Pacers get big games from Roy Hibbert and Paul George, take Game 2 from Heat to even the series

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After the way Game 1 between the Heat and the Pacers went down, Game 2 could have gone one of two ways. Either Miami could have received the wake-up call delivered by Indiana and then come out with a dominant and inspired performance, or the Pacers could continue to make life difficult for the defending champs, and be in position once again to steal home court advantage in the final moments.

Indiana proved the latter to be true, and for the second straight game that it was a troublesome matchup for the Heat while battling for all 48 minutes. Behind huge games from Roy Hibbert and Paul George, and thanks to stifling LeBron James defensively in the game’s last couple of possessions, the Pacers took Game 2 97-93 to even the Eastern Conference Finals at a game apiece.

Hibbert is there primarily for defensive purposes, so when he puts in a dominant performance offensively as he did in this one, it’s simply a bonus. The Pacers’ key big man finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of 15 shooting, and yes, remained in the game for defensive purposes in the final few possessions.

George didn’t put up quite the numbers that Hibbert did, but he played at an elite level in stretches for the second straight game. He finished with 22 points and six assists, and earned the respect of James near the end of the third quarter, after he threw down a monster of a dunk on Chris Andersen that was followed by a three from James on the other end. LeBron made sure to slap hands with George after the shot, and said to him, “I got you back, young fella.”

James had yet another incredible statistical performance, finishing with 36 points on 14-of-20 from the field, good for a preposterous 70 percent shooting. He added eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks, but turned the ball over five times. Two of those came very uncharacteristically on some of the game’s most critical final possessions.

The first came with the Heat trailing by two with under 45 seconds remaining, and as LeBron tried to get the pass to Ray Allen on the perimeter, David West had his hand in the passing lane to deflect the ball and come away with the steal. Fortunately for the Heat, the result was nothing more than time off the clock, as the Pacers couldn’t convert on the offensive end.

The next time down, James drove the ball to the right side of the paint with under 13 seconds remaining. Unlike Game 1, George played excellent defense and was able to stay in front of James, and with Hibbert in the game this time and Chris Bosh on the strong side of the floor, Hibbert was able to come and help, forcing LeBron to make a tough pass. He tried to kick it back outside, but West once again got his hand in there to cause the deflection, and George Hill came away with the steal.

As the series shifts to Indiana, the Heat are going to have to get their role players contributing closer to the level we saw from them during the regular season against a Pacers team that brings a balanced attack and a supreme challenge defensively.

Miami can’t afford to get essentially nothing out of Shane Battier and Ray Allen, and may have to find additional minutes for Andersen considering how well he’s been playing on both ends of the floor. Dwyane Wade and Bosh contributed in spurts in Game 2, but one of them is going to need to have a big game on the road in support of LeBron to help the Heat regain the home court advantage in this series.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.