Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West

Pacers’ starters are controlling the conference finals

15 Comments

The Miami Heat have the best player in the world in LeBron James and two other top flight players in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh anchoring what is rightfully considered one of the best starting lineups in the NBA.

And they’re getting their hats handed to them by the Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup.

The group of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert has run roughshod over the vaunted Heat and is the main reason this series is tied (and why it should probably be 3-1 in the Pacers’ favor).

In the 4 conference finals games to this point, the Pacers’ starting five has posted an offensive efficiency of 120.0 and a defensive efficiency of 105.1. To put those numbers in perspective, during the regular season the Heat posted a league best offensive efficiency of 110.3 while boasting a stingy defensive efficiency of 100.5.

The Pacers’ starters, then, have turned those numbers on their head by holding the heat to 5 fewer points per 100 possessions while scoring nearly 20 points more per 100 possessions than the Heat allowed during the regular season.

These numbers are meaningful not just because they show the discrepancy in production between the Pacers’ starters and the counterpart lineups they’re facing, but because of how often they’re on the floor. Over the first four games of this series, the Pacers starters have shared the floor for 107 minutes, or an average of a 26.9 minutes per game.

Maximizing the time his starters share the floor is nothing new for Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel. Two seasons ago Vogel deployed his starters for 253 minutes longer than the 2nd most used lineup in the league. This season the Pacers’ starters trailed only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starters as the lineup with the most minutes shared, boasting an incredible 1218 minutes together as a unit.

Moving forward, there aren’t many ways for the Heat to change this. Save for a possession here or there, Vogel has insisted on not adjusting his lineups to match up with the Heat’s smaller personnel groupings. He’s gone as far as having David West guard Shane Battier or Ray Allen over stretches of games in order to keep his unit intact. So unless one of Indiana’s starters gets into foul trouble, I don’t see Vogel voluntarily surrendering the advantage his starters have proven to have so far this series.

Of all the problems the Heat are having with the Pacers so far – and there are several – solving this one may be the hardest. Vogel seems to understand that his starters, as a unit and over the course of a game, will out produce most any other lineup the Heat can put on the floor and he seems intent on riding this advantage as hard as he can.

Maybe the Heat has an answer with their star studded cast. Maybe this is the game where all five players click and prove they really are the top unit. If they don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised, though.

This is nothing new for the Pacers. They’ve been doing it all year.

*Statistical support provided by NBA.com

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

2 Comments

With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
5 Comments

The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
1 Comment

And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.