LeBron James-Paul George matchup reaches awesome levels in Game 2

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As the final seconds of the third quarter wound down, Paul George dribbled at the top and sized up LeBron James, arguably the NBA’s best wing defender. Without the benefit of LeBron overplaying him or the absence of a rim protector, George drove left past LeBron and ferociously dunked over Chris Andersen as a foul was called on the pile of feathers that remained where Birdman previously existed.

After George made the free throw with 5.1 seconds remaining, LeBron took the inbound, pushed up court and leaned in for a 29-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.

George headed toward his bench as everyone watching delighted in an awesome end to the quarter, but LeBron called him back for a quick high five near midcourt. It was an incredible moment that could rank just below Isiah Thomas’ and Magic Johnson’s pregame kiss in NBA lore – if George takes takes the steps to be remembered as a star.

The high five, it should be noted, occurred closer to LeBron’s bench.

George is the breakout star of the 2013 conference finals,  but LeBron is the star of everything, and this matchup is still unfolding on LeBron’s terms. Though the Pacers won Game 2, 97-93, LeBron (36 points on 14-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals) outplayed George (22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, six assists and two rebounds).

But the Pacers don’t need George to win this matchup, and if they did, they’d be in a world of trouble. Indiana needs George to hold his own, and so far, he’s doing that, which is truly incredible.

At times, George played neck and necked with the NBA’s greatest player, someone who’s playing as well as anyone has ever played this game.

In Game 1, LeBron (30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks) again bested George (27 points, five assists and four rebounds), but like tonight, George didn’t let LeBron dominate the matchup.

Any overtime game, as Miami’s Game 1 victory was, offers infinite opportunities for the losing team to regret a mistake. George turned the ball over a team-high six times in that game, and any one of those could have made the difference.

George got his turnovers under control tonight (just two in 39 minutes), but LeBron went the other direction. He had five turnovers tonight, including two passes stolen in the final 42 seconds with Miami down two points.

George didn’t steal either, and he didn’t do much to force either. But on both plays, he stuck close with LeBron and applied at least a little pressure.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.

Trail Blazers beat Suns by 48, biggest season-opening rout in NBA history

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Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.

More than fine.

Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.

Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):

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The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.

Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova scrap (video)

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Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova thrive on aggravating opponents, so when matched up, of course they aggravated each other.

Deduct points from Smart for pulling the hold-me-back charade behind a referee. Plus, Dellavedova’s Bucks beat Smart’s Celtics, 108-100.

Report: ‘Tremendous concern’ for Jeremy Lin’s knee injury

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The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?

Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:

If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.

The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.

It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.