Heat crush Pacers in Game 6, advance to fourth straight NBA Finals

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Early in the fourth quarter of Game 6 between the Heat and the Pacers, with the contest having long since been decided, the Miami faithful rained down a chant of “overrated” on Paul George and the rest of his Indiana teammates.

That’s ultimately how these Pacers will be remembered, after finishing the year with the league’s top rated defense and the best record in the Eastern Conference, but stumbling through the last two months of the regular season and similarly staggering through three rounds of the playoffs, and six games of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The opposite might be true of this Miami Heat team, considering the feat that was achieved by securing Friday’s 117-92 victory — a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

The last team to do that was the Boston Celtics from 1984-87, which ironically, featured Pacers president Larry Bird playing in his prime.

In order to even get to this point, the Pacers needed foul trouble contributing to a single-digit scoring performance from LeBron James in Game 5, along with Paul George going off for 37 points just so Indiana could avoid elimination by hanging on for a three-point victory at home.

In Game 6, there were no such aberrations.

The Pacers opened the game with a 9-2 start, before the wheels came completely off after the first four minutes. Miami’s lead was double-digits by the end of the first quarter, reached 26 points by the halftime intermission, and peaked with 3:39 to play in the third, when a finger roll from James put the Heat up by a ridiculous 37 points.

Indiana played as though the result was a foregone conclusion. George, who was so effective in Game 5, finished the first half 0-of-6 from the field with just a single point in over 21 minutes. Lance Stephenson, perhaps feeling as though his team had no chance from a pure basketball standpoint, upped the ante with his tactics of irritation, but the Heat maintained their composure, and only seemed to be inspired to bury the Pacers as much as possible.

LeBron appeared to be particularly locked in from the start, scoring 11 points in the first 12 minutes, and helping to set the tone for his team on a night where the Eastern Conference title would eventually be secured.

This season for the Pacers will be lost in history, and the overrated label will only stick for those of us who remember how a team that looked so strong over the first half of the season wobbled to a disappointing finish. Miami, meanwhile, will be ultimately judged on whether or not they can win a third straight title — even though the feat of getting to the Finals in four consecutive seasons is much more rare, if not as genuinely impressive.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.

Bulls’ Paul Zipser has surgery to repair broken left foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser has had surgery to repair a broken left foot.

The team said Friday the operation was performed in his native Germany. The Bulls gave no timetable for his recovery.

Zipser averaged 4.0 points in 54 appearances before sitting out the final nine games last season.