Posts Tagged ‘David West’

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.

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Greg Oden is going to The Finals!

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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.

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Paul George … Winning!

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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.

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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?

Vogel wants Pacers to focus on execution, not officiating


VIDEO: Frank Vogel addresses the media the day after Indiana’s Game 4 loss

MIAMI – After their 102-90 loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, there was much griping from the Indiana Pacers about the officiating. Paul George referred to “home cooking” for the Miami Heat, while David West said his team had to learn the “new rules.”

The Pacers are down 3-1, facing elimination in Game 5 at home on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). And desperate times can call for desperate measures.

But less than 12 hours Monday’s deflating loss, Pacers coach Frank Vogel tried to get his team to refocus. His Tuesday morning message to his players before they flew back to Indianapolis was to “worry about what we can control. We know we’re going to have to play through adversity on the road in the playoffs. Our guys just need to put their focus on what we’re doing.”

“We can’t control calls. We got to control our turnovers, our shot selection, our passing, our defense.”

Tuesday’s focus was on offensive execution. The Pacers scored 90 points in a slow-paced game on Monday, but put themselves in a hole with an ugly first quarter and benefitted from the Heat taking their foot of the gas with a 23-point lead in the fourth.

Indiana looked rushed and flustered most of the night. The Miami defense has been increasingly active and physical as the series has gone along. And, as we’ve seen often with this matchup, the Pacers haven’t been able to handle it.

Instead of complaining about the officiating, Roy Hibbert was complaining about his lack of touches to ESPN after Game 4.

But Hibbert’s lack of touches is more about his teammates not being able to get him the ball than his coach not calling plays for him.

“Roy Hibbert’s hurt the Miami Heat more in the pick-and-roll game and on the glass in previous years,” Vogel said. “That’s where he’s put up his biggest numbers, while mixing in the post game. It’s not like he’s had success getting 20-30 post-ups a game. So that’s how we’re trying to utilize him and they’re doing a great job with their hands and deflecting those passes.”

These teams have now played 28 times in the last three seasons. The Heat know exactly what the Pacers are trying to do offensively and they’ve been able to take away their primary and secondary options, as well as force the Pacers to play fast with occasional pressure in the backcourt. So Vogel believes that his team needs to be better with its improvisational execution.

“We got to play through randomness,” he said. “That’s what their defense forces. It takes you out, often times, of what you’re trying to do offensively. And you got to play through random action. You got to create good shots through random action. That’s what attacking the Miami Heat’s about.”

The other end of the floor may be the bigger issue for the Pacers right now. The matchup of the No. 1 defense of the regular season and the No. 1 offense of the playoffs has gone decidedly the way of the latter. More important than Hibbert’s zero points has been the lack of rim protection he’s been able to provide. The Heat have shot 69 percent in the paint in the series, compared to 55 percent in last year’s conference finals and 59 percent in four regular season meetings vs. Indiana.

But if the Pacers execute better offensively, they’ll be able to get their defense set and have a fighting chance to slow down the Miami onslaught … and a fighting chance to make this series interesting again.


VIDEO: GameTime on the Pacers’ struggles in Game 4

Gentlemen, stop your engines, it’s over

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Pacers fall apart in a Game 4 loss to the Heat

MIAMI – The Indiana Pacers sought refuge wherever they could find it after their pivotal 102-90 loss Monday in the Eastern Conference finals, sending them down a 3-1 hole from which few teams in NBA history ever emerge.

Paul George surveyed the stat sheet afterward and, with a crafty selectivity, claimed that the Pacers outplayed the Miami Heat.

David West and George zeroed in on the free-throw count and the fact that Miami shot twice as many as they did and outscored them from the line by 19. West, tongue in cheek, specifically referred to some “new rules” on which he’ll bone up, to make sure he gets those same whistles next time.

Coach Frank Vogel and several Pacers brushed off the notion that Lance Stephenson‘s needless tweaking of LeBron James had any motivating effect on the four-time MVP (32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) or ill effect on the brash, immature Indiana shooting guard (nine points, five fouls). But just in case, West and George wagged verbal fingers in Lad Lance’s direction as a reminder to knock it off.

Vogel touted his defense, saying it was Indiana’s best performance at that end in the series. West lauded his side for fighting “in the meat of the game,” while acknowledging a few pesky runs by Miami. George went even further: “I thought we did a great job. We rallied at the end to try to make a push.”

Puh-leeze.

With all due respect, those various excuses, interpretations and selective memory rang as hollow as the big zero sitting on the right side of Roy Hibbert‘s stat line.

They sounded like the sort of things the Pacers will be saying all summer, which figures to start three weeks early in Indiana this year. Possibly as soon as Wednesday.

This series is over, and it has only a little to do with the history involved. For the record, only eight teams in NBA history ever climbed out of 3-1 holes in best-of-seven series to advance. More pertinent, Miami – in the Big Three era of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – has pushed eight postseason series to 3-1; eight times, it closed them out in Game 5.

That’s on the Heat’s radar again and there’s precious little the Pacers can do about it.

“We don’t want to come back with a Game 6,” James said. “We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami, but we want to try to close it out. But we’re going to have to work for it. It’s not going to be easy, not against this team.”

Not easy? Fine. But not nearly as hard as it was supposed to be, going by the seven games Indiana and Miami played against each other in last year’s East finals, going by the genuine dislike that has festered across three seasons with the Heat hoarding what the Pacers want.

Judged by and based on the first four months of the 2013-14 regular season, this was supposed to be a classic, champs pushed to the max by challengers, a dynasty at stake and all the other intriguing or corny storylines. But then the Pacers got sideways and sputtered through the season’s final weeks and their first two rounds against Atlanta (seven games) and Washington (six).

The Heat had to notice. It’s likely, even, they had more respect for and fear of last year’s Indiana team than this one.

It was evident after Game 1, when the Pacers went wire-to-wire but knew they hadn’t faced a sharp opponent, in the way the Heat easily shrugged off the loss in their postgame dressing room. It was obvious in Game 2, when one turbocharged fourth-quarter by James and Wade was all it took for Miami to snatch that game and home-court advantage. And it was impossible to miss in Game 3, as the Heat tore the Pacers’ early 15-point lead to pieces and left them, really, with nowhere to turn.

Miami did benefit from a few shaky whistles but that was due more to the ball and the referees rewarding the aggressors. Bosh’s early shooting success was a sweat-inducing flashback to the first round, when Atlanta rendered Hibbert irrelevant by stretching Indiana’s defense by deploying big men with shooting range.

The start of the second half was inexcusable from the Pacers’ side, their labors to stay within five points at the break cast aside when the Heat opened with an 11-4 spurt. And though it’s true the Pacers could grumble about a couple late calls when they might have cut the gap to single digits with time enough to do something about it, there still was the matter of everything they’d done or been unable to do in falling behind 10 or more.

The bottom line on this is, the Pacers know Miami is the better team. The Heat, to use the unfortunate imagery floating around over the weekend, are the Pacers’ big brothers at least. Maybe even their fathers.

Indiana’s body language, most frequently after defensive breakdowns, told the tale. There were occasions when George or Stephenson or George Hill grumbled about this or that and blew off getting back as their first priority. The third quarter was the worst, Indiana getting outscored by 11 points in that period for the second straight game.

And then there was that open Norris Cole 3-pointer early in the fourth, which none of the Indiana defenders even bothered to contest.

This was the Indiana team that went on walkabout at various points in the season’s final weeks. Hibbert let the Heat’s floor spacing neuter him, and he got in foul trouble too, spiraling down into a scoreless, five-rebound, 0-for-4 night. These were the sub-.500 Pacers who frustrated and aggravated so many of their fans from March on, a team that has little business playing on or after Memorial Day.

Are big changes in order for Game 5 Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis? Who knows. Maybe Vogel boosts the minutes for West and Luis Scola in tandem. Maybe he has a quicker hook with Hibbert. Maybe he talks to or somehow implores a bigger game out of George.

It won’t ultimately matter. The Pacers know the truth about them and Miami. And the Heat know that they know.

“I don’t know,” West said. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do. We’re going to watch film. We’ve got to get adjusted. Figure out the best way to get production. But our defense has got to hold up.

“I don’t think anybody feels defeated. The series isn’t over. We know we’re going home to a crazy environment. At this point, it’s just surviving to get to the next game.”

The Pacers aren’t yet admitting defeat. They might not even feel defeated. But they sure looked defeated, with one more snapshot coming as soon as Wednesday.