RetroBall: Knicks-Pacers ’95, the night of the finger roll

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Since billionaire owners and millionaire players are bitterly divided over how much money they’ll be splitting over the coming years and have locked us out of actual basketball to talk about, PBT will be regaling you this summer  with RetroBall. Using the advanced powers of the internet and NBATV, we’ll bring you interesting stories from years gone by. If nothing else, it will provide us an opportunity to make fun of fashion and culture from the past, which is always a giggle. We continue our series today with Pacers-Knicks, Game 7 of the 1995 NBA Playoffs.

It was one of the greatest rivalries that was lost for too long in the glow of the Jordan era. Until the “30 for 30” documentary “Winning Time,” centered around the 8 points, 9 seconds event (it wasn’t a game, it was an event; it happened to you, one way or another),  it was really far too forgotten. But man, these two hated each other. Miller always jabbing in everyone’s ear, including Spike Lee, the numerous choke references, the incredible shooting, Rik Smits vs. Ewing. Mark Jackson, Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, Derrick McKey. It was a genuine blood rivalry. And this series gave us two incredibly even matched teams that both were honestly worthy of the title, had Olajuwon not gone all “Contra-code” on us.

Going into Game 7, the Knicks had actually out-scored the Pacers 568-556 in the series. But three of the games had come down to less than a three point differential. The Knicks had momentum. The Pacers had Reggie Miller. The Knicks had home court. The Pacers had Rik Smits’ mustache. And everything would come down to a finger roll. What follows are my observations from watching the game for the first time since I was 13.

  • The opening lineups are preceded by four of the Knicks, including Anthony Mason, smashing into each other in a combination of chest bumps and shoves. It looks violent. Like pretty much everything involving Anthony Mason.
  • Go New York, go New York, go!” is on the intros. Nice. Revel in it, Big Apple.
  • Good to know Pat Riley has the same expression he’s had on his face for the last fifteen years. Last time the man smiled was after the Lakers’ last title with him.
  • Ewing up and under Smits from short-range. One step and a right handed leaner. That’s pretty amazing stuff. This is going to be one of those games that everyone blocks out when they’re talking about how overrated Patrick Ewing was. Well, okay, not really because of the final shot of the game. But we’ll get there.
  • Charles Smith is strutting on his first made basket which makes the score 4-2. Yeesh. He and Nate Robinson should go bowling.
  • You know how if you run off a 3-point shooter and make him take a pull-up J from mid-range, it’s supposed to be a good thing? With Miller you’ve just saved yourself a point. which is great, but his ability to make it is still incredible. Especially when he somehow shoots it where it goes straight up, down through the net and nearly right back to him if no one had grabbed it. It’s like the magic bullet, only it makes John Starks look stupid. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Charles Smith winds up with a 25% usage rate in this game and only scores 12 points. How is that possible if he only shot the ball nine ti… oh, four turnovers. Yeah, that’ll do it in 27 minutes. This is another one of those games where a guy starts out hot and then thinks it stays with him. He hits his first two, then goes 3-7  the rest of the way.
  • Smits turns immediately on the catch for the jump hook. Ewing blocks it, which is kind of insane. The timing on that is difficult, the positioning on that is difficult, the extension on that is difficult.
  • Rik Smits is TOTALLY going to attack Charles Oakley on the drive. Next time. For real.
  • Watching Ewing’s one-handed push hook makes you slam your head into a wall wondering why Dwight hasn’t picked it up.
  • Smits’ movement working in the post with his passer is really impressive. You see a ton today of it just being guys wrestling, having it come down to size. Smits teases Ewing into trying to front him all the way out to the elbow, and then when he catches the lob is already squaring up on the turn to go baseline. Also, if you look at Rik Smits’ dunk and Pau Gasol’s dunk they’re going to look identical.
  • Ewing takes the exact opposite approach. Instead of moving him space, Ewing uses his body to measure where Smits is at to take the corner. Pretty.
  • Jackson with a great pass you don’t see too often, break outlet from top of the key far side to the elbow, a nice soft lob to Miller who two-steps out of it into a pull-up jumper. Normally I would grind my teeth at a PUJIT like that,  but it’s Miller, so, you know, not a bad plan. Hey, maybe MJax can teach that to Curry so he can thread it to Mont…oh, right.
  • Haywoode Workman has replaced Mark Jackson. There. That’s the joke.
  • Mason leans so much when he runs the floor, he’s a foul magnet. He leans hard on one side and then reverses and the other guy slips like he had his chair pulled out, and it looks like a foul. Smart stuff. Artest does the same thing now.
  • Miller goes up, and through Starks and scores on a pull-up jumper. It’s sick. It’s one thing to be awesome at creating space to get your shot. Miller just shoots through it. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Starks drives and lands in the cameras, but hits the floor first. So he jumps, lands, steps, then falls into the cameras. Put some brakes on those shoes, kid!
  • Every close-up of Starks makes me want to pat him on the head and say “You poor, poor man.”
  • Reggie goes baseline off-ball screen, loops off the back screen at the block, catch-and-shoot at the elbow at full speed, stops on a dime, and the net barely moves as he hits again. We have our first Marv Albert “Reggie Miller… ON FIRE!” of the night. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Haywoode Workman played ball in Israel, Italy, Topeka, Indiana, Washington, and Milwaukee. He’s a ref now, and his middle name is Wilvon. There ought to be a book.
  • Pacers start to get their double-teams moving on a string and the Knicks are trying to out-pass it. Can’t outrun the radio, my dad always said. I don’t know if that’s relevant here, but it sounds folksy.
  • Hey, you think Anthony Bonner and Matt Bonner are related? … What?
  • Is there a way for me to say that Rik Smits has tricky hips without it sounding odd? No? Okay.
  • Smits hits a spot-up baseline J, fading left from the left baseline. Yikes.
  • The Knicks had so many guys that when they made shots you couldn’t believe it. Harper splits a double team, double-clutches, and hits glass from 8 feet. Okay.
  • Smith drives his elbow through Byron Scott’s face working through a screen. Today that’s a flagrant foul.
  • MJax dribbled so far out in front of him, it was like he was yo-yoing it.
  • Derrick McKey really wants to play in the post in this game.
  • Is it strange to anyone else that this Knicks team was a bad offensive rebounding team? Want one to blow our mind? The Anthony Mason-Patrick Ewing- Charles Smith 95 Knicks ranked 23rd in offensive rebounding percentage (percentage of available OREBs grabbed). This year’s Knicks team with Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf and Timofey Mozgov for only half a year? 24th. One spot.
  • Pacers are moving in this game. The Knicks are taking a lot of mid-range jumpers, leading to long rebounds, which the Pacers are getting, and that’s sparking the break.
  • Starks swarms Miller on a catch, forces a turnover, then throws a spinning overhead outlet to Smith for an easy dunk.
  • Oakley with a Z-Bound. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.
  • You’ll be happy to know that immediately following this game is the NBA Draft Lottery, where the Golden State Warriors will win and select Joe Smith. Who is still playing. Good God, Joe Smith is old.
  • Miller misses a technical free throw. My world tilted sideways for a minute just watching that.
  • Charles Smith turns the ball over on consecutive possessions and the Pacers get zero points out of two consecutive fast break ops. Yeesh.
  • Miller heaves up a desperation shot at the end of the shot clock, airball, controversy over whether it hit the rim or not, refs have to jump ball it. Remember when there was no other option? Larry Brown is apoplectic, going nuts on the sideline. I miss when Larry Brown would still do that. Now he just does the grin and headshake. Get excited, Minnesota!
  • Brown is opting to leave Smits off the floor for most of the second. It’s one of those “if you lose you look like a moron” things. Larry Drew nods his head.
  • Byron Scott trying to guard Oakley on a lob. Yeah, good luck with that, Coach.
  • Ewing with 17, Miller with 18 at the half. High scoring, fast-pace game. The late 90’s had not yet arrived.
  • Starks torches Miller to the rim. I really wanted Mark Jackson to have been guarding him so I could make a “hand down, man down” joke.
  • The Knicks come undone a little bit to start the third with fouls and turnovers. Ewing actually barks at Starks for passing to Smith who screws up a fast break. And that kind of sums up John Starks’ life this season.
  • Charles Smith just dove at the rim. Anthony Randolph thinks he should slow it down. Tyrus Thomas thought that was raw. Ron Artest found it impetuous. Other jokes.
  • Charles Smith stabs another possession in the face and leaves it to die in the desert.
  • There’s 8:34 to go in the third when Smith finally hits a jumper. He has 12. Guess how many points he ends up with?
  • Mark Jackson hustled his face off. I can’t even make fun of his catch phrases in this game because he’s working so hard. Walk the walk.
  • Oakley takes Smits for a possession to keep Ewing out of foul trouble. Smits moves to the face up, Oakley bites on it, and Smits goes right around him with those wonky hips of his. Sideways jam.
  • The Pacers decide that not closing out the baseline and allowing the Knicks to force Smits’ fourth foul is a great plan. This is flawed thinking. You know what’s not flawed? Smits’ mustache.
  • source:
  • Miller. Jab-step, step-back 3. Sweet Bejesus. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • Starks misses a three, Miller leaks out in transition, the Knicks realize it too late, bang, and the staredown of Spike Lee. (COUGH* HALL OF FAME* COUGH)
  • How did any Knicks fan have any nails left on their fingers with Starks running point? His decision making reverts to “drunken toddler” mode half the time.
  • Harper with a HUGE three out of a double-team. He was 3 of 4 in this game, and they needed all 9 of those points.
  • Brown doesn’t keep Smits out deep into the fourth, and Smits picks up his fifth. Life for the Knicks.
  • Can’t say enough about the Garden crowd. Incredible energy on every play.
  • Ewing shake and bake left baseline, makes it one-point game. That’s 24 for Ewing.
  • Hubert Davis hits one shot in this game. It’s to tie the game late in the fourth.
  • The Knicks were really good on their rotations at pushing the drive to where they wanted it to go, which was often behind the backboard.
  • Unfortunately, they’re not so good with stopping the double-split, as Miller slices it, then dishes to Smits for a J.
  • Harper gives Davis a very Artest-like flagrant, which is both arms slapping and driving forward into the body. Probably not a flagrant, but it’s called as such. Would definitely be called as such today.
  • Off the flagrant possession, Smits hits a sweeping hook. It’s seven points with 3:07 to go.
  • Ewing’s final bucket comes on an elbow spot-up jumper with less than three minutes to go.
  • Look at how nice Spike Lee looks!
  • source:  Oakley with a perfect weakside recovery to reject Smits. There is life.
  • Smits goes to the line after blown coverage on the inbounds. Yes, the inbounds. Mason thinks he got all ball, and it looks like it. Tough.
  • Ewing gets everything but the bucket on the turnaround, but Mason cleans up.
  • Seriously, you guys, Rik Smits was a big deal there for a few years. Clutch face-up jumper with 1:18 to go. It will be the last time the Pacers score in this game.
  • Mason misses a key free throw. Going to be a dead puppy later. Misses another. Lots of dead puppies in New York that night.
  • Miller tries to bury the dagger off the catch and shoot and instead gives a fast break to the Knicks, but…
  • Mason gets the ball on a fast break, and missed the dunk. But Starks, in typical Starks fashion, hits a huge 3 shot to close.
  • Mark Jackson works the clock too long, gives to Smits who’s smothered, so he gives the ball back to Jackson, who has to shoot. But you know what? HAND UP… er… uh… crap.
  • You’re ready for torture, yes, Knicks fans?
  • source:
  • The red is the cylinder. The orange is the ball. It was perfect. Ewing moves up and under to get to the right, the help defender is slow and hesitant to foul, it’s a wide-open finger-roll and everything changes…
  • Back iron.
  • Ball game.
  • That’s how it goes in this league.

Deandre Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

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PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.

Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans.

“It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said.

Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade.

“We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.”

All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday – Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection).

The 7-foot-1 Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday.

“I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said.

Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so.

McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.”

Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center.

“I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.”

Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team.

“It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said.

Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown.

The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant.

“We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. … We can really start a winning legacy.”

And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.

“I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation (Bahamas) I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.”

Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.”

Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.”

Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend.

“We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”

Hornets GM Kupchak: Kemba Walker focal point of franchise going forward

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — General manager Mitch Kupchak wants point guard Kemba Walker to end his NBA career right where it started — with the Charlotte Hornets.

Kupchak said Friday that Walker is “revered” in the Charlotte community, and that he and owner Michael Jordan look at the two-time All-Star as “the focal point of this franchise going forward.”

The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.

At $12 million per year, Walker well underpaid when compared to the other top point guards in the league.

But that doesn’t mean Kupchak is giving up hope the team can keep Walker in Charlotte.

“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency,” Kupchak said. “But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us – not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here.”

The Hornets don’t have much experience behind Walker at point guard.

They have last year’s first-round draft pick Malik Monk and drafted Devonte Graham from Kansas in the second round on Thursday night.

Graham said he is excited to pick Walker’s brain when it comes to basketball.

“I have never met him, but I remember watching him play when he was at UConn though,” Graham said. “I’m just excited man to learn from someone like that and just be around someone like that who is winner, and knows how to win and compete. I am looking forward to being able to learn from him.”

 

Another report Spurs will not trade Kawhi Leonard within West

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The people around Kawhi Leonard made it clear (through leaks to the media, not by talking to the Spurs at first): Leonard wants out of San Antonio, and he wants to go to Los Angeles. Specifically, the Lakers.

Almost as quickly, the Spurs leaked that they were not going to trade Leonard to the Lakers or any team in the West.

Sam Amick of the USA Today echoed that sentiment in his discussion of LeBron James‘ offseason options on Saturday.

But in the days that followed, the Spurs wasted no time in sending this message all around the NBA: The only Western Conference team he might be playing for is theirs.

Fellow West teams have been told, in essence, to get lost – none moreso than the Lakers, according to ESPN. As it stands, the Spurs are determined to either fix the situation or trade Leonard to an Eastern Conference team.

Leonard has leverage here: He can tell teams he will not re-sign with them and will leave as a free agent. That will scare off most teams who don’t want to put in

Would it scare off Boston or Philadelphia? The rumor is no. Those teams have real interest in Leonard, and both have the assets to get a deal done and make the bet that a year in their cultures, with their coaches and top players, a year contending, and with their fans and city would win Leonard over. Just like Oklahoma City made that bet with Paul George. Also, whoever trades for Leonard will be able to offer a five-year, $188 million contract, while as a free agent the max will be four years, $137 million. For a guy who just missed almost an entire season with an injury, that guarantee can matter.

Boston could go all in on an offer — Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, the Kings first-round pick next season (top one protected) and the Clippers first round pick next year (lottery protected). Philadelphia could put together an offer of Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, and Miami’s unprotected 2021 pick (the first year high schoolers likely re-enter the NBA draft, making it a deep one).

The question is would those team put in all those assets on a bet they would win Leonard over?

The other big looming question, when the offers start to come in will a rational Spurs front office reconsider and look at a trade from the Lakes of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, a future first, and the contract of Luol Deng to balance out the numbers. Would they consider it superior because they like Ingram? (That trade may require a third team to take on Deng’s contract, and the Lakers might need to throw in Lonzo Ball or some other sweetener to get a team to take on Deng’s $36 million remaining.)

Expect the Spurs to take their time with this, try to win Leonard back over, then consider all their options. They are in no rush, in fact, they’d love to create a bidding war for Leonard. Any offer from Boston and Philadelphia on the table in July will be on the table in September when training camps open. The Lakers, however, may be in a very different space.

It’s going to be a very interesting next few weeks.

After full season in Europe, Luka Doncic not expected to play in Summer League

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Deandre Ayton played 35 games for Arizona last season. Marvin Bagley III played 33 games last season for Duke. Jarnen Jackson Jr. played 35 for Michigan State. None of them played past March.

Luka Doncic played 61 games for Real Madrid — at a higher level than NCAA basketball — and the season ended two days before the NBA Draft. Plus in Europe, the practices are often far more strenuous than the games (many teams keep doing two-a-days through the season).

Not surprisingly after that long a season Dallas is not going to ask Doncic to play in the Las Vegas Summer League, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

This was expected in most quarters no matter who drafted Doncic. Rest and recovery matter more than getting him into the glorified pickup games of Summer League.

Doncic will be ready to go when the season starts, and he will be one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year.