Pacers offense demolishes Heat defense in Game 1. Didn’t see that coming.

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119.7.

That’s the Pacers’ offensive rating in Game 1, the number of points they scored per 100 possessions in their opening game win of the Eastern Conference Finals. For some context, in the regular season the Clippers had the best offensive rating in the NBA at 109.4. The best in the playoffs has been Miami at 112.4. Indiana blew those numbers out of the water — in their 28 minutes together on the court the Pacers five starters averaged 141.7 points per 100 possessions.

That was the stunning aspect of Game 1. It was always likely the Pacers could make things tight because they had a defense built to slow the Miami offense. The question was always “where would the points come from?”

They came from wherever the Pacers wanted — Paul George had 24 points to lead six Pacers in double figures. What was shocking was the quality of looks the Pacers got and where they got them Indiana had 27 shots in the restricted area (basically lay-ups and dunks) and another 10 in the paint (that’s 47.4 percent of their shots in the paint) — and Indiana shot 73 percent on those. That doesn’t even account for the 37 free throw attempts the Pacers got, mostly because they were aggressive and went to the rim.

For one game, the Pacers were an offensive juggernaut and the Heat were a mess defensively. It’s fair to question, after watching them for the last few months, if the Pacers can replicate that kind of offensive performance. Based on their history you can expect a better Heat team in Game 2, one with more defensive energy.

But the Pacers set an offensive tone that gives them a chance in this series.

“We were just being aggressive off the bounce,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said in his post-game press conference broadcast on NBA TV. “We’re trying to be attack, force help and then share it. It’s a pretty simple plan but it’s not always the easiest to execute.”

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra may not want to eat before watching the game film.

“That’s probably just us at our worst defensively…” Eric Spoelstra said in his post game press conference. “If you had said coming into the game we had scored 96 and had more than 50 in the paint, I’d say we’d be in the drivers seat for a win if we do our normal, even anywhere close to our normal defense. That wasn’t the case….

“Our overall disposition needs to be much stronger, much tougher.”

From the opening tip the Pacers were able to get into their preferred sets, get to their preferred spots on the floor with entirely too little resistance from Miami. If David West catches the ball with one foot in the paint you have already lost, and that happened repeatedly. Roy Hibbert had 19 points and was able to get the ball in very deep position, then often three defenders would collapse on him and Hibbert would kick it out to an open shooter. Who knocked it down. As Vogel said it sounds simple but the Pacers haven’t been doing simple well of late.

Miami’s pick-and-roll defense also was a mess — they tried to be aggressive on hedges but the ball handler split the pick-and-roll (that happened a lot all game, especially by George) or the Pacers moved the ball to the weakside with a couple quick passes for a good look. Throughout their slump the Pacers had seemingly no movement on the weakside of their offense, it’s like they were spectators. In Game 1 on Sunday that movement was back and it opened things up. The Pacers ran a lot of 1-4 pick-and-roll with West popping out and Hibbert moving to the basket off the ball, that action slowed the Heat rotations (defenders were afraid to leave Hibbert and West) and the result was easy open buckets at the rim.

Usually you say here the ball is in Miami’s court to adjust, and it is. But a lot of that adjustment is just getting back to being their aggressive selves and disrupting the flow of Indiana’s offense. Don’t let the Pacers get to their spots. Don’t let them run the offense the way they want.

Indiana can exploit that with the kind of ball movement we saw on Sunday. The question is will they bring that again.

Anthony Davis opens All-Star game wearing DeMarcus Cousins’ jersey

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LOS ANGELES – Anthony Davis often relies on his Pelicans teammates to set him up.

Tonight, he gave a nod to one of them.

Davis started the All-Star game wearing DeMarcus Cousins‘ No. 0 jersey. Cousins and Davis were both voted starters then drafted by LeBron James, but Cousins can’t play due to injury.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

Very cool gesture by Davis. He’s an excellent teammate.

No, Joel Embiid didn’t cheat during the NBA Skills Challenge

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The Internet got itself all in a huff on Saturday as they watched the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend Skills Challenge. In particular, the matchup between Chicago Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen and Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid stirred up a bit of controversy.

Specifically, folks accused Embiid of cheating.

During the passing section of the obstacle course, Embiid didn’t actually make any of his passes into the ring. He then proceeded on the next section and was neck-and-neck with Markkanen as they tried to finish out the head-to-head competition. Markkanen won, but that didn’t stop folks from saying the 76ers All-Star had circumvented the rules.

We now know that’s not true.

According to the rules (provided on the NBA media site, page 47 of the 2018 NBA All-Star Media Guide) Embiid was allowed to move onto the next section even though he hadn’t completed any of his passes. A player only has to exhaust the rack, not complete a pass. It appears rules sort of assume that if a player stands there trying to complete a pass three times they’ll fall so far behind they won’t be able to catch up.

Re-watching the video, it appears Embiid knew this rule to the game and figured if he didn’t make the first one he would quickly try to blast the next two passes off the rack so he could then move onto the next section.

Embiid even took to Twitter to head off accusations that he had cheated.

Via Twitter:

Trust. The. Process.

Rumor: Jeff Hornacek shoved Joakim Noah during confrontation

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The saga between the New York Knicks and Joakim Noah has been ongoing for sometime, with the latest story being that there was some kind of verbal altercation between the former All-Star big man and head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Noah has not played for the team since Jan. 23, and he is now separated from the Knicks as they try to find a solution to shed him from their roster.

We now have a better idea of what kind of urgency New York has to make that move.

A report from the New York Daily News has given us more information about the confrontation between Noah and Hornacek. The latest addition to the story is that it was not just words between the Knicks coach and Noah, and that Hornacek actually pushed Noah first during the confrontation.

The two then had to be separated.

Via NYDN:

Noah was banished from the Knicks after an altercation with coach Jeff Hornacek during a practice last month. The disagreement stemmed from Noah’s lack of playing time, and it turned physical the day after he logged only five minutes against the Warriors.

While no punches were thrown, the Daily News learned that Hornacek was the first to shove Noah before they had to be separated.

In our last update on this story, Dan outlined how that could be made possible. No team is going to trade for Noah at this juncture in his career, so the only real option for New York is to waive him.

Here’s how that looks, according to our own Dan Feldman:

If the Knicks waive Noah without a buyout, they’d have two options after paying out the rest of his $17,765,000 salary this season:

Pay Noah $18,530,000 next season and $19,295,000 the following season
Pay Noah $7,565,000 each of the following five years via the stretch provision

It just keeps getting weirder and weirder during a lost season in the Big Apple.

Kobe Bryant tells Shaq he was planning to leave Lakers for Bulls (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal got their three championships together as members of the Los Angeles Lakers. The two stars were part of the three-peat team that won in 2000, 2001, and 2002. But the story that perhaps overshadows those accomplishments in the modern era is the story of Kobe vs. Shaq, and the long-standing beef that was between the players even after they split in 2004.

The back-and-forth between the two is part of the fabric not just of the Lakers, but of pop culture as it surrounds basketball. The Shaq/Kobe beef even has it’s own Wikipedia page that’s longer and more well-sourced than most of the papers I wrote in college. It’s impressive.

Meanwhile, Kobe and Shaq sat down in a long special that aired on Saturday as All-Star Weekend ramped up that revealed quite a bit about their time together and their relationship. One of the more interesting anecdotes was Kobe telling Shaq that he was planning on leaving the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls in 2004. That plan was quashed when the team sent O’Neal to the Miami Heat in July.

Via Twitter:

That would have been a major shift for LA and for Chicago. The Bulls drafted both Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon that year, and traded for Luol Deng. The team improved by 24 wins the following season, and adding Bryant may have altered that trajectory and of course sent shockwave of consequential changes through the league. Heck, Scottie Pippen retired that October, but perhaps he would have stayed for one more year with Kobe?

The rest of the interview was interesting, and there were lots of tidbits of information that had people talking. Bryant and O’Neal rehashed their fights, Shaq’s infamous rap dissing Kobe, and mooning Sacramento Kings fans after beating them in the 2002 playoffs.

The biggest takeaway from the interview was how the one-upsmanship between Shaq and Kobe, although subtle, still remains.

As context, Bryant has done a fair bit of career revisionism as he tries to alter his public image now that he’s not a player. He’s painted himself as a “storyteller” and has tried to make his single-mindedness appear praiseworthy rather than destructive. It’s mostly so he can sell shoes well into his 50s à la Michael Jordan.

In the sit down between the two Lakers greats, Shaq did some legacy revision of his own. He played off his continuous egging of Bryant over their careers as simple media manipulation, calling himself a master marketer. It really was a thing to see something that hilariously disingenuous, especially as much of the conversation between the two — including many admissions on each side — were about times they made each other sincerely angry.

The two finished the interview by taking photos next to some championship trophies (Kobe with more, of course) and exchanging laughs and hugs.

You can watch the full interview in the video above.