George Hill, after unhappy season, leading depleted Pacers in playoff push

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BOSTON – George Hill doesn’t shy form describing how last season went for him.

“I wasn’t happy,” the Pacers point guard said. “I felt like, to play the way I want to play, I’ve got to be happy. The way things finished off last year and me not feeling like I was that involved on the offensive end and things like that, I wasn’t happy.”

He also didn’t shy away from doing something about it – and the results have been a quietly spectacular season that has the Pacers still in the playoff race despite losing Paul George (to injury) and Lance Stephenson (to the Hornets).

Hill began his offseason regimen the day after Indiana eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals, according to Pacers coach Frank Vogel. Hill said he was often in the gym three times per day.

“We had to ask him to back off several times,” Vogel said.

Said Hill: “I didn’t ease up. I kept going. He can say that all he wants, but I’m the player. I wanted to get better. So, there was no easing up for me.

“I’m a person that, once I’ve got my mind made up, there’s no knocking me off that course.”

Hill said he was intent on “just getting back to who I was in college… get back to being myself.”

In college, Hill was a big fish in a small pond.

He starred at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) from nearly the moment he arrived as the reigning Indiana high school scoring leader. Unlike Damian Lillard, who went to Weber State because bigger programs overlooked him, Hill held scholarship offers from Indiana and Temple and was courted by Florida.

Hill chose hometown IUPUI, which hadn’t been a Division I team even a decade, so his ailing great grandfather, Gilbert Edison, could see him play. Unfortunately Edison died before Hill began his college career.

But Hill, stating the loyalty Edison taught him, refused to transfer. Besides, Hill believed the NBA would find talent anywhere – and he believed he had plenty of talent.

So does Vogel, even when there were limits on Hill’s ability to show it.

Hill, whose usage percentage had never cracked 20, saw it plummet to 14.8 last season – tied for lowest among starting point guards:

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“I knew that when he was getting criticism last year for not being the point guard that everyone thought that this team needed, I thought it was unfair, that he was capable of carrying a much bigger load,” Vogel said. “And he’s proven that this year.”

Hill’s usage rate has soared to 24.7.

All along, he planned to carry a bigger load, but without George and Stephenson, Indiana really needs it.

Hill is averaging career highs in points (16.4) and rebounds (3.9) per game, and his 4.7 assists per game are within a hundredth of his career high. Yet, he’s playing just 28.4 minutes per game, his fewest since becoming Indiana’s starter.

As a result, Hill is posting career highs in points (blue), assists (gold) and rebounds (gray) per 36 minutes:

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Unfortunately for the Pacers, despite Hill’s breakout season, they still might miss the playoffs. They’re two games out and 11th in the Eastern Conference entering  tonight’s pivotal contest with the 10th-place Hornets.

Don’t blame Hill for Indiana’s perilous position, though.

Hill missed the first 28 and 39 of the first 44 games of the season due to injury. Before he got healthy, the Pacers looked cooked. But he – along with David West, who also began the season injured – has rejuvenated them.

They’re 20-16 with Hill and 12-27 without him. They outscore opponents by 4.6 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court (equivalent of fifth in the league) and get outscored by 3.4 per 100 when he’s not (24th).

The biggest gains have come offensively, where Indiana had really fizzled.

Hill runs more pick-and-rolls than before, serving as the defined playmaker he wasn’t last season. And he has hit several huge shots:

At this point, it’s probably worth taking a step back and remembering Hill was hardly a bad player before this season – even in a limited role. He defended well, hit spot-up shots, kept the ball moving and, perhaps most importantly, kept turnovers down. He started for a team that won 105 games and four playoff series the previous two years.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin and Mike Conley were the only players to post more win shares both of the last two seasons.

But as the player Indiana trade for him, Kawhi Leonard, became the youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic Johnson, Hill saw expectations for him rise. Being a low-usage complementary player was no longer enough.

He has taken that challenge head on, and he’s succeeding. Not only has Hill increased his load, his efficiency has remained in tact. He’s shooting a career-high 48.3 percent from the field, and his 3-point percentage is a solid 36.5. Despite having he ball in his hands more, his turnover rate remains low.

Hill, because he fit his role so well, posted All-Star-caliber numbers in certain advanced stats prior. Now, his numbers are up and he looks like an All-Star.

Beyond lifting Indiana into the postseason, other challenges loom.

Stephenson (probably, at least) isn’t returning. But at some point, whether or not it’s this season, George will. When that happens, what will Hill do?

“I’m going to continue to be myself,” Hill said. “I think I’ve established myself now and showed everybody what I can do. There’s no turning back now.”

USA Basketball to host to Puerto Rico in World Cup tuneup in Las Vegas

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USA Basketball has finalized its schedule of exhibition games leading into this summer’s FIBA World Cup, announcing Tuesday that it will open the five-game slate against Puerto Rico in Las Vegas on Aug. 7.

It will be the only World Cup warmup game in the U.S. for the Americans, a team that will be coached by Golden State’s Steve Kerr. His assistants are Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyronn Lue and Gonzaga’s Mark Few.

The roster of NBA players is still being assembled.

“Puerto Rico, obviously, we’re familiar with them,” said Grant Hill, managing director of USA Basketball’s men’s national team. “We’ve competed in the World Cup qualifiers, although neither team had their full heavy roster, if you will, its strongest roster. But it’s an opportunity to throw our guys into the fire. The games, the exhibition games, the lead-up, we’re going to get a lot of basketball in us before we play for real. And that’s good.”

After the Puerto Rico game, the U.S. will leave for Malaga, Spain, and games there against Slovenia on Aug. 12 and Spain on Aug. 13. The final two pre-World Cup games for the Americans will be held in Abu Dhabi, against Greece on Aug. 18 and Germany on Aug. 20.

From there, the Americans head to Manila, Philippines, where they will remain for the entirety of the World Cup. Half of the 32-team World Cup field will have group-stage games in Indonesia or Japan; the Americans are among the 16 that will open the tournament in the Philippines, which will also play host to the medal rounds.

The game against Puerto Rico will coincide with the end of the U.S. team’s training camp in Las Vegas.

“Our preparations for the 2023 FIBA Men’s World Cup begin in Las Vegas and we are excited to return to a city that regularly and graciously welcomes USA Basketball,” said Jim Tooley, USA Basketball’s CEO.

The men’s national team played four exhibitions in Las Vegas in 2021 before the Tokyo Olympics, going 2-2 in those games. The Americans opened with losses to Nigeria and Australia before beating Argentina and Spain prior to departing for Tokyo.

“The Nigeria game was important,” Hill said. “It let everybody know that we can’t just show up.”

In Japan, the U.S. won its fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

The U.S. opens World Cup play against New Zealand on Aug. 26, followed by group games against Greece on Aug. 28 and Jordan on Aug. 30. The tournament – one of the major qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympics – runs through Sept. 10.

Bob Myers stepping down as Warriors president, GM

2022 Golden State Warriors Victory Parade & Rally
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The architect of the four-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors, the former agent turned two-time Executive of the Year Bob Myers is stepping away from the franchise.

This had been rumored all season and Myers confirmed it to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN prior to Myers’ formal press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s just time,” Myers told ESPN.

Warriors ownership wanted to keep Myers on board and reportedly made generous contract offers to retain him, but Myers just wanted to back away from the job.

Myers took over a Warriors franchise in 2012 that had already drafted Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but was still being led on the court by Monta Ellis and David Lee. Myers drafted Draymond Green (in the second round), eventually traded for Andre Iguodala, built out the roster, fired Mark Jackson and replaced him with Steve Kerr, and generally built a championship team. When that team fell short in 2016 — and boosted by a one-time spike in the salary cap due to a new television deal — Myers brought in Kevin Durant to form one of the best, most dominant teams the NBA had seen, and they won two more titles. After Durant left and due to some brutal injuries, the Warriors stumbled for a few years, but in 2022 found their footing again and won a fourth ring. Myers helped guild all of that.

It is expected Mike Dunleavy Jr. — the No. 2 man in a Warriors front office that values a lot of input from different voices and isn’t classically hierarchical — will take over as the man in charge. Wojnarowski reports that Kirk Lacob, son of owner Joe Lacob, also is expected to have an expanded role.

This changeover comes at a critical time for the Warriors (and adds to the end-of-an-era feeling), heading into an important offseason for the franchise. Green is expected to opt out of his $27.5 million contract for next season and is looking for the security of more years — and this past season showed the Warriors cannot win at a high level without him. However, the Warriors will want him back at a lower figure than that $27.5 million per year. Klay Thompson is set to make $43.2 million next season and is extension eligible, but he is not a max player anymore and the Warriors will want those future years at a much lower price. Then there is Jordan Poole‘s extension kicking in — at $28.7 million — after a down season. The tension following Green punching Poole tainted the entire Warriors’ season, and there is a lot of speculation around the league Poole could be traded.

Myers built strong relationships with the Warriors’ players, and he would have been better positioned to talk to Green and Thompson about sacrifice to keep the team together. That is a tougher sell for Dunleavy.

Don’t expect Myers to jump straight into another NBA job — although offers will come to him fast — he is expected to take a year or more and step back from the game before deciding his next move.

Heat’s Tyler Herro reportedly targeting Game 3 return during Finals

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Tyler Herro fractured his hand just before halftime of Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks, and following his ensuing surgery the target timeline was he could be back for the NBA Finals. That led to a lot of “good luck with that” comments on social media (not to mention comments about his sideline fits).

The No. 8 seed Miami Heat are on to the NBA Finals, and Herro hopes to return to the court when Miami returns home for Game 3, reports Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

Maybe he returns, perhaps that is optimistic (Game 3 is Wednesday, June 7). Herro is still feeling pain in his right hand, he told reporters after the game.

Herro averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game for the Heat this season, shooting 37.8% from 3. He was the team’s secondary shot creator after Jimmy Butler, a guy counted on to jumpstart the offense at points.

If he returns, Erik Spoelstra has to return him to the sixth-man role where he thrived a season ago. The starting lineup without him was better defensively, and with the emergence of Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent, the Heat don’t need the offensive spark with that first group (less Herro has meant more Jimmy Butler with the ball, and that’s a good thing). The second unit could use the offensive spark Herro brings.

It’s something to watch as the Heat return to the NBA Finals for the first time since the bubble, this time facing the formidable Denver Nuggets.

Three takeaways from Heat playing with intent, beating Celtics in Game 7

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Is there a more Miami Heat way to win a series than going on the road and ripping the heart out of Boston fans in their own building in a Game 7?

Is there a more fitting way for this era of Celtics to lose this series than to play poorly until their backs are against the wall, then flip the switch and look like the best team in the NBA, only to not quite get all the way there?

In those ways the Eastern Conference Finals worked out the way it should have, with the Miami Heat taking charge of Game 7 in the first quarter and never looking back. The Heat beat the Celtics 103-84 to advance to the NBA Finals (which start Thursday in Denver).

Here are three takeaways from Game 7.

1) Caleb Martin embodied the difference in this series

Jimmy Butler was officially voted MVP of the Conference Finals. He averaged 24.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game through the series, numbers that are hard to argue. He is the best player on the team.

However, he won in a tight 5-4 vote over Caleb Martin — who had 26 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7, but more than that embodied the difference in this series. Martin played with intention, focus, and with a commitment to the system every night in a way the Celtics don’t do consistently. Martin, a guy waived by the Hornets in the summer of 2021, has had to scrap and fight for everything he’s gotten in the league, and with that comes a hardened edge.

“To the untrained eye, he just looks like he’s an undrafted guy who has been in the G League, who has started with Charlotte and now he’s here,” Butler said of Martin. “Started on a two-way contract. That’s what it looks like to y’all. To us, he’s a hell of a player, hell of a defender, playmaker, shotmaker, all of the above. Everybody [on the team] has seen Caleb work on those shots day in, day out. It doesn’t surprise us. We have seen it every single day. I’m so proud and happy for him.”

Martin’s shotmaking also embodied why the Heat won — they were simply better at getting and hitting the shots they wanted all series long. It was historic shotmaking.

Bam Adebayo had another rough offensive outing — 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting with a lot of good looks missed — but his defense was stellar and that was reflected in his +22 on the night, the best of any starter on the team. He remains vital to what they do.

2) Jayson Tatum‘s rolled ankle proved too much for Celtics

The Celtics didn’t lose this series because Jayson Tatum rolled his ankle on the game’s first play.

They lost this series because when they went down 0-3 in the series they left themselves no margin for error — everything had to go perfectly. It never does, just ask the other 150 teams in NBA history to go down 0-3 in a series. Tatum went on to score 14 points, but he admitted he was a shell of himself.

The Celtics needed to collectively make up for Tatum being slowed (much the way the Heat’s role players such as Gabe Vincent stepped up with Tyler Herro out).

Jaylen Brown didn’t, he ended up shooting 8-of-23 for 19 points, but with eight turnovers. Derrick White had 18 and was the best Celtic in Game 7. Malcolm Brogdon tried but could not play through an elbow injury he may need off-season surgery on (and coach Joe Mazzulla stuck with him a little too long).

The bigger problem was Boston was 9-of-42 (21.4%) on 3-pointers. Miami leaned into their zone defense (which allowed them to keep Duncan Robinson on the floor) and while the Celtics did a better job of getting into the middle of that zone, but they still needed to knock down shots over the top of it. They failed.

When the Celtics’ shots aren’t falling it bleeds into the other aspects of their game — the defensive lapses come, the mental focus goes in and out. Consistency is not a hallmark of these Celtics.

We’ll get into Boston’s future in the next couple of days, they should and will re-sign Jaylen Brown and make another run, but this core needs to look at itself in the mirror and figure out why it can’t play closer to its peak nightly.

3) The Heat are the life lesson you want to teach

As a parent, there are a lot of life lessons you try to pass on to your children, although you eventually realize that it’s more about what you show them day-to-day than what you say in any moment that really resonates.

One thing I want to show my daughters, what I want for them is to be resilient like this Miami team — a group that took a punch to the gut in Game 6, stumbled, got up off the ground, shook off the dust, and came back with more resolve and focus.

“I think probably people can relate to this team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team advanced. “Life is hard. Professional sports is just kind of a reflection sometimes of life, that things don’t always go your way. The inevitable setbacks happen and it’s how you deal with that collectively. There’s a lot of different ways that it can go. It can sap your spirit. It can take a team down for whatever reason. With this group, it’s steeled us and made us closer and made us tougher.

“These are lessons that hopefully we can pass along to our children, that you can develop this fortitude. And sometimes you have to suffer for the things that you want. Game 6, the only thing that we can do is sometimes you have to laugh at the things that make you cry…

“We have some incredible competitors in that locker room. They love the challenge. They love putting themselves out there in front of everybody. Open to criticism. Open to everything. But to compete for it, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

They did compete harder than the team in Green across from them, and that’s why Miami tips off in the NBA Finals on Thursday night.