Paul George, Pacers defense shows up when it matters, Indiana lives to play another day

133 Comments

The Indiana Pacers played with a real sense of desperation. Paul George played like the elite, Top 10 player he believes he is, Lance Stephenson was fully into the game and fully entertaining.

Well, they didn’t do that consistently all game, they are the Indiana Pacers after all.

But with LeBron James in foul trouble in the second half the Pacers stepped up and extended their defensive pressure, Paul George had 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting in the second half (the Heat defended him but George was 11-of-18 on contested shots), and Stephenson was blowing in LeBron James’ ear.

That was enough.

Barely. In the most entertaining game of this series and one of the more bizarre playoff games in years, the Indiana Pacers hung on to win 93-90 and take Game 5 on their home court. The Heat lead the series 3-2 and head home to Miami on Friday with the chance to close the series out.

For stretches of Game 5 the Pacers looked like the team that was elite the first half of the regular season. They gave Miami a dose of what the Heat gave them for the past three games — the Pacers extended their defensive pressure, forced turnovers that became transition buckets the other way, and generally played with great energy. More than they had all season.

That worked particularly well once LeBron picked up his second personal foul of the second half just more than three minutes in, giving him five and forcing coach Eric Spoelstra to sit him. Miami led at that point but an energized and desperate Pacers team went on a 16-2 run and by early in the fourth quarter their lead had swollen to 11.

Paul George’s star turn fueled a lot of that run — he got buckets, particularly hitting the difficult, contested shots that the Pacers have lacked much of the series. George finished with 37 points, he hit five threes, plus he had six steals. He looked every bit the All-Star. Everything he threw up seemed to go in.

And yet the Heat had their chances at the end.

That was really the story of the game.

From the opening tip Pacers were more aggressive on offense than we had seen since Game 1, attacking the rim and just with better ball movement. Behind that Indiana shot 50 percent — and grabbed the offensive rebound on half of their misses — to Miami’s 36.7 percent in the first quarter.

Yet it was just a six point game, 22-16 after one. Indiana didn’t create any separation. That came back to haunt them in the second quarter when Miami’s defense cranked up and once again the Pacers couldn’t handle the pressure on the ball. Their offense was just stumbling and ugly. Indiana scored just 11 points in the second quarter, shot 33 percent and had six turnovers. Meanwhile Ray Allen had 10 points in the second quarter, the Heat shot 58.8 percent.

It looked like the Pacers were in real trouble in this game when they were down 42-33 at the half and the Heat were +13 with LeBron on the bench.

But for the first time in a while Indiana showed some real resolve, played with desperation, they extended their defense (Miami shot 5-of-17 in the quarter) and that led to some better looks on offense off turnovers. Plus the Pacers just knocked down shots they had missed in the second quarter and the previous three games. Indiana won the third quarter 31-15 and lead by 7 entering fourth.

The lead got up to 11 but then Miami answered with a 9-0 run of their own, scoring 18 points on first 10 possessions of fourth quarter. Rashard Lewis was suddenly hot — he finished the game with 18 points on six made three pointers.

When LeBron tied the game with a pull up three, 81-81 with 3:45 left, it felt like the kind of situation Miami has won and Indiana has faltered this series.

But George and Stephenson wouldn’t let that happen. While George was hitting dramatic shots and engaged and energized (if not always focused) Stephenson did a good job defending LeBron. He wouldn’t let LeBron own the game.

Indiana hung on through a wild ending that included missed free throws and a Heat chance to tie at the buzzer.

It was a great game.

The kind we’d hoped this entire series would have been like. This Pacers team is fun to watch. I wish it would show up more often.

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

Associated Press
1 Comment

Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

Getty Images
1 Comment

If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

Getty Images
2 Comments

The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.