NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Lance is Lance … and the Pacers get a big win — When the Indiana Pacers were off to their stellar start during the regular season, the player who perhaps provided the biggest spark — both in his play and his attitude — to Indiana was Lance Stephenson. Sure, All-Star and MVP type Paul George was Indiana’s top offensive option and he was last night in a must-win Game 5, dropping 21 fourth-quarter points on Miami to save the Pacers’ bacon. But the up-and-down play of Stephenson after the All-Star break played a big role in the Pacers’ flubs down the stretch and into the postseason. Stephenson was in full-on “Born Ready” mode last night and as our Steve Aschburner details, it kept Indiana hyped (and Miami annoyed) all game long:
Lance Stephenson made a, er, spectacle of himself in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, cavorting against and annoying the Miami Heat with a performance that was one part Metta World Peace, one part J.R. Smith and, apparently, one part baseball slugger Manny (Being Manny) Ramirez.“Lance being Lance” is how one Miami player after another characterized the Indiana guard’s antics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. His repertoire of annoyances ranged from exaggerated and pestering contact with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to sticking his beak into a sideline huddle between Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers.
Then there was the coup de grace, blowing into James’ ear while the two waited for action to resume at one point.
Asked later if he ever had thought about blowing in someone’s ear as a defensive tactic, James responded: “Probably my wife. I blew in my wife’s ear before. That was definitely a defensive tactic.”
Generally, the Heat reacted with a collective shrug. They’re the two-time defending champions. Stephenson is a 6-year-old, or at least sometimes acts like it.
“I’m as annoying as the next guy, but even for me there are lines,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.
…Stephenson had generated buzz previously in the ECF. Before the series began, his throwaway remark about running around enough to make Wade’s knee ache got portrayed by some media types as disrespectful or antagonistic. Then he got caught up in a trash-talking controversy with James, contending that he had exposed a “sign of weakness” in the Heat superstar when James actually yapped back at him briefly.
That’s probably why James took no bait Wednesday.
“Lance is Lance,” he said. “He’s going to do what he needs to do to help his team win. As to the leaders of our team, we’re going to do what it takes to help our team win.”
Said Pacers forward Paul George: “It’s Lance being Lance. He’s been special for us, and whether he’s scoring the ball, making plays, causing confrontation, Lance is special and there’s a reason why we gain an edge and some opportunities during games. A lot of it comes from Lance.
“So we need that. He’s always got to make sure he’s monitoring it, but I didn’t think nothing was out of the spirit of the game.”
No. 2: Report: Cavs to interview Lue, Hollins— It’s that time of year in the NBA season — former coaches and hopeful assistants are interviewing for coaching vacancies around the league. The Cavaliers, who fired Mike Brown after one season back on the job in Cleveland, are looking for the right man to lead a young team that will boast the No. 1 pick in the Draft (again) next season. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reports that Tyronn Lue and Lionel Hollins are the next two men who will get a chance to make their impression on the Cavs’ front office:
Los Angeles Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue will interview with the Cavaliers today, a league source confirmed. Former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will follow with a weekend visit, a source confirmed, as the Cavs coaching search is expanding.
Lue, 37, is the second candidate to interview, following Chicago Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin earlier this week. Like Griffin, Lue is a former journeyman who played on seven teams during 11 seasons in the NBA. Immediately after retiring, he joined Doc Rivers’ staff with the Boston Celtics, then Rivers took him to Los Angeles before this season.
Hollins, 60, is also a former All-Star and champion as a player who coached the Memphis Grizzlies to 56 wins and guided them to the conference finals last year before his contract was not renewed.
The Cavs continue to search for a replacement for Mike Brown while debating who to take with the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft.
No. 3: OKC’s Adams growing up as shotblocker — Despite missing the first two games of the Spurs-Thunder Western Conference finals, OKC forward Serge Ibaka leads the playoffs with 36 blocks. That’s an impressive stat. More impressive, though? Rookie center Steven Adams has 24 swats in the playoffs, which is an astonishing number considering his postseason inexperience and that he plays just 18.7 mpg. But Adams has made the most of his time and has learned from Ibaka how to make his blocks count, writes Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:
In these playoffs, Ibaka’s 36 blocks are the most in the league. DeAndre Jordan’s 33 rank second. Entering Wednesday, Thunder rookie reserve Steven Adams was tied with Pacers starting center Roy Hibbert for third with 24, an amazing number considering the disparity in court time.
Per 48 minutes, Adams is averaging 3.85 blocks this postseason, more than Jordan (3.58), Ibaka (3.42), Hibbert (2.44) or anyone else that’s played substantial time.Adams had five in one game in the Memphis series. He had seven against the Clippers. He had four in 28 minutes against the Spurs on Sunday night, victimizing Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
“It’s something I just kind of picked up now,” Adams said. “I’m big, so that helps with the tall guys, but in terms of timing, yeah, it’s gotten a lot better. … I picked it up off Serge.”
And that’s a scary thought for opposing teams. Ibaka is 24, and the improving Adams is only 20, making this front line of the future a problem for potential penetrators in the present.
And the duo has help. Kevin Durant has 21 blocks this postseason, sixth most in the NBA, and Russell Westbrook has chipped in six, second most at his position behind John Wall. As a team, the Thunder has been first or second in the league in blocks per game each of the past five seasons.
No. 4: Bosh adjust to his role in Miami — The Toronto Raptors took Chris Bosh with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2003 Draft with the intention of him being their franchise player in hopes that he’d lead them to a long run of prominence. Bosh, too (according to his recent interview with Grantland.com’s Kirk Goldsberry) expected the same out of himself. But since then — and his move to Miami in the summer of 2010 — Bosh has learned how to be a cog in a championship machine and has learned to enjoy it:
The Toronto Raptors selected Bosh out of Georgia Tech with the fourth overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. Four months later, Bosh made his professional debut in a home game against the Nets. He had 11 points and four rebounds. He was 19 years old.
“I really didn’t know how to function,” recalls Bosh. “In college, I was with my guys every day in our dorm, in our protective little world. I always had friends right next to me. As soon as I got to the league, socially, it was a challenge. I had to really get used to that and being on the road … Then I had to worry about playing basketball, which wasn’t easy, either.”
During his time in Toronto, Bosh came to the realization that his childhood visions of the NBA didn’t correspond with reality.
“When I was younger, I’d watch Mike Jordan and think, Man, I’m gonna be in the league, I’m gonna be the man, I’m gonna take my team to win the championship.”
His dream of being Toronto’s Jordan never came to pass. The Raptors made the playoffs only twice during his tenure, and exited in the first round both times. Then opportunity knocked.
Bosh was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to join forces with Pat Riley, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade in Miami. In the summer of 2010, at 26, while James publicly weighed his free-agency options, Bosh faced his own decision — one that would define his NBA career, along with those of two other superstars, and the trajectory of two franchises. He could be the cornerstone player and the face of the team in Toronto, or he could accept a less glamorous role in a potential dynasty.
“I could have been like, Hey, I’m gonna take more money and stay here, and they’re gonna dump it down into the post to me 20 times a game. I’m gonna get 20 shots. I’m gonna get 20 and 10 every night. Or I could go to Miami, to a less certain future.”
Bosh moved on to Florida to play with two of his best friends. They just happened to be two of the best players on the planet. Much like his first years in the league, the transition wasn’t easy. Bosh says it took a surprising amount of time and effort to learn how to play and to share buckets with each other.
“It’s like being an only child who all of a sudden has two brothers. I had to share. It’s like, Damn, I didn’t think it was gonna be like this. I just thought it was gonna be a little easier.”
Bosh’s new reality was particularly evident in crunch-time situations. In Toronto, he was the go-to guy in key moments. But Bosh noticed early in his first Miami season that things were going to be different there.
“You realize how much you give up when you’re in certain situations — when it’s late [in the] game and I’m like, ‘Give it to me in the post, I know I can score.’ But instead it’s like, ‘No, we gotta get Dwyane goin’. It was a tough pill to swallow.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Great look at some of the issues that may be dogging the Pacers of late … Don’t rule out Flip Saunders being the Wolves’ next coach … If the Cavs hire Adrian Griffin as coach, will that keep Luol Deng in the fold? One insider says not likely … Is Nerlens Noel a fan of raising the NBA’s age limit? … A cool look from the folks at Grantland at the history of NBA posters … Nene is pushing hard for the Wizards to re-sign center Marcin Gortat … Stu Jackson reportedly has an offer to be the Pistons’ GM if he wants to be … Pistons big man Jonas Jerebko plans to opt into the final year of his deal … Entering Game 5 of the East finals, Roy Hibbert had set a record for most scoreless games by an All-Star in the playoffs …
ICYMI of The Night: They say superstars are made in the playoffs. Paul George added to his lore, then, with his fourth quarter and overall performance in Game 5 of the East finals …