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

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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.

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.

LeBron James beautifully pass-fakes, makes layup in transition (video)

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LeBron James is a treasure.

Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe is seriously jacked up (PHOTO)

shaq o'neal
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Remember how we we all freaked out when we saw pictures of LeBron James‘ feet back in 2013?

You probably didn’t want to be reminded that it existed, but it does. Still. And apparently jacked up feet is the consequence of a lifetime of playing professional basketball. Once can only assume it has something to do with tight shoes and constant, hard changes of direction in said tight shoes.

We got yet another vision of what basketball shoes can do to feet on Thursday when TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal showed off his, er, little piggies.

Much to the horror of the Internet in general, it was Shaq’s right big toe that took social media by storm. Mostly because it’s not even close to pointing in the right direction.

I’m going to show you what it looks like. Be forewarned, it might just be NSFL.

Via Twitter:

Oh. Oh … why?

Social media reacted appropriately and proportionately:

Shaq did have issues with that toe during the course of his career, and at one point it was so bad that he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from the toe in 2002.

That still doesn’t explain why it’s all over your TV and the Internet, but here we are. I am sorry.