Shaw is considered the team’s top choice at this point, multiple sources said. His youth, championship experience with the Los Angeles Lakers and player development skills, which have been showcased by his work with Indiana’s Paul George and Lance Stephenson, have intrigued the Clippers management and players. He also received strong reviews from Clippers forward Lamar Odom, who played under Shaw with the Lakers.
But since no candidate has formally interviewed for the position, or met with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the situation remains fluid. The Clippers front office has done extensive background work on a handful of candidates: Shaw, Hollins, former Cleveland coach Byron Scott, former Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy and Denver head coach George Karl.
Van Gundy was previously near the top of the Clippers search, but talks with him have cooled recently, sources said. Karl is also still under consideration, but the Clippers have yet to formally ask permission from Denver to speak with him. Karl, the NBA’s Coach of the Year after leading the starless Nuggets to a franchise-record 57 wins, will enter the final year of his contract with a new general manager at the helm, following Masai Ujiri‘s departure to Toronto. A source said Saturday that his situation in Denver remains “unsettled.”
Convincing Shaw to leave the Pacers for the Clippers would be a coup for the franchise that has bungled the process since coach Vinny Del Negro was let go. But they have to move quickly where Shaw is concerned since he’s at the top of Brooklyn’s search list as well. Both jobs offer some interesting specifics for a first-time coach.
The respective owners, the Clippers’ Donald Sterling and the Nets’ Mikhail Prokhorov, have very different styles. And you better believe that will be a factor in Shaw’s decision-making process, depending on how quickly things process on both fronts.
MIAMI – Paul George‘s season ended before the Indiana Pacers’ did, which was pretty ironic, considering how much shorter it would have been without him in his new and Most-Improved incarnation from November to June.
But George picked up his sixth foul with 7:43 left in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. The young All-Star got slammed, competitively, by the defending champions: 2-for-9 shooting, seven points, hounded almost start to finish by LeBron James. And so did the Pacers, who had stayed within five points of the Heat through the series’ first six games, only to get beaten Monday by a disappointing 23.
Of all the players on the floor, though, from the Finals-worthy Heat to the summer-bound Pacers, none has a brighter future than George — the 23-year-old ScottiePippen-play-alike whose reach has yet to exceed his grasp.
And given where other teams are at in their life cycles, none has a brighter future than Indiana. George’s breakout season and series sparked the Pacers as they pushed a team built around Hall of Famers that strung together victories at a historical rate to the max.
From Feb. 1 through the East finale, Miami went 42-2 against the rest of the NBA and 5-5 against Indiana. The Pacers are not going away.
“I’m proud of what we had this year,” George said in the tight visitors’ dressing room. “I don’t know, I just think what we had this year and going through what we did, gave us the experience. So us being in this situation this year and being young, I think this was what we really needed. … I don’t know what moves we need or what moves we’ll make, but we needed this to take that next step.”
Indiana has followed one of the NBA’s most time-tested blueprints, taking steps in each of the last three postseasons in building itself into a contender. Two seasons ago, it pestered Chicago in a feisty first-round series. Last year, Miami put the Pacers out in six semifinal games. This time, it took the Heat seven, with their veterans summoning all the desperation and will they could muster.
But they’d be kidding themselves if they thought that time and a good thumping one round later than a year ago would transform them. Indiana does have a future brighter than just about any other team – if it can address some key flaws. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – One game doesn’t make a legacy.
One play, one moment, in one game, in one season does not make or break a career.
So why does it feel like there is so much riding on Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals for Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade? The growing mob of skeptics is writing him off as too old and battered to rebound from the struggles that have plagued him throughout this postseason and this series in particular. They’re ready to stick a fork in him and declare what had been the “Big 3″ the “Big 1 and 3/4.”
Sure, there is much riding on this game for the other stars involved — LeBron James and Chris Bosh from the Heat and the Indiana Pacers’ trio of Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West. The coaches, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Indiana’s Frank Vogel — and their respective franchises — have much on the line as well.
It goes deeper than that, however, for Wade. This game is about his legacy and whether or not he can bandage that busted right knee of his up tight enough to dial-up a throwback performance and help carry the Heat to victory on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena (8:30 ET, TNT).
Does he have the energy and intestinal fortitude to play through whatever pain he’s in and give the Heat more than the pedestrian (at least by Wade’s own lofty standards) 14.5 points on 44 percent shooting, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds he’s delivering through the first six games? Can the Heat still “Call Tyrone” (Wade’s middle name) or do they need to look elsewhere for salvation, not to mention help for LeBron, in one of the biggest games of the Heat Big 3′s run together?
Wade says he and Bosh need bigger roles to help the Heat advance. They need more touches. And they need someone, presumably LeBron (even though he didn’t mention him by name in his locker room comments after Game 6), to facilitate this process since neither one of them has been able to do it on his own.
“We’ve got to do a good job of making sure me and Chris have our opportunities to succeed throughout the game,” Wade said. “That’s something we’re going to have to look at as a team.”
We’ve got guys individually who want to play better,” Wade said. “But we’ve got to try to help each other out in this locker room and not leave it up to the individual to self-will it.”
It’s hard to tell if that’s a plea for help or just a proud man stating the obvious. The Pacers have clamped down on anyone in a Heat jersey not named James. That’s why we have a Game 7, which is the ultimate proving ground for Wade and Bosh.
For the folks fortunate enough to make it through a conference finals Game 7, it changes lives in some instances. For superstar and future Hall of Famers like Wade, one championship secures your place in history. Two makes you a living legend. Three puts you in that rarefied air that only a select few occupy.
This stage is that great. Wade knows because he’s been here before. The reward carries a world of opportunities with it, a bevy of exposure that would not otherwise be available. Wade knows this better than most, having thrived in the Game 7 spotlight as early as his rookie season with the Heat back during the 2004 playoffs.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –George Hill took over as the starting point guard before last season’s playoffs. Now he might be the Indiana Pacers’ most important player when they try to oust the defending champion Miami Heat and punch their own ticket to the NBA Finals on Monday night.
Game 7 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) should be a doozy in Miami. In this unpredictable Eastern Conference Finals that features LeBron James and his struggling sidekicks Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the Heat, an emerging superstar in Paul George and a dominant and unnecessarily verbose center in Roy Hibbert, the quiet, 6-foot-2 Hill stands as the ultimate X-factor.
In three Pacers wins, Hill has averaged 17.7 ppg. In three losses, he’s averaged 8.3, including five points in Game 1 and a single point in the Game 5 loss. In do-or-die Game 6, Hill came through with 16 points and six assists as the Pacers opened a big lead, lost it and then took charge again. Hill played all but 42 seconds of the second half, delivering nine points and four assists with just two turnovers. At the other end, the long-armed Hill helped to hold Miami to 37 second-half points on 34.5 percent shooting.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not really worried about George,” Hibbert said following Indiana’s 91-77 win in Game 6. “He had an off-night [in Game 5]. “He’s a true veteran. He plays beyond his years. He learned through coach [Gregg] Popovich in a great system. He bounces back, he takes pride in himself in offense and defense and he plays both ends of the floor. He recognizes that.”
Hill’s also been getting a steady dose of advice throughout the series from former San Antonio teammate, Spurs point guard Tony Parker, on how to beat the Heat.
Even though he wasn’t scoring in Game 5, his edgy defense still helped the Pacers to a 44-40 halftime lead while also knowing Indiana was wasting a valuable opportunity to widen the the gap on the scoreboard. Two Hibbert free throws put the Pacers ahead 50-49 with 7:14 to go in the third. Then Hill picked up consecutive fouls in the span of nine seconds and headed to the bench with four personals.
Immediately Miami took off, ending the quarter on a 21-6 run.
“He’s an underrated — probably the most underrated point‑guard defender in the game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “So when he’s out, or not right, that’s where we suffer the most, is on the defensive end.”
In a series where points are increasingly at a premium, the Pacers know what they’re going to get from their formidable frontline of Hibbert and West, who was tremendous in Game 6 despite being ill with a 100-degree-plus fever before tip.
But they can’t always count on Hill being an aggressive playmaker and getting into the paint. What they need in Game 7 is for the erratic stuff from Hill, as well as starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson, to come to an end on the Heat’s home floor where the two have struggled the most. The third-year Stephenson, a bench-warmer in these two teams’ second-round series a year ago and best remembered for the self-chokehold he applied to mock James, is just 3-for-11 from the floor in the last two games for eight points.
In Game 4, he went 9-for-15 for 20 points. In the Game 3 loss, he was 2-for-10.
In Game 5, reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough had three points. Until late in the game he had outscored Hill and Stephenson combined. It’s been feast or famine for the Pacers’ starting backcourt, and it’s hard to see a Finals berth coming against a determined James on his home floor if Hill and Stephenson shrink under pressure.
“Lance is a young player; plays better at home,” Vogel said. “He has to find a way to bring that magic while we’re on the road. George has been pretty consistent throughout the season. … When he’s aggressive with the basketball, trying to live in the paint, making the extra pass, with his ability to make shots, he just gives us a tremendous lift on the offensive end.”
One the Pacers figure unable to live without in Game 7.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s a good thing Roy Hibbert isn’t worried about being fined for his comments after the Indiana Pacers’ Game 6 win in the Eastern Conference finals, because the penalty for his words is surely on the way.
It’s one thing to take shots at the media for not recognizing his defensive prowess the way he thinks we should have, it’s another thing to use an expletive with live microphones and a worldwide audience on NBA TV and NBA.com when you do it.
“Y’all m————- don’t watch us play throughout the year to tell you the truth,” Hibbert said. “So that’s fine. I’m going to be real with you, and I don’t care if I get fined. We play and we’re not on TV all of the time and reporters are the ones that are voting and it is what it is. And I don’t make it, that’s fine. I’m still going to do what I have to do.”
The gay slur used to punctuate his point about the defense being played against four-time MVP LeBron James that wasn’t intended to be a slur, well, Hibbert will try to make amends with Jason Collins and others, but the damage is already done.
Like I said, the fine is coming. The dent Hibbert put in his own reputation, however, is already there. He crossed the line in this instance — and for no reason. Hibbert is playing well enough right now that just going out and dominating the Heat would suffice. He could skip the podium every night and still make his point in this series.
You could almost see this coming, with the increased intensity in the series and Hibbert’s continued escalation of the verbal escapades directed at Shane Battier and anyone who doesn’t believe in him and his Pacers teammates. It’s an unfortunate and unnecessary storyline for the lead up to Game 7, Monday night in Miami (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
You rarely need any extra hype for Game 7 of a playoff series, though, let alone the conference finals.
Hibbert’s play has provided all the hype needed through the first six games of this series anyway. He has been an absolute nightmare for the Heat, averaging 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 39.8 minutes while shooting 55 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the free-throw line. He’s absolutely destroyed the Heat frontcourt in this series.
He and Paul George came up with 52 points and 19 rebounds on their own in Game 6, outscoring the Heat’s weary “Big 3″ of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (44 and 13). Hibbert has been the most consistent force on both ends of the floor in this series, and that includes James.
Hibbert is getting air time with the NBA’s global audience that he’s never had. The first impression is an important one, especially for a player who aims to make a significant climb up the “best big man in basketball” ladder between now and next season, no matter how this series plays out.
I’d hate to see Hibbert ruin that momentum with one liners and verbal missteps that take away from the utter brilliance he’s shown on the court. Finish the Heat off and maybe then you will garner the respect you think you’ve already earned.
If it’s respect that Hibbert wants, he’ll earn it with another monster effort in Game 7 and not anything that comes out of his mouth before, during or after this series is done.
“I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night. They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television. I apologize to those who I have offended, to our fans and to the Pacers’ organization. I sincerely have deep regret over my choice of words last night.”
INDIANAPOLIS – It was a miserable way to go into halftime.
And yet it was a teachable moment.
The Indiana Pacers should have been kicking themselves over the way they played in the final eight minutes of the first half Saturday night, eight minutes that wouldn’t have defined their season but certainly could have ended it.
And yet the Pacers and their coach, Frank Vogel, turned that stretch of the second quarter into a “Hey, things could be worse!” halftime alignment that propelled them into a lethal third quarter. Indiana essentially won Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals with the other three quarters tied behind their backs, packing enough into one to carry them all the way to a Game 7 Monday night in Miami.
The final: 91-77. The third quarter: 29-15.
“Explain it? You seen it,” LeBron James said. “It was total domination by the Pacers in the third.”
Maybe it’s time to mint a new cliché. Maybe it’s not the last five minutes of NBA games that matter but the first 12 after intermission. For most of this hotly contested series between the East’s two best teams (never mind that Knicks No. 2 seed), the team that won the third quarter has won the game. The lone exception: Game 2 in Miami, when Indiana lost the quarter battle but won that war.
Granted, it hasn’t been a matter each time of only winning the third. But the team that emerges more focused and driven from the halftime locker room – and applies that, along with whatever strategic adjustments it discussed, over the next half hour or so of real time – has been the team in control that night.
No one is in control of this series at the moment, tied at 3-3. Miami has the home court Monday. And the experience in such pressure situations. And the confidence inherent in defending champions. And, oh yeah, Chris (Birdman) Andersen coming back from his one-game suspension (though backup-backup Joel Anthony filled in sufficiently with eight rebounds and three blocks).
Indiana, by contrast, will mostly have the bragging rights of the third quarter. After getting smoked 30-13 in those 12 minutes in Game 5 Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Pacers flipped the script entirely.
And they did it by looking hard at the opportunities they already had squandered in the game.
In those final eight minutes of the half, Indiana had been its own worst enemy. The 31-25 lead it had scrapped and grunted for to that point? It vanished in a fraction of the time. Lance Stephenson threw a pass that big man Ian Mahinmi couldn’t handle for one turnover. Mahinmi got caught lingering in the lane for another. Guard Sam Young went strong to the rim for what could have been a statement dunk against Miami’s Chris Bosh – until it caromed right back out. Next trip down, veteran forward David West botched a dunk too. And Paul George already had one of his own in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Heat – with James on the bench – went on an 11-2 run that took all of 4 1/2 minutes. Wait, let’s repeat that: with James on the bench.
After James came back, the Pacers scored six straight points but Anthony’s tip-in and a runout dunk by the reigning MVP had Miami up 40-39. Indiana closed the half in blooper fashion, with a bad pass by Roy Hibbert and another failed dunk (at least Anthony got a hand on George’s throw-down attempt).
So what did Vogel do? The same guy who had scribbled “Be encouraged!!!” on their white board in Game 4 went with the half-full approach again.
“It wasn’t so much about getting on them for leaving plays out there,” Vogel said. “It was, ‘Look guys, we’re not even playing our best and it’s a one-point game. So just tighten the screws and do what we do.’ “
Or do what the Heat had done at the same point 48 hours earlier. “Last game our third quarter was really what let us down,” Hibbert said. “We tried to take advantage of that and come out aggressive.”
They came out hellacious. Hibbert’s spin around Anthony and driving slam at 5:49 of the third capped a 14-2 blitz by the Pacers. And it got worse for the Heat; George scored seven straight points, shaky reserve point guard D.J. Augustin dropped in a running jumper and Hibbert got in the lane again for a layup that pushed Indiana’s lead to 17.
“Basically everything we have to do to win this series, we gave up,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And obviously we struggled with some open shots, open layups, opportunities in the open court, and those affected us on the other end.”
Miami needs to stay close on the boards, right? It got outrebounded 13-4. It needs to protect the paint, yes? It got outscored there 16-0 in the third. Take care of the ball, a basic for any team? The Heat had six turnovers that turned into eight points for Indiana and, for the Pacers, took some of the sting out of their nine turnovers (but only three points).
Bottom line for the quarter: Indiana had 23 possessions, scored on 13 and had nine turnovers. The Pacers made 12 of their 17 shots and Miami grabbed only one defensive rebound.
“We know how we give them up against a very good rebounding team,” Spoelstra said. “But they got some tip-ins from some non-blockouts. It seemed as if every tipped ball that went out to the free-throw line, loose ball, ended up in their hands. Those extra possessions in a possession series will dictate often the outcome of the game.”
Ironically, the only Miami player who did much of anything in the third – the Heat have been desperate to get him going through his series-long struggle – was Dwyane Wade, who scored nine of Miami’s 15 points compared to the one point he managed in his other 22 minutes played.
Indiana wasn’t quite free and clear after the third. West’s brain cramp on an inbounds pass with 2.6 seconds left in that period turned into giveaway free throws for James. James had nine more points in him for the fourth and Mike Miller came off Miami’s bench for two 3-pointers that sent a nervous murmur through Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In time, the Heat would get what had been a 17-point lead all the way down to four.
But West – playing through a respiratory infection that had him visibly worn down and a fever that Vogel said was “slightly over 100″ degrees – stemmed the bleeding with four manly buckets at opportune times. George hit a 3-pointer that got the lead up to 75-68. And Hibbert – after drawing an offensive foul on James that had the Miami star streaking downcourt in a shocked stage sprint that earned him a technical – dropped in a layup over him that made it 81-68 with 3:55 to play.
That’s about the time that James’ facial expression and his teammates’ body language said good night to Saturday and shifted to Monday.
“It just needed one quarter,” James said of that dastardly third. “One quarter to separate the two teams.”
Now both teams are down to four. Any one of which will do.
INDIANAPOLIS – Facing the NBA defending champions with virtually no wiggle room, at risk of going down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series with most of what remained of the series on the other guys’ court, caught in the crosshairs of the best basketball player in the world, the pressure was on the Indiana Pacers to find the psychological and emotional trigger that might make the improbable possible.
And sure enough, there it was, scrawled in marker on the white board in the Pacers’ dressing room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, about an hour before tipoff of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals:
Grown men facing some of the most dire circumstances possible at this point in the season, nerves frayed, joints aching, pride on the line, fortunes to be won or lost. And the Pacers’ coaching staff goes all Ward-to-Beaver and Andy-to-Opie.
Disneyland gives its “cast members” saltier pep talks before holiday weekends.
Must have been the third exclamation point, because it worked. The Pacers held off Miami’s attempt to grab control of the series with a 99-92 victory, turning it into a two-out-of-three affair starting with Game 5 in south Florida Thursday, in part because Indiana is the kind of team that can respond to something as simple as that white board message.
“Not one guy in that locker room didn’t believe we were going to win this game,” Pacers center Roy Hibbert said, after anchoring (23 points, 12 rebounds) the group effort. “We showed fortitude and we picked each other up. We never held our heads down. We know they’re the champs. … We’re never going to give up.”
Hoo boy, does this stuff play well in the heartland. Especially on those rarest of nights when LeBron James fouls out.
Fact is, there were plenty of reasons for the Pacers to ignore or lose whatever they were supposed to get from the atta-boy stuff:
They should have been discouraged that Paul George, the team’s 2013 All-Star, was bogged down and sidelined with foul trouble. By halftime, he had been on the floor for all of 14 minutes. He was 1-for-3 for three points, with the refs’ whistles doing to him this time what James’ post-ups had done in Game 3.
The Pacers should have been discouraged when their over-adrenalized 11-0 start fizzled away completely, replaced at halftime by a single point. What they were doing better than Miami (rebounds, protecting the paint), they weren’t doing better enough. The things Miami was struggling with (James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh shot a combined 5-for-19 in the first half) were almost certain to change.
Indiana should have been discouraged by the Heat’s 9-0 run early in the third quarter that threatened to break things open. Instead, the Pacers stiffened behind veteran David West, who went to work for seven points in Indiana’s own 10-0 run across a timeout.
The Pacers should have been discouraged later in the period when, in a scramble sparked by James’ remarkable block of George Hill‘s layup, George went hard for the loose ball and got his fourth foul. Coach Frank Vogelwas discouraged enough to get T’d up.
They should have been discouraged by a timekeeper’s error that incorrectly stuck them with a shot-clock violation, wiping out a basket that would have left them up 83-72 with 8:25 left. But no, Miami chipped away until they were tied at 83-83 (James 3-pointer) and again at 86-86 (Wade three-point play).
That’s when Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with West doing everything but tackling him. Discouraged? Indiana should have been forlorn at that point.
INDIANAPOLIS – If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself, fabled Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle famously said.
And if Indiana Pacers wing player Paul George had known he was going to play this long and hard this season, he might have gone about things a little differently, too.
George never has had a season quite like this. When he takes the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse tonight for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), it will be his 95th game, regular or postseason. He already has logged 3,597 minutes across seven months. Plus practices, plus the All-Star Game.
Compare that to last season: George played in 77 games total in the post-lockout NBA, with two rounds of playoffs for Indiana rather than the three so far. His minutes were lighter — just 2,359.
On sheer workload alone, the difference is staggering. George has played in nearly 20 percent more games than in 2011-12. He has been on the court an astonishing 52.5 percent more.
And that doesn’t even touch the other aspects of his growing game and responsibility for the Pacers. George took a quantum leap in his role for Indiana, stepping into the void opened by Danny Granger‘s knee issues, shouldering the duties of being a primary scorer while maintaining his spot as the Pacers’ premier perimeter defender. He became the focal point of most opposing coaches’ game plan – and soldiered on. At 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, he became the target of rivals’ hard fouls beyond what he had experienced before and he weathered those, too, without complaint.
Now, so deep into this extended third season of his career, George can look you in the eye and make you believe that, at 23, he’s not fatigued. But feeling tired and being tired can be two different things. And even if he’s fine on both fronts, the reality George faces now is: He has to get better.
“I thought about it the other day,” George said Monday. “Had I trained and really prepared myself for stepping into this role this year, it would have helped me much more. But it’s good that I’m going through this. It’s a learning process. It’s growth for me.”"
George did participate last summer with the USA Select Team that provided a practice squad against which Team USA could prep for the London Olympics. That put him up against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and the rest essentially as a sparring partner. (more…)
INDIANAPOLIS – What the Indiana Pacers endured Sunday night against LeBron James and the Miami Heat — what a global audience saw in all its gory, err, glory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse — ought to have the rest of the NBA feeling afraid. Very afraid.
This isn’t James, mind you, with a fully developed post game. No one would accuse him yet of boasting a complete arsenal of moves, be they Kevin McHale‘s up-and-under slipperiness, Hakeem Olajuwon‘s footwork and Adrian Dantley‘s rump routines. This is James all raw and athletic; pounding his dribble and bulling his way back; back on the low block until he can just about flick the basketball over his shoulder and over his discouraged defender, who in this case happened to be Indiana’s best player, Paul George.
The man’s torture chamber still is under construction and it’s already more hideous for those who dare to enter than most in the league. Sure, Pacers power forward David West is more polished and experienced at the brutish game down low, but the sense that this is simply wrinkle No. 439 in James’ growing mastery of the game could prove a lot more demoralizing — to Indiana short-term, and to everyone else over time.
LeBron James’ shot chart in Game 3
“It was something we wanted to get to, to just help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of the tactic. “We wanted to be a little aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen.”
Mayhem happened, basically. Not anything frenzied or chaotic, but steady and lethal — like logs fed to a buzz saw. Resistance was futile, the results grim.
“I made a conscious effort to sit down in the post tonight, try to put pressure on the defense,” James said, his 22-point, four-rebound, three-assist game more monstrous than monster. “Spo and the coaching staff wanted me to be down there and my teammates allowed me to do that.”
It didn’t happen immediately. James spent the first half of the first quarter – the first eighth of the game – in his familiar perimeter-oriented, pick-his-spots, get-his-teammates-off gear. But, at 20-19 Heat midway through the period, James backed George down, then spun to bank in a shot from five feet. He went down there again a few possessions later, missing from six feet. And then twice more in the first few minutes of the second quarter for a short hook shot and a layup. George, giving up at least 50 pounds to the brawnier James, stoically tried to hold his ground and pester James’ rhythm and shots, mostly failing.
He had managed to keep the matchup above water through the two games in Miami because their duel there played out in the open floor. But, taken inside, he seemed younger and smaller and shoved back a ways on his budding-star learning curve. George was working so hard defensively, too, that much of his offense went missing (3-for-10 for 13 points, although with eight assists).
“I mean, I saw I had a 1-on-1 matchup,” James said. “They didn’t come down in the post all game [to help], so I just tried to take advantage of it. My teammates gave me space. … Tried to anchor myself down on the block and go to work.”
The fruit of his labor was remarkable. By halftime, James had 18 points and the Heat had 70, the most it had scored in a half so far in the postseason and the most given up by the Pacers. Miami was shooting 62.8 percent, had turned over the ball once and led by 14 points.
Heat veteran Udonis Haslem had 13 points in the half on his way to 17, his biggest offensive night in the playoffs since Game 6 of the 2006 Finals. Haslem was in a groove, both inside and particularly from the left side, hitting eight of his nine shots as reliably as a two-thirds Ray Allen or something.
But really, it could have been anyone. Eventually, it was a little of everyone. The Heat drifted away from James in the post but didn’t miss it, because Allen and Shane Battier hit 3-pointers to oil their hinges a little for what’s left of this series and postseason. Also in the second half, Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade played like their aching shoulder and knee, respectively, were distant memories.
For a defending champion that allegedly was so vulnerable as the series shifted to Indianapolis, outplayed in Games 1 and 2 and home-court advantage gone, Miami looked pretty invincible and inevitable again. And left the Pacers grasping for LeBron-in-the-post answers by the time the teams meet again in Game 4 Tuesday night.
“We just have to push him out further,” said George, who’s going to need help from bigs and diggers because he can’t handle this challenge alone. “We understand that’s where he can operate and get easy baskets. I just have to do a better job of battling him down there.”
Center Roy Hibbert tried to shoulder a lot of blame for Indiana’s struggles defensively, noble but not quite accurate. “We have to do a better job of helping Paul out,” he said. “LeBron can’t get five or six dribbles to get a post move. They really spread us out, so I wasn’t able to get down there as much.”
Hibbert wasn’t but James was, generating fright footage that should have both the Pacers and the rest of the league flinching.
INDIANAPOLIS – In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man will be king, so sayeth the proverb. And in an NBA in which legitimate old-school centers are as rare as hair parts, Roy Hibbert can be a new millennium Kareem.
No offense to roundball’s royalty, but everything and everyone is relative to his time. We’re in a time when even the All-Star Game offers up three “front-court” starters per side, a white flag on the supply of legitimately talented traditional centers.
Back when true giants roamed the NBA’s courts – Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, Russell, Thurmond, Lanier, Gilmore, Reed, Walton, Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing, Robinson, Parish (see, don’t even need first names) – Hibbert might not have cracked the Top 10. Now that they’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs, the Indiana Pacers’ big man reigns as a 7-foot-2 throwback, the biggest Komodo dragon on the block.
And don’t think the Miami Heat haven’t noticed. Two games into the Eastern Conference finals, Hibbert is averaging 24.0 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor and 83.3 percent from the foul line. Of his boards, 6.5 percent have come at the offensive end, contributing to Indiana’s 88 points in the paint through two games.
And in a series in which MVP LeBron James is a minus-4 after two games and Heat sidekick Dwyane Wade is minus-10 (for those who favor the NBA plus/minus metric), it’s worth noting that Hibbert is a plus-14.
None of which has been a surprise to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, dating back long before Sunday’s Game 3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (8:30 p.m ET, on TNT).
“He has a great impact,” Spoelstra said Thursday after practice. “This guy has improved dramatically.
“All of us remember what he was like four years ago on pick-and-rolls. What’s interesting about a guy like Roy Hibbert is you see young ‘bigs’ get attacked on pick-and-rolls on a nightly basis. Some players never get better. They continue on the scouting report, year after year, for a decade – ‘attack this guy.’ Roy Hibbert, every single year, has been diligent to improve that, knowing that [that is] everybody’s attack, to the point now he’s one the best pick-and-roll defenders in the league. And you don’t necessarily view him that way. [But] he has that type of impact.”
So much so, in fact, that the Heat have avoided using Hibbert’s man in its pick-and-rolls, a tactic that New York dared to try without much success. That’s no small concession from the league’s defending champions and best offense.
Oh sure, Miami scored 60 points in the paint in Game 1 and 100 so far through two games. But the most important four from the series opener came with Hibbert watching from the side, his length and rim protection – Pacers coach Frank Vogel considers him the best in the NBA at that skill – shelved on the Heat’s final two possessions.
Everyone knows how well that worked. James got in for layups twice, including the game-winner, generating both a victory and one of the NBA’s biggest frenzies of second-guessing in recent memory. Which was harmless enough, though it did assure us of a couple things for however long this series lasts:
Hibbert won’t be on the side again at the end of a tight game, unless the refs have put him there via foul calls. He and James are joined at the hip as each team’s most pivotal player.
Paul George is the open-floor counterpart to Miami’s superstar, of course. George is the budding two-way, Pippen-playalike with whom James might feel some kinship and envision future Olympic gold, hence the little hand slap after three quarters Friday night. But Hibbert is the guy past and over whom James will literally and figuratively have to lead the Heat if they’re going to make it three Finals in as many years, and two rings.
On reputation, on athletic ability, on the sheer esthetics of what the sporting public has come to expect of NBA impact players, James is quintessential. Hibbert, well, is not. He still looks ungainly running the court, still appears to be widest at the hips and seems as easy for a tough, physical defender to fold up as a beach chair.
Miami’s trying, though, with Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and even Joel Anthony and, so far, it hasn’t worked. Hibbert’s long body, at age 26, still might be catching up, but his mental game has advanced considerably, both through his five-year career and from October till now.
He knows and has a feel for what to do with the ball when he gets it down low, either in the offense or off the glass – even if it doesn’t always seem like it. His hooks and short jumpers in traffic work for him, no matter how much they rattle around before dropping. Hibbert is a deft passer, especially on the inch-for-inch scale, and his hands have improved.
Defensively, he is one of the best at using his full length and taking advantage of the NBA’s view on “verticality,” which allows a defender to jump straight up against a driving ball handler without fear of an automatic foul call on contact. Swipes with the arms, yes, that still will draw the whistles. But Hibbert largely stays away from that, relying on his size to thwart those who test him.
His 2.6 blocks per game were the most so far in his career, and those don’t include the shots he alters in the shooters’ hands or those that never challenge him at all. As for staying on the floor, Hibbert – playing on the first year of a four-year, $58 million deal – fouled out only five times this season and not at all in this postseason.
“I always tell guys, if they get beat, don’t foul them, I’ll be there to clean it up,” Hibbert told reporters in Miami. “It’s just that I feel I’m important. I want to be on the court. That’s why they brought me back. That’s why they gave me all this money.”
And that’s why he’s getting all this attention, from both the public and the Miami game-planners.