LeBron challenges Roy Hibbert at the rim in Game 6, gets called for the foul, picks up a technical (VIDEO)

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This is what we’ve been clamoring to see the entire series, and it took until late in Game 6 before it finally went down.

LeBron James has avoided challenging Roy Hibbert inside for the better part of all six games between the Heat and the Pacers. It’s not fear, obviously, but it may be a sense of cautiousness or a case of overthinking things when it comes to James taking the ball hard to the rack while Hibbert is there patrolling the paint.

That changed late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, and the end result of it all was Indiana pushing its lead back to 13 and sealing the victory to force a seventh game.

WIth 4:18 to play and the Pacers leading by nine, James drives down the lane and elevates as Hibbert is there waiting for him. Both players collide in midair, and on a play that almost always results in a foul being called on the defensive player in that situation — especially when the one with the ball is named LeBron — James is the one whistled for the offensive foul.

Watching the play multiple times from multiple angles, the referees may have seen James initially lead with his right knee in a manner very similar to what we saw from Shane Battier earlier in this series. LeBron’s knee was much more subtle, and he appeared to have it retracted before making contact. But the vision of Battier’s knee to Hibbert’s groin was likely fresh in the officials’ minds, and once they saw the knee of James similarly extended, the decision was made to whistle him for the charge.

What happened next helped put the game away for good in the Pacers’ favor.

James appeared to be both shocked and offended that this particular call didn’t go his way, so he took off sprinting the length of the floor to let his displeasure be known. He was correctly issued a technical foul for his actions, and a Heat assistant coach was given a technical on the same play, as well.

The ensuing possession resulted in four points for the Pacers, and pushed the lead back up to 13, eliminating any slim chances that might have remained of the Heat continuing their comeback.

Afterward, LeBron was candid in speaking with reporters about how things unfolded from his perspective.

“I had to run down the court to stop from being kicked out,” James said. “I thought it was a pretty bad call. I don’t complain about calls too much. I thought me and Hibbert met at the mountaintop. I didn’t throw an elbow. Basically I went straight up. And I knew he was going to go high hands, like he had been doing. So I went to a double‑clutch to try to let him go down. Then I was able to go over the top. I don’t have no idea why that was called an offensive foul.

“So, you know, it just stopped me from being ejected. I think at that moment I just got away from the ref that called it. I ran down the court to get me away from the scene of the crime, I guess.”

Hibbert said he was just there to have his All-Star wing man’s back.

“That play right there, I tell [Paul George], I have his back all the time,” Hibbert said. “If he gets beat, LeBron has a large launching pad, I don’t block a lot of shots all the time, but I try to alter it as much as possible and not to give up any easy plays. Because the momentum could have shifted right there if he got an easy dunk.  There was what — was it Game 3 here?  I really felt that I let Paul down in terms of having his back when LeBron was scoring in the post or getting to the paint, because they stretched me out so much.

“But I wanted to be there for him. He’s the future. I mean, I think he has a chance to be MVP of this league next year. Every guard needs to have a big guy to have his back. So I’m that guy.”

The guy that gets the best of this matchup between James and Hibbert in Game 7 will be the one headed to the NBA Finals.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.

DeMarcus Cousins on Confederate statues: ‘Take all them motherf—ers down’

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DeMarcus Cousins grew up in Alabama, played collegiately at Kentucky and now plays in New Orleans.

So, yeah, the Pelicans star has an opinion on Confederate statues.

Cousins, via TMZ:

“Take all them motherf*ckers down,” Cousins said … “Take ’em all down.”

These statues glorify people because they fought a war against the United States in the name of preserving the racist institution of slavery.

Not whom I want to honor, either.

Kevin Durant: Kyrie Irving-LeBron James situation ‘just a regular NBA problem’

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Kevin Durant knows something about star teammates not always getting along.

So, the Warriors forward is not freaking out about the disconnect between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and Irving’s subsequent trade request.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s just a regular NBA problem, right? A lot of teams have gone through this before,” Durant told ESPN. “They’ll figure it out. That’s a great organization, a championship organization. They’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”

Durant is definitely right in the larger sense. Teammates spat and requests trades more often than we realize. Remember, both Irving and the Cavaliers probably prefer this never became public.

But I’m not sure Cleveland will figure this out with the ease Durant suggests. David Griffin, who had proven so adept at putting out these fires, is gone. LeBron’s free agency looms. This could be extremely destructive to the Cavs.

The fact that this “regular NBA problem” became public only intensifies it – and raises it something greater.

Report: Heat signing Jordan Mickey

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Jordan Mickey – the No. 33 pick by the Celtics in 2015 – became the first second-round pick in memory to sign the year he was drafted and receive a higher initial salary than first-round picks.

He’s keeping the checks coming.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Mickey will be the Heat’s 16th player with a standard contract, though Matt Williams (unguaranteed) will likely be waived to meet the regular-season roster limit.

I’m not sure where Mickey fits on this team, which already has several bigs. Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will likely play ahead of him. Miami also has A.J. Hammons (who might be just dead salary) and Udonis Haslem (who might provide nothing more than veteran leadership).

The Heat could just see Mickey as someone they can develop. At that point, how he fits into the current roster doesn’t really matter.

Mickey – 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – is a mobile defender with nice timing for blocking shots inside. He even possesses a work-in-progress 3-pointer in his arsenal. There’s plenty for Miami to help mold.