Hawks take a 2-1 series lead over top-seeded Pacers

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When the Pacers put together the monster run to win Game 2 using their top-ranked defense, it was worth noting just how much the offense was continuing to struggle, which made you wonder if that was something that the team would be able to fix in time to win on the road and claim a lead in this series.

In Game 3 in Atlanta, the answer was a resounding no.

Paul George had early foul trouble that caused him to lose any sense of rhythm offensively, and Roy Hibbert was so ineffective on both ends of the floor that he was benched for the entire fourth quarter. The result was the Hawks pulling away for a 98-85 Game 2 victory that sent Indiana to a 2-1 series deficit.

“We’ve got to do a better job creating shots for ourselves,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said afterward, in making the most obvious of statements.

Make no mistake — the Pacers didn’t get here on the strength of their offense, which was ranked just 22nd in the league in terms of points per 100 possessions. But throughout the season, George was consistently able to string together solid performances, which were enough to keep the Pacers in it when their defense did the job.

But Indiana’s defense is no longer as formidable as it once was. The Hawks present matchup problems that the Pacers are still struggling to deal with three games into this series, with Jeff Teague’s quickness being at the top of that list. More importantly, Indiana hasn’t at all been able to stop Atlanta from doing what it’s done all season long, which is shoot a high volume of three-pointers and make a high percentage of its free throws.

The Hawks were second in the league during the regular season in three-pointers attempted per game with 25.8, and killed the Pacers from distance in this one by shooting 12-of-34 from three-point distance. Not a great percentage, but the ones that went down were huge, and the offense is predicated on outside shooting. When defenses start to key on it, the speed of Teague and his ability to get into the paint to create shots for himself and his teammates ends up causing rotation nightmares, as partially evidenced by Atlanta getting to the free throw line a whopping 37 times.

Hibbert is supposed to be the team’s anchor defensively, but the Pacers don’t need a rim protector on the floor if their defense is going to willingly allow the Hawks to take so many open threes. His ineffectiveness (four points, two rebounds, zero blocked shots, 2-of-9 shooting) caused Vogel to finally realize it, and he played Hibbert just under 19 minutes in total, only 6:30 of which came in the second half.

Despite Hibbert’s troubles and the Pacers’ desperate stance in the series, Vogel wasn’t ready to abandon his center just yet. But he did acknowledge that he would at least consider the possibility.

“We’ll look at everything,” Vogel said, when asked if he might take Hibbert out of the starting lineup. “We can’t say that right now. But I have great confidence in Roy Hibbert.”

Asked why he wouldn’t make the change given the circumstances, Vogel went with the bulk of the season’s work as the reason rather than the most recent developments.

“We won 56 games with him as our starter,” Vogel said. “That’s the simplest answer.”

But when pressed as to whether Hibbert will start in Game 4, he left the door open for a change to be made.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Probably.”

Whether Hibbert starts or he doesn’t is of little consequence. Indiana’s offense remains a disaster from a team standpoint, with careless passes leading to needless turnovers, or things devolving into forced isolation sets in the worst possible moments.

If that continues, it won’t matter whether Hibbert plays or he doesn’t, because this series will end in the Hawks’ favor before Indiana is able to make any truly impactful personnel decisions.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.