Pacers turn up defense in rout of Wizards

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WASHINGTON – Late in the fourth quarter with the result in hand, Paul George made a 3-pointer in front of the Pacers bench. George turned his back to the court, took a step toward Indiana’s reserves and celebrated his rub-it-in dagger with a little shimmy.

An assistant coach popped up and literally pushed George back on defense.

The Pacers defended with unrelenting effort and execution in a 85-63 Game 3 win over the Wizards on Friday. By taking a 2-1 series lead, Indiana has won four of five, second only to the Heat among the NBA’s hottest teams.

The Pacers had never allowed so few points in a playoff game. The Wizards had never scored so few in any game.

This was complete and total defensive domination.

By quarter, the Pacers allowed 17, 16, 12 and 18 points. They held Washington to less than 33 percent shooting. And they forced 17 turnovers.

No team has scored so little and won a playoff game by so much in a decade. It happened just nine times prior in NBA history.

“This was probably the ugliest game of the postseason this far,” said George, who scored a game-high 23 points. “But this is our style of basketball.”

Asked the last time his team defended so well, Vogel looked down and smiled slightly.

“I don’t know. My emotions are so high, I’m having trouble thinking about it,” Vogel said after a pause. “…I don’t think we’ve ever been that far from where were tonight.

He has a point. During the Pacers’ late-season collapse, their top-rated defense fell all the way to… No. 1.

Even though the Pacers slipped on both ends of the court, they were so dominant early defensively, they had plenty of margin for error to still lead the league in defensive rating. Indiana’s offensive slippage is real. Its defensive dip might be random variance and/or a product of defending fewer possessions after makes.

That case is a lot easier to make when Roy Hibbert is playing well. After his potentially breakthrough Game 2, the Pacers center followed with 14 points on nine shots and three blocks. His focus is essential to Indiana defending well.

Friday, the Pacers had it, and their defense looked every bit as dominant  as it did early in the season.

Of course, the Wizards helped.

Stifled by Indiana’s brick wall early, Washington too easily settled for jumpers. The Wizards’ free-throw shooting – 11-of-21 – can’t be pinned on the Pacers, either.

Late in the third quarter, the Wizards hit rock bottom.

John Wall brought the ball upcourt and then immediately threw a pass to a trailing Drew Gooden, who was behind the halfcourt line – drawing a backcourt violation so painfully obvious, the referee seemingly needed a moment to collect himself before calling it. Then, Washington shot just 1-of-6 from the charity stripe to close the quarter.

Fans at the Wizards’ first home game this deep into the playoffs in nine years mixed supportive cheers and boos. By the end of the game, the only fans left with desire to make a sound were the boo birds.

Afterward, a reporter called the basketball “not picturesque.”

“You’re being kind,” Wittman interjected. “…This was a clunker for us. There’s no question about it.”

For the Pacers, it could be more. Hibbert seems back on track (for now at least), and after a cold start to the series, George is heating up. And most importantly, Indiana is defending like a team capable of making Miami sweat on at least one end of the court.

“We’re building habits,” George said.

The Pacers, who never led the Hawks series until it ended, have regained homecourt advantage. The Wizards, on the other hand, trail in a playoff series for the first time this year.

This will be a new challenge for a young Washington team. The Pacers’ burden comes more from within.

Right now, Indiana is winning its battle with itself.

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.

 

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving to rest against Cavaliers, his former team

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving said returning to Cleveland tonight won’t mean anything to him.

He won’t even play.

The Celtics will rest rest the star against his old team, the Cavaliers.

Irving is averaging 23.8 points and the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible going into the postseason.

The Celtics have lost four straight and are fifth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland.

Irving played his first six seasons with Cleveland. The six-time All-Star demanded a trade following the 2016-17 season and was dealt to Boston. He hasn’t played in Cleveland since the 2017-18 opener.

Celtics center Al Horford (sore left knee) and forward Jayson Tatum (back contusion) could return Tuesday. Coach Brad Stevens said both were “questionable to probable” at the team’s shootaround.

Kris Humphries retires

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At one point, Kris Humphries was one of the NBA’s most-hated players. Because he married Kim Kardashian, I guess. I’m not sure his critics could articulate precisely why they loathed him.

Now, two years after last playing in the NBA, Humphries is retiring.

He announced his decision in The Players’ Tribune, also elaborating on his relationship with Kardashian:

Look, I should have known what I was getting into. I was definitely naive about how much my life was going to change. But the one thing that really bothers me is whenever people say that my marriage was fake.

There’s definitely a lot about that world that is not entirely real. But our actual relationship was 100% real. When it was clear that it wasn’t working … what can I say? It sucked. It’s never easy to go through the embarrassment of something like that — with your friends, with your family…. But when it plays out so publicly, in front of the world, it’s a whole other level. It was brutal.

I didn’t know how to handle it, because I never thought I was going to be famous in that way. I remember having this moment when I was getting booed so hard in Philly, and I thought to myself, “Why exactly are they booing me, though? Is it just because I’m That Guy from TV? Do they think I was trying to be famous? Is it because they think I disrespected the game of basketball?”

The last one killed me, because all I’ve ever wanted to be known for was basketball.

Humphries’ playing style was built for anonymity. He was a rebounding journeyman who spent 13 seasons with the Jazz, Raptors, Mavericks, Nets, Celtics, Wizards, Suns and Hawks.

But he had a knack for drawing attention.

As a kid, he swam faster than Michael Phelps. As he shifted attention to basketball, he tried to take on Michael Jordan’s persona (as detailed in his essay) and came across like a jerk. Then, he hooked up with Kardashian.

Their 72-day marriage will be the lasting memory of his career. It’s what exposed him to a far wider audience.

Maybe that’s not what he wanted, and he still had a successfully long NBA career. But that’s what he got.