Frank Vogel errs by readily sitting George Hill, Lance Stephenson with foul trouble

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George Hill picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and after he hit a technical free throw on his way to the bench (thanks to jawing between Mario Chalmers, David West and Udonis Haslem), the Pacers led by two points.

By the time Hill returned five minutes later, Indiana trailed by eight points and wouldn’t lead again.

Of course, Hill finished with just four fouls.

Frank Vogel made a high-profile mistake by sitting Roy Hibbert at the end of Game 1, and the Pacers coach erred again while handling his players’ foul trouble in Game 5. Make no mistake, Vogel has done an excellent job this series, devising a gameplan that has challenged the Heat and hitting the right motivational notes. But that doesn’t make him immune to strategic mistakes.

Lance Stephenson picked up his second foul just two and a half minutes into the game, and Vogel pulled him for Sam Young. Though the Pacers built a lead with Young in the game, he didn’t play very well, and it stands to reason Indiana would have fared better with Stephenson (even though hindsight says Stephenson had a poor game). But Vogel self-imposed a penalty by inserting Young. Stephenson committed three fouls in the game’s final five minutes to foul out, but at that point, the Pacers were effectively out of the game.

Vogel’s more egregious mistake came when Hill committed his fourth foul.

Hill fouls at an extremely low rate – once nearly every 20 minutes during the regular season – and even if he’s more likely to foul against the Heat, the odds of him fouling out were low. Again, Vogel self-imposed a penalty and sat Hill in favor of D.J. Augustin.

These self-imposed penalties are often foolish, but they’re particularly destructive for the Pacers.

Indiana relies heavily on its starting lineup – +26 this series in a slight majority of the available minutes, compared to –45 for all other lineups – so tweaking the rotation allows fewer minutes for Hill, Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert to share the court. In Game 5, the Pacers’ starters played much less together than any other game of the series:

  • Game 1: 28 minutes
  • Game 2: 29 minutes
  • Game 3: 26 minutes
  • Game 4: 24 minutes
  • Game 5: 16 minutes

It’s not just that Indiana’s starters are better than its reserves – though they are – but that Indiana’s starters work so well together. Even when four starters play together, the Pacers are just –16 in 40 minutes this series.

In Game 5, a lineup with Augustin replacing Hill and the rest of the starters was –8 in five minutes.

The biggest problems came defensively, where Augustin – who played a more minutes than any Indiana reserve this series – often didn’t stick close to his man or, when he did, wasn’t big enough to disrupt him.

Probably by the Heat’s design, Indiana’s point guards spent a decent amount of time guarding LeBron James, who set screens for Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole to begin pick-and-rolls. Any switch or hedge that involved Augustin guarding LeBron or preventing the ball from reaching LeBron didn’t work too well. Chalmers had his success with Augustin, too.

These aren’t easy matchups for Hill, either, but he’s a much better defender – and a much better fit with the Pacers’ preferred lineup. Next time, Vogel shouldn’t rush to sacrifice that.

Report: Paul George reached out to Damian Lillard to clear the air

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NBA players talk a lot of smack. The Clippers’ Patrick Beverley is a constant stream of it.

Both Beverley and Paul George got into it with Damian Lillard in the Clippers recent win over the Trail Blazers (when Lillard missed some clutch free throws). That spilled over to Instagram after the game when Lillard called out George for switching teams so often.

However, it got nasty when family and friends got involved. George’s girlfriend Daniela Rajic and Lillard’s sister, La’nae, went at each other on social media — La’nae Lillard called Rajic a stripper, Rajic called La’Nae a cow.

All that prompted George to call Lillard and clear the air, Chris Haynes of TNT said during the Blazers broadcast Tuesday.

Lillard and George have a history that goes back to last playoffs and what Lillard did to that Thunder. That beef is still around.

Players are generally pretty good about leaving the game on the court, and while it spills over to social media now and again it’s just an extension of the game. Family members tend to throw gas on those fires. That happened here.

Lillard used all that fuel — he has scored 112 points on 55% shooting (hitting 33-of-34 free throws) since that Clippers’ game. In doing so, he pushed Portland to two wins and the eighth seed in the West.

Three Things to Know: What you need to know about race for West play-in

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What you need to know about race for West play-in

Four teams were alive in the chase for the final playoff spot in the West when they got out of bed Tuesday morning — Memphis, Portland, Phoenix, and San Antonio — and four were still alive when they went to bed Tuesday night.

But things looked very different by the end of the day. Portland — by virtue of a 61-point game by Damian Lillard, and helped by a Memphis loss — was the eighth seed and the team everyone else was chasing. The eighth seed has a huge advantage in the play-in series that is coming (it only has to win one of two games, the nine seed must sweep them both), and Portland had taken that away from Memphis. Still, nothing was secure yet.

Here are the play-in scenarios for each team (all four teams play Thursday).

Portland: Beat Brooklyn and the Trail Blazers are the eighth seed. It’s that simple. They control their own fate. If the Trail Blazers lose they only keep the eighth seed if everyone else loses. If Portland loses but two of the other three teams also lose, then the Blazers are the nine seed.

Memphis: Beat Milwaukee — who likely will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo after his headbutt of Moe Wagner — and Memphis can finish no worse than ninth. If the Grizzlies win and Trail Blazers lose, then Memphis regains the eighth seed. If the Grizzlies lose, they need both the Suns and Spurs to stay in the playoffs.

Phoenix: The Suns must beat the Mavericks to go 8-0 in the bubble, or they are out. And even going 8-0 may not be enough, Phoenix still needs Memphis and/or Portland to lose to move into either of the top two seeds (if both lose the Suns can be eight, just one and they finish ninth).

San Antonio: The Spurs must beat the Jazz to have any chance, lose and they are out. Even with a win San Antonio needs at least two of Portland/Memphis/Phoenix to lose to become the nine seed (if all three lose the Spurs can be the eighth seed, but that is a longshot).

2) Damian Lillard ties career-high 61 to will Portland to critical win

Paul George and Patrick Beverley talked smack from the bench, and it made Damian Lillard mad. You wouldn’t like Lillard when he’s mad…

If you’re an opponent. For the rest of us, it’s pure basketball joy. In the two games since the Clippers ran their mouths in a win, Lillard has scored 112 points on 55% shooting (hitting 33-of-34 free throws) and willing Portland to two wins and the eighth seed. On Tuesday, Lillard dropped 61 on Dallas.

You had better respect his f****** name and his game.

3) Devin Booker should be the bubble MVP, drops 35 to keep bubble Suns perfect

The NBA is giving out awards for the bubble — an NBA Player of the Seeding Games and NBA All-Seeding Games Team — and Devin Booker is going to pick up some hardware. Or should, at least.

The Suns remained perfect at 7-0 in the bubble on Tuesday beating what’s left of Philadelphia 130-117 behind 35 from Booker.

Booker has craved respect he feels he hasn’t gotten up to this point, mostly because the Suns’ teams he has been on are terrible (and the defensive issues of those teams fall partly on him, although there is much more at play as well). In the bubble, he has earned that respect.

Respect alone won’t get the Suns into the play-in series, another win won’t even do that (as noted above, the Suns still need help even with a win). But the respect is there, and that is something.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.