Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game One

Paul George introduces himself to much of America with breakout game… that got overshadowed

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America, meet Paul George.

He’s the Pacer that hit the insane, dramatic three pointer that sent Game 1 against the Heat into overtime. He’s the guy that drew the superstar call on Dwyane Wade, then with ice water in his veins hit three free throws to give Indiana the lead with 2.2 seconds left in overtime. He’s the guy assigned the thankless task of guarding LeBron James and did a pretty good job — between the start of the second quarter and the end of regulation George held him to 6-of-15 shooting (which is pretty dang good against the two-time MVP). He’s the guy who led Indiana with 27 points, plus had 5 assists and got to the free throw line 11 times.

This was his national coming out party — he’s a big-time NBA star, not just a guy basketball people admire…

Except that his not how this game will be remembered.

What will be talked about is LeBron’s layup — a play where George overplayed LeBron and in doing so gave him a direct path to the rim. What’s going to be talked about is Miami escaping with a win in Game 1.

And George will be an afterthought. Which is too bad, because he was brilliant — and the Pacers wouldn’t have been anywhere near a position to win without him. Still, George knows how this will be remembered.

“I gotta understand, you make LeBron shoot a jumper at that point,” George said after the game of the final play.

“I grabbed him after the game and quickly told him to forget about the last play,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s a third year player, and he’s playing the best player in the world, someone that is arguably going to go down as one of the best players in the history of the game, and he’s just playing him toe-to-toe, playing his tail off, competing very hard. I’m very proud of his whole effort.”

George is not a guy that casual basketball fans knew — a lot of those fans can’t name any Pacers players — but basketball people have been admiring him all season. George was an up-and-coming player who got thrust into a much larger role this year with Danny Granger being out — George went from being the second option to the guy everybody counted on for points.

And he responded — he took on much more of the Pacers offense (23.7 percent usage rate) and earned 17.4 points a game, not to mention the 7.6 rebounds, 4 assists and being a key part of the NBA’s best defense. All that earned him the NBA’s Most Improved Player award this year.

That didn’t mean he was known. He’s a guy with two first names who played his college ball in Fresno and now toils in Indiana — not many people have seen him play, or really watched him if they have.

And their first half impression of him was not going to be great — he shot 1-of-4 with three turnovers. He struggled against LeBron in the first quarter but in the second played some good defense.

But in the second half and overtime he carried the Pacers — 25 points, he got to the line 11 times, and hit 3-of-4 from three. On defense he didn’t stop LeBron but he made the Heat star really work for his points. He made LeBron far less efficient.

George kept the Pacers right in this game. People noticed.

Next people knew his name after, with less than a second left in regulation, he hit a 29-foot three that sent the game into overtime.

Next people were screaming his name — with time running out in overtime and the Pacers down two the play in a scramble after Norris Cole knocked the ball free. But George got it, took a three again and drew the foul from Dwyane Wade. We’ll be generous and say it was a borderline call — certainly not a call you expect to see made at the end of games — but George got it. It was a superstar call and the refs gave it to him. Then he coolly sank all three free throws and had the Pacers up one with 2.2 seconds left.

But George made some mistakes on the night. Like the lime-green paisley shirt he wore to the press conference. Or the pass he threw late in the game to Sam Young on the bench (apparently mistaking him for a guy in the game).

Or when he overplayed LeBron’s entry pass with two seconds left in overtime and gave him a path to the basket and the game winner.

Like it was for the Pacers, for George this was a learning experience. A painful one.

But in three resilient NBA years he has shown he learns from his mistakes. And that could be trouble for the Heat because George almost lifted the Pacers to a Game 1 win.

Pacers unveil 50th anniversary patch for their uniforms (PHOTO)

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 28:  Leandro Barbosa #28 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. 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 Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise for 50 years — 10 in the ABA and 40 in the NBA. To celebrate this anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new patch that they will wear on their uniforms this season. You can check it out below:

It looks pretty sleek, combining the Pacers’ logo with the zero in “50.” It’s subtle and well-designed.

Kobe Bryant pays tribute to Kevin Garnett on Twitter

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts a shot up over Kevin Garnett #5 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 12, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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This summer, three of this generation’s defining NBA players, and three of the greatest players of all time, called it a career: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The latter two in particular had a lot in common, as psychotic competitors and polarizing personalities. They had many memorable battles over the years, including the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2010 (they each won one) and the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, when Garnett was in Minnesota. On Saturday afternoon, a day after Garnett officially announced his retirement, Kobe paid tribute to him with a tweet.

The next time they’ll be together is 2021, when they go into the Hall of Fame together.

Doc Rivers calls anthem protests “the most patriotic thing we can do”

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23:  Head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts to his team during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 23, 2016 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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With the NBA season around the corner, there are a lot of eyes on how teams and players will handle the national anthem protests that have become prominent in the NFL. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wholeheartedly supports the notion of his players participating, and hopes the whole team can figure out a statement to make together. Via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Listen, we need social change. If anyone wants to deny that, they just need to study the history of our country,” he told the Southern California News Group on Friday. “… I’ve said it 100 times. There’s no more American thing to do than to protest. It’s the most patriotic thing we can do. There are protests I like and protests I don’t like. It doesn’t matter. …Protests are meant to start conversation. The conversation, you hope, leads to acknowledgement, and the acknowledgement leads to action. We’re, right now, still in the conversation.”

“I hope we do it as a group. I know whenever you protest as one solid group, the protest has more teeth if you want to protest,” he said. “… I’m supporting our guys’ right to protest. I’m saying that up front. My hope is you believe it and do it for the right reasons and not just because it’s a hot topic on Instagram.

Rivers has a unique perspective — his father was a police officer, but he’s seen plenty of racism in his life. This won’t be his first time leading a team when it comes to social issues — he was able to unite the Clippers in the spring of 2014 when the Donald Sterling racism scandal broke. It’s encouraging to see NBA coaches trending towards fostering open dialogue on their teams about these issues.

Harden focused on helping Rockets improve after tough season

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets warms up before playing the Golden State Warriors in game four of the first round playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden was second in the NBA with 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 rebounds were a career high.

Still, it was a disappointing year for Harden and the Houston Rockets, who were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State, and the star knew he had to adjust things to take the team farther this year.

“Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn’t there,” he said. “So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was.”

To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.

“Just getting to know somebody and hanging out … it was really good,” he said. “That’s going to carry over onto the court.”

The way his embraced his role as the undisputed leader of this team has impressed everyone in the organization, starting with owner Leslie Alexander.

“It shows that James wants to win very badly,” Alexander said. “He’s a winning player … James is one of the top three or four players we’ve ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else.”

Trevor Ariza is entering his 13th NBA season, but had the excitement of a rookie on Friday as he talked about how much better things feel entering this season than they did last year. It was a season that saw coach Kevin McHale fired after just 11 games and the Rockets take a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015.

“I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn’t figure it out together,” Ariza said. “I don’t even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year.”

So how have things changed now?

“The vibe has just been totally different,” Ariza said. “Everybody is excited to show what they’ve worked on and excited just to be around each other.”

These positive-attitude Rockets enter the season with new coach Mike D’Antoni and without eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. A big question for this team will be who will step in to make up for Howard’s absence.

Their top options are Clint Capela, a third-year player who saw limited action the past two seasons as Howard’s backup, and Nene, who played 53 games for Washington last year before joining Houston in the offseason.

General manager Daryl Morey raved about Capela’s improvement in his first year, but knows he’ll have to do more this season if the Rockets hope to be a force in the Western Conference.

“Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Along with Nene, the Rockets also added outside shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon this offseason. Houston expects the addition of those two to fill a void that this team has had in recent years.

“We were able to upgrade our shooting … for the style we want to play,” Morey said. “I don’t feel like we had enough shooting (before). We do have that.”

Everyone is saying the right things and Morey believes he made the upgrades necessary for the team to succeed in D’Antoni’s system. But with all the improvements other teams made in the West, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team.

Alexander was confident, yet tempered when asked about his expectations.

“I think we’ll win more games than people anticipate,” he said. “But when the season rolls on we’ll see how well we do.”