Paul George on Heat’s free-throw advantage: ‘Maybe this was just home cooking’

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The Heat beat the Pacers in Game 4 last night for many reasons, but let’s start with one. Here are both teams’ marks from the free-throw line:

  • Pacers: 11-of-17
  • Heat: 30-of-34

An even free-throw disparity has absolutely nothing to do with whether a game is officiated well. Sometimes – quite often, probably – one team deserves more free throws than the other.

That was the case last night.

Just don’t tell that to Paul George, who made his case for a fine during his post-game press conference.

George, via ASAP Sports:

Looking at the stat sheet, we outplayed them.  You got to give them credit.  They won this game at the free‑throw line.  They really just were able to get to the line more than we were, but I thought we outplayed them tonight.

This one‑‑ I thought we did a great job.  I just thought we did a great job.  We rallied at the end to try to make a push.

But, again, they made 30 free throws, and that put them over the edge.

I mean, you can’t tell me we don’t attack the basket as much as they attack the basket.  You can’t tell me we’re not aggressive.  Maybe we’re too aggressive. But I feel like we’re just as aggressive as they are attacking the basket and making plays at the rim.  Maybe this was just home cooking.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were asked about George’s comments. As Wade gave a diplomatic answer about aggressiveness and having no control over the officials, LeBron studied the box score. When Wade finished, LeBron responded:

We did only have five turnovers, seven steals, and 20 points off their turnovers.  That has nothing to do with the free-throw line.

There’s no simpler way to put this: LeBron is right, and George is wrong.

The Pacers shot better from the field and 3-point range than Miami. They also out-rebounded and out-assisted Miami. If you didn’t watch the game, maybe you could convince yourself Indiana was the better team and just didn’t catch a break.

But the Heat dominated the game, and the final score — along with some stats that go with it — are misleading. Nearly halfway through the fourth quarter, Miami led by 23. At that point – with LeBron out for part of it and Chris Bosh out for all of it – Indiana went on a 13-1 run.

The Heat deserved their free throws – at least enough of them to get this win comfortably. And turnovers count. Miami forced seven live-ball turnovers to the Pacers’ one.

George, who led Indiana with five turnovers, can’t just attribute the problem to bad luck. The Pacers, George included, are a bad ball-handling and bad passing team.

Maybe that’s because they don’t believe protecting the ball is as much a part of basketball as making shots and grabbing rebounds. I guess that’s their prerogative, or at least George’s.

They can keep that belief, keep “outplaying” their opponent and keep losing.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first half. Boston scored just 15 points in the second quarter, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter.

Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets and Milwaukee entered the fourth quarter with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra: How big a threat are Pelicans to Warriors?

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Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans were the surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs. We knew they were good, but they looked dominant on both ends sweeping the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers right out of the postseason (and into a somber period of reflection).

New Orleans looked like the best team in the West in the first round and now they take all that momentum to Golden State where… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In this PBT Extra I discuss how the Pelicans have found an identity, but the matchups against Warriors are dramatically more challenging than what they saw in Portland. And that’s before Stephen Curry returns to the fold.

The Pelicans are a great story, but the pecking order in the West is real for good reason.

Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee undergoes surgery to fix core-muscle injury

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DENVER — Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee underwent surgery to fix a core-muscle injury.

The team said Plumlee had the procedure performed Thursday morning by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.

Plumlee is expected to return to basketball activities this summer and be ready for training camp in the fall. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists for a Nuggets team that narrowly missed out on the postseason.

The 28-year-old Plumlee was acquired by Denver as part of a deal in February 2017 that sent center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland. Plumlee signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Nuggets last September.