Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game 5

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


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.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.