Did Roy Hibbert break out? No, but Indy may have found a way to help him out

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It hasn’t been pretty, but the Indiana Pacers ‘survived’ to advance to the second round of the playoffs and in the process Frank Vogel has stuck with Roy Hibbert in his starting lineup.

Given the big man’s struggles on both sides of the floor, it wouldn’t have bothered most Indy fans if Vogel had made a change to tap Ian Mahinmi into the starting unit.

Prior to Game 2, Vogel let Hibbert play more than 20 minutes in just 3-of-8 playoff games, but the increasingly embattled coach has been clear that he won’t nail the coffin shut on his big man’s fragile psyche.

This paid off in a big way in Game 2 Wednesday night when Hibbert finally caught some breaks in a 28-point, nine-rebound performance, though when we go back to the tape it wasn’t nearly the breakout game that many are making it out to be.  The Wizards still targeted him relentlessly in the pick-and-roll and continued to rain jumpers over him at an alarming rate, going 10-of-16 for 20 points on shots created against Hibbert in space.

Offensively, the Wizards are fine with the way the Pacers entered the ball into Hibbert, who hit 42 percent of his shots in the post this season.  He’s not bending the defense and the Wiz will welcome anything to keep Paul George and Lance Stephenson from snapping out of their 16-of-55 shooting start.

Wednesday’s result was more about everything working in the big man’s favor on offense, with an early long-range hit setting the tone for a fortunate night.  Between teammate penetration, better positioning and some lapses by Washington, Hibbert took what the defense gave him and got the monkey temporarily off his back.

The good news is that Hibbert showed a different gear playing defense on the interior, which was still a mixed bag, but he changed a number of shots, fought for position and grabbed nine rebounds after securing four or less in 6-of-8 games before the Pacers’ Game 2 win.

Now in perhaps the most evenly matched series remaining, the question for Indy isn’t so much if Hibbert is back on the offensive end (that question falls on George and Stephenson against athletic wings Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal).  The question is whether or not Hibbert can hold his own on the defensive end, and Vogel might have tipped his hand on how he plans to assist in that development.

Here you see Marcin Gortat, a primary screener for the Wizards, is set to head up to familiar territory to execute the high pick-and-roll with Bradley Beal. But seeing that he is covered by David West, he motions for Nene to execute the play instead.

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As noted, Hibbert has been a defensive liability on this action not just in the playoffs but for the second half of the year.  Typically, the Pacers have chosen to deal with the consequences rather than change who they are, and in the playoffs when teams expose weaknesses this has been their undoing.

But here, the Pacers decide to change things up.  Instead of following Nene up to the top of the pattern, Hibbert and West switch with the Wizards applying no pressure on the exchange:

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Beal runs the pick-and-roll against a more mobile West, who keeps the action in front of him long enough for George to recover, and Stephenson pinches in to give help when the ball is passed back to Nene:

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Nene arguably can take the 18-footer but it’s going to be contested, so he instead decides to put the ball on the ground and go to the hoop.  Instead of West securing the paint, the Pacers have their seven-foot rim protector waiting in the lane:

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Typically, looking at a still showing Hibbert going straight up like this is going to result in a miss or a block, but Nene made the conversion.  In fact, the three times the Pacers made this switch the Wizards were able to convert.  But as coaches constantly say, it’s the process that matters and not the result.

Having West handle pick-and-roll duties in space or forcing Nene to take contested jumpers on the perimeter makes a whole lot more sense than watching Hibbert feebly chase players that are half his size. When the switch results in keeping Hibbert anchored in the paint it’s a no-brainer.

It’s unclear if the adjustment is a realization on Vogel’s part or a card that he felt pressured to play when facing the prospect of an 0-2 start.  Should Vogel continue to go this route, the Wizards will need to find a way to keep Indy from switching the big men without a penalty, and Randy Wittman and his group aren’t known for their imagination or late-game execution on the offensive end.

Vogel can keep this card in his back pocket as a change-up or he can play it right away, but he needs to do something to mask Hibbert’s deficiencies and keep him in a position to defend and clean the glass.

If that doesn’t happen, Hibbert can score all that he wants and it’s not going to make a difference.

 

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?