Knicks predictably drop Game 4 to Pacers, fall behind 3-1

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George Hill tried to call timeout as he was falling out of bounds, but the official didn’t realize and instead called a foul Amar’e Stoudemire, who protested to no avail.

Sorry, Knicks, nobody is stopping this runaway series – at least not since Frank Vogel made that mistake in Game 2.

The Pacers beat New York, 93-82, tonight to take a 3-1 series lead. If anyone thinks this is a fluke, they haven’t been paying attention.

The Knicks changed their starting lineup, but not their results. Kenyon Martin started for Pablo Prigioni in an attempt to match Indiana’s physicality, but the switch didn’t result in much more than a few comical fouls that illustrated how overmatched New York is even when going big.

The matchups in this series play to Indiana’s favor, but simply, the Pacers are better than the Knicks. Even in the regular season, Indiana had a better Pythagorean win percentage – historically a better indicator of postseason success than actual win percentage – than New York. And despite their tweaks, the Knicks, who trailed by as many as 18, couldn’t overcome that.

The Knicks were a mediocre rebounding team during the regular season, and they were outrebounded, 54-36, tonight. The Pacers are an elite rebounding team, and New York just can’t keep up.

The Knicks took great care of the ball during the regular season, and they had just nine turnovers tonight. But that’s partially the result of an offense that doesn’t take enough calculated risks to find good shots.

The Knicks set NBA records for 3-pointers made and attempts during the regular season, and they attempted 28 tonight. But a game after taking  a season-low 11, New York forced too many long looks, shooting just 8-for-28 (28.6 percent).

Carmelo Anthony led the NBA in scoring, and he led the Knicks with 24 points tonight. Of the 11 players who scored 20 points per game and reached the playoffs, Melo had the worst-shooting teammates, and that didn’t change tonight, either. J.R. Smith (7-for-22), Iman Shumpert (0-for-6), Martin (0-3) and Jason Kidd (0-for-2 to push his scoreless streak to eight games) were particularly loathsome for a group that shot 34 percent.

The Pacers, on the other hand, had excellent contributions from all their starters. George Hill scored 26 points on 14 shots. Paul George (18 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists) and David West (10 points and 10 rebounds) had double-doubles. Roy Hibbert (11 rebounds and three blocks) played splendid defense. Even Lance Stephenson, the fifth starter, played about as well as any Knick aside from Melo.

As I wrote after Game 3, Indiana has a stronger identity than New York right now – and the Knicks are straying even further from theirs. New York hasn’t used a single lineup in all 10 of its playoff games, and tonight’s starters – Raymond Felton, Shumpert, Melo, Martin and Tyson Chandler – hadn’t played together all season.

Shumpert played just 4:49 and missed all four of his shots before Smith replaced him, the earliest either team has gone to its bench in this series.  But Smith picked up right where Shumpert left off and missed his first four shots, too.

The Knicks can keep tweaking, but the fundamental truths of this series haven’t changed.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.