Aggressive Pacers win with offense, knock off Hawks 107-90

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The Pacers had statistically the best defense in the NBA this season. They shut teams down. The only question was could they score enough to win in the postseason?

Yes. Yes they can.

The Pacers answered that question early and often, putting up 34 points in the first quarter and getting triple-double from Paul George, and they handled the Hawks comfortably 107-90.

The Pacers lead the series 1-0, Game 2 is set for Wednesday night in Indy.

The Pacers scored plenty — 34 in the first quarter. George Hill started out 5-5 shooting with 13 points in the first quarter and the Hawks just had defensive breakdown after breakdown. Things were going so well early even Tyler Hansbrough had a strip and coast-to coast run. The Pacers were up by as many as 12 in the first.

From the opening tip the Pacers were the aggressors and it showed in free throws — Indiana got to the line 34 times, making 30. George himself got there 18 times. The entire Atlanta team was 7-of-14 from the line.

George finished the game with 23 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds.

Atlanta found what they need to do in the second quarter when they started getting the ball inside for shots close to the basket — Atlanta got 30 first half points in the paint — 15 shots in the second quarter came from inside the paint. And they forced the Pacers outside more.

Second quarter felt like Hawks were better side, but it was 24-24 for the quarter and the Pacers were still up 8.

Then in the third things reverted to form, the Pacers got back to owning the paint and they held the Hawks to 19 points. From there they pretty much coasted in, holding off a few Hawks charges.

Another sign the Pacers owned the paint — they won the offensive rebound battle, 14-6.

Indy got good production from their role players. Lance Stephenson had a mature game, was 5-of-9 shooting for 13 points. George Hill had 18 points, Roy Hibbert had 16 points and six Pacers were in double figures.

Jeff Teague had 21 points to lead the Hawks.

Josh Smith summed up the Hawks on the day — 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting. But he was 2-of-9 outside the paint and 5-of-6 inside it. That’s both very Josh Smith and shows what the Hawks need to do to steal Game 2 Wednesday.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.