flagrant possession, Smits hits a sweeping hook. It’s seven points with 3:07 to go.
  • Ewing’s final bucket comes on an elbow spot-up jumper with less than three minutes to go.
  • Look at how nice Spike Lee looks!
  • source:  Oakley with a perfect weakside recovery to reject Smits. There is life.
  • Smits goes to the line after blown coverage on the inbounds. Yes, the inbounds. Mason thinks he got all ball, and it looks like it. Tough.
  • Ewing gets everything but the bucket on the turnaround, but Mason cleans up.
  • Seriously, you guys, Rik Smits was a big deal there for a few years. Clutch face-up jumper with 1:18 to go. It will be the last time the Pacers score in this game.
  • Mason misses a key free throw. Going to be a dead puppy later. Misses another. Lots of dead puppies in New York that night.
  • Miller tries to bury the dagger off the catch and shoot and instead gives a fast break to the Knicks, but…
  • Mason gets the ball on a fast break, and missed the dunk. But Starks, in typical Starks fashion, hits a huge 3 shot to close.
  • Mark Jackson works the clock too long, gives to Smits who’s smothered, so he gives the ball back to Jackson, who has to shoot. But you know what? HAND UP… er… uh… crap.
  • You’re ready for torture, yes, Knicks fans?
  • source:
  • The red is the cylinder. The orange is the ball. It was perfect. Ewing moves up and under to get to the right, the help defender is slow and hesitant to foul, it’s a wide-open finger-roll and everything changes…
  • Back iron.
  • Ball game.
  • That’s how it goes in this league.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.