Apr 22, 2014 10:40 PM EDT
Facing a potentially crippling situation early in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, the Indiana Pacers got back to what earned them the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Trailing by as many as 11 in the first half at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers pulled away from the Hawks with a suffocating defensive effort over the final 20 minutes.
It all started when Paul George dove on the floor to chase a loose ball alongside Paul Millsap. Atlanta won the subsequent jump ball, but Jeff Teague missed a jumper and Lance Stephenson took off in search of early offense. Stephenson converted a reverse layup and was fouled, giving Indiana a 62-59 lead. They never turned back.
After playing hesitantly through the first six quarters of the series, the Pacers put the Hawks on their heels during a decisive second-half run that led to a blowout 101-85 victory.
Indiana went small and contained Jeff Teague, who had been burning them on penetration off pick-and-rolls with Pero Antic and Millsap. Teague had 12 points in the first half after a dazzling performance in Game 1 on Saturday night, but was held to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting after the break.
George Hill, the quietest of Indiana's five starters, was huge in the third. He scored 10 points and helped key a 31-13 edge in the period and a 19-0 run that stretched into the fourth quarter. During the run, the Hawks went more than six minutes without scoring.
The Pacers dominated defensively even with Roy Hibbert cheering on the sidelines. After forcing the ball inside to their center on offense, Frank Vogel adjusted to the opponent and gave Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola heavy minutes in the second half. Mahinmi isn't Hibbert on the defensive end, but the Pacers have molded him into a similar defender in their system. He did a fine job protecting the rim as Atlanta looked flummoxed. Scola was a huge offensive weapon, putting up 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting.
Not surprisingly, great defense led to easy offense.
With the Hawks going 5-for-20, including 1-for-8 from deep, in the third, the Pacers attacked the basket and carried confidence to the other end of the floor. Indiana went 12-for-16 in the quarter, while building a +4 rebounding edge and cashing in on all their trips to the foul line.
This performance alone doesn't mean the "old" Indiana Pacers are back, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
When the Pacers needed their best player to put them on his back, Paul George did just that. He was a game-high +29 with a full stat line -- 27 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and four steals. More importantly? He committed just one turnover and didn't force his offense as he has so often post-All-Star break.
George took seven threes, making five of them, and attacked the basket rather than settle for mid-range jumpers. He took two such shots, with his remaining seven attempts coming in, or near, the restricted area.
His performance was also noteworthy on the defensive end as he spent some time checking Teague. His length and quickness create problems for any point guard.
Hibbert may be the "face" of Indiana's league-best defense, but on Tuesday night they put together a team performance that bodes well for the remainder of the series. The All-Star center played 24 minutes, six fewer than in the series opener, as Vogel went with a smaller, more athletic front-line to counter Atlanta's unorthodox attack.
There is no question that Hibbert has been vital to Indiana's success, but there is also no rule that says you have to stick with a specialized player when mismatched. The Pacers are looking to get back on track and enter the title conversation again, not to march out Hibbert because of his contract and label as a starter.
Vogel forced offense inside to Hibbert far too much in the first half and when the big man focused more on rebounding and defense than trying to score over the smaller Millsap and Antic, the Pacers looked more like the team that had the best record in the league at the season's midpoint. A combined 14 points and 12 rebounds without a single block in 54 minutes is disappointing, but if Indiana advances Hibbert will have plenty of chances to dominate on both ends.
The Hawks couldn't recover when the Pacers imposed their will in the second half, but over a stretch from the end of the first to the beginning of the second quarter Atlanta's offense absolutely handcuffed Indiana.
Even when the Pacers are dialed in defensively, it's hard to stop the Hawks when they are hitting on all cylinders. If Teague and Lou Williams are slashing and Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Co. are hitting from deep it's difficult for any team to defend them.
Parties Not Heard From
Stephenson ignited the Pacers in the third quarter with his three-point play, but he and David West were largely unheard from in Game 2. West battled foul trouble early and finished with eight points and two rebounds. His passing helped Indiana foster better ball movement -- he had six assists -- but a huge outing is lurking as the series shifts to Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Stephenson found himself on the bench more than he'd like and we've come to expect. He logged just 25 minutes, his lowest total since the Pacers beat the Hawks 89-85 on Feb. 4. He wasn't Bad Lance, but the triple-double machine had just seven points, five assists and three rebounds and was a +3 in a 16-point win. It will be interesting to see how Stephenson comes out on Thursday night.
Apr 23, 2014 2:15 PM EDT
In a Game 1 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, Tim Duncan had 27 points and 7 rebounds on 12-20 shooting. The San Antonio Spurs won by five points and Duncan was +24 in his 38 minutes on the floor. Even at 37, the Mavericks have no answer for him in their frontcourt. He has long since lost the athleticism of his youth, but his size and skill have allowed him to remain a great player while his peers faded away. He's one of two players left from the 1997 NBA Draft.
There have been a ton of articles marveling about the Spurs longevity atop the NBA, but there's no real mystery to what's going on. San Antonio had Tim Duncan on their roster for the last 16 teams - if they weren't an elite team in that span, something went terribly wrong. Shaquille O'Neal didn't play on a lot of bad teams either and he was in his fair share of dysfunctional situations. When you have one of the 10 greatest players off all-time on your roster, it's pretty easy.
Duncan did things in a more understated fashion, but in his prime, he was every bit as dominant as Shaq. He was a fundamentally sound 7'0 250 big man with elite athleticism - about as good at basketball as any one player could be. He was a Defensive Player of the Year type player who commanded a double team in the low post. Having Tim Duncan meant your team had a great offense and a great defense. There are not many players in the history of basketball you can say that about.
Like Shaq, he wasted little time making his mark in the NBA. In his rookie season, the Spurs went from 20 to 56 wins and made it to the second round. In his second season, he was the NBA Finals MVP. Over the next 14, despite the roster turning over around him several times, San Antonio was always an elite team. Winning 50 games is the mark of a good team and Duncan has never played on a below 50-win team. In 16 seasons, the Spurs have missed the second round three times.
After Michael Jordan's retirement, Shaq and Duncan carved up the league between them. From 1999-2007, the titles went Duncan, Shaq, Shaq, Shaq, Duncan, the Detroit Pistons, Duncan, Shaq, Duncan. Those two would have been successful in any era of basketball. There's not much the other team can do against an elite 7'0 center who can play on both sides of the ball. The team with the biggest, most skilled and most athletic player on the floor usually wins.
When you look at Duncan's career in total, it's remarkable how many more championships he could have won, were it not for a few bounces of the ball. Derek Fisher's 0.4 shot in 2004, Dirk Nowitzki's and-1 in 2006, Ray Allen's three in 2013 - there isn't much separating Duncan from seven rings. That's what happens when you carry your team deep into the playoffs for almost two decades. When it comes to longevity, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is Duncan's only peer.
That's what separates Duncan from Shaq. Shaq never took great care of his body. By the end of his career, he had ballooned well past the 300 pounds he was listed at. Duncan has kept himself in excellent shape, looking like a slightly weathered version of his younger self in his late 30's. Shaq was still an extremely effective player in his last two seasons in Cleveland and Boston. The problem was that he could no longer stay on the floor - injuries are what end great players careers.
Just as important, Duncan never let his ego get in the way of winning. There was never anything like Shaq's feud with Kobe Bryant. Instead of feeling threatened by the emergence of Tony Parker, Duncan welcomed it and gladly gave him the ball. Shaq knew he was a great enough player that the normal rules didn't apply to him - he was never afraid of burning bridges on his way out of town. Duncan could have acted the same way. He just choose not to.
It seems a little weird to praise someone for not being an asshole, but it can be a vanishingly rare quality in the world of NBA superstardom. When a player starts racking up championships, a whole cottage industry of people spring up around them, willing to excuse anything they do. Jordan would berate his teammates and punch them in the face and everyone acted like it was cool because he won a lot of championships and that's what it took to be great.
Tim Duncan treated everyone like a normal person and it seems to have worked out OK for him. There's no great mystery to what he does or some secret aspect of his character that accounts for his success. Duncan is no different than anyone else - he's just a little taller and more athletic. He was blessed with tremendous gifts and he has worked hard not to waste them. He seems to have more perspective on what being a great athlete actually means than most of our society.
If he played in a major media market, we would never hear the end of his selflessness and what a great winner he is. As is, he seems likely to fade from public consciousness once he retires. Duncan will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he probably won't be on too many player's Mt. Rushmores in 20 years. The secret to his success, though, has come in recognizing how meaningless that stuff is. Hard work is its in own reward - better to play at 38 than have people talk about you at 58.
The great lie we tell young players is they need to develop a persona to sell themselves to fans, as if their career wouldn't be complete unless they were constantly on TV trying to sell people stuff they don't need. Tim Duncan has made over $225 million dollars in the NBA. Play the game unselfishly, never put yourself above your teammates and treat everyone around you the right way and you can make more money playing basketball than you could ever possibly need.
Apr 21, 2014 2:30 PM EDT
The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) is a major NBA event that showcases some of the top senior talent across college basketball. It is noted for featuring many of the great players of NBA's past. And, over the course of its 62-year history, the PIT has become a staple for NBA scouts, agents, and media members alike, who all flock to the four-day event to see some of the top senior talent square off in organized scrimmages.
In the current agent-dominated landscape, where players are too often concerned with harming their draft stock and are focused more on how they will conduct themselves in team interviews, the PIT is a breath of fresh air for those who subscribe to the mantra: 'actions speak louder than words.'
At the PIT, a player's game does the talking, so to speak, which provides a glimmer of hope for those out there who still clamor to the notion that head to head matchups can still tell a lot about a prospect. While no scout in their right mind would substitute a player's body of work in the regular season for one's performance at the PIT, the event does allow scouts to glean some aspects of a player's adaptability, toughness, and willingness to buy into a team construct, especially given the fact that most of these guys are playing alongside each other for the first time.
While many players stood out in certain contests but failed to live up to their promise in others, several individuals were consistent throughout, standing out from the pack and really helping their draft stocks. Five players in particular really impressed from an NBA prospect perspective: Markel Starks, Travis Bader, Akil Mitchell, Javon McCrea, and Andre Dawkins all really helped themselves at this event.
Markel Starks, Georgetown - While Davante Gardner took home the MVP trophy for his spectacular performance in the final game, looking pretty dominant on the glass and in the post, Markel Starks was far and away more deserving of the MVP award. Although he played alongside pure point David Stockton, who had a tremendous camp in his own right, Starks looked every bit the part of the best point guard at the event. In terms of his ability to break down the defense, Starks employs an adequate first step and regularly turned to his arsenal of hesitation moves to break his man down off the bounce and either take the ball all the way to the rim, or pull up for an often uncontested jumper. He did this with impunity at the PIT, and demonstrated excellent body control when confronted with a bigger help defender. Not only was Starks hyper aggressive attacking the basket, but he was incredibly crafty at the rim, evincing tremendous body control and the concentration and strength to finish through contact. He also possesses an array of floaters and scoop shots. With that said, Starks' bread and butter at the next level will be his ability to keep defenses honest with his pullup jumper, which is somewhat of a lost art in today's game. Starks has the balance and poise to score off the bounce, elevating and creating enough separation on his shot to likely receive clean looks at the next level. While Starks displayed good range on his outside shot, he was not particularly consistent in this respect throughout the season.
Starks is more than just a scorer though. At the PIT, Starks demonstrated that he can serve as a floor general, seeing the floor and creating plays for his teammates. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to read the defense, hitting open cutters and making winning basketball plays. On the defensive end, Starks is a savvy defender who committed only 2.55 fouls per 40 minutes (good for 11th best in the Big East). Starks does a nice job getting in a stance and possesses the lateral quickness to defend at the next level. While Markel Starks was not given the MVP nod, he more than impressed with his performance at the PIT, capped off by his game winning three pointer as time expired to earn his team the championship trophy.
Travis Bader, Oakland - While I did not have the pleasure of witnessing Bader's most impressive three point shooting barrage in his first game at the PIT, the 6'5 wing clearly stood out as the best shooter at this event. Travis Bader sports textbook mechanics, nice elevation, and a quick release on his jumper shot. And even though he did try to display a more diversified game at times, Bader's potential at the next level rests in his ability to nail the long ball. While he is not as effective shooting off the bounce, Bader was remarkably accurate connecting off the catch in transition or hitting shots off a curl. He also did not get rattled by the physicality of the game, drawing several three point fouls. This came as no surprise to me given his performances during the year, where teams absolutely did everything they could to clamp down on him from beyond the arc. Bader is a master at properly utilizing screens and reading defenses in order to get off his shot. Oakland regularly ran set plays and he was able to dial in from distance with only a little bit of daylight.
In terms of the other facets of his game, Bader did employ a shot fake at times and got to the rim on a few occasions, but this was few and far between. Defensively, Bader shows good effort and a solid intensity level, working hard to stay with his man, but will likely be average to below average at the next level given his limited physical profile, which will hurt his ability to fight over the top of screens. All in all, Bader has good size for a wing and a defined role at the next level, making him an obvious candidate to be drafted.
Akil Mitchell, Virginia - Akil Mitchell was one of the most highly touted names coming into the PIT, and he did not disappoint with his performances here. Mitchell was dominant defensively and controlled the glass throughout the tournament, two areas he will likely have to specialize in next season if he is able to earn an NBA roster spot. The lengthy Mitchell has a fairly raw offensive game at this point, but was physical attacking the basket. His explosiveness off the bounce was evident, and he likely has not reached his full potential on this end of the floor. For instance, he made several explosive maneuvers to the basket, spinning off of his man and finishing at the rim before the defender could even react. Mitchell is not particularly shy in this regard, and will ferociously throw the ball down if a defender allows him to get deep enough post position. While Mitchell certainly has the strength to back his man down, he does not yet boast the advanced footwork to truly create for himself off the initial post entry feed in any meaningful way. He instead relies heavily on his athleticism and strength to finish at the rim on both back to the basket and faceup moves. In terms of his other capabilities on this end of the floor, Mitchell does not yet have the range to stretch defenses and keep them honest at the next level. This likely could be a big area of improvement for him in the coming seasons.
In terms of his promise on the glass, Mitchell did a nice job securing rebounds and this will likely be a strength at the next level. He did a nice job of blocking out more physically imposing players and utilizing his superior athleticism to corral loose balls. On other trips, he was able to tip it out to his teammates and keep possessions alive. Defensively, Akil is a great help defender who can come over from the weakside and contest at the rim. He works hard in the post to maintain position on the block and utilizes his length to deflect post entry feeds. He is active in passing lanes and regularly deflected the ball on several occasions due to his great timing and quickness (he led the PIT with 2.3 steals per contest according to realgm.com statistics). Ultimately, Mitchell is a consummate role player at the next level who possesses the requisite athleticism to make an NBA roster next season.
Two Additional Players Deserving Mention:
Andre Dawkins, Duke - Dawkins was a revelation at this event due to his tremendous shooting display. Dawkins gets good elevation on his shots and was able to pull up from virtually anywhere on the floor. He also demonstrated a lot more aggression attacking the rim than most were accustomed to seeing during his time at Duke. He was able to get past his man on several occasions and possesses the strength to finish through contact. All in all, Dawkins projects as a jump shooter who can spot up off the dribble or off the catch.
Javon McCrea, Buffalo - McCrea was arguably the most consistent big man at this event and was able to physically dominate his opponents at times. He likely is the strongest player at the event, and regularly attacked his man's body and finished through contact. McCrea possesses the necessary girth (body type wise) to create separation in the post and finish against bigger opponents. At the PIT, McCrea was a dominant physical presence facing up and scored on several up and under moves and scoop shots which were heavily contested. He was also aggressive on the offensive glass, creating extra possessions for his team and looking every bit the part of an undersized power forward. Defensively, McCrea was physical enough to move his man out of the post area, but struggled a little bit when lengthy players were able to get the ball super close to the hoop. With that said, he was active defensively and readily poked the ball away on numerous occasions. McCrea also demonstrated his midrange jump shot, and connected with some consistency. His form is still rather awkward looking though, and a larger sample size is needed before it can be said that he has improved in this area. Overall, McCrea will likely be limited initially by his size, but can eventually make a roster down the road if he can show some consistency on his jump shot and extend his range.
Apr 21, 2014
When you are evaluating young players, the statistics can only tell you so much. That's why there are still ways to find steals in the draft - look for the tallest, longest and most athletic guys at each position. Itís really that simple.
Apr 19, 2014
Instead of wiping away concerns about their poor finish to the season, the Pacers created more uncertainty with a disappointing loss to the Hawks on Saturday night.
Apr 19, 2014
All eight RealGM writers predict the Heat along with either the Thunder or Spurs to reach The Finals.
Apr 18, 2014
The difference between the way in which Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge were successful in taking advantage of single coverage was the reason for the Rockets dominance over the Blazers in the regular season. If that trend continues and the defenses donít make the necessary adjustments in the playoffs, the Rockets should move on to the second round.
Apr 18, 2014
Both of these teams reinvented themselves for different reasons during the regular season. For the Raptors, it came after the Rudy Gay trade in freeing up Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Nets fixed their season by embracing small ball.
Apr 18, 2014
Like Bill Belichick with the Patriots, Gregg Popovich conducts a strict system style of team ball consequently demanding respect and discipline from every player, no matter how valuable or invaluable they are to the franchise.
Apr 17, 2014
The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday and DraftStreet is having a 2-Day first round Fantasy Contest with $100,000 in guaranteed prizes to celebrate.
Apr 17, 2014
After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility.
Apr 15, 2014
While Dante Exum isnít quite as long and athletic as Andrew Wiggins, heís far more skilled. Heís an elite athlete in his own right and plays with more poise. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS?
Apr 14, 2014
The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.
Apr 12, 2014
Itís easy to forget how young some of the players in the league are - freshmen drafted in 2011 would have been college seniors this season. You have to judge young players against guys their age not against the guys in their draft class.
Apr 08, 2014
John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. Itís a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire ďone and doneĒ model.
Apr 08, 2014
Al Jefferson has often been considered an overrated stat compiler in his career, but he has posted his best season and has the Bobcats in the playoffs.
Apr 08, 2014
Amidst the D-League hopefuls and marginal talent, a few players have proven themselves as NBA caliber, and deserve to have roster spots either with the Sixers or with another franchise.
Apr 07, 2014
Despite the huge stakes of the final full week of the regular season, the non-national slate looks pretty weak at the outset though Warriors/Blazers on Sunday will have the 5th seed on the line.
Apr 07, 2014
The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline.
Apr 02, 2014
Victor Oladipo had analysts dubbing him as the preseason favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award until Michael Carter-Williams' stat-stuffing season began.
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