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


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.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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