Paul George, George Hill

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.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.