Pacers assert themselves (as do referees), take charge of series with easy win over Hawks

8 Comments

The NBA’s conventional wisdom is that star players are good everywhere but role players tend to be better at home.

In the case of the Pacers and Hawks, the entire team persona seems to flip depending on where the game is played.

Game 5 was back in Indiana and after a couple dismal performances on the road the Pacers played their best game of the series on their way to a 106-83 win behind 63 points from their starting front line.

The Pacers lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 back in Atlanta Friday night. Based on how this series has gone, expect a huge night from the Hawks.

Also, let’s hope the referees aren’t as whistle happy as they were Wednesday night. The third quarter took nearly an hour (58 minutes) thanks to the constant whistles. And nobody was playing hack-an-anybody. But we’ll talk more about that later.

Indiana finally made some adjustments to the Hawks starting Johan Petro (moving Al Horford to the four and Josh Smith to the three). The Pacers put the ball in Paul George’s hands and ran him off pick-and-rolls —Smith, normally playing the four, isn’t used to having to cover the ball handler coming off that pick and he was getting knocked out of position all night. In the first half George shot 4-of-4 with 4 assists (he finished with 18 points).

Then in the second quarter the Pacers just pounded it with their big men inside — David West had 12 in second quarter as he just was more physical than the Hawks front line. Roy Hibbert had 14 in the first half, mostly by going 8-of-8 at free throw line as he was aggressive and attacking again. He does that at home.

Meanwhile, the Hawks went back to struggling against the Pacers defense, shooting just 37.5 percent in the first half. The Pacers led 50-43 at the break.

Indiana came out in the second half on an 18-5 run to put the game away. The Hawks shot 4-of-14 in the third quarter, and by the time the quarter ended the game pretty much has as well.

Of course, it took forever for the third quarter to end. Thanks to the referees.

The game had started to get a little chippy as playoff games will, and the referees decided to control that by whistling down everything — 13 fouls were called on the Pacers, 5 on the hawks and there were another 3 technicals. As noted before, it was a 58-minute quarter. It took longer than a soccer half with 5 minutes of injury time tacked on.

West finished with 24 points, George had 21 on 7-of-8 shooting, Roy Hibbert had 18 and George Hill 15. All of them outscored the Hawks leaders, Smith and Horford with 14 a piece.

Before you draw concussions about how the Pacers’ varied attack sets the tone for Game 6, just remember it goes back to Atlanta and that game will likely look nothing at all like this one.

“Tired” Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

Getty Images
1 Comment

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest. Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

image

Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

A post shared by NBA (@nba) on

“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
1 Comment

LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.