Wild game ends with too much Hibbert for Heat to stop, series tied 2-2

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This was a wild ride.

From a fast 11-0 start by a Pacers team playing with desperation, to LeBron James having another monster game including an insane block of George Hill at the rim. From Lance Stephenson providing an offensive spark and hitting ridiculous threes, to some ridiculous calls from the referees.

But with the game tied 89-89 and 3:28 left, the Pacers relied on the one thing Miami has not been able to consistently stop — Roy Hibbert. First he had a putback of a Paul George miss. Next possession Hibbert missed a righty hook over Chris Bosh but grabbed his own offensive board, went back up and drew the and-1 foul. Next Pacers possession Stephenson missed but Hibbert was there for another tip in. Seven straight Pacers points by the 7’2” big man that has towered over the Pacers wins.

Indiana won 99-92, tying the series up at 2-2. This is now a best of three where each team has won on the other’s home court. Game 5 is Thursday night back in Miami.

Indiana did a much better job on LeBron James in this game, throwing a number of different looks at him and not letting him easily establish himself on the low block (where he hurt them so much in Game 3). LeBron could never get comfortable and shot just 8-of-18, with a game-high 24 points.

But when the defense focuses on him other Heat players need to step up, and on Tuesday night that was spotty. Dwyane Wade had 16 point on 15 shots and looked grounded by his knee. Chris Bosh was 1-of-6. Ray Allen was 4-of-13. The only guy who really stepped up at all was Mario Chalmers who had 20 points on 14 shots.

Miami shot 39 percent for the game. That is not going to get it done.

Especially since they can’t seem to stop the Pacers’ offense, which is really the story of this series.

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Indiana was the 19th best offense in the NBA averaging just 101.6 points per 100 possessions this season, but Tuesday night they had an offensive rating of 120. For the series now they are up to 111.3 points per 100 possessions. That would have been the best in the league during the regular season (besting the Heat’s 110.3). Indiana has stepped up their offense, found ways to score on the Heat, and that is by far the biggest surprise of this series.

While Indiana raced out to that early 11-0 lead the Heat had come back and taken a small lead by the middle of the quarter. For the rest of the game things were pretty close, although it often felt like the Pacers were playing better and just couldn’t pull away. It was a one-point game at halftime, 49-48, despite the fact the Pacers shot 50 percent to Heat’s 39.5 percent. Miami was hanging around but not knocking down the shots they needed (they were 1-14 in first half from midrange).

Indiana also withstood the Heat charges. Miami went on a 9-0 run early in the third quarter, hitting 5-of-7 shots to open the third. But Indiana answered back with 10-0 run of their own with Paul George dishing and David West knocking down midrange shots.

Hibbert finished with 23 points and 12 boards but he got the kind of help from his teammates LeBron did not — 20 from Stephenson, 19 from George Hill and a solid 14 from David West.

The crucial question for Game 5 will be one we didn’t expect to ask — can the Heat stop the Pacers?

76ers second-rounder Jonah Bolden signs in Israel

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Jonah Bolden – No. 16 on my draft board – slipped all the way to the 76ers at No. 36 in the NBA draft. An impressive summer league has raised his stock significantly.

But Philadelphia won’t reap the rewards this season.

Bolden signed a three-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team announced. The club also said the deal contained NBA outs and the 76ers helped facilitate his move from his previous team, Red Star in Serbia.

This is a helpful arrangement for Philadelphia, which is running out of roster spots. Bolden will develop elsewhere while allowing the 76ers’ to maintain his exclusive negotiating rights.

Bolden must get stronger and more adept at handling physicality. The athletic stretch four can also continue developing his burgeoning perimeter skills.

Then, next year, maybe the 76ers will have room to sign him themselves.

Anthony Davis does #DriveByDunkChallenge (video)

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If you’re not up with what the kids are doing, the cool thing this summer is the #DriveByDunkChallenge – driving to random houses, running out of a still-running car, dunking on their basketball hoop, running back into the car then driving off.

It sounds like a lot of fun for those who can dunk (and don’t get accosted by startled homeowners). An example:

Pelicans star Anthony Davis took his turn:

Report: Thunder signing Dakari Johnson two years after drafting him

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Two seasons ago, Dakari Johnson was the youngest player by more than two years on the D-League’s All-Rookie team. Last season, Johnson was the youngest player by more than a year on an All-D-League team – and he made the first of three teams.

Now, Johnson – who the Thunder drafted No. 48 in 2015 and whose rights they continued to hold – is finally moving up to the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Thunder have already used the full taxpayer mid-level exception, so presumably Johnson will get the minimum – $2,128,226 over two years. That, plus two years of meager D-League salary, will be Johnson’s return for granting Oklahoma City four years of his services.

He could have forced the Thunder’s hand either of the previous two years by signing the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum – a team must extend to retain a draft pick’s rights. Accepting the tender would have meant Johnson earning an NBA salary (and gaining a year of service) if Oklahoma City kept him past the preseason. Or, if they waived him, he would’ve been an unrestricted NBA free agent. He still could have developed with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate while available to any NBA team.

Instead, Johnson repeatedly rejected the tender, allowing Oklahoma City to maintain exclusive negotiating rights.

At least the Thunder helped develop him. A strong 7-footer, Johnson has improved his mobility and skill level. He’s still an old-school center in a league moving away from that style, but he’s now more equipped to keep up.

Whether he’s ready enough is another question. Johnson will fall behind Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on the depth chart. At just 21, Johnson is still a decent developmental prospect.

Johnson gives the Thunder 16 players on standard contracts, one more than the regular-season maximum. They could waive Semaj Christon, whose salary is unguaranteed, but I’d be leery of having only Raymond Felton behind Russell Westbrook at point guard. Nick Collison at least provides insurance at center.

So, there’s no guarantee Johnson sticks into the regular season. One thing working in his favor: His salary will be luxury-taxed at the rookie minimum, because the Thunder drafted him. Christon or any other player acquired through free agency would be taxed at the second-year minimum.

No matter how it shakes out, Johnson is at least finally getting significant money in his pocket.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey: DeMar DeRozan to play some point guard

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The Raptors gave away backup point guard Cory Joseph to save money. So, who will play behind Kyle Lowry?

Presumably, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will each slide up a spot on the depth chart. The third-year Wright looks ready to join the rotation, and he deserves at least the opportunity.

But Toronto also has another – unexpected – option at point guard: DeMar DeRozan.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Bryan Meler of Sportsnet:

“DeMar DeRozan, have him handle the ball a bit more as a point guard, a facilitator, a passer. Kyle Lowry moving the ball a bit more, spacing up. We don’t want to give our whole ‘what we’re going to try to do next year’ away, but again it comes down to passing the basketball and better spacing more so, than we know, one-on-one play.”

“Everyone and their brother knows we want better ball movement,” said Casey.

DeRozan didn’t play point guard at all last season.* So, this is a pretty big shift.

*Defined as playing without Lowry, Joseph, Wright or VanVleet.

Known as an isolation player, DeRozan has quietly improved as a distributor. I don’t think his ability to run an offense is at a point-guard level, but I’m also not sure that’s the point.

The Raptors are trying to change their style and promote more ball movement. This could help in the long run.

I supported the Timberwolves playing Zach LaVine at point guard as a rookie even though it was clear he should be a shooting guard. Playing point guard was a crash course that helped him develop skills useful at shooting guard, skills he couldn’t have as easily developed while playing off the ball.

The same could be true with DeRozan. Some rocky minutes at point guard could better equip him to play with Lowry in better-passing units come playoff time.

It was more conventional to play a 19-year-old on a bad team out of position to focus on skill development than it is for a 28-year-old on a good team. But he we are.

The Raptors have achieved enough success in the regular season and not enough in the playoffs. Experimenting during the long regular season is a good plan.