Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Pacers’

George driven to apply pressure in Game 6 for Pacers


VIDEO: Pacers-Heat Game 6 preview

MIAMI – It wasn’t on the grand scale of “chicken or egg?” But there was some which-came-first conversation after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, as in: Was Indiana’s Paul George going to have that superstar performance regardless (37 points, including 21 in the fourth quarter, with six rebounds and six steals)? Or was it made possible by LeBron James‘ limited, foul-hampered court time?

The answer matters because George is hoping to perform similarly in Game 6 Friday night (8:30 ET, ESPN) at AmericanAirlines Arena as one way for the Pacers, down 3-2, to stave off elimination.

George, whose 21 points in the fourth were his most in any quarter in his career, pretty much pledged, at Indiana’s morning shootaround, to start Game 6 the way he finished Game 5.

“I’m gonna come out really aggressive,” said George, describing himself as “super excited” for the opportunity to spoil a home celebration in the Heat’s ambition of getting to a fourth consecutive Finals. “We’ve got to understand this can be our last game if we don’t come out the right way. I think that’s enough motivation for us to play right tonight.”

No one on the Miami side was suggesting that George’s big night owed unduly to James’ pine time. Still, the Heat’s most versatile defender played only 24:21 minutes to George’s 45:04. And even when they were on the floor together 10:28 of the fourth quarter, James spent more time carefully guarding George Hill or other less impactful Pacers; he didn’t want to risk a sixth foul and ejection by draping himself over George.

“It was a great performance,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to give him credit for that. He made some difficult shots where we had our chests in front of him, getting a contest and it’s right over the top. I’m not sure we can defend those better.

“He did break free for three or four system-error shots that, he still has to produce and then make ‘em. But he made us pay for them. And he was extremely aggressive in the fourth quarter. Once he got on that roll, the ball just seemed to find him. That’s typically how this game works.”

George did generate some of Indiana’s most pivotal offense with his steals, which led to breakouts or a scramble back for Miami. As for ducking James as a defender for much of his big night, the Pacers’ All-Star forward said: “I never really was hounded this series by LeBron. I don’t think we really matched up that much in the series. So it wasn’t that big of a difference.”

Whether he has the hot hand for his team or not, George did have one suggestion for the Pacers if they want to force a Game 7 Sunday in Indianapolis: Avoid big deficits. Other than Game 1, when Indiana led from start to finish, its best chance to win another of the first four games came in Game 2, in which it trailed by no more than eight. Even in its Game 5 victory, it had to claw back from an 11-point Miami lead.

“We can’t have a game where we’re down 15 at any point in this [Game 6],” George said. “We’re good enough to come out of that, dig out of a hole, but we can’t put ourselves in a hole in this arena. It’s just too hard to come out of a 15-point deficit to beat this team in their arena. So this game has got to be close. If it’s not close, we’ve got to be up by big.”

Speaking of big, all the Pacers expect big grief to rain down on Lance Stephenson, the antagonist of this series so far. All of Stephenson’s antics figure to get thrown back at him by a boisterous AAA crowd, unless the Pacers do something to squelch that.

“I hope he’s able to block out the crowd,” George said. “That goes to the same mind of taking the crowd out of this. If we’re playing well and we’re the ones that’s really putting an imprint on this game, then they won’t have nothing to say.”

Spoelstra said that big man Chris (Birdman) Andersen‘s mobility still was limited by a thigh bruise. His availability for Game 6 would be determined after evening warmups and consultation with the Heat’s medical staff, the coach said.

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.

Blogtable: What about Lance?

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

Indy's Lance Stephenson does a little spying on Miami huddle and coach Erik Spoesltra in Game 5 (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Indy’s Lance Stephenson does a little spying on the Miami huddle and coach Erik Spoelstra in Game 5
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

What do you make of Lance Stephenson?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: You want to know what Lance’s antics detract from? They detract from his marketability. He’s hitting the free-agent market in a month and 30 GMs — not just 29 — have to think long and hard about the prospect of this guy with a big-money, long-term contract. The Lance through the first half of the regular season, the early Most Improved candidate? Fine. But the post-All-Star snub Lance, the guy who became pre-occupied with stats and maybe even took Larry Bird‘s acquisition of Evan Turner as a threat and challenge, merited deeper evaluations. And now, so does this kook who — let’s admit it — isn’t trying to rattle his opponents as much as he’s screaming “Look at me!” If a big contract is at any level a reward rather than an entitlement, there’s a good chance Stephenson will see this rewarding the wrong things. At this point, if he really wanted to show off, his best approached would be 30 points, lockdown defense and zero antics in the Pacers’ latest elimination game. That would serve everybody.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s a product of the times we live in that this is suddenly a so-called “real story.”  Sure, it’s silly. But this is just a game.  What’s the matter with having fun?  The only one who winds up with egg on his face is Stephenson if he can’t follow up on his talk or his antics. Birdman Andersen flaps his wings.  Dikembe Mutombo wagged his finger.  Back in the day, M.L. Carr used to wave his white towel on the Celtics sideline.  Carr once walked up to Maurice Cheeks as he was standing at the foul line for two free throws in the final seconds at Boston Garden and said, “Don’t choke.”  Cheeks missed one of the free throws. Celtics won.  The world didn’t end. Let me know when something truly important happens, say, with a Kardashian.

Lance Stephenson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson is a character, and that can be a good thing. The league needs characters, guys that are a bit eccentric, maybe a little weird, but also play the game  the right way. Stephenson walks the tightrope between character and clown. Blowing in LeBron James‘ ear is clownish, serves no purpose and really has no place in the game. It reminded me of Delonte West giving Utah’s Gordon Hayward a wet-Willie a couple of years ago, though that’s much more of an invasion of personal space (and not very hygienic). West was fined $25,000. Stephenson’s antics obviously affected his team because his teammates essentially said so, deeming it unwise to poke LeBron. This time of year it’s just stupid, unwanted distractions. Stephenson’s a little like J.R. Smith with the silly on-court antics he likes to pull that are mostly mindless, childish and, again, serve no greater team purpose. He also reminds me of the kooky DeShawn Stevenson, but I digress. Stephenson proved this season that he can be a complete player and an essential player for the Pacers. The silly extracurriculars are unnecessary and mostly frowned upon by the people that matter. Stephenson will likely figure that out this summer when he becomes a free agent. Those max deals that were talked about earlier this season. He can blow those away.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I think in some ways he is the face of these Pacers. Not the face of the team or the entire franchise — that’s All-Star Paul George for the roster and Larry Bird in the big-picture — but the epitome of a group that can be very good or very unpredictable. And obviously not always in a good way. While he comes off as goofy to a lot of people, that doesn’t matter. The real issue is how he comes off to the Pacers themselves. They have been desperately searching for stability since late in the regular season, yet get antics from an important player. Fine. It gets Stephenson in the right place to play at a high level. And it should also be pointed out that he deserves a lot of credit for going from a second-rounder a lot of teams wouldn’t touch to these heights. Yet I can’t help thinking that teammates could do without the sideshow.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I really don’t care. It’s a storyline that gives people something to talk about on TV. It’s dumb and unprofessional. But it has nothing to do with who’s winning or losing these games. More important than whether or not he’s blowing in LeBron’s ear is whether or not he’s staying in front of LeBron when he’s defending him.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think his act is every bit as silly as it looks on the floor, on TV and frankly from Mars. As talented as he is, Stephenson’s “Lance being Lance” routine is simply a court jester act that was tired before it got started. I don’t think it’s some calculated strategy of his to undermine the opposition or get in anyone’s head. I think it’s a coping mechanism for a guy with colossal insecurity that he cannot shake. He reminds me of the former Ron Artest in that he struggles to deal with defeat and individual failure in anything other than a self-destructive way. I lived through some of Ronnie’s best and worst days in Indiana. One minute you’re praising him and the next you’re thinking he needs to be committed. The emotional highs and lows Stephenson experiences during a game are just mind-boggling. The need to assert himself as some dominant figure one minute and then his sulking and selfishness the next make for All-Star drama, but don’t make him a true All-Star. There are much classier ways to handle yourself than blowing in someone’s ear or getting in someone’s face all the time to make yourself feel important. Most of his antics are harmless to others. They only serve to detract from the fact that he’s a hell of a basketball player who spends far too much time perfecting his act instead of his game. He’s not making a mockery of the game with all of the foolishness, he’s only making a fool of himself and mocking the game for all the world to see.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There was a moment on the Game 5 pregame show on ESPN, just a few minutes before tipoff, when the cameras zeroed in on Lance during the warmups. While the rest of the Pacers were getting up shots, there was Lance in the corner, firing up 3-pointers … with his back turned to the basket. Doug Collins was furious, asking whether Lance would be attempting these type of shots in the game. The thing is, Lance very well might attempt a few back-to-the-basket threes in any given game. And he’d probably make one, too. That’s part of the Lance Stephenson Experience. When you sign up for the ride with Lance, you don’t expect the trip between points A and B to be a straight line — you figure there will be plenty of zigs and zags along the way. But you hope that the whole turns out to contain more ups than downs. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Either way, heading into a Game 6 in Miami, Lance gives the Pacers an elite athlete capable of affecting the game in a multitude of ways, and I don’t think they have many better options than Lance. For better or worse.

Selçuk Aytekin, NBA Turkiye: First of all, I believe he does not have what you and I would call a normal personality. His brain just works a little differently from the other people. Part of the problem here, though, is that playing a “war of nerves” just isn’t a really common tactic in NBA. You like him when he plays for your team, and hate him when he plays for someone else. And it appears that what he’s doing is good for Indy — that he’s pushing his teammates to play harder. Not to say that the refs shouldn’t watch him a little more. Above all, he seems to be having a lot of fun, and he’s a one of a kind player. Let him play with his style

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Born ready! I love his game but his antics? I’m not quite sure yet. A big part of the game is to get into the head of your opponent — that is half the battle. And if you manage to irritate your opponent enough to make them play out of control, all the better. But he should lessen the antics a notch because too much of anything is not good. He can bother LeBron and Dwyane with his raw talent, too. That is where he should focus. He should still respect the game and pick his spots in bothering his opponents. Stephenson is a supremely talented athlete and he will mature into an even better player if he can just focus on playing winning basketball.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Lance Stephenson’s antics have become a distraction. From this series, from Pacers’ problems, from Lance’s talent — which he’s not fully displaying in this ECF. He looks like a bully when he acts like that, one of those playground bullies who try to bother you, because they’re scared by you. It’s not hard to imagine that he acted like that when he was schooling everybody in a Brooklyn playground, and he’s acting the same way today that he’s in the NBA, facing the best player on the planet. What he does on the field, including blowing into an opponent’s ear (that was hilarious) is to some degree part of the game though, like trash talking. The league shouldn’t limit it or try to control it. What I totally don’t like is a player in the other team’s huddle, and that’s where the league should find a way (Tech? Fine?) to stop it. Back to the point at hand: ideally, his antics would be a welcome distraction that could even help his teammates to focus more on the opponent. But if it’s not working, if Stephenson’s antics are distracting even his own team, he should stop it.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Wow! Lance! Where do I begin? He’s a combination of silly and sly, he frustrates and at times he is brilliant. I enjoy Lance’s antics and believe they are good for the game. He’s a polarizing figure and I guess, someone has to play the bad guy, right? As NBA fans we’re all in awe of LeBron and love watching him at his best but we also enjoy seeing a player attempt to get inside his head and go toe-to-toe. Sometimes it even unsettles LeBron and other times it fires him up but I don’t think his random and unpredictable antics are bad for the game. As long as he plays within the rules and doesn’t go out to hurt anyone, I like seeing the wacky tactics that he uses to get inside the opponents’ head. The Pacers fans love it, he teammates enjoy it and I think it fires him up. You have to take the good with the bad with Lance because you will probably see both multiple times in 48 minutes.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew tries to figure out what’s in Lance Stephenson’s head

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.

This time, Hibbert meets LeBron


VIDEO: Heat vs. Pacers: Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS – This go-around, Roy Hibbert was on the floor.

Travel back in time to Game 1 of last year’s conference finals in Miami. The Indiana Pacers led by one with just 2.2 seconds left in overtime. And Pacers coach Frank Vogel took Hibbert — “the best rim protector in the game” in Vogel’s own words — off the floor, so that his team could switch all screens and stay with the Miami Heat’s shooters, including Chris Bosh.

LeBron James caught the inbounds pass at the 3-point line and Paul George got caught out too high. James immediately turned and darted to the basket. Hibbert wasn’t there and James laid in the game-winning bucket at the buzzer.

“It’s the dilemma that they present,” Vogel said after the loss. “Obviously, with the way it worked out, it would have been better to have Roy in the game. But you don’t know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making the jump shot, and we’re all talking about that.”

At the end of Game 5 of this year’s Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, we saw a very similar situation. The Pacers were holding on to a two-point lead with 12.8 seconds left.

James caught the inbounds pass and was isolated at the top of the key with George. And once again, he got past him.

But this time Hibbert was on the floor, and he met James at the rim…

20140529_last_play_3

“We didn’t want to give up a 3,” Vogel said afterward. “But we didn’t want to give up LeBron James at the rim, like we’d done the past two. So we made sure we had rim protection and scrambled on the 3-point line.”

James, as he always does, made the pass to the open man, Bosh in the corner. It was the scenario that Vogel was planning against last year. And with this one being a two-point game instead of a one-point game, the value of the shot meant something this time.

“Thought we got a pretty good look,” James said. “You live with the result.”

“He went for the kill,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ll take that. We’ll take being able to get two feet in the paint, an opportunity to either score yourself or have an opportunity for one of our better clutch 3-point shooters in his spot. That actually was good to see that poise.”

When the Heat came back to win Game 2 on this floor, their second-half run began with a few plays just like this. Spanning the third and fourth quarters, they hit three corner 3s (one from Bosh and two from Norris Cole) on plays just like this one. James got to the basket, drew an extra defender and found an open teammate with a bullet pass. It’s the Heat’s bread-and-butter.

“My teammates trust me that I’m going to make the right play to helps us win,” James said. “I trust myself that I’m going to make the right play to helps us win. And win, lose or draw, you live with that.

“We got a great look. C.B. makes that shot, then we get a stop and we’re headed to The Finals.”

As Spoelstra noted, Bosh was one of the best clutch 3-point shooters in the league in the regular season, shooting 16-for-31 (52 percent) on 3s in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less. He’s had a knack for hitting big shots from distance.

But he’s usually wide open on those plays. On Wednesday, George Hill was able to get in Bosh’s vision and provide an on-the-side shot contest.

20140529_last_play_2

Hill was able to do that because Miami’s spacing was not ideal. When James hit the paint, Bosh, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis were all on the right side of the floor, with Allen and Lewis bunched together at the right wing.

20140529_last_play_1

So when Hibbert helped on the drive, Hill didn’t have far to travel to contest Bosh. And when he did, David West had already rotated over to Allen.

20140529_last_play_4

“I asked Ray,” Bosh said later. “I said, ‘Were you open?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he came off me.’”

But the only guy open was Lewis at the top of the key. And that’s a tough pass for Bosh to make, especially with West in his line of sight.

The Pacers defended the play well, but the Heat gave them some help. If Lewis had been quicker to fill in behind James at the top of the key, the spacing might have been better and Indiana’s rotations would have been tougher.

A feigned pick-and-roll where Lewis flares out to the left wing as James drives past would also have left just one Indiana defender to defend Bosh and Allen on the right side. A kick to Bosh and a swing to Allen may have resulted in the one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history being all alone beyond the arc.

But the Heat still got a decent look. And both teams were willing to live with the results.

“LeBron is the smartest player in this league,” George said. “He’s going to make the right play, and he thought that was the right play. They made 15 3s tonight. So obviously, they were hot behind the 3-point line. He found a 3-point shooter that’s been hot lately for them in Chris Bosh. We were fortunate he missed. We walk away with a win.”

Morning Shootaround — May 29


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson key in Pacers’ big win | Report: Cavs to interview Lue, Hollins | Adams grows as a shotblocker | Bosh opens up on his Miami transition

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.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Lance Stephenson’s play in Game 5

(more…)

‘Lance being Lance’ draws shrugs


VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses Stephenson’s antics in Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS – 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.

The huddle-busting? Stephenson pushed his mug right next to Spoelstra as he advised his point guards during one play stoppage. Neither the coach nor the players challenged him, but a shove or an exchange of words would have been a natural reaction.

“What can you do? You can’t throw a guy out of the huddle,” Battier said. “I don’t know what the rules are.”

Anything like that go on with the Heat? Battler said he’ll sometimes try to steal a glance at the other coach’s whiteboard. “Out of a timeout, I’ll try to pick out what they’re going to run,” the veteran said. “But I’m not going to walk through the huddle. Different strokes for different folks.”

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.”

Even the sweet nothings blown into James’ ear?

Said George: “I hope his breath wasn’t too bad for LeBron.”


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson tries to rattle the Heat in Game 5

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.”

LeBron was mostly LeBr-off the court


VIDEO: LeBron James responds to Lance Stephenson’s Game 5 antics

INDIANAPOLIS – Michael Jordan
had his “flu” game, Game 5 of the 1997 Finals when he played 44 minutes, scored 38 points and fell into Scottie Pippen‘s arms at the end, visibly spent but victorious.

LeBron James nearly had his “sit” game Wednesday night, Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers. Nearly, that is, because James wasn’t able to overcome the foul trouble that planted him on the Miami Heat bench for stretches in the first, second and third quarters. He played less than 25 minutes, scored a career playoff-low seven points on 2-for-10 shooting and still had a chance to own the outcome if only Chris Bosh‘s 3-pointer from the right corner (off James’ penetration and kick-out) had hit with 4.9 seconds left.

In place of that, then, the Pacers had their “asterisk” game.

What else can you call it when a hangdog team, mired in a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series, gets gifted with friendlier whistles than even Kate Upton hears? Never before in James’ career had he been called for five fouls in the first three quarters of the game. It took him all of 13:53 to pick up those five compared to, say, his seven fouls in 158 minutes in Miami’s entire first-round series against Charlotte.

If the NBA conspiracy theorists had turned James’ foul trouble into a drinking game, a lot of them might have passed out and missed a dynamite fourth quarter.

“The game is reffed by the refs,” James, conspicuously unruffled by his restricted performance, said afterward. “They ref how they see it. We play it, and you live the results.”

James’ first foul was a touch foul as Paul George tried to split between James and Dwyane Wade midway through the first quarter. He got his second due to George Hill‘s early aggression in attacking the paint, and subbed out with 2:43 left in the first.

He stayed out until 7:13 of the second quarter, coming in for Wade and lasting barely a minute before picking up a charge. The best player in the league (world?) was done again and went into halftime having made only one of his five shots and scoring two more points than you or me.

Funny thing was, Miami was up 42-33. A rare opportunity for Indiana was starting to look like a looming nightmare.

“LeBron was on the bench for a stretch,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We didn’t take advantage of it.”

Said George, who would wind up with 37 points but had only six by halftime: “When he was in foul trouble, everybody had to be aggressive. That’s a huge weapon that they’re missing. Everybody was aware that he was on the bench and how limited this team was without him, and how much everybody had to step up.”

Except the Pacers didn’t. While Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen were hitting 3-pointers to keep the Heat in front, Indiana was misfiring from the arc (1-for- 8) and from the foul line (2-for-6). James was over on the bench, as calm as a commuter waiting for a late bus. At least he had a whole ‘nother half in which to do his thing.

Or did he? James fouled Hibbert on a layup just 21 seconds into the third quarter. At 8:34 he got nailed with No. 5 while scrambling against Lance Stephenson for a loose ball. The Heat’s lead was eight, on its way to 11 when Lewis hit another 3-pointer.

“It sucks for me because I’m not able to make plays to help our team win,” James said later. “I made a couple in the fourth, but 24 minutes is not enough for me to make an imprint on the game like I know I’m accustomed to.

“So you just continue to help the guys from the bench, let them know what you can see when you’re in foul trouble and ways we can try to exploit them. But I’m much better on the floor than I am off it, for sure.”

That third quarter turned ugly for Miami. Four-and-a-half minutes after James sat down, Indiana pulled even at 50-50. It was 64-57 Pacers heading into the fourth, the Heat getting outscored 27-12 after James got yanked.

In the fourth, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra waited 90 seconds before subbing in James. He scored five points, shooting 1-for-5 again, and clearly was out of rhythm and not in synch with the rest of the game. But he still commanded enough respect that, on Miami’s last possession, Hibbert came to help when James drove into the lane with George on his hip. If Bosh’s shot had dropped, James would have been lauded for his playmaking.

Instead, he was remembered for his absence.

“We run a lot through LeBron and he’s our best defender, our best offensive player, and our best player, period,” Bosh said. “Anytime you have your best player out, it’s a little bit more difficult. And he creates for everybody, so we had to fend for ourselves out there. He spoils us a little bit.”

James seemed determined afterward to shrug off the foul calls, a conscious effort not to bellyache the way the Pacers had after Game 4. He talked more than once about “the things that we can control and not the things we can’t control.”

What he and the Heat can control now in this series is Game 6, Friday in Miami.

“We’re expecting LeBron to be LeBron,” George said, “and that’s how we want it. … We’re capable of winning the ballgame with LeBron scoring 30 to 40 points.”

Careful what you wish for, young fella. James scored seven and Indiana won by three. And he might not hear five whistles the rest of this postseason.

Allen in, Andersen out for Game 5


VIDEO: Game 5 Preview: Heat vs. Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS – Ray Allen will play for the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals  on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). But Chris Andersen will sit his second straight game with a left thigh bruise.

Allen went through his normal pregame shooting routine and then received treatment for a right hip injury suffered late in the third quarter of Monday’s Game 4 victory. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that the full shooting routine wasn’t necessarily an indication that he would play.

“Ray is going to do that one way or another no matter what,” Spoelstra said. “Nothing is going to stop him from that routine.”

But Allen is good to go. Andersen is not. Rashard Lewis will start his second straight game, with Udonis Haslem backing up Chris Bosh at center.

“It’s mobility,” Spoelstra said of the concern for Andersen. “He doesn’t have much of it right now. It is getting a little bit better, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of mobility.”