Small ball, no George Hill, enough for Knicks to win, stave off elimination

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The Knicks didn’t solve the Pacers defense Thursday night. New York made some good little runs — with George Hill out for Indiana Raymond Felton was getting into the lane and making things happen more often, plus Chris Copeland showed why he should get more run — but overall the Knicks scored a pedestrian 85 points and shot just 41 percent. They had 12 assists on 32 baskets, so it wasn’t amazing ball movement.

But it was enough.

It was a night when the Pacers went cold — a lot of that had to do with Hill’s absence, but the Pacers were 19-of-33 at the free throw line, too —and the Knicks went back to small ball, which worked. Solid Knicks defense and a few more made baskets led to a comfortable 85-75 Knicks win in Game 5.

That makes the series 3-2 Pacers heading back to Indiana Saturday night for Game 6. That will be the Pacers stand — they do not want a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden (it would be Monday night).

Hill, the Pacers starting point guard, was a surprise scratch with a concussion, something he suffered in the first quarter of Game 4 (he played through i shooting 9-of-14). Hill’s status is up in the air for Game 6. Under NBA concussion policy he has to pass a series of tests after increasing levels of physical activity. The team doctor has to consult with a league neurologist before he is cleared to play.

If he can’t play Saturday it could be rough because the Pacers offense is not the same without him.

D.J. Augustin got the start and was 3-of-9 with zero assists. Gerald Green got some run at the point and he was a mess. It really all fell to Paul George, who had a respectable 23 points and 6 assists.

However, as a team the Pacers shot just 36.2 percent and had 19 turnovers. Credit some of that to a Knicks defense playing with the desperate energy of a team that didn’t want to be eliminated. J.R. Smith had a chasing down Augustin on a breakaway, Tyson Chandler not giving away dunks, there was good all around energy from the Knicks. But the Pacers just missed a lot of shots they can usually make (David West has been doing that all series).

New York got some better offense from key guys. J.R. Smith started out 3-of-5 shooting (but went 1-of-6 after that). Carmelo Anthony hit some key buckets and had 28 points, but needed a very Carmelo 28 shots to get them. Felton was much improved without Hill harassing him.

But Chris Copeland was the star off the bench. Why coach Mike Woodson went away from him at times this series is a mystery because they are just better when he is on the floor — 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 3-of-4 from three. He’s called “I Get Buckets” for a reason.

The Knicks also showed some fight missing before in this series. In the second half the Knicks would have a lead around 10 and the Pacers consistently would push it down — and each time the Knicks made a little run back. The lead was down to three, New York went on an 8-2 run. The lead came back down to 4 and the Knicks ran off six straight.

Everything worked a little better for the Knicks… well, except Jason Kidd. It’s nine straight games since he scored (since before the NFL draft, to give you a time frame) and he was 0-for-1 in this game when he missed a layup.

Back home in Indiana Saturday, expect the Pacers to shoot a little better at home — they will put up more points, with or without George Hill. We will see if the Knicks have another level in their offensive game to come back home for a deciding game.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

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.