Paul George, Lance Stephenson

The Extra Pass: Indiana’s Strange Success

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme that could use another glance. Today, we swing our attention to Indiana, where the Pacers are putting together one strange season.

I wish there were a more aesthetically pleasing comparison available, but the Indiana Pacers are the cockroaches of the NBA. They are an ugly team, scattered about on the offensive end, waiting for the shot clock to tick down to the skinnier numbers so they can rush to the rim for scraps. There is very little sex appeal or sophistication here — just resiliency.

You chop off their head, and they live for 35 games and counting. Last year’s leading scorer Danny Granger hasn’t played a single minute.

You take away what they’re looking for, and they find something else. 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert is shooting 40 percent from the field and averages less than 10 points a game.

You eliminate the new addition to their ranks, and they still keep coming. Gerald Green has an 8.2 PER, good for fifth worst in the league of players who average more than 20 minutes a night.

The Pacers are 29th in offensive efficiency, 28th in field goal percentage and 29th in points per game. They should be finished already, planning their trip to Secaucus, New Jersey to watch lottery balls bounce around with the rest of the inept offensive teams in the league.

But instead, the Pacers are 21-14, fourth in the Eastern Conference, and just three games back of a Miami Heat team they vanquished last night. Three games out of first place. The Indiana Pacers. With all that going on.

How?

The best defense can be a slow offense

The Pacers have evolved in the best way– they know that they’re terrible offensively without Granger (and with Hibbert missing layups), so they’ve adapted by helping themselves on the other end. The offense, as brutal as it may be, serves a purpose for the defense by playing purposefully slow.

The Pacers play at the league’s 25th slowest pace, but they also rank 10th in offensive rebounding percentage. The victory over Miami was a wonderful example of how these two things work together. The Pacers absolutely bled the clock with the lead, and combined with their 22 offensive rebounds, they made that 8-10 points feel like 18-20 instead. The opportunities for Miami to come back in the fourth quarter were extremely limited.

Of course, taking the air out of the ball, so to speak, would mean nothing if the Pacers weren’t defending the way they are. For as every bit as bad as they’ve been offensively, the Pacers have been even better defensively.

It starts inside

Hibbert has used his own struggles at the rim as a way to exact revenge on his opponents, blocking the third most shots in the league (2.7 a game) and altering countless others. From 9-feet and in, the Pacers hold their opponents to the league’s lowest shooting percentage.

Although Hibbert isn’t fleet of foot, he’s a space eater for a defense that rarely gambles (26th in turnover percentage). The Pacers as a whole are very conservative defensively — their guards like to go under screens, and their big men rarely hedge or trap on pick-and-rolls. As a result, the Pacers are rarely scrambling to recover or asking their bigs to make lightning quick rotations.

And although he’s not noted as a defensive force, David West uses that thick chest of his as the wall to Hibbert’s sentry tower arms — opposing power forwards notch a PER of 12.2 against West, and the Pacers are about 2.4 points better defensively per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor (and a whopping net 13.5 points overall).

Thanks to West and Hibbert, and the crazy size of Paul George, the Pacers are also the 6th best defensive rebounding team in the league. Opposing teams go one-and-done offensively quite a bit.

Length on the perimeter

Another thing the Pacers do extraordinarily well defensively is defend the 3-point line. The average team this year shoots around 35.7 percent from behind the arc, but the Pacers hold their opponents to a stingy 31.6 percent shooting. That’s the top number in the league, and the length of guys like George Hill (who owns a ridiculous 6-foot-9 wingspan), Lance Stephenson (6-foot-10 wingspan) and Paul George (near 7-foot-wingspan) play into that heavily. According to Synergy Sports, the Pacers are the number one defense in the league defending against spot-up jumpers — a testament to the ability of their wings to get a hand up and contest every shot.

Coach of the Year?

There’s a reason Frank Vogel just got a contract extension, folks. The Pacers have a lot of plus individual defenders, but no one in their right mind expected them to have the league’s most efficient defense 35 games in. This is a core that has benefitted a great deal from playing together, and give Vogel credit for allowing Indiana’s starting five (Hill-Stephenson-George-West-Hibbert) to play the second most minutes together of any unit in the league — even if Indiana’s bench has been a question mark ever since he grabbed the big seat. If Tom Thibodeau can win a Coach of the Year for the defense he brought to Chicago, Vogel should at least be seriously considered if this keeps up.

Thank you, David

And here’s the reason why it might not keep up. Indiana’s Dr. Jekyl defense and Mr. Hyde offense is unlike anything we’ve seen, but a very soft schedule certainly has played into that a bit. Indiana’s strength of schedule is dead last in the league, and their SRS, a rating that factors point differential into that equation, is just 15th. Although more recent wins against  Memphis, Milwaukee and Miami are impressive, their wins prior to that came against sub .500 clubs almost exclusively. Some regression should be expected as the quality of opponents spikes back up.

But even with that said, it’s tough to deny the staying power of the league’s most resilient team to date. Things can’t possibly get worse offensively, especially since Stephenson has made such a positive impact lately. With Granger targeting a February return, there is hope on the horizon.

It’s not often we see a contender so painfully one-dimensional, but if this defense holds on to the distinction of being the best in the league, the Pacers will be awfully hard to ignore any longer.

NBA: Spurs got away with two key fouls in crunch time BEFORE final play (videos)

San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green, left, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Manu Ginobili (20) watch Tim Duncan (21) strip the ball from -Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams (12) during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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The final play of Thunder-Spurs Game 2 was pure mayhem – five missed calls in the final 13.5 seconds.

But what if that high-stakes ending were avoided completely?

If officials had gotten previous crunch-time calls correct, it might have been.

The last play mattered only because San Antonio was charging back from a five-point deficit with a minute and a half left. The Spurs trailed by only one when Dion Waiters inbounded the ball.

San Antonio probably shouldn’t have been that close.

The Last Two Minute Report featured three missed calls before the final play, each favoring the Spurs and two crucial.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored with 1:27 left, but only after getting away with offensively fouling Russell Westbrook. NBA:

Since Westbrook (OKC) is stationary, Aldridge (SAS) can establish himself in his path without giving him room to avoid the screen. However, Aldridge does not maintain his legal position when he pushes Westbrook off balance.

That doesn’t look like a clear offensive foul from the angle TNT showed, but the league reviews these plays from multiple angles. There’s enough obscured to believe an alternate view would show an illegal screen.

A correct call would’ve ended San Antonio’s possession and given the Thunder the ball up five instead of three.

On the ensuing possession, the Spurs forced a miss, but Tim Duncan got away with a loose-ball foul of Steven Adams to get the rebound. NBA:

Duncan (SAS) clamps the arm of Adams (OKC) and affects his ability to retrieve the rebound

A correct call would’ve given Oklahoma City the ball with 1:11 left – another opportunity to run clock and add to its lead.

Duncan also committed a three-second violation with 55 seconds left, but the Spurs missed and Oklahoma City rebounded on that possession, anyway.

Especially considering that Manu Ginobili crossing the sideline should’ve been a violation before Waiters pushed him, the Spurs and their fans can’t reasonably claim officiating cost them this game

NBA official report says refs blew five calls in final 13 seconds of Thunder win

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This has to be a record.

Hopefully, this is one never broken.

The NBA’s official review found five missed calls in the final 13.5 seconds of Oklahoma City’s Game 2 win over the Spurs Monday night, and eight total in the final two minutes of play. Lead official Ken Mauer admitted to one after the game — missing Dion Waiters shoving Manu Ginobili back — but this goes into all the details. And this doesn’t cover Steven Adams getting his arm grabbed by a fan.

In short the NBA says: Manu Ginobili stepped on the line, Dion Waiters did foul Ginobili, Patty Mills fouled Steven Adams, Kawhi Leonard fouled Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka fouled LaMarcus Aldridge.

It’s a wash if you want to look at it that way, although it’s hard to look past that many errors. Whether you think it was a fair outcome probably depends on which team you’re rooting for.

Here are the calls from the final 13 seconds — both right and wrong — according to the NBA’s review (the time stamp of the incorrect calls are in bold):

• 13.5 sec: Manu Ginobili did step on the line while trying to guard Waiters inbound pass. The report says that should have been assessed as a delay of game, although the rule book says that in the final two minutes it should be a technical foul.

• 13.5 sec: Waiters did shove Manu Ginobili and should have been called for a foul, with the ball awarded to the Spurs. Here is the league’s comment:

Waiters crosses the (out of bounds) plane during the inbound and makes contact with Ginobili that affects his ability to defend

• 13.5 sec: Waiters did inbound the ball within five seconds, a correct no call.

• 13.5 sec: Waiters was allowed to jump during the inbound pass, a correct no call. Here is the league’s explanation:

Waiters jumps during his inbound attempt, which is permissible under NBA interpretations of the relevant throw-in Rule No. 10, Section III, provided the player doesn’t leave the designated throw-in spot (laterally) or leave the playing surface (e.g., stepping into the stands) to gain an advantage

• 13.5 sec: The Spurs Danny Green did not Kevin Durant while KD was trying to get open for the pass, a correct no call according to the report. The comment:

Green and Durant briefly engage and separate during the inbounds play.

• 13.5 sec: Patty Mills does foul Steven Adams as he tries to get open for the inbounds play, there should have been a foul called.

• 13.5 sec: Kawhi Leonard did foul Russell Westbrook in the backcourt as the Thunder Guard tried to get open by grabbing his jersey, there was no call but it should have been whistled.

• 12.6 sec: Green did not foul Durant in going for the inbounds pass, a correct no call. The league’s comment:

Green and Durant make incidental body contact as they jump for the inbound pass. Green then cleanly strips the ball.

• 5.7 sec: Ibaka does not foul Leonard, this contact was incidental and a correct no call.

• 4.3 sec: Adams does not foul Mills in contesting his corner three. Here is the league’s comment.

Adams legally contests Mills’ jump shot attempt. Any contact that occurs after Mills has landed is initiated by Mills prior to him falling to the floor.

• 2.6 sec: Ibaka did foul LaMarcus Aldridge on his shot attempt off the rebound of Mills’ miss, Aldridge should have been awarded free throws. Here is the league’s comment:

RHH shows that Ibaka grabs and holds Aldridge’s jersey and affects his shot attempt.

• 0.5 sec: There was no foul in the scrum under the basket for the ball once Aldridge and Ibaka were tangled up. This was a correct no call. Here is the comment from the league.

Ibaka and Leonard make incidental contact with one another while diving for the loose ball.

Dwyane Wade ‘honored’ to be Prince’s favorite player

Late Night with Seth Meyers - Season 2
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Dwyane Wade says he’s feeling “all kinds of emotions” after hearing that he was Prince’s favorite basketball player.

The Miami Heat star took to Twitter after hearing Prince’s comments in a 2012 Australian radio interview the late pop icon conducted with model Damaris Lewis.

Prince died last month at his Minnesota home at the age of 57.

Referees admit error at end of Thunder/Spurs, will add call to training in future

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It’s hard to describe the final play of the Thunder Game 2 win over the Spurs and the officiating during it for a family-friendly publication such as this. The phrase I want to use starts with “cluster” but that’s as far as I can go.

The officiating crew missed a host of calls during those final 13 seconds, but they have at least owned up to the most egregious one — missing Dion Waiters pushing off Manu Ginobili while the Thunder guard tried to inbound the ball. (Yes, Ginobili’s foot was on the line, but sorry Thunder homers that was not close to the most egregious miss at the end.)

After the game, the lead official Kenny Mauer admitted that error.

Now the NBA referee’s union released this statement:

Did that decide the game? No. We like to focus on things we can blame as going wrong, but the Spurs offense started 2-of-15 shooting on the night, was inconsistent, and they still had a chance at the end. This one play is not why the Spurs lost. Manu Ginobili said it well postgame.