Dan Feldman

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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

2 Comments

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.”

 

Jusf Nurkic upgraded to ‘doubtful’ for Trail Blazers-Warriors Game 3

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers upgraded center Jusuf Nurkic to doubtful for Game 3 of their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors have a 2-0 lead in the series, which shifts to Portland on Saturday night.

Nurkic missed the final seven games of the regular season and the first two playoff games at Golden State because of a nondisplaced fracture in his right leg.

But there has been speculation the 7-footer known as the Bosnian Beast could return for the playoffs because he has been shooting around in warmups with the team.

Nurkic, traded to Portland on Feb. 12 from the Denver Nuggets, was averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with the Blazers.

Pacers’ Jeff Teague: ‘We ain’t getting swept’

AP Photo/Michael Conroy
4 Comments

The Pacers just suffered a historic loss, blowing a 26-point lead to the Cavaliers to fall behind 3-1 in their first-round series.

But Indiana still has its resolve – at least if you ask Pacers point guard Jeff Teague.

Teague, via Nate Taylor of IndyStar:

“We’re playing for pride now,” Jeff Teague said. “We’re all competitors in here and we all believe in one another. We ain’t getting swept.”

Let’s set a baseline expectation. Teams trailing a best-of-seven series 3-0 have gotten swept 60% of the time:

image

But Indiana has played Cleveland extremely tough, losing 109-108, 117-111 and 119-114. In fact, the Pacers’ -12 combined point margin is the smallest ever for a team trailing a best-of-seven series 3-0.

Paul George has been excellent. The Cavaliers’ defense is extremely vulnerable. Sunday’s Game 4 is in Indiana (though most teams trailing 3-0 play at home).

The Pacers have a solid chance of winning Game 4. They’re just three-point underdogs.

But that’s only one game. Teague is almost certainly correct that Indiana is playing for pride – not to win the series.

Cavaliers’ defense historically bad… for a team up 3-0

AP Photo/Michael Conroy
4 Comments

The Cavaliers entered the playoffs amid massive concern about their championship prospects.

Cleveland has answered those questions while building a 3-0 lead over the Pacers, right?

Hardly.

Despite winning each game in their first-round series, the Cavs have allowed 119.1 points per 100 possessions – the worst defensive rating by a team up 3-0 in a series since the NBA implemented a 16-team playoff in 1984. Here are the worst defensive rating with a 3-0 lead, per Basketball-Reference:

image

The last 34 teams that allowed as many points per possessions as Cleveland in the first three game of a series were trailing. The last to lead with such a high defensive rating was the 1995 Magic, who allowed 123.8 points per 100 possessions while building a 2-1 advantage over the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. Orlando won in seven games.

The Cavaliers are obviously a different story, one game from a sweep.

LeBron James has led a high-octane offense, and Kyrie Irving (by volume) and Kevin Love (by efficiency) have made valuable scoring contributions. Cleveland’s supporting cast has also knocked down its open shots. The Cavs have made 15 3-pointers per game at a 44% clip.

That has masked the Cavaliers’ very real defensive issues. Indiana is torching Cleveland in the pick-and-roll, frequently leaving the Cavs looking confused about their latest breakdown. And the Pacers, who scored a middling 108.6 points per 100 possessions, are hardly some offensive juggernaut.

The Cavaliers might be suffering from some hot Indiana shooting. Here’s betting they defend better the rest of the series.

But there’s plenty of room for Cleveland’s defense to improve before it’s championship-caliber – even if the Cavs are up 3-0.

Marcus Smart: After flipping off fan, ‘I kind of lost my train of thought of what was said’

6 Comments

Marcus Smart flipped off a fan late in the Celtics’ loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.

That earned Smart a $25,000 fine and, of course, some interrogation from the media.

Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

Smart:

Something was said and reacted a little differently than I should have.

What was said? Smart:

To be honest, after it happened, I kind of lost my train of thought of what was said. Can’t really remember.

This is why I said the Celtics shouldn’t just leave this up to the league to handle. They need Smart to channel his passion in a way that he’s remain focused.

It’s a fine line, one Smart doesn’t land on the right side of often enough.