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Pacers’ Paul George: ‘We could at least be up 2-1 and really be in the driver’s seat in this series’

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George‘s stone face and somber tone reflected the mood of the Indiana Pacers.

With their season on the brink, they must win – or go home.

Despite pushing defending champion Cleveland to the edge in three straight playoff games, Indiana now finds itself in danger of becoming the first Pacers team to be swept in a best-of-seven series.

“That’s the most frustrating thing, we could at least be up 2-1 and really be in the driver’s seat in this series,” George said one day after Indiana blew a 26-point lead and lost for the third time in six days. “We haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities we’ve had, and we’re paying the price for it right now.”

The Pacers have been outscored by just 12 points, the smallest margin ever for a team down 3-o in a best-of-seven series.

Indiana’s inability to close out games this year dumped the team to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and a dreaded series with the defending NBA champions. Last year, the same problem resulted in a first-round exit, courtesy of Toronto.

But those examples pale in comparison to the hard lessons they’ve been getting from LeBron James, who has beaten Indiana in seemingly every way possible this series.

In Game 1, James double-teamed George in the closing seconds, forcing the four-time All-Star to pass the ball. C.J. Miles then missed an open 14-footer for the win.

In Game 2, James helped the Cavs hold on for a six-point win after setting a screen to free Kyrie Irving for an uncontested layup that extended Cleveland’s lead to seven with 29.6 seconds left.

In Game 3, James had a triple-double as he almost single-handedly rallied the Cavs from a 25-point halftime deficit. He scored 28 of his 41 points in the second half as Cleveland completed the largest second-half comeback in playoff history – all while Irving and Kevin Love watched the fourth quarter from the bench.

The reward: A one-day break before James and the Cavs try to deliver a knockout punch.

“We were on point defensively, and offensively we knew exactly what we wanted to do,” James said. “The best way to get offense is to defensively create missed shots. We did a better job contesting shots and getting body on body (in the second half). The first half was not us, but they made us not be us.”

The Cavs are now chasing their seventh straight postseason win, their 11th consecutive first-round win since James’ return. James needs one more victory to become the first player to win 21 consecutive first-round games since the current playoff format began in 1984. He’s tied with three former Los Angeles Lakers – Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

It would be the fourth time in six years that James’ team ended the Pacers’ season. George and Lance Stephenson are the only players who have endured every one of those losses, perhaps none more painful than Thursday’s.

The evidence was on display during Friday’s practice, which was virtually devoid of the laughter and chatter that existed just two days earlier.

“I think they’re pissed off that we allowed that game to get away and we should be,” coach Nate McMIllan said. “We need to learn a lesson from that team. It’s a 48-minute game, and to win we had to come out (of halftime) with even more urgency against that team and we didn’t do that. It wasn’t so much what they did as much as it was what we didn’t do.”

Now the question is how the Pacers will respond to a historic collapse.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. But after everything that has happened over the past week, Indiana’s more difficult challenge may be coping with the fact they’ve been so close that they could be leading 2-1 or 3-0 heading into Sunday.

“I’m not a moral victory guy, especially now after three games in a row,” Miles said. “We felt like we could compete against anybody we were matched up with in the playoffs. So it’s not about being close. Nobody’s ever won a ring by being close.”

 

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.