In ugly mess of game, George Hill’s pretty shot lifts Pacers over Lakers

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At least Lakers fans got to leave Staples Center Tuesday night with a Chick Hearn bobblehead (the Lakers honored their legendary former broadcaster).

I say that because I’m trying to help them find something positive.

And there isn’t much else – the Lakers lost in an ugly game 79-77 to the Indiana Pacers. This was the kind of embarrassing performance that would have the Lakers trying to fire Mike Brown if they hadn’t already done so. They shot 31.6 percent, 21.4 percent from three, missed 22 free throws (6-of-28) including four in crunch time, Kobe Bryant alone had 10 turnovers and their defense was spotty.

The Indiana Pacers weren’t much better (they shot 36.7 percent) but they played better team basketball and in the end were redeemed by George Hill, who hit a pretty layup high off the glass (over the sweeping hand of Dwight Howard) with .01 seconds left to give Indiana the win.

That shot was one of the few pretty things in a game that was ugly. Top to bottom. It was the kind of game that while watching it you thought neither team deserved to win. The two teams combined for 33 turnovers. It was ugly right down to Joey Crawford being in full “look at me” mode and handing out technical fouls like a Pez dispenser.

For the Pacers, who have struggled on offense this season it was another confirmation that their defense can keep them in games. But their offense was once again a mess — they shot 36.7 percent. They were 4-of-19 from three. They turned the ball over on 20.8 percent of their possessions.

What Indiana did well was defend. You knew they would going in (they had the second best defense in the NBA). That and George Hill (19 points on the night) and David West (16 points) were enough.

For the Lakers, it was a night where they fell back into the worst habits they had of the Phil Jackson era:

They expected Kobe Bryant to do everything and the Lakers stood around and watched him. There was too much Kobe for the Lakers — her finished with 40 points and the rest of the team had 37. When this happens you don’t get the efficient Kobe the Lakers have seen earlier in the season — he was 12-of-28 shooting and had 10 turnovers.

This wasn’t Kobe the ball hog, this is what Kobe always has been — he wants to win and if the rest of his team is going to stand around and miss their shots, he will take on the extra load himself to push them toward a win. Kobe has an unwavering belief in himself and his teammates gave him no reason to trust them in this game with their play.

The rest of the Lakers settled. They didn’t move well off the ball. They didn’t hit the good look shots they did have. And they missed their free throws — the Lakers were 6-of-28 from the stripe. Dwight Howard was 3-of-12 but the rest of the team was 3-of-16, and that includes some crucial misses by Metta World Peace late.

The Lakers clearly miss Steve Nash in this offense, Kobe cannot be the primary ball handler every time down (especially when battling the flu). Kobe makes some good decisions but is gets taken out of what he does best (scoring) when the team’s entire playmaking responsibility falls to him.

But Nash is not a cure all. The return of Nash and Steve Blake is not going to be transformative for this team if they put up an effort like they did Tuesday night. If they don’t defend better and knock down shots when they are open.

Right now the Lakers are just not a very good team. And they displayed that in all their glory Tuesday night.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.