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.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

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Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.