Posts Tagged ‘David West’

Randolph’s extension finally a mark of stability in Memphis

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

randolph

Zach Randolph has managed to average a double-double in three of the past four seasons. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s a good day in Memphis.

The Grizzlies and grit-n-grind specialist Zach Randolph have worked together and come to an agreement on a two-year extension that will keep the skilled and beloved big man in Memphis through at least the 2016-17 season. Randolph, who turns 33 on July 16, opted into the final year of his contract for next season at $16.5 million and then will be owed $10 million in each of the following two seasons.

In essence, it becomes a three-year, $36.5 million deal, very similar to the three-year pact signed last summer by Indiana Pacers power forward David West.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the Randolph extension.

With the chaos that has engulfed the franchise the past two offseasons that saw coach Lionel Hollins let go last summer and then the team’s top two executives fired following this season, this was a move in the name of stability that Memphis had to make.

“It’s cool, man. This is where I want to be,” Randolph told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal shortly after the news broke Friday morning.

Randolph could have opted out of his contract and become a free agent, then signed a new deal that could have lowered his salary for this season and potentially aided the Grizzlies in making roster upgrades when free agency opens next week.

Memphis will be hard-pressed to do much this summer, but will have significant cap space next summer when they’ll likely look to re-sign center Marc Gasol and retool from there.

The 6-foot-9 power forward turned his seventh season in the last eight of averaging a double-double, 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds, plus a career-best 2.5 assists. He helped Memphis rebound from a slow start under first-year coach Dave Joerger and through a knee injury to Gasol, to win 50 games.

They lost a grueling seven-game, first-round series to Oklahoma City. Randolph’s season disappointingly came to an end in Game 6. The league suspended him for one game for punching Thunder center Steven Adams in the jaw.

In his five seasons in Memphis, the Grizzlies have produced their best five-year period in franchise history. His blue-collar style quickly won over the fan base and by retaining Randolph, the Grizzlies hold onto their identity as a gritty, physical, low-post team in a Western Conference dominated by fast-paced, spread-it-out schemes.

Since losing in the 2013 Western Conference finals to the San Antonio Spurs, Randolph has consistently expressed his desire to remain in Memphis for the remainder of his career. At times, it might have seemed unlikely as a new front-office team took over at the start of last summer and began to shed salary, starting with Rudy Gay.

But that group is now gone and interim general manager Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies’ general manager who traded for Randolph in 2009 and then awarded him a whopping extension, has made sure that Randolph, surely to the delight of the team’s fans, will be sticking around.

Morning Shootaround — May 31


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers-Heat rivalry never really existed | Your move Scotty Brooks | Composed Heeat dismantle Pacers, Stephenson | Phil Jackson asks ‘Melo to opt in, stick with Knicks

No. 1: Pacers-Heat rivalry? It never existedPaul George‘s less than rousing endorsement of “No. 1″ aside, the Indiana Pacers left Miami late Friday night filled with mixed emotions about finishing three straight seasons on the wrong side of the ledger against the Miami Heat. They’d call it a rivalry, their annual tussle with the Heat. Others, however, wouldn’t go that far. Not when the Pacers have fallen in this proposed rivalry in each and every battle that truly mattered. Michael Wallace of ESPN.com points out the differences between a rivalry and what amounts to bullying and why it’s time for everyone to move on:

Make no mistake about it: The Pacers were nothing more than a solid group of antagonists, instigators and irritants that pushed, poked and provoked Miami these past few seasons. But they were never really the Heat’s equal.

At least not when it mattered most.

The East might as well start taking applications now for a new so-called “rival” for the Heat. Because these Pacers were officially relieved of their duties after being dismantled and shoved aside in a 117-92 season-ending loss in Game 6 of the conference finals.

It’s clearly time to move on.

The Heat are headed to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season as they pursue a third straight championship. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have known no other outcome since they became teammates before the 2010-11 season.

And for the third postseason in a row, including two straight in the conference finals, the Heat propelled themselves into the championship round after breaking down and eventually stepping over Indiana. The Pacers are all too familiar with the bitter flavor they’ve had to taste after being served and dismissed by the Heat.

Considering some of their actions, antics and comments over the course of the series, I completely expected the Pacers to be defiant in defeat when their locker room was opened to the media after the game. But a team that’s been full of surprises and bucked expectations — both high and low — throughout a turbulent season was true to its unpredictable form late Friday.

It’s difficult to describe just how deflated the scene was inside the visitors’ locker room. As reality sank in that the season ended well short of expectations for the 56-win team that held the No. 1 seed in the East, the Pacers were things they hadn’t been all series.

Humbled.

Quiet.

Sullen.

Sadly accepting that their best, despite three seasons of motivation, isn’t good enough. Not against James and the Heat. Not back then, not now, probably not ever.

“We know what they’re going to do in these moments,” Pacers forward David West said of the Heat as he slumped into his stall and stared at the floor. “And [we] weren’t able to, again, match what they’re capable of. I thought they just were the better team. We got right back to where we got to last year, and they’re just a better team. They’ve got a gear that we can’t get to.”


VIDEO: LeBron and DWade at the podium for the 4th straight season after winning the Eastern Conference finals

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Indiana can’t drag Heat to Game 7


VIDEO: Heat dismantle Pacers in decisive Game 6

MIAMI – In a ranking of the saddest, most enduring symbols of unrealized ambition in NBA history, it’s difficult to top the rafters of Los Angeles’ fabulous Forum in the spring of 1969, filled with multi-colored balloons that never were allowed to drop.

The balloons had been loaded up there on orders from Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, convinced that his team would win Game 7 of The Finals over the dynasty-in-decline Boston Celtics. Only the proud Celtics noticed, dialed up their focus – Bill Russell said he wanted to watch the show of Forum workers taking them down one by one – and, on the Lakers’ home court, grabbed the championship Cooke had presumed was his.

Forty-five years later, the Forum and its balloons have some company now in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Not just the rafters – the whole empty, lonely place, site of a never-to-be-played Game 7 of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

The Miami Heat rendered that game unnecessary, lights out, doors locked, by dismantling the Pacers in Game 6 117-92 and ending the best-of-seven series without the trip back to Indy. Miami beat the Pacers in all ways basketball – leading by 37, shooting 58 percent and hanging 117 points on what had been the league’s No. 1 defense, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh refusing to lose.

Miami beat them physically and mentally, too, from Shane Battier pushing a forearm across wild child Lance Stephenson‘s throat to put him on the floor to veteran Udonis Haslem threatening Stephenson from the bench in a GIF widely circulated on social media during the drubbing.

Unspoken, though, was how the Heat deprived Indiana of the essence of its entire season.

From the start of training camp – really, from the moment they trudged off the court in south Florida at the end of last year’s ECF, so similar to Friday’s outcome – the Pacers had targeted the East’s No. 1 seed for the home-court advantage it would bestow. Specifically, they wanted to know, if they locked up with the Heat again for the right to advance to The Finals, Game 7 would be at BLFH this time.

It would have been.

Only the Pacers never made it happen.

There were reasons great and small why it didn’t last the max, why Indiana never got a chance to flex a home-court advantage that, let’s be honest, had fizzled anyway (the Pacers went 35-6 at BLFH during the season, then 5-5 in the playoffs). Stephenson’s mouth and antics might not have affected the Pacers – so his teammates claimed – but they sure seemed to put a face on Miami’s quest to reach its fourth consecutive Finals.

There was Roy Hibbert‘s big fade, an 8-point, 4-rebound performance on a night that the Heat made sure wasn’t his. Miami’s use of Bosh and Rashard Lewis in a stretch-5 attack in which everyone is a deep shooting threat pulled thwarted Hibbert’s 7-foot-2 size advantage even more thoroughly than Atlanta had (with lesser players). Defensively the Heat found way to make Hibbert just as uncomfortable and then the big fella’s sensitive side took over, completing the task. The guy who averaged 22.1 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 55.7 percent in last year’s ECF against Miami slumped to 10.8, 7.7 and 41.5 percent.

The most important, elephant-in-the-room-sized reason, though, was that Indiana could not crack Miami’s code. It doesn’t have the star power, barely has the manpower and never could rise to the occasions – five players tied together as one – for any sustained success.

As bad as Game 6 was, and it was stenchified, the Pacers admitted afterward that their troubles in the series began in Game 2, which had slipped away late, pilfering the home court right there and squandering their chance to put the Heat in a 2-0 hole.

That was a mistake. Getting reckless with the ball and blowing a big lead in Game 3, another mistake. Game 4? A wire-to-wire mistake. Roll them all together and you get a team that wants to chase championship vs. a team that already owns two and is aiming for three.

“Everything starts and ends with the Miami Heat,” forward David West said. “You have to have a team that can survive and get you through a tough regular season, but ultimately you’ve got to be able to beat Miami to get to The Finals.

“This whole year, we competed to get to this moment. We just weren’t able to come through it. They’re built for these moments. Their pedigree shows in these moments, just how everybody on their team does their job. Particularly in these moments, they do it at a high level. They don’t have any breakdowns.”

Indiana has flaws and challenges. Bidding to retain free agent-to-be Stephenson, and at what price, will be a pressing one, requiring guesses as to how his psyche melds with a multimillion-dollar, guaranteed contract. Rounding up some perimeter shooting seems a must.

Coach Frank Vogel might need to find himself a new “bad cop” on the bench to keep the pressure on a squad that got too easily satisfied along the way. And basketball boss Larry Bird is going to have to get back on the horse after being thrown not once (Andrew Bynum signing) but twice (Evan Turner trade).

Here’s the trickiest part: James isn’t retiring anytime soon. What players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and others went through being born too close to Michael Jordan‘s birth date, the Pacers are facing with regard to Miami’s best player and the team on which he romps.

“We’re in the LeBron James era,” West said after the game. “We fully understand that.”

West likened James to Shaquille O’Neal, another player whose size and skill set warped normal games. Beating James and the Heat, same as beating the big man, requires better personnel (to counter James’ many styles), a deeper roster (to dole out fouls when needed) and a resolve to pull it together. Oh, and one more thing …

“They’ve got that gear that continues to elude us in the moment,” West said. “We can compete in the year, tough and well enough, to beat them for the top seed. But in these moments, the Game 2 moments, this Game 6 moment, it just eludes us.”

A fair question from Pacers fans and NBA followers would be: For how long? West, Vogel and the others felt their team took a considerable step this season, running down that No. 1 seed, winning 56 games and beating better opponents in the first two rounds than a year ago.

Still, getting bounced by Miami for a third consecutive season has gotten old, and the Pacers will need to make sure their act has not.

Earlier in the series, on an off-day, Donnie Walsh – longtime Indiana exec who serves now as a consultant – talked of the 1997-2000 Pacers, Reggie Miller-led and Larry Bird-coached. After the first edition of Shaq’s and Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers beat them for the title, on the heels of two misses in the East finals, Bird told Walsh that Pacers group had nothing left. Changes were made, not the least of which was Bird hanging up his whiteboard, and by the time Indiana reached the 2004 conference finals, the roster had been remade.

West said he didn’t think this squad is at that point, though he understood why the question might get asked. This league has a history, too, of excellent also-rans that never quite broke through.

“We’re in the midst of that,” West said. “This is the third year that they’ve knocked us out, two straight years in the conference finals. It can’t deter us. It can’t deter us from the work we know is ahead of us.”

That’s for the long term, gearing up again in October with a focus on May.

Short term, there will be a big, empty field house in downtown Indianapolis Sunday evening. It was supposed to be the Pacers’ partner, alive and loud and stomping on the clutch so they actually could find that elusive gear.

Instead, it will be dark, a reminder of what could have been and a variation on Hemingway’s shortest saddest story ever (“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn”).

The sign will be posted there in spirit. “Home court, Game 7: Never needed.”

Behind unstoppable offense, Heat heading to fourth straight Finals


VIDEO: Heat dismantle Pacers in decisive Game 6

MIAMI – When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to play together in 2010, this is what it was all about. The Miami Heat are making their fourth straight trip to The Finals and are the first team to do so in the last 29 years.

The Heat’s domination of the Eastern Conference since James arrived was epitomized by their 117-92 demolition of the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. Their best game of the series came at the right time and made it clear how much distance there was between these two teams. At one point in the third quarter, the Heat led by 37.

“It’s what we wanted to do,” Bosh said afterward. “We wanted to play a very good game, and we didn’t want to really let our foot off the gas in any type of capacity.”

Though they had their ups and downs (like no other team in recent memory), the Pacers were the best team in the conference in the regular season. But no East team came close to knocking off the Heat in the playoffs. They will arrive at The Finals having played at least three (and as many as five) fewer playoff games than their opponent.

The question is how much they’ve been tested, specifically on defense. As good as the Pacers were at times this season, they were never a very good offensive team. At times in this series, they were a complete mess on that end of the floor.

The Heat brought more defensive focus as the playoffs went on, but defending the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder is a lot different than defending Charlotte, Brooklyn or Indiana. Starting with Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday, we’re going to see how far they’ve come on defense over the last six weeks.

The Heat’s offense? Well, it’s a machine right now. After struggling through the first 4½ minutes of Game 6, the champs went on a ridiculous run, scoring 58 points on their last 33 possessions of the first half, turning an early seven-point deficit into a 26-point halftime lead.

Only two of those 58 points came on a fast break. The Pacers took care of the ball and had a decent offensive second quarter (21 points on just 19 possessions), but couldn’t get stops, even when their defense was set.

“In our offense,” Ray Allen said, “we got everything we wanted.”

That was the story of this series. For six games, the Heat sliced up the No. 1 defense in the league. Talk all you want about Indiana’s need for more shooting and playmaking, but the Pacers got destroyed on the end of the floor that they take the most pride in, unable to match up with the Heat’s shooting and playmaking.

Miami neutralized Roy Hibbert‘s rim protection on the perimeter, hitting 10.4 3-pointers per game at a 44 percent clip over the last five games of the series. James, meanwhile, did what he does, shooting 31-for-38 (82 percent) in the restricted area in the conference finals, with more than twice as many buckets in the paint (36) as he had outside it (16).

As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said often over the last two weeks, this was a contrast of styles and the winner would be the team that could “impose its identity” on the other. Ultimately, the Heat imposed their identity — and their personnel — on the Pacers.

These last four years have been about three of the best players in the league coming together to win multiple championships. And no team in the league can match up with James, Wade and Bosh. But this isn’t 3-on-3, and very year, the Heat have had role players to fill in the gaps.

In this series, when another piece to the puzzle was needed, it was Rashard Lewis, who started the last three games and was a series-high plus-58 in 100 minutes (plus-28 per 48 minutes). As a fifth shooter on the floor, he made the Heat impossible to guard, and he held his own defensively against David West.

“We talk about it all the time with our team,” Spoelstra said, referencing Lewis’ sudden emergence as a major factor. “It’s about moments. It’s not necessarily about every single game or minute during January and February. It’s about the big moments, keeping yourself ready and having an opportunity to make an impact at some point during the postseason.”

“Rashard,” James added, “was obviously the key to everything.”

This year’s Heat haven’t been the best Heat we’ve seen. But things are falling into place at the right time. While we may question their ability to play great defense on a nightly basis, we have no doubt that they know how to bring their best when it’s needed.

“They play at a championship level,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.  “They have a way to raise it to the point that it’s too much to overcome.”

It’s been three years since the Heat first got to this point and stumbled in the 2011 Finals. They were just six seconds from falling short a year ago. And with many roster questions to face this summer, we don’t know what the future holds.

But right now, the Heat are still fulfilling the expectations that we had for them and that they had for themselves when they got together in July of 2010.

“We’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in,” Wade said, “because it’s an amazing moment. It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes. Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this. So we just want to add to what we’re accomplishing.”

“We know we still have work to do,” James told ESPN’s Doris Burke, “but we won’t take this for granted. We’re going to four straight Finals.”

24 – Second thoughts — May 30


VIDEO: The Miami Heat are 4-for-4 in attempts at making The Finals, the first time in 27 years a team has done it 4 straight times

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – History in the making.

History still to be made.

It’s all still on the table for the Miami Heat.

Four straight trips to The Finals. The opportunity to three-peat. 

“I’m blessed,” LeBron James said. “We won’t take this opportunity for granted. This is an unbelievable franchise, this is an unbelievable group.”

The Finals rematch is up next, the San Antonio Spurs (2013) or Oklahoma City Thunder (2012) will help the Heat finish that chapter of this championship story.

But The Finals is all the Heat have known in the Big 3 era. It’s all James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and crew have known since they came together.

:1

Greg Oden is going to The Finals!

:2

Three years running they go out on the wrong end of the Heat’s blade …

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Andersen injury has allowed Heat to find a new lineup that works


VIDEO: Pacers-Heat Game 6 Preview

MIAMI – Has another injury forced the Miami Heat into another lineup change that will help them win a championship?

It was two years ago when Chris Bosh suffered an abdominal injury in Game 1 of the conference semifinals against Indiana. His absence forced Shane Battier into the starting lineup and unlocked the Heat’s floor spacing around LeBron James, turning them into an offensive juggernaut and two-time champions.

Rashard Lewis (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Rashard Lewis (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

In Game 3 of this year’s Eastern Conference finals, Chris Andersen suffered a bruised left thigh. Andersen wasn’t starting, but his absence forced another lineup shuffle by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Because the Heat needed a back-up center, Udonis Haslem went from starter to reserve, and Rashard Lewis — who hadn’t played in the first two games — was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4.

Andersen could be back for Game 6 on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) — he’s a game-time decision — but it seems unlikely that Spoelstra would remove Lewis from the starting lineup either way.

Lewis is a series-high plus-35 in the conference finals. Though he shot 0-for-7 in Games 3 and 4, the Miami offense has been at its best with Lewis on the floor. His work (and “work” is the right word here) against David West has allowed the Heat to remain strong defensively without playing big.

With the best player in the world, Miami has a lot of combinations that work. But the one with Haslem wasn’t working that well. Haslem is a series-low minus-43. He has hurt Miami’s spacing offensively and hasn’t been able to make up for it with defense and rebounding. Even in the Charlotte series, which the Heat swept, he was a minus-17.

Going into the conference finals, the Heat just didn’t have many alternatives at the second forward spot. Battier’s minutes are limited as he approaches retirement. And Michael Beasley never earned a postseason role. Neither can really handle West defensively.

Lewis can. He’s listed as 15 pounds lighter than West, but he held his own against bigger power forwards when he played for the Orlando Magic. And now that he’s rediscovered his shot (he hit six of his nine threes in Game 5 on Wednesday), he can provide even more spacing for James offensively.

So with 25-30 minutes of Lewis, a dash of Battier and a fourth quarter that features their three-guard lineup, the Heat don’t have to play big, save for a few Bosh-Andersen minutes, in which they still have solid floor spacing. That floor spacing  has made Indiana’s No. 1 defense struggle to get stops.

“They spread you out,” West said Thursday. “We’re not matching up in transition as well as we should. They’re getting us cross-matched. We just got to get a man to a body in transition.”

If they can do that, there’s still the question of what they should try to take away.

“We expect LeBron to have a huge night and be able to play his game,” Paul George said. “But we can’t let Rashard Lewis go for 18 from the 3-point line. That’s an area that we feel like we can cut out, the whole team in general. We do a great job of being able to guard the paint as well as the 3-point line.”

West, the guy who’s responsible for defending Lewis, says it’s a balance.

“We’re not going to overreact,” West said. “A lot of it is the system stuff that we’re doing, just having some breakdowns, maybe putting too many guys in front of LeBron. But we got to take our chances. We have to load to LeBron, load to Wade, and force those other guys to make plays and beat us.”

Lewis hadn’t hit six threes since the 2009 Finals. He probably isn’t going to hit six again. But whether he’s making shots or not, his presence on the floor is working for the Heat.

Thirteen different players have started playoff games for the Heat over the last four years. Spoelstra isn’t afraid to make changes when needed. Don’t be surprised if Lewis, who played just 47 minutes in last year’s postseason, is starting in The Finals.

Game 6: Welcome to West’s neighborhood


VIDEO: The GameTime crew previews Game 6

MIAMI – The antics of the Indiana Pacers’ wild child have dominated the Eastern Conference finals’ news cycle over the past several game nights and off-days.

It might be time, however, for the Pacers to put away childish things. And look to their resident grown-up, David West.

West is about as far removed from Lance Stephenson as anyone on the Indiana roster gets. West doesn’t blow in opponents’ ears in a juvenile attempt to get under their skin. He has been known, though, to cast a withering glare in some guys’ direction, the intent behind it – along with West’s burly 6-foot-9, 250 pounds and New Jersey no-nonsense roots – understood and wisely heeded.

West doesn’t yap, either. He chooses his words carefully and doles them out sparingly, such that they resonate way beyond the motor-mouths’ banter. Usually his message is loud and clear before he utters a word.

This is Game 6 coming up, West’s killing field twice already in these 2014 playoffs and the moment that, unless it belongs to West, might not belong to the Pacers.

“It’s not something I go out and look to do,” West said of his Game 6 performances against Atlanta in the first round and Washington in the East semifinals. “It’s part of how the game goes. Sort of what the moment dictates.”

Those moments dictated desperation. Against the Hawks, Indiana was right where it is now: down 3-2, on the road, its season in jeopardy. The Pacers had fallen behind 84-79 in the fourth quarter when West had had enough – he scored 12 of his 24 points in that period and sparked the 16-4 run with which Indiana closed the game .It was the power forward’s first double-double of the postseason.

Against Washington, the circumstances weren’t quite as dire: Indiana led 3-2 in the series. But the precocious Wizards had blown out the East’s No. 1 seed in Indianapolis by 23 points and were gaining confidence. West and the Pacers didn’t want lose at Verizon Center and have to put their home court to the test.

“My message to [teammates] was, ‘Just come to me,’ ” West said that day. “Ultimately I wanted it to be on my shoulders. If we lost this game, I wanted it to be on me.”

So West scored 29 points, hitting 13-of-26 shots, the most field-goal attempts he’s ever taken with Indiana and his most, period, since he was playing for New Orleans in 2009.

Said Indiana center Roy Hibbert: “He’s a veteran player who’s been through it all. He exudes a lot of confidence and he’s very contagious.”

Here’s a comparison of West’s work in two Game 6s vs. his other 16 playoff games:

G6: 26.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 5.0 apg, 23.0 FGA, 50.0 FG%

Others: 14.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.0 apg, 11.8 FGA, 47.9 FG%

Against the Heat so far, West has averaged 16.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and he’s shooting 53.1 percent but on 12.8 attempts. He has faced a gauntlet of defenders against Miami coach Erik Spoelstra‘s multiple matchups, from LeBron James out of position and out of sorts in Game 1 to Shane Battier and most recently Rashard Lewis.

West, 33, never has been the type of player who consciously has tried to take over games. Even for guys who do, that often doesn’t go well. The pressure’s too great and the defense dedicates itself to choking him off, and that can be that.

But the approach West took in that elimination game in Atlanta, the resolve he flexed on the Wizards’ floor two weeks ago, is needed now more than ever. And as West said in Washington: “I just wasn’t going to leave anything in the clip, y’know? I felt like I had to get beyond what I usually do. … We easily could have been home already.”

The Pacers want to go home now, they just want to drag Miami back with them. They played the entire 2013-14 season for one thing: To have Game 7 of the East finals at home against the Heat. To get there, they all have to go through Game 6, and maybe David West.

James’ absence helps Pacers survive and George look like a star again


VIDEO: Heat vs. Pacers: Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS – We were ready to bury the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, and through the first 24 minutes of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, they were helping us dig the hole.

They couldn’t take advantage of LeBron Jamesfoul trouble, couldn’t capitalize on an ugly first quarter from the Miami Heat. Their own second quarter was much more brutal, with more turnovers (seven) than made shots (five). They were dropping passes, throwing passes away, and even committing a rare double-dribble violation.

It was the Mr. Hyde side of the Pacers that we’d seen all too often in the last three months. And it was about to send them fishing in the figurative (rather than the literal) sense. The Heat had a rather mediocre first half offensively (42 points on 41 possessions) and still led by nine, with a rested James coming back for the second half.

But then he picked up his fourth foul just 81 seconds into the third quarter and his fifth with 8:34 on the clock. If was the first time in his career that he had been called for five fouls before the end of the third quarter. He sat for the next 10 minutes of game time.

And finally, the Pacers took advantage. Starting with the possession before James’ fifth foul, they scored 42 points in a 12-minute span to turn a 10-point deficit into an 11-point lead. And they held on for a 93-90 victory to send the series back to Miami for Game 6 on Friday.

They attacked the basket, they attacked the glass, and they turned defense into offense. With James on the bench, Paul George turned into the two-way superstar he looked like at times in last year’s conference finals.

Offensively, he took advantage of smaller defenders in the post and drained five 3-pointers. Defensively, without having to worry about defending James, he jumped into passing lanes and made the Miami offense look a lot like the Indiana offense has looked over the last few games.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra‘s quote regarding the Pacers’ defense could have been something Indiana coach Frank Vogel said about the Heat after Game 3 or 4.

“They stepped up their pressure, as you would anticipate they would in front of their crowd,” Spoelstra said. “Once they got us into a couple of sloppy possessions, their energy picked up.

“We have to do a better job about it. We know that getting shots is one of the most important keys to the series for us.”

While the Pacers committed just two turnovers in the second half, the Heat committed nine, with George turning four steals into three dunks.

“Forced turnovers get easy buckets,” Vogel said. “Then half-court gets a little bit easier because you’ve seen the ball go in.”

The ball went in a lot. After scoring just 35 points on their first 46 possessions of the game (76 per 100), the Pacers scored 58 on their last 39 (149 per 100), shooting 21-for-37 (57 percent) over the final 21 minutes.

Still, the game was tight in the final few. And down the stretch, George kept his team ahead by hitting three contested jumpers (one two and two 3s). James was back on the floor, but George had long ago found his rhythm.

“Coach told me, ‘Green light. Stay on green,’” George said afterward. “[David] West kept telling me, ‘Don’t keep no bullets in the chamber.’ So I really just came out firing. My teammates found me and I got hot.”

He finished with 37 points, six rebounds and six steals, shooting 15-for-28. Thirty-one of the 37 came in the second half, and 21 of those came in the fourth quarter. Through the first four games of this series, the burden of defending the best player in the world and playing like a star offensively had been too much for George. And after Game 4, he was more concerned about the officiating than his five sloppy turnovers.

But with a little help from the whistles, George was free to spread his wings in Game 5.

“My message to the whole team was the light needs to be on green for all of us,” Vogel said. “You need to go. You need to attack. You need to be aggressive. Paul took it and ran with it and took it to a crazy level.”

Here’s the thing: George played the best game of his life. James played 24 minutes and shot 2-for-10. Indiana had a 22-8 edge in free-throw attempts. And the Heat still had a chance to win on Chris Bosh‘s 3-point attempt with five seconds left.

It missed, the Pacers survived and are 3-0 when facing elimination in these playoffs. But the next one will be the toughest of the lot. They’ll either need more from George, more from everybody else, or a little more luck with the whistles.

“We’re going against history,” George said, “but we can’t feel like it can’t be done.”

24 – Second thoughts — May 28


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson and the Pacers with the #ByAnyMeansNecessary approach

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Lance Stephenson didn’t spend any time in the head of LeBron James in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. But he did blow in his ear, when LeBron was actually on the floor.

Foul trouble kept LeBron on the bench (he played 24 minutes) and the Pacers, mainly Paul George, took full advantage (a magical and mesmerizing 31 of his 37 points game after halftime) in order to keep their season alive.

So we’ll get a Game 6 Friday, a game that wouldn’t have been possible without George and the Pacers holding on down the wild and frantic final stretch of Game 5.

:1

Paul George … Winning!

:2

Heat with one last chance, down 92-90 with a chance to win it when LeBron finds Chris Bosh for a corner 3 that bounces off the rim.

(more…)

Blogtable: Missing from The Finals

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s big challenge | Wish he was here | Runaway Thunder


The Clippers' Chris Paul (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The Clippers’ Chris Paul (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> We’re about a week away from The Finals. Name two deserving players that you’d like to see in The Finals that never have been there.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Well, Steve Nash for one (though I did find his “I’m not retiring because I want the money next year” comments kind of gauche). Nash’s resume covers pretty much everything else, and he’d be great to have around on the off days, for media purposes. My other Finals pass would go to David West, whom I find most blameless in Indiana’s strange, sideways final months of 2013-14 and whose championship window (he’ll be 34 this summer) is closing faster than most of his teammates.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s obvious to say Chris Paul. The league’s best point guard deserves a turn in the biggest spotlight. David West has been a below-the-radar rock on the frontline in New Orleans and Indiana for years and years and is the ultimate professional. You’ve also got to pull for a 37-year-old Vince Carter who is not only deserving for all of his past efforts, but is still going strong in the twilight of his career

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m not sure I’ve ever quite agreed with the premise of “deserving” to be in The Finals, but since you asked, off the top of my head, Joakim Noah. Nobody plays harder and if all things are equal and injuries never happen, maybe he’s played in one. He just completed his seventh season, but will also turn 30 next season. And, maybe Vince Carter.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comChris Paul. Not merely a special talent, his dedication to the game knows no boundaries. He wants to talk through potential moves with GMs, wants to be a leader behind the scenes, and wants to promote the sport. His commitment to post-Katrina New Orleans epitomized what more star athletes should be in the community. 2. Steve Nash. He has done everything right — the shooting, the playmaking, the longevity. But Nash has not gotten closer than Game 6 of the  conference finals, once with the Mavericks and twice with the Suns. He would have to get somewhere beyond the Lakers to see The Finals, but getting there would be well deserved.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m going to reunite the old Hornets’ old pick-and-pop combo. Chris Paul is the best player in the league that’s never been to The Finals, and I’d like to see him get a shot soon. And every time I watch the Pacers, I admire David West’s toughness and reliability. He’s been Indiana’s rock through this roller-coaster season and it would be cool to see him bust through that ceiling at some point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Technically, Caron Butler has been there. He’s got a ring (Dallas over Miami in 2011), too. But he never actually suited up during that series. He was injured throughout that championship run. So part of me wants to see him get there just so he can actually get his uniform dirty on the game’s biggest stage. Twenty years from now he’ll have NBA champion in his bio either way. But the chance to impact games in The Finals, win or lose, has to be on Butler’s bucket list. I’ve got a soft spot for Miami Heat center Greg Oden, whose chance to get on the floor in these playoffs might only come in The Finals. Eddy Curry rode the Heat wave to a ring, why not Oden?