Pacers get big games from Roy Hibbert and Paul George, take Game 2 from Heat to even the series

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After the way Game 1 between the Heat and the Pacers went down, Game 2 could have gone one of two ways. Either Miami could have received the wake-up call delivered by Indiana and then come out with a dominant and inspired performance, or the Pacers could continue to make life difficult for the defending champs, and be in position once again to steal home court advantage in the final moments.

Indiana proved the latter to be true, and for the second straight game that it was a troublesome matchup for the Heat while battling for all 48 minutes. Behind huge games from Roy Hibbert and Paul George, and thanks to stifling LeBron James defensively in the game’s last couple of possessions, the Pacers took Game 2 97-93 to even the Eastern Conference Finals at a game apiece.

Hibbert is there primarily for defensive purposes, so when he puts in a dominant performance offensively as he did in this one, it’s simply a bonus. The Pacers’ key big man finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of 15 shooting, and yes, remained in the game for defensive purposes in the final few possessions.

George didn’t put up quite the numbers that Hibbert did, but he played at an elite level in stretches for the second straight game. He finished with 22 points and six assists, and earned the respect of James near the end of the third quarter, after he threw down a monster of a dunk on Chris Andersen that was followed by a three from James on the other end. LeBron made sure to slap hands with George after the shot, and said to him, “I got you back, young fella.”

James had yet another incredible statistical performance, finishing with 36 points on 14-of-20 from the field, good for a preposterous 70 percent shooting. He added eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks, but turned the ball over five times. Two of those came very uncharacteristically on some of the game’s most critical final possessions.

The first came with the Heat trailing by two with under 45 seconds remaining, and as LeBron tried to get the pass to Ray Allen on the perimeter, David West had his hand in the passing lane to deflect the ball and come away with the steal. Fortunately for the Heat, the result was nothing more than time off the clock, as the Pacers couldn’t convert on the offensive end.

The next time down, James drove the ball to the right side of the paint with under 13 seconds remaining. Unlike Game 1, George played excellent defense and was able to stay in front of James, and with Hibbert in the game this time and Chris Bosh on the strong side of the floor, Hibbert was able to come and help, forcing LeBron to make a tough pass. He tried to kick it back outside, but West once again got his hand in there to cause the deflection, and George Hill came away with the steal.

As the series shifts to Indiana, the Heat are going to have to get their role players contributing closer to the level we saw from them during the regular season against a Pacers team that brings a balanced attack and a supreme challenge defensively.

Miami can’t afford to get essentially nothing out of Shane Battier and Ray Allen, and may have to find additional minutes for Andersen considering how well he’s been playing on both ends of the floor. Dwyane Wade and Bosh contributed in spurts in Game 2, but one of them is going to need to have a big game on the road in support of LeBron to help the Heat regain the home court advantage in this series.

Shaq donates a year’s rent to a paralyzed Atlanta boy

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ATLANTA (AP) — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has donated a year’s rent in a new home to an Atlanta woman whose 12-year-old son was paralyzed in a shooting at a football game.

O’Neal tells WXIA-TV  that Isaiah Payton’s family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” Shaq told the Atlanta station. “It could have been my son. It could’ve been your cousin. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in a nice area.”

Now they have a home in a good neighborhood. He says he’s helping furnish the home and will pay its rent for the next year.

Isaiah was shot through the spine in August after a football scrimmage between two high schools. Sixteen-year-old Damean Spear also was wounded and treated for minor injuries. Isaiah’s mother, Allison Woods, has said relearning how to care for Isaiah meant she had to leave her job, adding financial stress to her emotional turmoil.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.