Frank Vogel errs by readily sitting George Hill, Lance Stephenson with foul trouble


George Hill picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and after he hit a technical free throw on his way to the bench (thanks to jawing between Mario Chalmers, David West and Udonis Haslem), the Pacers led by two points.

By the time Hill returned five minutes later, Indiana trailed by eight points and wouldn’t lead again.

Of course, Hill finished with just four fouls.

Frank Vogel made a high-profile mistake by sitting Roy Hibbert at the end of Game 1, and the Pacers coach erred again while handling his players’ foul trouble in Game 5. Make no mistake, Vogel has done an excellent job this series, devising a gameplan that has challenged the Heat and hitting the right motivational notes. But that doesn’t make him immune to strategic mistakes.

Lance Stephenson picked up his second foul just two and a half minutes into the game, and Vogel pulled him for Sam Young. Though the Pacers built a lead with Young in the game, he didn’t play very well, and it stands to reason Indiana would have fared better with Stephenson (even though hindsight says Stephenson had a poor game). But Vogel self-imposed a penalty by inserting Young. Stephenson committed three fouls in the game’s final five minutes to foul out, but at that point, the Pacers were effectively out of the game.

Vogel’s more egregious mistake came when Hill committed his fourth foul.

Hill fouls at an extremely low rate – once nearly every 20 minutes during the regular season – and even if he’s more likely to foul against the Heat, the odds of him fouling out were low. Again, Vogel self-imposed a penalty and sat Hill in favor of D.J. Augustin.

These self-imposed penalties are often foolish, but they’re particularly destructive for the Pacers.

Indiana relies heavily on its starting lineup – +26 this series in a slight majority of the available minutes, compared to –45 for all other lineups – so tweaking the rotation allows fewer minutes for Hill, Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert to share the court. In Game 5, the Pacers’ starters played much less together than any other game of the series:

  • Game 1: 28 minutes
  • Game 2: 29 minutes
  • Game 3: 26 minutes
  • Game 4: 24 minutes
  • Game 5: 16 minutes

It’s not just that Indiana’s starters are better than its reserves – though they are – but that Indiana’s starters work so well together. Even when four starters play together, the Pacers are just –16 in 40 minutes this series.

In Game 5, a lineup with Augustin replacing Hill and the rest of the starters was –8 in five minutes.

The biggest problems came defensively, where Augustin – who played a more minutes than any Indiana reserve this series – often didn’t stick close to his man or, when he did, wasn’t big enough to disrupt him.

Probably by the Heat’s design, Indiana’s point guards spent a decent amount of time guarding LeBron James, who set screens for Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole to begin pick-and-rolls. Any switch or hedge that involved Augustin guarding LeBron or preventing the ball from reaching LeBron didn’t work too well. Chalmers had his success with Augustin, too.

These aren’t easy matchups for Hill, either, but he’s a much better defender – and a much better fit with the Pacers’ preferred lineup. Next time, Vogel shouldn’t rush to sacrifice that.

Ben Simmons with 10th triple-double of season: 15 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds

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Most impressive part of this one? Ben Simmons racked up this triple-double in three quarters.

The Sixers impressive rookie put together his 10th triple-double of the season — 15 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds — Saturday to help lead Philadelphia past Minnesota, 120-108 (the Sixers sixth straight win). Simmons was attacking all night, not taking a single shot outside the paint and shooting 5-of-9. On those drives, he was able to make some dishes for assists, too.

Simmons has averaged a triple-double over the last seven games, and he has the second most triple-doubles ever by a rookie (Oscar Robertson more than doubled Simmons output).

I don’t know if Simmons or Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is going to win Rookie of the Year (both are deserving), but nights like this and numbers like this certainly help Simmons’ case.

Kevin Durant on Warriors injuries: “There’s nothing to worry about”


Stephen Curry is out for the rest of the regular season and likely will miss at least the start of the playoffs with a sprained MCL in his left knee. His starting backcourt mate Klay Thompson is out for at least another week, maybe more, with a fractured thumb. Kevin Durant should return this week from his fractured ribs. Draymond Green missed time with a hip contusion but will return to the lineup this week.

The injuries have piled up on the Warriors, and while only Curry’s is expected to bleed over into the postseason, the question remains, should Warriors fans be worried?

Kevin Durant took a page from the Aaron Rodgers “relax” book and told Warriors fans to chill, speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

“S— ain’t perfect when you’re living life,” Durant said. “There’s going to be ebbs and flows. I know since this whole Warriors [dynasty] started, it’s been pretty nice. There’s nothing to worry about. We’re all living life good. We’re playing in the NBA. We got a couple ankle tweaks, we got a few rib injuries, a couple of guys got kicked in the groin, a little fractured thumb. Nobody is dealing with anything life-threatening…

“Steph is going to work his tail off to get back no matter what it is, and we’re all going to support him and we’re going to be there for him. We’re going to hold this s— down.”

Durant is right. First, in the grand scheme of world problems, Curry’s knee is not a big one. Secondly, the Warriors have had a fairly fortunate and magical run the past few years, and by the start of the playoffs the Warriors should have most of the team healthy and rested.

The Warriors likely can get through the first two rounds without Curry, so long as Durant, Green, Thompson, as well as Iguodala and Livingston are healthy. A potential second-round matchup with Portland would be a challenge, but the Warriors would still deserve favorite status in that one.

Against Houston in a potential Western Conference Finals matchup, Golden State will need a healthy. Curry should be back by then, but with the Warriors injury luck lately it’s something to watch.

Stephen Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain


The Warriors will have to go the rest of the season and probably the start the playoffs without the guy their offense is built around.

Stephen Curry will be out at least three weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday night when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his knee, the team announced Saturday. It’s about as good of news as could have been hoped for, considering the injury and the timing, that said the team will “re-evaluate” Curry in three weeks, and Grade 2 MCL’s often take a month or more to fully heal.

The playoffs begin in exactly three weeks. Curry could be back around the start of those games or, more likely, will miss part of the postseason depending upon how his recovery goes. The Warriors are essentially locked in as the two seed right now, but in a jumbled West it’s unclear who they will play in the first round and what matchup challenges that presents. The Warriors should be much healthier by then, they will get Draymond Green back from his hip injury on Sunday vs. the Jazz. Kevin Durant is expected later next week. Klay Thompson will be a little after that, but before the playoffs.

Curry, however, is the fuel that turns the Warriors offense into something elite. Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.

Kyrie Irving out 3-6 weeks following surgery on his knee

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Kyrie Irving could be back right around the start of the playoffs, somewhere during the first round, or maybe not until the beginning of the second (if the Celtics are still playing).

Irving had his knee surgery Saturday and the timeline for his return is 3-6 weeks, the Celtics announced Saturday. This is the official press release.

Celtics guard Kyrie Irving today underwent a minimally-invasive procedure to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed as part of the surgical repair of a fractured patella sustained during the 2015 NBA Finals. While removal of the wire should relieve irritation it was causing in Irving’s patellar tendon, the fractured patella has fully healed and Irving’s knee has been found to be completely structurally sound. Irving is expected to return to basketball activities in 3-6 weeks.

When Irving has been off the court this season, the Celtics have been 7.7 points worse per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating of 101, which is right at the bottom of the league. In the last five games, when Irving has been sidelined, the Celtics have gone 3-2 with an offensive rating of 100.4.

The Celtics are all but formally locked in as the two seed in the East.

With no Gordon Hayward or Daniel Theis for these playoffs, no Marcus Smart to start, and now questions about Irving’s availability, the question is how hard should Boston push to get Irving back for this postseason? Irving will push, it’s his nature, but the Celtics need to think bigger picture. Boston is poised to be a force in the East and maybe the team to beat next season, that should not be risked to make a splash this season. How motivated are the Celtics to push Irving for this season’s playoffs with a roster already decimated by injuries?