So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
I kept replaying the video over and over again, but every time I paused, backtracked, and pressed play, LeBron would already be a step away from the hoop, about to win the game for Miami. I wasn’t looking for the result, obviously. I was looking for anything that could help explain how he did it. With the power of DVR and YouTube, I should’ve had the upper hand. But even when I had complete control over his movement, I couldn’t keep up with LeBron.
His game-winning layup was unbelievable. Maybe if he had caught the ball while he darted to the basket after a curl, maybe it would’ve made sense then. That’s not what happened, though. He caught the ball with his body facing away from the hoop. His left leg was planted far out, and he took half a beat, probably less, before making his move. Just as Paul George came up close with a little too much velocity, LeBron turned and bulleted to the hole. The entire play took two seconds. It took LeBron less than two seconds to recognize where George was, where he was going to be, and where his lane would open up once George made the inevitable mistake. Game 1’s fate was sealed (let’s be honest here: with or without Roy Hibbert’s presence) the moment that left leg, planted back behind the 3-point line for leverage, propelled LeBron forward on the drive.
This news cycle will be brimming with criticism over Frank Vogel’s decision to sit Hibbert on the final play, because with LeBron, it’s a lot easier to rationalize what didn’t happen than to rationalize what did. That’s just how we respond to LeBron. It was awfully fun picking at his psyche last season. The convenient narratives helped distract us from the inexplicable wonder of his game. But now those safety blankets are gone. All that’s left is LeBron’s unfettered greatness, which is so omnipresent it's often taken for granted, like nature. Have you ever tried to explain nature?
This this was not a fun, attractive, or well-played NBA game. The Pacers, turnover-prone all season and barely able to handle the ball without George Hill, committed 19 turnovers and seemed to be on the verge of losing the ball on every possession. The Knicks committed 30 fouls, about 10 more than the average team commits in a game, and at one point in the third quarter, I think every player had at least four fouls. It was truly awful. There were so many low points that the entire game transformed during some third-quarter nadir into a 48-minute-long low point.
It happened around the 4:45 mark of the third quarter, where my meticulous notes about X's and O's and crowd tomfoolery abruptly stop and transition into a single harrowing sentence: “I have no idea what is going on right now.”
In case you were out looking at buffalo and thanking the heavens that you never had to actually traverse the Oregon Trail by wagon, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Paul George and the Indiana Pacers remained red hot at home as they pushed the New York Knicks to the brink of elimination with a 93-82 win. This battle of the second- and third-best teams in the Eastern Conference has now tilted firmly in favor of Indiana, which has New York residents stunned. "This was our year," said Daniel Czaplinski of Woodside. "We at least had to make it to the Heat. The Pacers? Gimme a break. Who the heck are they?" When asked if he had seen the Pacers play at all this season, Czaplinski said, "Yeah, they had that Zeller kid, and Oladipo. Not sure what happened to them, but Melo shouldn't be letting this George Paul guy take over. This is an abomination and all these bums should be fired."
The Spurs grabbed a pivotal Game 5 win in the friendly confines of San Antonio, beating the Golden State Warriors, 109-91, behind 25 points and 10 assists from Tony Parker. Parker, a noted French person from Belgium, was quietly finishing off a pack of Gauloises after the game before he mused about the idea of a falcon he had in his mind. "You know, bird that does not exist, your ability to fly is less impressive to some because of your lack of corporeal form. But to me, nonexistent falcon I just named Tweet-Tweet, you are more impressive, as you at least know you do not exist, where as real falcons contend daily with the illusion of reality." After a brief pause when Tweet-Tweet likely asked Parker for his last Gauloise, as Parker dropped one onto the ground next to him, Parker added, "And that is how I defeat the Warriors. They expect me to move at speeds, or to distribute the basketball. But that's all the secondary creative act. The original creative act was forgetting my own creation. Here, let me imagine a treatise for you to read." Unfortunately, Tweet-Tweet does not read French, and used Parker's imaginary philosophical text as bedding for his imaginary nest.
In Part 1 of 2, Bill Simmons talks to Joe House about the NHL and NBA playoffs, then asks which playoff city is House's food favorite. In Part 2, Simmons calls Zach Lowe to talk about the NBA playoffs and whether Golden State can pull off the upset over the Spurs.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
The first round started as a boring chalk-fest, with six of eight series going to 2-0, and only Nuggets-Warriors promising to double as both competitive and aesthetically pleasing. It transformed into madness, of course, with four Game 6s on a single delightful Friday night.
The conference semifinals have skipped right to the promising stage, with all four series tied at 1-1 as the league takes a breather tonight. Let’s use this blessed off day to do those errands we’ve been postponing, break out that vacuum, hit the gym, spend time with our loved ones, and take stock of where these four series might go from here — starting today with the two series that began first, but for some reason don’t resume until Saturday.
But, holy cow, did Hibbert announce himself to a national TV audience that might have ignored the Pacers this season, including during their first-round win over the Hawks. Hibbert finished with five blocks and played a huge role in holding the Knicks to just 15-of-34 shooting in the restricted area, per NBA.com. There will be nights when the Knicks miss an unusually high number (for them) of 3-point shots and midrange jumpers, and Carmelo Anthony is going through a streak of such nights right now. But if an opposing defense controls the paint like the Pacers did last night, New York will have to work very hard to win even when more of the jumpers fall.
Do you guys remember the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs? They’re still in the playoffs, I swear! That Heat-Bucks series was actually this season. I know — it seems like it might have been Miami’s first-round series last season, but it really was just a week ago the Heat wrapped up the most predictable sweep of this season’s first round.
The biggest story out of Miami since then has been Shane Battier’s decision to grow something like a Fu Manchu mustache. They may have also scheduled some exhibitions against the Generals, just to stay fresh. The Spurs have presumably been on a wine-tasting tour with Gregg Popovich, and rumor has it franchise higher-ups forced Pop to undergo a media-training refresher after he was strangely polite to sideline reporters during the Spurs’ first-round whitewashing of the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Chris Ryan: I think it was Pete Carril who said the the playoffs don't really start until one guy taunts another guy about a separate guy sleeping with his wife. Well, Jordan Crawford, I guess that makes you the starting gun.
You heard it over and over again over the last two nights of games: playoff basketball. Somebody gets tagged coming down the lane? Playoff basketball. Francisco Garcia checking Kevin Durant for about 90 feet with his hand around his hip? Playoff basketball. Hitmen? Playoff basketball. Open-play, timeout-call retaliations? Playoff basketball. Some bench scrub telling one of the 10 best players in the world that another one of the 10 best players in the world did something that rhymes with "plucked your fife"? Playoff. Basketball.
Tonight is a night for both rejoicing and sadness: Depending on the results of three crucial games, including two elimination games, this could be the last night featuring more than two games until next season opens. This is a bad thing for fans seeking a variety of entertainment options, especially on nights with one or two blowouts, but a good thing for the spouses and loved ones of us poor saps watching every single one of these first-round bad boys.
A lot is at stake in tonight’s tripleheader, obviously. A game-by-game look at some key questions on this busy Wednesday, in order of Most Intriguing to Least Intriguing:
That’s right — I’m giving Most Intriguing status to this season’s NBA TV/Illegal Streaming/Ratings Basement special. (It’s a league rule, by the way, that the NBA TV Special first-round series must include either Indiana or Atlanta every season. Seriously — I think it’s in the new collective bargaining agreement. Plenty of good seats still available on the cheap for tonight in Indy, by the way. Catch the fever!) After three boring blowouts, these two finally gave us a competitive contest in Game 4, albeit one in which the Hawks were in control after a blistering second-quarter run. Some key questions:
• Can Indiana figure out the Hawks' “big” lineups?
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's playoff games.
1. Paul George
Danny Chau: Sure, it wasn’t a triple-double, but Paul George — with his 27 points on 11-for-21 shooting — was no slouch. After a dismal shooting performance in Game 1, George made a commitment to getting easy points around the basket, and he was unstoppable from 15 feet in. It was a night that inspired confidence in George's already bright future. When he has games like these, when it all comes so effortlessly, it’s hard not to dream of a time when these outings from George become the norm.
In case you were busy being the guy who started icing bros again, much to the chagrin of everyone who knows you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets gave the Thunder their best shot, overcoming a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit, but Oklahoma City held on late to win, 105-102, to take a 2-0 series lead. When asked how he and his team would recover from the defeat, Harden said, "Oh, we won't. It's over." When asked if he was serious, Harden replied, "Have you seen Kevin Durant play basketball? I mean, playing with him, you know he's good, but playing against him? No, no, this is done." When asked again if he was serious, Harden replied, "Yes, I'm dead serious. We might not even go back to Houston. We're just going to pack it in." When asked again if he was serious, Harden shook his head. Then he nodded. Then he shook his head again. Then he shrugged.
Tony Parker had 28 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs over the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-91. "We are ahead by two games," Parker, a noted French person, said after the game, twitching visibly. "But I do not care an iota. The degree to which I care is so infinitesimal as to be not a thing at all, as my very existence has been laid bare by a new team policy banning smoking during the postseason. What is it to make policy anyway? To say, 'I know a thing and you must behave thusly.' How much false arrogance must live in the mind of a man who believes he knows a thing? When the mind is mere electricity that wants wants it wants a smoke so bad, I just want one drag, just one, just please one drag. Oh, I am no more than a dog!" Parker then let out a cry of lamentation before closing his eyes and willing a Gauloises into existence between his fingers. He then added with a wink, "One cannot know of policies if one cannot know, yes?"
It has been a weird six weeks for the Pacers. They’re a middling 11-9 in their last 20 games, and their vaunted defense, the stingiest in the league, has slipped a bit in the last three weeks, partly because George Hill is battling hip and groin issues. They swept a four-game road trip that included strong wins in Dallas, Houston, and in L.A. against the Clippers, but they’ve also had some concerning losses — at home to the Lakers and Thunder, the latter in convincing fashion; a tough roadie in Chicago, and then puzzling road losses in Philadelphia and Washington. Toss in a close home loss to the scorching Nets and a miracle home comeback against the pathetic Cavs, and it has been hard to read Indiana of late.
It was a good moment, in other words, to chat at length with Frank Vogel about the state of his team. Vogel spent time with Grantland after Indiana’s loss in New York on Sunday, and it’s clear he is very confident about the Pacers. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
You guys ranked 29th in points per possession in mid-January, which is not all that long ago. But you’ve been something like 10th or 11th since the All-Star break. What happened? Is it as simple as Roy Hibbert finding his game again?
Part of it is that Roy has gotten right. But Paul George has fallen off now in the last few weeks, so we’ve gotta make sure everyone is clicking at the same time. But we’ve got a lot of offensive weapons. Lance growing into his role, Paul growing into his role, and just getting more familiar with our bench — that has all factored us into being pretty good offensively.
Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried have George Karl understandably scrambling for healthy rotation parts, but I’m not sure the world is ready to watch the Wild Child front line play heavy minutes. On their very first possession as a duo against Houston on April 6, Jeremy Lin blew by McGee’s overly aggressive and off-balance help defense on a pick-and-roll and launched a layup that Anthony Randolph, helping from the weak side, blatantly goaltended.
Randolph and McGee have combined for at least a dozen moments of sublime chaos since, including a half-dozen alone in Denver’s wild and very necessary win Monday night in Milwaukee — more silly goaltending infractions, two completely out-of-control offensive fouls by a stumbling Randolph, and at least one McGee into-the-stands rejection so dumb McGee expressed immediate regret that he didn’t just catch the ball.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. The Pacers
That's eight wins out of the last nine for Indiana, five straight, and the end of a 4-0 road trip, which included two victories in Texas (Dallas and Houston) and a big win in Los Angeles against the Clippers last night. You could say it was a moral victory for the Clippers, who came back from a 24-point deficit to get back into the game. But maybe it was moral victory and victory-victory for the Pacers, who held on in a tough situation. The Pacers got a visit from the goon squad when Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins went into full nuisance mode in the second half. They got Hibbert out of his locked-in, first-half groove (he had 15 points in the first quarter) and into foul trouble. The Georgetown big man fouled out with about a minute and a half to go, but on his way back to the bench gave his teammates Tyler Hansbrough (seen above) and Lance Stephenson a friendly shove. Real friendly.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Chris Paul
Because it was a light night of action, and it's a long day of piping-hot unique takes here on the Triangle, I'm not going to weigh you down with a ton of insight. I'm just going to rank players and then attach an appropriate Miami Heat "Harlem Shake" .GIF, because that's exactly what Thomas Jefferson was thinking about when he said, "Sure, I'll do it. As long as I get to dress up like Super Mario."