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.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.