New York Knicks' Chris Copeland celebrates a basket in the second half with his teammate Carmelo Anthony during the Knicks' 85-75 win over the Indiana Pacers' in Game 5 of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff basketball series in New York

Small ball, no George Hill, enough for Knicks to win, stave off elimination

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The Knicks didn’t solve the Pacers defense Thursday night. New York made some good little runs — with George Hill out for Indiana Raymond Felton was getting into the lane and making things happen more often, plus Chris Copeland showed why he should get more run — but overall the Knicks scored a pedestrian 85 points and shot just 41 percent. They had 12 assists on 32 baskets, so it wasn’t amazing ball movement.

But it was enough.

It was a night when the Pacers went cold — a lot of that had to do with Hill’s absence, but the Pacers were 19-of-33 at the free throw line, too —and the Knicks went back to small ball, which worked. Solid Knicks defense and a few more made baskets led to a comfortable 85-75 Knicks win in Game 5.

That makes the series 3-2 Pacers heading back to Indiana Saturday night for Game 6. That will be the Pacers stand — they do not want a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden (it would be Monday night).

Hill, the Pacers starting point guard, was a surprise scratch with a concussion, something he suffered in the first quarter of Game 4 (he played through i shooting 9-of-14). Hill’s status is up in the air for Game 6. Under NBA concussion policy he has to pass a series of tests after increasing levels of physical activity. The team doctor has to consult with a league neurologist before he is cleared to play.

If he can’t play Saturday it could be rough because the Pacers offense is not the same without him.

D.J. Augustin got the start and was 3-of-9 with zero assists. Gerald Green got some run at the point and he was a mess. It really all fell to Paul George, who had a respectable 23 points and 6 assists.

However, as a team the Pacers shot just 36.2 percent and had 19 turnovers. Credit some of that to a Knicks defense playing with the desperate energy of a team that didn’t want to be eliminated. J.R. Smith had a chasing down Augustin on a breakaway, Tyson Chandler not giving away dunks, there was good all around energy from the Knicks. But the Pacers just missed a lot of shots they can usually make (David West has been doing that all series).

New York got some better offense from key guys. J.R. Smith started out 3-of-5 shooting (but went 1-of-6 after that). Carmelo Anthony hit some key buckets and had 28 points, but needed a very Carmelo 28 shots to get them. Felton was much improved without Hill harassing him.

But Chris Copeland was the star off the bench. Why coach Mike Woodson went away from him at times this series is a mystery because they are just better when he is on the floor — 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 3-of-4 from three. He’s called “I Get Buckets” for a reason.

The Knicks also showed some fight missing before in this series. In the second half the Knicks would have a lead around 10 and the Pacers consistently would push it down — and each time the Knicks made a little run back. The lead was down to three, New York went on an 8-2 run. The lead came back down to 4 and the Knicks ran off six straight.

Everything worked a little better for the Knicks… well, except Jason Kidd. It’s nine straight games since he scored (since before the NFL draft, to give you a time frame) and he was 0-for-1 in this game when he missed a layup.

Back home in Indiana Saturday, expect the Pacers to shoot a little better at home — they will put up more points, with or without George Hill. We will see if the Knicks have another level in their offensive game to come back home for a deciding game.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.

Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass while under pressure from Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 29, 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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LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.

Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau thanks Kevin Garnett after retirement announcement

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics sits not he bench prior to Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks on April 28, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Tributes have poured in all over the NBA world since Kevin Garnett announced his retirement on Friday afternoon — from other players, commissioner Adam Silver and media members who covered him. Garnett and Tom Thibodeau have a lengthy history together: Thibodeau coached Garnett in Boston as an assistant under Doc Rivers, and they won a championship in 2008. This spring, Thibodeau took over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted Garnett, saw his best years and saw him end his career. Thibodeau released a heartfelt statement on Saturday congratulating Garnett:

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Kevin for all of his great accomplishments and contributions to the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, and for me personally with the Boston Celtics. Kevin combined great talent with a relentless drive and intelligence. I will always cherish the memories of the way in which he led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA Championship. His willingness to sacrifice and his unselfishness led us to that title. Kevin will always be remembered for the way in which he played the game. His fierce competitiveness, his unequalled passion for the game, and the many ways in which he cared about this team was truly special. KG is without question the all-time best player to wear a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey, and he is also one of the best to ever play this game.”

It’s a shame that Thibodeau didn’t get to coach Garnett again in Minnesota, but the team is in good hands with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.