LeBron’s post-ups the latest problem for the Pacers to try and solve

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The Miami Heat got whatever they want offensively in Game 3 against the Pacers, racing out to put 70 points on the board by halftime in what would end up being an easy 18-point victory that reasserted the team’s dominance.

LeBron James was especially effective early, and got things going in the first half by attacking Indiana’s defense in the post and the paint to score 18 of his team-high 22 points in the game’s first 24 minutes.

Most impressive was the fact that on three of his first seven made shots, as well as on the final one he made in the game with almost 11 minutes still remaining in the fourth quarter, James backed down his defender and scored easily over him in post-up situations.

These weren’t simply cases of James establishing position on the low block, followed by a teammate dumping it in for him to make a power move to the basket. On each of his four possessions where he scored on post-ups, James received the ball and faced up maybe 17 feet away before backing down his defender (Paul George in all four cases) and scoring inside.

Even more impressive, James turned baseline and finished with his left hand off the glass on three of his four post-up scores. That means that rim protector Roy Hibbert had no chance to come over and help from the weak side; it was George by himself on an island, where James is essentially unstoppable.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t say that James attacking in the post was a specific part of his team’s game plan, but he did mention how LeBron forcing the action helped set the overall tone for his team.

“It wasn’t something we saw against a very good defender,” Spoelstra said. “It was something we wanted to get to, just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack. Because Paul George and that defense is a very good ‑‑ he’s a very good defender and he can do it in a lot of different ways. But we wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. And LeBron was very committed and focused to not settle. That aggressiveness set the tone.”

Hibbert knows that by the time James gets to the low block in a one-on-one situation, it’s too late for the defense. He wants to see the activity much earlier on in order to prevent James from getting to that spot.

“You know, he was in the post putting in a lot of work,” Hibbert said. “I think we have to do a better job of helping Paul out. LeBron can’t get five or six dribbles to get a post move. We have to make adjustments. He’s obviously a low‑post threat, but we have to make adjustments.”

The adjustments to make would be to double James when he gets the ball before he makes his move to the post, but that would go against everything the Pacers have done defensively all season long. Indiana is a team built on containing and helping once guys get into the paint, not leaving guys wide open and putting their defense in a scramble situation just to take away one particular player’s strength. But they can bring a second defender to pressure the ball once James puts it on the floor, as opposed to the way they simply watched him go to work in this one.

“I saw I had a one‑on‑one matchup,” James said, in explaining how he was able to score so easily on these plays. “They didn’t come down in the post all game, so I just tried to take advantage of it. My teammates gave me space. I just tried to sit in the post, not get the ball in the wing as much tonight. Tried to anchor myself down on the block and go to work. I was able to do that.”

The good news for the Pacers is that James only scored on these post-ups four times, and on one of those, he got into the paint for a layup while Hibbert was on the bench. This wasn’t a case of LeBron going off for 40 points on the same play over and over again, but it was a reminder of yet another way James can beat you if he’s allowed to go to work against a single defender, and it’s one more cause for concern for Indiana to deal with now that the Heat have reclaimed control of the series.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.