Pacers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with Game 6 win over Knicks

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The Pacers sent all five members of the starting lineup to the podium for the postgame press conference following their 106-99 Game 6 win over the Knicks, which goes a long way in telling the story of how they were able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The team defensive effort that Indiana exhibits so well as a unit was critical to the team’s success, and the fact that so many different guys can step up and contribute offensively have made them a tough team to face in these playoffs.

The Knicks did what they could, and Carmelo Anthony gave everything he had. But as a team, New York couldn’t overcome some brutal individual performances and some timely defensive lapses in order to push the series to a seventh game.

Anthony finished with a game-high 39 points on 15-of-29 shooting, but only saw two of his teammates crack double figures in scoring. One of them was J.R. Smith, who never found his stroke after being suspended for Game 4 of New York’s first round series against the Celtics. Smith shot 4-of-15 from the field, and made three critical defensive mistakes late at a time when his team could least afford them.

The high point for the Knicks was a blistering third quarter run they used to get themselves back into the game, after the Pacers had extended their lead to 10 points. Iman Shumpert briefly caught fire, and hit three consecutive three-point shots to cut the Indiana lead to a single point in a span of just 64 seconds. He hit one more before the period was through, and he and Anthony accounted for 31 of the Knicks’ 34 points in the third, the team’s highest scoring quarter of the entire series.

The fourth quarter was close, with the Knicks clinging to a two-point lead with 5:43 remaining. But everything changed from there, following a monster of a blocked shot from Roy Hibbert, who met Carmelo Anthony right at the rim with hand on ball after Anthony had driven baseline and elevated for the slam.

“That was a helluva block,” Anthony said afterward. “It was a big play from Hibbert, and it kind of spearheaded the run that they made.”

The play from Hibbert ignited the Pacers, who went on a 9-0 run from there to gain separation before pulling away to seal it.

Much was made about the availability of George Hill for this game, following the concussion he sustained which forced him to miss the Game 5 that the Knicks were able to win in New York. He was cleared about 90 minutes before tip-off and played 42 minutes, but whether due to the couple of days off or whether there were any lingering effects, he managed to shoot just 2-of-10 from the field.

The catalyst for the Pacers was the fearless play of Lance Stephenson, who set the tone early by being aggressive in going to the rim whenever he had the opportunity. He finished with a team-best 25 points on just 13 shots, to go along with 10 rebounds.

Hibbert was a beast inside defensively, protecting the rim as well as we’ve seen this postseason. He finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocked shots in 42 minutes of action. Paul George had his typically solid all-around game with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists, and David West was a solid contributor with 17 points of his own. As a team, the Pacers shot 50.7 percent from the field for the game, and outscored the Knicks by 32 in the points in the paint category — thanks to the way they attacked and defended the basket, but also because of New York’s propensity to take plenty of shots from the outside.

All five starters for the Pacers deserved to be mentioned, just as they all deserved a trip to the podium after the victory. Indiana truly was the better team in this series, in every sense of that word. Anthony did his best in this one, but ultimately he couldn’t do it all by himself.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.