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Kyle Lowry: Raptors won’t stop Paul George from scoring 25

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When the burning sensation in Paul George‘s shattered right leg finally subsided in August 2014, the Indiana Pacers young star made a commitment to himself and his fans.

He would return to the basketball court even better.

Twenty months after suffering the unforgettably gruesome injury in Las Vegas, George has written the next chapter in his comeback tale with an incredible start to the NBA playoffs.

In Game 1 against Toronto, George scored 27 of his 33 points in the second half, almost willing the Pacers to a 100-90 victory over the East’s No. 2 seed. He added 28 points in Monday’s loss, leaving George with two-game totals of 61 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, five steals and a field-goal percentage of 54.1 percent. He’s 6 of 8 on 3s and 15 of 17 from the free-throw line, playing the same way he did when he led the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

“There’s no stopping PG. He’s playing phenomenal,” Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry said after Toronto’s 98-87 victory in Game 2. “You’re not going to stop him from getting 25 or 30. He’s going to get that, that’s how talented he is.”

George’s amazing journey has been a series of steady steps.

Eight months after snapping his leg when he crashed into a basketball stanchion during a U.S. national team scrimmage and countless hours of grueling rehab, George returned to game action sooner than many thought possible. Seven months after that, the 6-foot-9 forward was named November’s Eastern Conference player of the month after averaging 27.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

In February, George made his third All-Star appearance, started for the second time, broke the All-Star Game record with nine 3-pointers and finished with 41 points, one short Wilt Chamberlain’s record from 1962. George finished the regular season ranked among the league’s top 10 in scoring (23.1 points), steals (1.9) and 3-pointers made (210) and produced the highest single-season point total (1,874) of his career.

On Thursday, George will have a chance to give the Pacers a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series when he makes his first home playoff appearance since May 28, 2014.

“I’m real excited to be back on the stage where I was able to make my name,” George said.

Yet George isn’t completely healthy.

Last week, coach Frank Vogel said this season was expected to be a “recovery year” for George and that there are times George feels soreness in his surgically-repaired right leg.

“I knew right away, in training camp, that I was going to be OK. I knew I was OK last summer,” George said. “But I’ve still not regained all of my strength and explosiveness. I’m hopeful I’ll get that explosion, that quick step back and be lighter on my feet. I do feel good with where I’m at right now.”

George spent this transition year learning how to play the four spot after spending his first five seasons playing almost exclusively at the three spot. He still thrived – and he doesn’t turn 26 until May 2.

Vogel figures George is only scratching the surface of what’s possible.

“It (the comeback) is remarkable. It’s just a testament to his work ethic and his competitiveness to get back to this level this fast,” Vogel said. “Injury aside, guys grow from year six to year 10, so we do still think there’s more there.”

First, though, George has big plans for the rest of this year.

He believes the Pacers, who have won seven of nine, are playing their best basketball at the right time and could make a surprising postseason run. And whenever the Pacers season ends, George has another goal – playing for Team USA at the Rio Olympics, another major step on the comeback trail.

“It’s a dream of mine,” he said. “I want to represent my country and do it alongside the best players in the country. We’ll see, after the season, how my body is feeling.”

So far, things look just fine.

George is playing well, his body is holding up and the Raptors have discovered how difficult the matchup can be.

“We’ve just got to make it a little bit more difficult (on George),” Lowry said. “He’s getting to his spots a little bit too easy.”

Bam Adebayo: “I played like s***… I’ll put that game on me.”

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The Miami Heat were one half of basketball away from the NBA Finals when a desperate Boston team cranked up its defensive intensity, started attacking the rim, and started playing at a level Miami didn’t match. The Celtics dominated the final 24 minutes of Game 5, forcing a Game 6 and keeping the Heat out of the Finals for now.

Bam Adebayo took the blame for the Heat loss. Via Manny Navarro of The Athletic.

“I played like s***. Bottom line: I can’t. I’ll put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made… I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been. I don’t think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today. I wasn’t a difference-maker today. I didn’t get us into fast enough triggers. That’s on me.”

Game 5 was not Adebayo’s best outing: 13 points, eight rebounds, and Boston did a better job with its scheme pulling him away from the basket to defend smaller players on the perimeter, opening up the paint. Adebayo and the Heat as a whole struggled to slow the Celtics’ pick-and-roll actions, and Boston has figured out how to play against Miami’s zone (so the Heat have gone away from it).

“It’s not (Adebayo’s fault). It’s on everybody,” Jimmy Butler said after the game. “He does so much for us that it can feel like that at times but it’s definitely not on him. It’s on us as a whole. We all understand that because nobody was playing the way that we are supposed to play; the way that we have to play in order for us to win, nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it. I love him for it. But he can’t do it by himself. We’ve got to be there with him.”

Bam Adebayo was wearing a sleeve over his left arm, where he aggravated a wrist injury at the end of Game 4. Both Adebayo and coach Erik Spoelstra said that was nothing and not what led to his off night.

Miami needs a lot of things to go differently in Game 6: It needs to start hitting its threes again (19.4% from beyond the arc in Game 5, and below 30% from deep in each of the last three games). Miami has to take care of the ball and it has to get back in transition defense — Boston ran right past the Heat in the second half and got a lot of easy transition buckets. Mostly, however, it comes back to Miami shooters hitting more of their threes — the Heat halfcourt offense needs that.

The Game 5 loss was not on Adebayo. But he can be part of the solution.

Backs against the wall, Celtics play dominant half to beat Heat, force Game 6

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For Boston, it was the worst of halves, it was the best of halves. It was a half of foolishness, it was a half of wisdom. It was a half of tight play, it was a half of free-flowing offense. It was a half of despair, it was a half of renewed hope.

With its season on the line down 3-1, Boston came out tight in the first half of Game 5, with guys trying to do everything themselves, showing no patience, no ball movement, players gunning from three, and nobody in green was defending well. Boston shot 5-of-20 in the first quarter, and while things settled down Boston was lucky to be only down seven at the half.

Then a different Boston team came out in the second half — a team that was defending with intent, pushing the pace, and watching their best player, Jayson Tatum, attack to the tune of 17 third quarter points. At the end of the third, Brad Stevens told his team, “with all sincerity, that’s the first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the past few games” (via the ESPN mic’d up segment of the broadcast).

The Celtics pulled away in the fourth to win 121-108. The Heat still lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 coming on Sunday.

“We did not compete hard enough defensively and we paid the price for that,” Erik Spoelstra said of his Heat team.

“I thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and I think our offense followed suit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the second-half turnaround.

That defense included much more ball pressure out high on Miami and it worked. The Heat shot 19.4% from three, that’s the third straight game under 30% from three for the Heat, but Tyler Herro wasn’t able to bail them out this time around.

For Boston, Tatum finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds, and his third quarter helped save the Boston season.

Boston needs that Tatum from the opening tip on Sunday, not after 24 minutes (as we have seen the last couple of games). Boston is a good team but it needs Tatum to play at an All-NBA level to look like a contender.

Jaylen Brown added 28 points for the Celtics, while Daniel Theis proved an important role with 15 points and 13 rebounds plus some critical defensive plays down the stretch.

Miami may have led at the half, but when Boston started playing better out of desperation the Heat had no answers.

“No one was playing the way we’re supposed to play, the way we have to play for us to win,” Butler said.

Miami got 23 points from Goran Dragic and 20 from Duncan Robinson, who was a big part of Miami’s strong first half.

Miami was up 3-1, and they have seen how little that lead has meant in the bubble.

“I don’t think those series have anything to do with this. Our guys are well aware,” Spoelstra said. “We have great respect for Boston. We’re not expecting it to be easy. You have to earn it.”

Kings keeping Luke Walton, plan to play faster next season

Kings coach Luke Walton
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Kings coach Luke Walton works for a general manager who didn’t hire him and an owner who has shown frustration with him.

But Walton will keep his job.

New Sacramento general Monte McNair, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“Luke is going to be our coach next year, I’m really excited to work with him and I think we’re aligned in our vision and we’re going to start implementing it,” McNair said.

“This team showed some flashes last year,” McNair said. “I think De’Aaron is certainly a great young talent and I think his speed ability offensively to create really is going to be a huge catalyst for how coach Walton and I envision this team being up-tempo, creating the space to shoot threes and attack the rim.”

Walton has had four losing seasons in four years as a head coach between the Lakers and Kings. But this is how it works out for him.

A distressing aspect of Walton’s first season in Sacramento: The Kings played far slower than they did the previous season under Dave Joerger, who successfully implemented a fastbreak-heavy attack that particularly suited De'Aaron Fox.

Walton can coach that way. His Lakers teams typically played quickly. But Sacramento too often stagnated last season.

The Kings are still building around Fox. It’s on Walton to figure out how to maximize the point guard. For now.

Anthony Davis listed as questionable for Game 5 with sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
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When Anthony Davis has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via

Why that stat matters: Anthony Davis is officially questionable for Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame Thursday. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Players also are the worst judges of their returns from injuries. This is the playoffs, the Lakers need him on the court, and Davis wants to play. However, ankles are very easy to re-injure once the ligament is stretched, and the issue can become chronic. If Davis missing one game helps the ankle heal to the point it doesn’t linger into the NBA Finals the Lakers have to consider that option.

That said, expect Davis to play.

Davis has been the best Laker throughout the Western Conference Finals. He is averaging 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and as noted above the Lakers are dramatically better with him on the court.

The Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win Saturday night in Game 5.