Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game Six

Young Pacers on verge of history

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Larry Bird was the reigning MVP. David Robinson hadn’t yet been drafted. Julius Erving was still an active player.

That’s how long it’s been since a team as young as the 2012-13 Indiana Pacers made the NBA Finals.

Thanks to their 91-77 win over the Miami Heat tonight, the Pacers are only one win from becoming the youngest NBA finalist since the 1985-86 Houston Rockets. The 2010-11 Oklahoma City Thunder are the only younger team between to make even the conference finals.

With a starting lineup that now features Lance Stephenson (22), Paul George (23), Roy Hibbert (26) and George Hill (27), the Pacers have rapidly and steadily ascended up the NBA ladder. They lost 50 games in 2009-10, reached the first round in 2010-11, the second round in 2011-12 and the conference finals – and maybe further – this season.

David West (32) is the old hand of the group, but because he played four years at Xavier, he’s played only as many seasons as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

West was signed as a free agent, and the Pacers traded a draft pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. Otherwise, Indiana’s top players have been drafted by the team or acquired via draft-day trades and then developed in-house.

Most remarkably, these players – and Danny Granger, who was a key piece of Indiana’s resurgence before injury – were drafted relatively low.

The Thunder have become recognized as the model for drafting and developing players, but the Pacers deserve a place in the discussion – maybe even ahead of Oklahoma City when it comes to the developing side. Just look where each team’s recent key players were drafted:

  • Pacers: George (No. 10), Hibbert (No. 17), Granger (No. 17) and Stephenson (No. 40)
  • Thunder: Kevin Durant (No. 2), James Harden (No. 3), Russell Westbrook (No. 4) and Serge Ibaka (No. 24)

Developing talent is much easier when you start with a lot more talent.

But despite working with less-herald draft picks, the Pacers have groomed their players to reach levels Oklahoma City’s young stars never have.

George is averaging 21.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game against the Heat. Since 1985 (as far back as Basketball-Reference.com’s relevant records go), only LeBron James (twice) and Kobe Bryant (twice) have posted those totals in a Conference Finals or Finals at such a young age.

Hibbert, who’s averaging 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in this series, is matched during that span in age, scoring and rebounding in the Conference Finals or Finals by just Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal.

For both George and Hibbert to be producing at these levels is astounding, but it speaks to how well and how quickly Indiana has developed.

Win or lose Monday, the Pacers have a bright future. But if they win, their present will be historically special.

Chris Paul finds brilliant counter to hack-a-DeAndre Jordan (video)

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I originally favored allowing Hack-a-Shaq as the NBA currently does. I found the strategy fascinated – why and when teams would use it and how their opponents would counter.

But it just became too common. Far too many games featured a parade of trips to the line, a boring stretch that made games too long. I thought the intrigue had run its course.

Then, Chris Paul pulled this move last night.

The Clippers guard saw Jonas Jerebko charging toward DeAndre Jordan to commit an intentional foul, so Paul stepped in front of an unsuspecting Jerebko and took the foul himself. That’s sent a good free-throw shooter to the line instead of the dismal Jordan.

Just an awesome heady play by Paul.

PBT Podcast: NBA All-Star Weekend talk, predictions with Sean Highkin

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NBA All-Star weekend descends upon frigid Toronto starting Friday, with everything from the Rookie/Sophomore… er, Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, the Dunk Contest/Three-Point Contest on Saturday, and the main event on Sunday.

Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin of NBC’s ProBasketballTalk break it all down, from Pau Gasol replacing Jimmy Butler to predictions on the Dunk Contest and if anyone can knock off Zach LaVine. Plus, there is plenty of “why Sting?” talk.

PBT will be in Toronto with reports from the event all weekend, so come back early and often for all the latest (plus trade talk, as all the GMs get together in one city where it’s too cold for them to go outside).

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Pistons retire Chauncey Billups’ jersey at halftime (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Moments before his jersey went up to the rafters, Chauncey Billups spoke to the crowd about the night the Detroit Pistons wrapped up the 2004 NBA title by routing the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Finals.

“We had one motivation,” he said. “We wanted to win it here at home.”

Billups was the most valuable player in the Finals that year, and he had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Pistons on Wednesday night at halftime of their game against Denver.

He was the second player from that 2004 team honored by the Pistons this year. The Pistons retired Ben Wallace’s jersey last month at a similar ceremony – in front of a packed house on a night Detroit beat Golden State.

There were some empty seats in the upper level Wednesday, but Billups wanted to be honored while the Pistons were playing the Nuggets. Billups is a Denver native and played for the Nuggets for two stints during his career.

“This was by design, only because there’s a lot of people that contributed to my success as a player and as a man, in Denver, my hometown,” Billups said before the game. “There were several dates that I could have chosen. This one obviously stuck out.”

Billups does have a mild regret about his run of success with the Pistons. He figures they could have won more titles.

“I felt like, two and maybe three championships – we were that good,” he said.

Ben Wallace was on hand Wednesday, and so were Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince from the 2004 champions. Pistons great Isiah Thomas was also at the Palace for the ceremony.

“This is what tradition looks like,” Thomas told the crowd. “This is what it feels like.”