Paul George, Pacers defense shows up when it matters, Indiana lives to play another day

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The Indiana Pacers played with a real sense of desperation. Paul George played like the elite, Top 10 player he believes he is, Lance Stephenson was fully into the game and fully entertaining.

Well, they didn’t do that consistently all game, they are the Indiana Pacers after all.

But with LeBron James in foul trouble in the second half the Pacers stepped up and extended their defensive pressure, Paul George had 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting in the second half (the Heat defended him but George was 11-of-18 on contested shots), and Stephenson was blowing in LeBron James’ ear.

That was enough.

Barely. In the most entertaining game of this series and one of the more bizarre playoff games in years, the Indiana Pacers hung on to win 93-90 and take Game 5 on their home court. The Heat lead the series 3-2 and head home to Miami on Friday with the chance to close the series out.

For stretches of Game 5 the Pacers looked like the team that was elite the first half of the regular season. They gave Miami a dose of what the Heat gave them for the past three games — the Pacers extended their defensive pressure, forced turnovers that became transition buckets the other way, and generally played with great energy. More than they had all season.

That worked particularly well once LeBron picked up his second personal foul of the second half just more than three minutes in, giving him five and forcing coach Eric Spoelstra to sit him. Miami led at that point but an energized and desperate Pacers team went on a 16-2 run and by early in the fourth quarter their lead had swollen to 11.

Paul George’s star turn fueled a lot of that run — he got buckets, particularly hitting the difficult, contested shots that the Pacers have lacked much of the series. George finished with 37 points, he hit five threes, plus he had six steals. He looked every bit the All-Star. Everything he threw up seemed to go in.

And yet the Heat had their chances at the end.

That was really the story of the game.

From the opening tip Pacers were more aggressive on offense than we had seen since Game 1, attacking the rim and just with better ball movement. Behind that Indiana shot 50 percent — and grabbed the offensive rebound on half of their misses — to Miami’s 36.7 percent in the first quarter.

Yet it was just a six point game, 22-16 after one. Indiana didn’t create any separation. That came back to haunt them in the second quarter when Miami’s defense cranked up and once again the Pacers couldn’t handle the pressure on the ball. Their offense was just stumbling and ugly. Indiana scored just 11 points in the second quarter, shot 33 percent and had six turnovers. Meanwhile Ray Allen had 10 points in the second quarter, the Heat shot 58.8 percent.

It looked like the Pacers were in real trouble in this game when they were down 42-33 at the half and the Heat were +13 with LeBron on the bench.

But for the first time in a while Indiana showed some real resolve, played with desperation, they extended their defense (Miami shot 5-of-17 in the quarter) and that led to some better looks on offense off turnovers. Plus the Pacers just knocked down shots they had missed in the second quarter and the previous three games. Indiana won the third quarter 31-15 and lead by 7 entering fourth.

The lead got up to 11 but then Miami answered with a 9-0 run of their own, scoring 18 points on first 10 possessions of fourth quarter. Rashard Lewis was suddenly hot — he finished the game with 18 points on six made three pointers.

When LeBron tied the game with a pull up three, 81-81 with 3:45 left, it felt like the kind of situation Miami has won and Indiana has faltered this series.

But George and Stephenson wouldn’t let that happen. While George was hitting dramatic shots and engaged and energized (if not always focused) Stephenson did a good job defending LeBron. He wouldn’t let LeBron own the game.

Indiana hung on through a wild ending that included missed free throws and a Heat chance to tie at the buzzer.

It was a great game.

The kind we’d hoped this entire series would have been like. This Pacers team is fun to watch. I wish it would show up more often.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.

Judge grills Suge Knight – facing murder charge – on NBA-champion pick (Rockets)

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Suge Knight is facing a murder, threat and robbery charges in three separate cases.

The former rap mogul was in court yesterday to set a trial date for the murder charge.

Marisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times:

A few minutes later, during a separate hearing in the criminal threats proceeding, another judge asked Knight to return to his courtroom in May. The judge then turned to Knight, asking who he thought would win the NBA playoffs.

“At this time…” Knight said, before the judge cut him off, saying he wanted a once-and-for-all answer.

“Houston,” Knight responded.

“Alright, Houston. Good pick,” the judge said.

Knight smiled.

What?