Tag Archives: Roy Hibbert

A Vast Sea of Helplessness

bogenfreund | Flickr

Ed. Note: Evans Clinchy is a Bostonian and active member of the hoops blogosphere. He’s been covering the Celtics for nearly four years, with his writing appearing on CelticsBlog, NESN, and SI (among other places). You can follow him, his thoughts, and his writing on Twitter. He wrote this piece after the Pacers came up short in Monday night’s Game 7 against the Heat.

Quite possibly the most prevalent bit of NBA conventional wisdom, right up there with such nuggets of genius as “You can’t teach height” and “Defense wins championships,” is the idea that there’s nothing worse than being a middling team and falling into an endless loop of first-round playoff exits. Everyone knows the peril of basketball purgatory — if you’re too good to fall into the lottery and too bad to be a serious championship threat, there’s no way out, and you’re doomed to mediocrity forever.

The Indiana Pacers worked for years to disprove this theory. After the Malice at the Palace fomented the downfall of a legitimate contender in 2004, the franchise proceeded to endure eight straight seasons in the middle, never winning fewer than 32 games or more than 44. During that time, not once did they win multiple playoff rounds, and not once did they make a draft pick higher than 10th

It was really, really hard for Indy to break out of that funk. The aforementioned No. 10 draft pick was Paul George in 2010; they traded the No. 15 a year later for George Hill. Add those pieces to a foundation of Danny Granger (remember him?) and Roy Hibbert, then throw in a timely free-agent signing in David West, and you’ve got yourself a finally-better-than-mediocre basketball team.

After nearly a decade, the Pacers had finally built something they could be proud of.

At least it appeared that way. But what happened last night makes you rethink things a little bit.

To the Pacers’ credit, they pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in these Eastern Conference finals, which is something virtually no one expected any team to do this spring. The mighty Heat, winners of 27 consecutive games just a couple months ago, were pushed to the brink of elimination, and that’s something George and Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers can tell their grandchildren someday.

But how depressing is it to think that a seven-game exit was probably the Pacers’ ceiling? That no matter how “interesting” things began to look at certain points over these last two weeks, the chances of Indy actually winning this series in the end were precisely 0.00000 percent all along? That no matter how shrewdly constructed this Pacer team was, no matter how well coached they were, no matter how hard they fought to unseat the Heat as East champs, there was simply no out-talenting the unbelievable talent that is LeBron James?

That’s pretty damn depressing if you ask me. The Pacers worked for years and years to build themselves into something other than a first-round exit team. But ultimately, what’s the difference between a first-round exit and a third-round exit? In a league where rings are everything, a conference finals berth is nothing.

This is where we’re at. This is what LeBron’s relentless LeBronniness has done to the NBA. It’s left the other 29 teams in the league, some of them very good teams relative to the other squads comprised by mere mortals, wondering… what’s the point?

I suppose there’s some pride to be had in playing seven competitive, highly watchable games against the best team in the universe. The Pacers were one fluky 3-point shooting performance away from stealing Miami’s perch atop the East, and that’s saying something. Only it’s kinda not. Watching this series, you had this tingling sense that a Heat victory was a foregone conclusion, even when the Pacers tied it 1-1, then 2-2, then 3-3. LeBron was never really going to lose this one.

Basketball purists trumpeted this series as a potentially legendary one, a picture-perfect matchup of hoops yin and yang. You had the stylistic clash of an athletic, running, gunning supersquad and an old-school defensive team led by an old-school defensive big man. It was a beautiful sentiment. Beautiful, but baloney. This wasn’t a Taoist equilibrium — this was a food chain. The Heat were built to devour the Pacers, and devour them they did.

It’s hard not to feel bad for the Pacers. They’re a likable group of guys, an unassuming team from an unassuming town, they worked hard to reach this point, and they never had a chance.

The irony is that largely, this team was built by Larry Bird, the quintessential competitor, the guy who famously walked into the building for a 3-point shootout and asked the rest of the field, “Which one of you’s coming in second place?”

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the Pacers coming in second. Not only now, but it wouldn’t surprise a soul if they wound up right back here again next year, and the year after, and the year after that.

Indiana spent nine years building a team that was better than mediocre. But in the end, all they reached was a different kind of purgatory.

Thanks, LeBron. Thanks, Miami. As long as you’re around, everyone is mediocre.

When it falls down, who you gonna call now?

lucidtech | Flickr

Noam and Amin try to break down what’s going on with Miami, where Indiana’s future is taking them, and how teams can be successful over the long haul.

Noam: This Heat-Pacers series has been something of a basketball treat. All games have been competitive, excepting those in which Udonis Haslem goes 8 of 9 from the field (which, incredibly, amounts to more than one game). Paul George and Roy Hibbert have made themselves household names. Chris Andersen LITCHERALLY hasn’t missed a shot. And that LeBron guy is pretty good. Having seen these two squads matched up two years in a row, I would gladly sign up for another four or five.

You posit an interesting question on Twitter, though: could the Pacers possibly be considered as favorites in any future permutations of this series? Of Miami’s core, only LeBron, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are on the right side of 30. More importantly, Dwyane Wade, supposedly among the younger-oldies at 31, has seen fluctuations between his prime self and a sadder, broken down version happen frequently and violently. On the other side, Indiana’s starting wings are 22 and 23, with latter doubling as a third-team All-NBA premier wing defender. Roy Hibbert is 26, George Hill is 27.

But Indiana, for all its up-and-coming appeal, does have a major age concern. That would be David West, 33 by the time 2013-14 will tip off. He had ACL surgery two years ago, and while he seems to have recovered admirably, he plays a very physical game. Indiana’s strength is in their five man unit, but if one declines sharply, are we sure that balance isn’t irrevocably disrupted? Could growth on the wings, as well as the incremental improvements Hill and Hibbert project to make as they hit their prime, be enough to offset West’s age?

Amin: First of all, I don’t want your Chris Traeger reference to go unacknowledged. Well done, sir.

Second of all, yes my question is interesting. That’s sort of what I was alluding to. Indiana’s core–aside from West–is on the upswing. I could see West decline (as you said, he’s 33, he had ACL surgery, and he plays a tough, low-post game), but he looks like he’s declining gradually. I think that’s kind of the most ideal situation for any player in any sport, but especially for a guy who plays how he does. West will be slightly less effective next year, but he won’t have a stark drop off. Hibbert should improve, right? Will he make up for any potential deficiencies in West? Will Indiana let Hansbrough walk and pick up a backup PF who has a little more offense up his sleeve? Maybe Indiana can pounce on Thomas Robinson’s availability and play him heavy minutes behind West? Wowee.

Then, you’ve got the potential re-addition of Granger. Assuming Granger can play at even 75% of his former self… that’s pretty good. Granger is an effective scorer and a great defender. He gave LeBron fits during their intra-division CLE-IND series a few years ago. Granger also doesn’t seem like the type of player who would be difficult to fit back into a Pacers-style offense or defense. And based on the Pacers’ slower offense and their need for a wing upgrade over Gerald Green, slotting Paul George at the 2 (with Lance Stephenson behind) and Granger at the 3 seems like it would make the Pacers really good without causing extra stress/undue injury to Granger and his recover. And when I say “good” I mean “really really good.”Back to Miami real quick: Even with a very effective post game, LeBron + a bunch of other guys is probably not a championship team, right? That’s what existed in Cleveland, and it was proven time and again that LeBron needed a bit more reliability from the rest of the roster. That reliability came in Miami in the form of 1 guy who can get to the free throw line at will to close any gap (Wade) and another guy who is essentially guaranteed to make any shot if he’s wide open (Bosh). Those two players were not available in Cleveland. I am saying this as an unabashed Cleveland homer and someone who is rooting for a team with TYLER HANSBROUGH to beat the Heat.

Sorry about the Cleveland-aside. FOCUS. Ahem, OK. So, what I’ve noticed during this series is that the Pacers have been VERY good at preventing LeBron and Wade from living at the free throw line. As Derek alluded to in his piece, they’ve also effectively neutralized Chris Bosh’s impact by drawing him away from the basket on nearly every possession and contesting every shot he puts up. Miami has been relying on LeBron (as it should) and a 20-point performance by random role player X on any given night. Last night, it was Udonis Haslem. Haslem played really well, and the Heat needed every bucket he made–if not for their points then for their momentum.

When you look at the Heat’s roster, LeBron and Bosh are still in their primes, Cole and Chalmers are still young, and pretty much everyone else is a dinosaur in NBA years. Also, Chris Bosh is still possibly a dinosaur, but for other reasons (JOKES!). Going into next season–and more important the next postseason–if you have this same roster, you have LeBron still in his prime, a Bosh that people can figure out, an OK Chalmers/Cole backcourt (OK in Miami, average or less elsewhere), a Wade whose bad nights are starting to outnumber is good nights, a Ray Allen/Shane Battier combo that not doing its only required task of making open 3s, a revolving door of bigs, and Udonis Haslem. That’s… not gonna cut it.

Sorry, guess that wasn’t quick. But as it stands now, Indiana’s got options and are generally moving uphill. The Heat are still going to be good, but with their cap situation, they’re really only going to be able to make changes around the edges… and right now, their potential long term problems are with their core.

What do you think the next step for both teams will be to make sure we’ve got a rematch of them in the ECF next year?

Noam: It’s hard to throw out a foolproof ECF plan just because so many things can go wrong – injuries, luxury tax, injuries, random bounces, injuries, Nate Robinson catching fire, injuries. My gut says Miami is pretty much fine staying the course, as Erik Spoelstra would say, using the mini-MLE to get another 3-and-D guy (but maybe a less decrepit one this time, eh?) and gambling on a few minimum deal bigs. Indiana might be more interesting – I think convincing cases can be made for both keeping and trading Danny Granger, West is a free agent and could potentially come out of this summer either overpaid or in another jersey, the Pacer bench is epically horrendous. Also, after they refused to give up the 23rd pick in the draft for J.J. Redick, I demand that they either sign J.J. Redick or find a way to draft an immediate contributor with that pick. DEMAND IT, I SAY. HEAR ME, DONNIE?! However, I will immediately turn on my designation of Indiana being more interesting than Miami and ask you this question: is Miami’s run for a repeat title a historic abberation? This whole Wade business creates a unique vibe around the Heat – the way they came together and the mere existence of a 28 year old LeBron James makes them seem dynastic, and yet, as covered earlier, they might just be headed for a decline. We’ve seen teams win the title in a manner that seemingly dooms the following decade (Jordan Bulls, Duncan Spurs, any Laker title team ever), and we’ve seen teams win titles while giving the impression that they’re about to fall off from that level (the 2011 Mavs are a prime example of that), but do you remember any other team ever looking like it may just be both?

Amin: There are three important variables in this evaluation: 1) The CBA and salary cap, 2) Are any of the things that LeBron/Wade/Bosh do things that other players can do? and 3) What is Miami’s draft outlook looking like?

If you want this 3-man core to be dynastic, then the ret of the roster needs to be filled out in the same way as San Antonio’s. You gotta draft, develop, and trade your way into good parts that fulfill some of the tasks (or cover the deficiencies of) your core guys. And you gotta have the money to do it. If you do, you start to play your core guys fewer minutes as they get older, but the system is locked down. Alternatively, you can do what Dallas does and break the bank, stack, and reload the roster later around 1 or 2 pieces.

Right now, the Heat have a lot of good players, one great player, and two guys in between that are injured so are playing as good-level. Now, San Antonio has definitely recovered from a situation like that, but they’ve also consistently had draft picks and a well-managed cap. There’s a good chance Miami can pick up the same great play next year–like 99% certainty if Wade is healthy–but the nature of the Heat’s management of those 3 Spursian variables points to them not being able to turn this team into a 3+ championship dynasty like they hubristically promised.

In today’s CBA, is 3 rings the best anyone can do? Will the Spurs be terrible after their core retires/leaves? Can any team maintain contender or semi-contender status for 10+ years anymore? 5+ years, even?

Noam: The Thunder will be the ultimate test case for that, won’t they? They’ve hit all the theoretical checkpoints by drafting a transcendent star in Durant, finding another all-star to flank him in Russ, and being good enough early enough so his prime isn’t wasted. It’s what the Cavs couldn’t do with LeBron – they got to the Finals in his fourth year, one year ahead of the pace Durant set for OKC, but they did it with a supporting cast that was mostly veterans and role players. As LeBron continued to grow, they wilted instead. I think that’s the point that makes San Antonio so unique – David Robinson sitting out in 96-97 gave them their two cornerstones as a starting point, and they capitalized even further on that by inexplicably picking up two more in Tony and Manu. Without discrediting their developmental system, there are only so many such players percolating through depth charts, and grabbing several of them closely enough to have them all hit their primes together (or, in two different batches) requires immense amounts of luck.

Could it happen again? Sure, in theory. It’s hard to say if there are any other candidates for such a run, though. The Pacers are trying, but Paul George isn’t LeBron or Durant, and Hibbert is more Ibaka than Westbrook. Since this has somehow become a heavily anti-Cleveland exchange, we should point out that Kyrie might be that kind of transformative talent, and is being smartly surrounded by players his age, though none of the Waiters/Thompson/Zeller(/Nerlens Noel?) seems to be of the Westbrook caliber. There are some other tandems that one might throw out there – Chris Paul/Blake, Rose/Noah, Rubio/Love, Harden/Morey Acquisition X, Andrew Wiggins/Whoever Is On The Roster That Drafts Andrew Wiggins – but all are stretches, whether because they are dependent on unknown qualities, or because the known qualities have so far been lacking.

Is that CBA-designed or just plain happenstance? I would call it the latter, but it’ll be hard to tell without the benefit of hindsight. After all, this Spurs stretch is an outlier not just for the 2010s, but throughout NBA history. Outside of Red Auerbach being decades ahead of the curve, the Lakers continuously getting hall of fame centers, and the greatest player of all time existing, these things tend not to happen more often than they do. Again, the viability of the model could hinge on where OKC lands, with the Harden trade as the potential turning point. It’s an interesting wrench in that it simultaneously rid them of a third all-star, but brought in some assets that, if maximized, could theoretically bring in some of those young assets to develop in the Spursian manner you mentioned. If their run is cut shorter than we envisioned when this team came together, the Harden trade could become the turning point in NBA dynasty building.

Which brings us back to the Heat. They seem to be staring down some financial issues of their own – they’re scheduled to be repeater tax payers the moment such designations become available. If Wade’s knees don’t ruin everything, could his contract? Could Bosh’s? Are they due for a Harden trade of their own? Or, conversely, LeBron walking next summer before his supporting cast is torn apart? God, these would be great questions to discuss retroactively during all the free time we’ll have in the 2017 lockout.

Amin: Game 6 seemed to exacerbate all the same questions we had after Game 5. It’s going to be tough to figure out what Miami needs to do, but they need to do something. Be it a Harden-type trade, a use of the amnesty provision, any other type of trade that creates some complementarity and reliability… something. I don’t think they anticipated their core becoming unstable like this so quickly. And I don’t think any of us did either.

Sociology Sunday: The Crackpots and These Women

Peter Nijenhuis | Flickr

Ed. note: the title of this post is taken from the title of Season 1, Episode 5 of The West Wing. I hope Aaron Sorkin is cool with it.

Welcome back to another rousing rendition of Sociology Sunday. Writing these columns is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I get to dig into my academic roots and try to shed some analytical light on events that transpired during the week week. On the other hand, I just wish basketball could be about basketball. But it never is.

Last night, the Indiana Pacers convincingly defeated the Miami Heat to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night. Normally, we’d be bombarded with narratives left and right about “the champs not having it” or “upstart underdogs” or “LeBron carrying too much of a load again.” You know, the narratives we’re used to. Instead, there’s been a lot of focus on Roy Hibbert’s postgame comments where he dropped an F-bomb and a homophobic joke. Jared Wade, of Eight Points Nine Seconds, has a wonderful examination of why Hibbert’s remarks last night were so problematic, yet so seemingly normal and casual.

I don’t know Roy Hibbert, the person….But he seems like a nice enough young man, and I have heard a ton of respected people say a ton of nice things about Roy’s character and values.

I also don’t know know Roy Hibbert’s feelings on homosexuality. If he harbors any negativity towards gay people, he has never made such feelings public, to my knowledge. Roy actually even supported, through a Twitter message, Jason Collins’ recent decision to come out of the closet….To him, it was a playful joke, one that made him giggle probably more for its inappropriateness in that setting than for its actual humor. But to many others, it was an unnecessary reminder that mainstream society in the United States sees being gay as an abnormal, weird, negative characteristic that no man should want to associate himself with.

That is the foundation of “no homo.” It is telling listeners that, “in case you misconstrued what I said there, I just feel the need to point out to you that I am not homosexual, as that would of course be disgusting, and I am a normal, heterosexual man.”

You should definitely head over to 8P9S to read the whole piece because it’s a great analysis of how a seemingly small comment can mean so much. But for myself, I’ve been approaching Hibbert’s comments in three ways:

1) It’s absolutely absurd that he said that. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t necessary. It continues to perpetuate the otherness of LGBT individuals. He apologized for it. He reached out to Jason Collins about it. Athlete Ally issued a statement about it and understands that he’ll move on from here with remorse. But still, there’s no place for it.

2) When you’re a professional male athlete, you undoubtedly move your way up through a system of hyper-masculinity, a system where insulting gays or using one’s sexuality as an insult is commonplace. Society has been moving in a direction where such behavior is becoming less and less acceptable. And even if you know reflexively mumbling something like that is wrong, it’s still reflexive, and old habits are hard to kick. That doesn’t change the fact that the reflexive nature of speaking is almost as hurtful as the phrase itself, but again, there’s something to be said about getting tripped up in your old, stupid habits.

3) Just like Jared Wade, I don’t know the man. I know nothing about him personally except that he sometimes has some funny lines on one of my favorite TV shows and is playing really well against a team that I dislike for personal and narrative-driven reasons. It seems these reasons have turned him into some sort of positive hero in my mind–and I imagine this is similar for some of you–and thus, I keep thinking things like “Wow, Roy. That was dumb, but I’m sure you didn’t mean it.” Or “C’mon Roy, you know that’s messed up. Don’t say crap like that. Apologize and move on.” Why do I give him the benefit of the doubt, though? He’s a nice guy so he must not mean it? I mean, sure, OK. That’s plausible, but should I be treating this situation differently than when Kobe yelled “f****t” during a game and was caught on camera? I was disappointed in Kobe then, and he’s since gone to great lengths to make sure that kind of language isn’t used. But it still affected my view of him. And since both statements were said with post-game-action adrenaline high, and both were said reflexively–they’re part of the vocabulary of hyper-masculinized sports, they’re both not OK, right? Am I treating it differently because Kobe was channeling anger while Hibbert was channeling humor? Both are stupid and shouldn’t be tolerated, but are they the same?

In the end, I think I fall somewhere close to Kevin Arnovitz’s response to Hibbert’s comments, and I think as apologetic as Hibbert may actually be, he’s got a long way to go before he’s fully back in everyone’s good graces:

Apparently, TMZ covers sports sometimes. Also, they like to say and do provocative things for the sake of… journalism, I guess? Anyway, it seems they decided it would be funny to release a video ranking one of their staff members’ top-5 “hottest” NBA players. This particular person picked 5 players who all happen to be white. And yeah, you’re right: who cares which players one particular person happens to think are the hottest? The rest of the video, after the ranking, includes some “humorous” banter with David Lee about how he’s a “minority” in the NBA and how some other inane conversation among the other TMZ staff that straddles the line between racist and race-baiting.

It seems like TMZ has some sort of obsession with talking about the race of NBA players… like that one time where one of their cameramen decided to tell Blake Griffin that he wasn’t black and their staff then all tried to decide if he was or wasn’t black. You know, because it matters. And you know, because freckles and red hair automatically mean you’re white.

Race, as we so often forget, is a dually-loaded term of both internal and external identification. Blake Griffin might have his particular race–whatever it may be–tied to part of his identity. Others who are not Blake Griffin will attribute his actions and physical characteristics to mold him into a prism of race as they see fit–as those in the TMZ studio did. There’s no consideration of history, his personal feelings, or whether or not his race actually matters at all. It’s a tidy compartmentalization mechanism that people will continue to use without any desire to figure out why they want to use it.

And while the importance of race is a larger topic than this portion of this blog post can handle, I’d like to include this passage for anyone who thinks it’s not possible to have red hair and freckles and be black at the same time:

Louise Little, my mother, who was born in Grenada, in the British West Indies, looked like a white woman. Her father was white. She had straight black hair, and her accent did not sound like a Negro’s. Of this white father of hers, I know nothing except her shame about it. I remember hearing her say she was glad that she had never seen him. It was, of course, because of him that I got my reddish-brown “mariny” color of skin, and my hair of the same color. I was the lightest child in our family (Out in the world later on, in Boston and New York, I was among the millions of Negroes who were insane enough to feel that it was some kind of status symbol to be light-complexioned–that one was actually fortunate to be born thus. But, still later, I learned to hate every drop of that white rapist’s blood that is in me.)

–The Autobiography of Malcolm X, pp. 2-3.

It’s become somewhat commonplace for writers (including myself) to complain about the prevalence of lists as part of a normal reading diet. The issue at hand: writers hate writing them because they feel as though their degrees that got them their writing gigs are being wasted, and editors love making writers write them because they brings LOTS of eyeballs to your website. Can you really blame readers for liking them, though? Each part of a list–whether it’s just a count or a rank or whatever–is a short, digestible, forgettable bit of information that entertains you for a split second and allows you to move on with no attachment. You get your endorphine high, and you get to walk away and get back to what you were doing. Basically, reading a list-format post is the same as reading a bunch of tweets in a twitter timeline. They’re short and disconnected, yet they’re connected enough for you, the reader, to make sense of it all for yourself. Then, you can walk away from it happy, and come back for more later. As much as I personally dislike their existence, I read them all the time.

As digital content continues to grow, the reading, writing, and editing parts of the community will have to evolve with them. Unfortunately, one list came out this week that shows that we, as a basketball reading, writing, and editing community, need to do a better job to show that certain types of content are not OK.

Dime Magazine released a list of 20 basketball writers to follow on Twitter. I guess, if it were framed the way I just framed it, this would be a non-issue. However, the actual title of the list is: “20 girls on Twitter who know their basketball (and look great).” In a writing realm as male-dominated as sports, I’m sure there are some people who would welcome having a female perspective or two to read. Why Dime Magazine thought it was necessary to sexualize this list of writers is baffling, though.

Actually, you know what? It’s not baffling. The editorial decisions behind this are simple: mostly males read the site, lots of guys on Twitter would love to follow a good-looking girl who can talk about basketball, and it’s the end of the month, so let’s let anything fly out the door. Kelly Dwyer and Ticktock6 do a great job of explaining why this list was so reprehensible:

And Dime, for what it’s worth, has stood by its publication of this list (a quick sidenote: several listees have asked to be taken off the list and Dime has obliged). Though it did, for some reason, decide it needed to clarify one thing about it:

It is disheartening to see Dime not acknowledge its perpetuation of women as sexualized outsiders to the NBA, despite the fact that there are countless female writers, reporters, and fans all over the world who entered this realm to be closer to a sport they love and not to be judged by their appearance. And it’s a shame that there were so many failures in good judgment along the way that allowed this piece to be published.

As far as we’ve come as a community on sexuality, race, and gender, we still see we have a long way to go.

Learning the Hard Way

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Roy Hibbert uttered a couple phrases that he probably shouldn’t have during last night’s televised press conference following Game 6. One phrase in particular, “No homo,” drew considerable attention — as it should have — and has been the main talking point of the online basketball community ever since. Hibbert added those words right after talking about how the Miami offense “stretched them out,” as if we were suddenly wondering if he was still talking about basketball or not.

The phrase “no homo” is unfortunately not an uncommon one to hear, and this is especially true if you’re in the 14-26 age range. Aside from its obvious homophobic connotation, it’s always been an incredibly silly turn of phrase to me to add at the end of a sentence because the listener isn’t typically thinking that the speaker is referring to a same-sex sex act and likely never would have thought as much if the speaker didn’t choose to add “No homo” to the end of their sentence. I remember being a high schooler and hearing people running around saying it without flinching, and some still have not grown out of the habit. It’s not that I’ve been perfect, either; I’ve used “gay” and “retarded” as synonyms for stupid but stopped years ago once I realized how offensive that usage is. And now when I hear those words used that way it makes me cringe (In fact, if you’re reading this and we went to high school together, please stop saying these things. When you sound stupid, you make me look stupid, and risk depreciating the value of my diploma because it’s ignorant and homophobic whether you realize it or not.)

That’s where the problem is: Hibbert is not an ignorant high school kid. He is a twenty-six year old educated adult. Likely, Hibbert picked up the phrase the same way many people did long ago among their peer group. By now he should know better, and with his platform as an NBA player, he has to be more careful knowing that any slip-up is going to be magnified ten-fold.

However, this was a mistake, and judging by the look on his face as he said “No homo,” you could tell that he wished he could have made himself stop talking as he was saying it. He didn’t think before he spoke but as he spoke you could see that he knew he made a mistake instead of carrying on like nothing happened. It doesn’t seem as if Hibbert meant anything malicious by it, perhaps he even thought he was being funny, but it was still a wrong and ignorant thing to say.

Still, mistake or not, Hibbert apologized for the remark, as he should have. However, there are two ways of going about making an apology. You could take the route the Blazers’ JJ Hickson did this February after he made some misogynistic comments and put out an insincere, half-assed, “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive” -type apology. Or you can do what an adult old should do and own his/her mistake by getting out in front of it via his statement through the Pacers:

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.

What’s to love about this apology is that he only uses “I” statements; he doesn’t apologize for only offending some people but instead acknowledged that it was an inappropriate thing to say publicly or privately. He also clearly states exactly what he’s apologizing for instead of saying that he’s “apologizing for some statements that he made that may have offended some people,” Hibbert shows an awareness that he’s not only representing himself, but an entire community and organization. It’s one thing to make a mistake and be too proud to attempt to own up to it, but Hibbert should be applauded for his handling of the issue.

As people, we’re imperfect and always a work in progress, professional athletes included. We are going to make mistakes because that’s what humans do, and that’s how we learn. Roy Hibbert can’t take back what he said in the first place, but he was able to at least try to right his wrong, and that is commendable. After all, it’s one thing to make a mistake but it’s another to compound that mistake with the mistake of a poor apology. Whether it came from the Pacers PR department or not, Hibbert’s act of contrition Sunday morning told us more about him as a person than his remarks on Saturday night. Again, this is how we learn, and sometimes we have to learn the hard way through strong doses of embarrassment, but in the end how we respond to our mistakes is ultimately how we grow as individuals.

Photo credit: David Goehring/Flickr

LeBron James and the False Narrative of Deja Vu

Jack and I tackle the sudden, mistaken narrative of LeBron James and the Miami Heat’s reversion, as well as the Heat’s newfound uncertainty. 

Jack: The already tired trope of today is LeBron reverted back to his days in Cleveland last night, dominating the ball with jumper after jumper as Wade and Bosh played glorified parts of Delonte West and JJ Hickson.  And it’s true to an extent, that a gimpy Wade and out-muscled Bosh have forced James into more of a scorer this series than he’s ever been and likely wanted to be since joining the Heat.  But that general narrative is missing a crucial aspect that’s easy to overlook unless you’re taking LeBron’s game 5 performance in deeper context with respect to his time as a Cavalier: those jumpers are still jumpers, but they’re good ones, the kind he didn’t have the patience to probe for as a younger player in Cleveland.

LeBron jumpers gleaned from a HORNS set or even a simple pick-and-roll with Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole are far departures from his former dribble-dribble-shoot-a-fadeaway mindset, and he deserves credit for it.  This new, heretofore unseen maturity is just another step in James’ constantly-evolving game, and an important reminder of just how much he’s grown mentally over the last several years.  But whether more James jump-shooting is by Miami’s design or mere coincidence due to specific circumstance, we can surely all agree it’s still not the best way for LeBron to play and the Heat to win.  They’ll need more from his all-too-supporting cast to win game 6 in Indiana, let alone take down Popovich, Duncan, Parker and company in the Finals.
Jordan: It’s as if we’re sacrificing reality for a sexier story. The 2010 Cavaliers were great because LeBron was great. And while LeBron’s even further evolved greatness is principal to Miami’s greatness, it is not the only reason. Miami is a terrific team because of Spoelstra’s ingenious stratagems, role players such as Shane Battier and somehow-underrated stars like Chris Bosh. Cleveland succeeded despite Mike Brown’s uninventive offense and the scientific phenomenon that was Antawn Jamison aging 50 years in the span of a few weeks.

One other thing that Cleveland team lacked that this Miami team does not is an aura of inevitability, if not invincibility. Cleveland was arguably the best team in the league and was the prohibitive favorite to win the championship, but it was never a certainty. The Lakers loomed large in the West, while the sneaky Celtics should never have been counted out. Not so with Miami. Usually reserved for the likes of the Spurs and the Lakers, the aura manifested itself, emanating from South Beach during the Heat’s win streak. The streak featured comebacks aplenty, yet none of those comebacks were surprising. It was just assumed, an accepted fact of reality, that the Heat would come back and continue making mincemeat of the rest of the league.
Lately, however, Indiana, and the monstrous shadow of Roy Hibbert have dimmed that once-blinding light. Even though the Heat won last night, it wasn’t an expected victory. No matter how large the lead, it never felt as if the game was out of reach and victory secured. Uncertainty, perviously exhumed from the lexicon of the Heat, returned for the first time since perhaps the 2011 finals. Is it because of Hibbert? Vogel? Paul George? Or is the resurrection of doubt a product of Miami itself?
Jack: That’s the only remaining question of these playoffs that will have lasting effects on the league’s landscape.  The Spurs are brilliant, but the stars aligned for them to win the West this season; they’ll be a major threat for as long as Duncan staves off retirement, of course, but hardly prohibitive favorites to win a championship like Miami or Oklahoma City.  Whether or not Indiana – playing without Danny Granger and facing a couple pertinent financial and personnel decisions this offseason – belongs beside the Heat and Thunder is a matter of not only what you make of Hibbert, George and the rest, but also Wade, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and advantages gleaned from Miami’s style.

Today, watching him frequently lose a suddenly slow dribble and James drive the Heat with him entrenched in the backseat, it’s easy to forget Wade’s brilliance from just a couple months ago.  His raw per game averages from March of 24, 6, 6 and almost 3 combined steals/blocks are vintage Wade, and he was doing all that while shooting more efficiently (53.2% FGs) than ever, too.  It’s crucial to remember that he’s fighting not just general wear, but injuries to both knees, too.  A player so reliant on 45-degree cuts and misdirection for success on both ends will of course struggle to adjust with ailing knees.  Whether or not Wade will ever recover the way Miami needs him to is anyone’s guess at this point, though, and if he doesn’t they’ll need even more from the aging, laboring Allen and Battier.  When a shooter’s legs go, what else does he have? And when a versatile defender is finally too banged up to be stretched to his limit, what does he offer? Those are concerns facing the Heat today, obviously, but also ones just as pertinent to their prospects going forward.
All that said, the most vexing development this series has presented for the present and future is the dominance of Hibbert.  Not only did some malign the Pacers for matching the maximum offer sheet he signed with Portland last summer, but their laughs were validated early this season, too, when he was a complete liability on offense.  Before January 1, he was a 7-footer that shot 39.5% from the field! And even after that absolutely dreadful stretch, there wasn’t a full month when Hibbert hit more than 48% of his shots.  But against downsized Miami, he looks like a perennial MVP candidate.  So who, exactly, is Roy Hibbert? He’s not Joel Anthony but he’s not vintage Dwight Howard, either; the truth is he’s somewhere in between, an All-Star most years whose awesome defensive presence is bigger than his offensive one.  And that’s okay! Indy advanced past Atlanta and New York with Hibbert scoring something like his normal self earlier this postseason.  If he’s only this all-encompassing throwback to the days of alpha-male centers against the Heat, he’s still a good enough player to justify his second or third position in the Pacers hierarchy.  And considering George – despite undue proclamations that he’s a top-10 player overall – has still just scratched the surface of his offensive development, that’s a great sign for Indiana going forward.
Is it one that will propel them to an improbable series win down 3-2 to the defending champions? Probably not, but that creeping Miami doubt you touched on gives them more of a chance than any of us anticipated.  Whether or not it’s due to the Heat’s deficiencies or not is a discussion for seasons coming.
Jordan: You’re right. As much of a revelation as Hibbert has been this series, and really in the playoffs, we still don’t fully know who he is. Will he maintain this form, or even improve upon it, next season? Or will he regress, as he won’t be able to face such a small frontcourt for all 82 games? I’ll agree that he’s likely a perennial All-Star and contender for Defensive Player of the Year, but it will be interesting to see how teams game plan for him in greater detail.
And again, we come back to uncertainty. LeBron needs more from his supporting cast, but we’re not sure if he’ll get it, either in this series or, if they advance in the next. Chris Bosh is facing a less-than-ideal match up against Hibbert/West, and Duncan/Splitter likely won’t be much kinder. Roy Hibbert, darling of the playoffs, certainly deserves the heaps of adulation, but uncertainty rears its head when questions of identity and consistency arise.

What we do know is this: this Miami Heat team hasn’t somehow mystically transformed into the 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron’s masterful performance wasn’t a completely vintage affair, more, as you said, a blend of the old and the new. For one night, he had to do it by himself (and even that’s a mostly false narrative, if Udonis Haslem has anything to say about it), but that was more a demand of the game’s circumstances, not of his entire team.


Image: _Fidelio_:  Flickr

Roy didn’t watch the end of it, really. One never does. His eyes turned towards the basket as tragedy unfolded, of course, but none of what he saw breached the gap between sight and mind. The noise of the crowd struck into his heart all the same. And when the court and its inhabitants celebrated, the part of his soul invested in the last three hours of his life experienced a horrible death of realization.

He whispered something and Ian Mahinmi turned to him, their sweat meeting between chairs like shared tears.

“Well, fuck.” said Ian.

Roy turned away and shook his hand. His eyes rolled and he thought of all the other possibilities that could have occurred and never could now. In a million other alternative universes Roy was on the court and no one wondered why he remained sitting. The arena shook and cried and thousands of Heat fans left in the throes of mild depression. But no other world could exist for Roy now.

In the locker room he met with eager reporters and did his best to answer the same question with all the flavor of a hundred prepared answers.

“Why weren’t you out there on the last play?”

I don’t know.

“What did Coach Vogel say to you?”

He said I wouldn’t be out there.

“What did you think when he took you out?”

Well, I thought a lot of things. But I understood.

After the repetition of every thought said and unsaid, they allowed Roy’s departure. That night he gratefully slept with the television off and the clock ticking louder and more often than any standard clock ever should.

When he arrived at the Pacers’ facility the next morning, Frank smiled as he approached and took Roy aside, with a light back pat and particular strides.

“So how are you this morning?” Frank asked.

“Fine, just ready to get back at it. Had some pancakes this morning. That helped.”

Frank laughed a bit too loudly and continued.

“You get any sleep?””

“Enough. You?”

“Not much, Roy. Not much.” Frank scratched his head.

“We’ll get the next one.”

“We will.”

Both of the men believed their words and so Roy began to drift away.

“You’ll be in there next time, Roy.” Frank’s voice called firmly behind him.

Roy smiled and assured him that his trust remained in any case.

“I’ll make whatever play you need me to make, Coach.”

“I know you will,” Frank said.

And both men knew these things were true.

Soon the team reviewed the tape. Together resolves were made to save a season and all the rest of it. They were very much alive in this series, they said. They were very much alive.

Roy left at 6 and exited into the Miami wind. He felt the breeze belonged to him as he moved and his spirit calmed. In the distance a Florida state flag waved, and Roy’s mind waved back in rebellion. He spotted the bus that would take him back to the hotel in the distance.

He believed in this moment that he could glide through the world with a strength no other human possessed. A neutral observer might have agreed.

But in another day and another night, the world would change again. And that, well, that was the trouble.

Raindrops Keep Falling

For the past 36 hours, criticism has been raining down on Frank Vogel and his decision to keep Roy Hibbert off the floor for the two final defensive possessions of Wednesday night’s loss to the Heat. That rain of criticism has also sprouted a veritable forest of Vogel defenders, arguing that the ability to switch everything on those possessions was imperative and thus necessitated gluing Hibbert to the bench. I’m assuming that anyone who finds their way to Hardwood Paroxysm early on a Friday morning already knows that both possessions resulted in layups for LeBron, securing their one point margin of victory. I’m also assuming that you’ve already read at least a handful of various opinions falling on both sides of the issue.

The argument about whether Vogel properly evaluated the situation, weighed the variables and made the correct tactical decision is irreparably influenced by the results. Even in such a simple and brief situation, there were a hundred different scenarios that could have manifested, leaving the Pacers’ lead intact. If any of those had actually happened, criticism of Vogel’s decision would been rendered almost entirely moot. In that context it’s a little unfair that he’s under the microscope because Paul George overplayed LeBron so badly on the catch and that Sam Young volunteered no resistance to his layup attempt.

If Hibbert had been on the floor he very well may have been unable to prevent a basket. LeBron had an angle, a head of steam and all the prerequisite finishing ability to lay that one in, regardless of who was in front of, or beside him. Even if Hibbert had been able to get his body between LeBron and the basket, dissuading him from a shot, he could have easily dumped it off to Bosh for 12-footer. Here’s the rub, those two outcomes are exactly what the Pacers’ defense is built on. If there’s going to be a shot at the rim, they’ll make it difficult. But if they can force you to take a mid-range jumper they’re even happier.

But that’s neither here nor there. Evaluating the situation in either direction seems defensible to me, although the ultimate outcome lends more credence to the argument for keeping Hibbert on the floor. I think arguing this point misses the main issue – I’m not sure Vogel should have been deciding based on the exact confines of this situation. If that statement feels ludicrous to read, trust me, it feels just as ludicrous to type.

By looking at that scenario and making a decision on just what lay in front of him, Vogel forced the Pacers away from their principles. Not their micro X’s-and-O’s principles, but their macro ‘this-is-how-we-do-business’ principles. All season long the Pacers’ defense has been playing the percentages. They make opponents to take tough shots and they live with the results. They survive miraculous makes because they know that in the long run the percentages will settle in their favor. However he evaluated the X’s-and-O’s, Vogel’s option to adjust for the Heat went counter to how the Pacers have approached nearly every opponent all season long.

It may be somewhat obtuse and short-sighted for me to suggest ignoring the very real demands of a specific situation in pursuit of higher, over-arching ideals. But that’s precisely what the Pacers have done this year. They don’t adjust to you. You adjust to them. The run their best five guys out there and dare you to beat them. If you do, they dust themselves off and dare you to run it back. They make you shoot over and around them. They take what you do best and make you uncomfortable doing it, in a way that’s splendidly predictable. Everything the Pacers defense has stood for this season would have been represented by parking Hibbert in front of the rim and letting the chips fall where they may.

When Vogel pulled Hibbert he was delving into a world of philosophical and tactical dabbling that he’s mostly stayed away from in his brief coaching tenure. The Miami Heat are an entirely different animal than the Knicks or Hawks. Moxie, fortitude and resoluteness may not be enough. But when Vogel started tinkering with his team’s identity, it made me more than a little uncomfortable. The Pacers are a process team, but I think the moment got the better of him and he was caught chasing results.

As I said above, criticizing this decision after the fact is complicated because we all know what happened. Perhaps Roy Hibbert’s presence wouldn’t have made a bit of difference and the Pacers were doomed to failure on that possession, regardless of what decision Vogel made. But if their destiny was set, I’d rather have seen them take the loss while holding fast to their principles and not compromising their basketball core.

Lion Face/Lemon Face 5/23/13: That Was Surprisingly Fun

Lion Face: Paul George

Paul George showed some serious metaphorical testicular fortitude last night, first hitting the game-tying three to send the game into overtime, then sinking three free throws that nearly won it for the Pacers. Paul George has arrived, y’all.


Lion Face: The Pacers’ groins

David West and Roy Hibbert, meanwhile, showed some literal testicular fortitude.

Lemon Face: The Pacers’ groins

Because ouch.

Lemon Face: Norris Cole

Norris, of all the people to piss off, David West was absolutely the worst choice.

Lion Face: LeBron James

He’s good.

Lemon Face: Frank Vogel

First, let’s put this stupid argument to rest: Frank Vogel is a damn fine coach, and to say otherwise is simply laughable. That being said, his decision to leave Hibbert on the bench for both the final possession in regulation and overtime was pretty bad. For a coach who likes to play percentages on defense—giving up a long two instead of a corner three, for example—one would think he’d be fine giving up a Chris Bosh mid-range jumper instead of a LeBron James lay up.




Lion Face. Lemon Face. Good moments. Bad moments. You guys know the drill by now. Let’s do this.

Lion Face: Roy Hibbert’s dunk

Few men have done things like this to Ivan Johnson and lived to tell about it. Hibbert managed to save his best dunk of the year for the playoffs with this one. Just to show off, Hibbert would then proceed to knock down a three pointer at the end of the first quarter that was eventually waved off as it came a split second after the clock expired. Still though, a solid two minute stretch for Hibbert.

Lemon Face: Danny Crawford

Greg Smith threw down a strong dunk over Serge Ibaka, then got T’d up by Danny Crawford because he…well you see you can’t…uhhhh…yeah…Apparently Smith looked too menacingly toward Ibaka which drew him a technical. A rare controversial call from one of the Crawford brothers. Who would have guessed?

Lion Face: The George Boys

Paul George and George Hill carried the load for Indiana last night by providing 49 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals between them. The G2 zone at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was rocking as the Pacers took care of business in a series that can’t conclude quick enough.

Lemon Face: Patrick Beverley’s dirty play

GIF via SBNation

In the second quarter of the Thunder-Rockets game, Russell Westbrook was casually bringing the ball up the court to call a timeout as teams tend to do literally hundreds of time every season. Rather than allowing Westbrook to get the easy timeout, Beverley instead attempted a steal the ball. While I’m all for playing until the whistle blows, the angle Beverley took resulted in him colliding with Westbrook’s knee which initially looked like it caused damage. Westbrook would continue to play on, but the jostling between Westbrook and Beverley may be something to watch for the rest of the series as there is clearly bad blood between the two.

Lion Face: Pacers end of quarter play


Play of the night? Play of the night.

Lemon Face: Houston’s end of game possession

With 11 seconds remaining and trailing by four points, Houston had the ball following a missed Kevin Martin free throw. In this situation, you either want an extremely quick two or relative quick three point attempt. The opposite of what you want is running nearly 10 seconds off the clock and getting a seven foot floater out of it. Patrick Beverley knocked down the shot, but that effectively ended any chance that Houston had to steal a game on the road from Oklahoma City which I can only assume led to Thunder fans across the nation chanting…

Lion Face: This


No comment.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

GIF via SBNation

If you tell me that you’ve never done this on an eight-foot hoop in your backyard, either you’re lying or I weep for your childhood. In addition to this alley oop, Leonard finished the first half with 14 points on 7-10 shooting in 20 minutes of play. His performance begs the question, Kawhi haven’t you been paying attention to him this series? (I’m so sorry for that.)

Lemon Face: Steve Nash v. the Spurs



While Nash and the Lakers entered the season dreaming of a championship, in reality it has been a nightmare for them. After playing in at least 85% of games every season from 2000-2012, Nash has battled injuries all year as age has finally caught up to him. He gritted his way through last night’s game but was largely overshadowed by Steve Blake’s surprisingly impressive performance.

Lion Face: Manu Ginobili

After missing nine of the Spurs last 10 games of the year with a strained hamstring, Ginobili’s health was up in the air heading into the playoffs. Well, at least that’s what Gregg Popovich and the Spurs wanted you to believe. Instead, Ginobili has looked as good as can be in Games 1 and 2. In the first half alone, Ginobili  scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from beyond the arc) while dishing out four assists. Can you say efficient?

Lemon Face: This Sports Illustrated Pre-Season Cover


Well, technically, it has been fun…provided you’re not a Lakers fan. Unfortunately for Lakers fans and those who enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of the Lakers dismal performance this year, their season, barring a miracle that may need to be confirmed by the Vatican, appears to be rapidly coming to an end.


GIF via @cjzero

Usually I try to have an equal amount of Lion Faces and Lemon Faces to balance everything out, but then Manu Ginobili decided to do this at the end of the game and there’s just absolutely no way I could not include it, so I’ll leave you with this.

Breaking Down The Pacers Breakdowns

If defense alone won championships, the Indiana Pacers would be considered serious contenders for the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, scoring is also fairly important to winning games, and it is in this area, specifically in clutch situations, that the Pacers struggle, as we can see in the chart below, which shows Indiana’s record in the clutch when they are either tied or behind.


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Indiana’s problems in those winnable situations come not from talent, but rather from execution.



Here, the Celtics have just stormed back to tie the game on the heels of a 9-0 run. The ever-pendulous momentum has swung in favor of Boston, and all seems lost. Yet the Pacers faithful are unwavering in their belief of this team, and they rise as one to cheer what will surely be the basket that cauterizes the suddenly open wound. They hope, no, they know, that salvation will come in the form of a…Roy Hibbert long distance two pointer?

The first problem with this set, before the two bungled screens, before Roy Hibbert’s ill-fated heave, is timing. The Pacers wait until halfway through the shot clock to finally initiate their set. If they were ahead in this game, burning down the clock might make sense. But at a time when Boston’s offense and defense are clicking on all cylinders, it doesn’t seem like the soundest of strategies.



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David West tries to set a screen for Hill, but Hill never gives his big man time to get set. Instead, Hill darts towards the right side, with defensive savant Avery Bradley sticking with him every step of the way.


Hill: “Oh, my bad, David. Here, let’s try that again”


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Hill takes the ball back out, finally allowing West to set a proper screen. Except, he doesn’t.


Hill: “Nice, that’s what I’m talking ab-wait, why’d you slip? Well, OK, I guess I’ll just turn the corner and oh! Hey, Jeff, nice to see you. Really, I think it’s tremendous that you’re back on the court after everything you went through last season. It’s just such an inspiration to me.Wait, since you’re hedging pretty hard on David’s screen that means Garnett rotated to David, which means Roy should be flashing at the free throw line. I should get him the ball.Then again, Jeff, we so rarely get the chance to-oh, you’re going to cover Roy? Well, it was nice talking to you, are you free for a beer after the game? Shoot, now Roy isn’t as open as he was before.”


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Hill has given Green enough time to recover back to Hibbert, closing off what could have been a driving lane for Hibbert to either score or suck in the defense and pass out. Instead, he’s forced to take a free-throw jump shot that clangs off the iron.




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In this set against the Lakers, Paul George sets an initial screen on Antawn Jamison, and then streaks to the far side to set up shop in the right corner.David West then sets a screen on Steve Nash, freeing up Hill to drive into the lane.


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Once Hill picks up his dribble, he has two decent options: pass the ball to George, soon to be open for a corner three, or pass the ball to David West who is just inside the three point line.

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Hill, already looking in West’s direction, chooses the latter option. Paul George is still open.

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West decides to reset, and gives the ball back to Hill, as they run a 1-4 pick and roll. Paul George is still open.
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Jamison and Nash trap Hill, so Hill passes it to West. Steve Blake rotates to West, which now leaves both Stephenson and Paul George open. However, rather than making the smart play, West turns and finds himself greeted by none other than Dwight Howard, arms outstretched, as if he’s singing, “These arms of mine/they are longing/longing to swat you.” Paul George is still open.


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West takes the jumper over Howard’s extended arms, and misses. Paul George is still open.


Sometimes, it’s just a case of missing the opening man, and making a poor decision as a result.

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Lance Stephenson starts out with the ball, while West sets a screen for him up top. Paul George and George Hill, they of the boy band “George George,” are firmly entrenched in the corners.

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Stephenson gives West the ball just to the right side of the top of the circle. West surveys the field, or at least appears to be, as Stephenson darts along the backside of West on a cut to the basket.


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As this is happening, West passes the ball to Paul George, while Roy Hibbert comes up to set a screen for George.


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Though George now has his defender, Mike Dunleavy, on his back, he’s also confronted with the length and all around might of LARRY SANDERS! George is thus left with two options, since trying to go mano-a-mano against SANDERS! is a pretty awful idea: he could pull up, a high-difficult, low-percentage shot, or he could get it a WIDE OPEN Lance Stephenson, either with a lob or a bounce pass around SANDERS! In a perfect world, one in which ACLs and Achilles’ tendons don’t tear, George would have found Stephenson.


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Yet in our current world, knees are the worst, and George pulls up and gets his shot blocked by, you guessed it, MIKE DUNLEAVY!


George Hill has, by all means, had a tremendous season. He’s averaging career-highs in points (14.3), assists (4.7) and PER (16.7) with a True Shooting percentage of 56%. Still, even though Hill has had some stellar moments in the closing moments of a few games this year, he has, at times, struggled with late-game execution.


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The action starts with 17 seconds left to play. Hill and David West run what looks to be a pretty simple pick and roll (also, hello there David West’s slightly illegal, oh-how-did-my-leg-get-all-the-way-out-there screen). Chuck Hayes, who is defending West, sags off his man and switches to meet Hill once he gets around the screen.

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Hill, perhaps not realizing ol’ Chuck Wagon’s mobility, decides to drive right at him. Marcus Thornton then leaves Paul George to get in on the action, getting a hand in Hill’s face to bother him on his way to the rim. Why Thornton does this is a mystery, as it leaves Paul George, a deadly three-point shooter, wide open.

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Tyreke Evans further compounds the Kings’ questionable defense by sagging way off of Lance Stephenson (cleverly semi-camouflaged in a sea of yellow in the corner) and collapsing on Hill as well. Again, that leaves Hill smothered by three defenders, while Paul George and Lance Stephenson are wide open for three pointers.

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The smart play would be to pass it to either one of these players on the wings, but at this point, Hill, driven by Robert Frost, chooses the road not taken, and goes for a lay up, which promptly gets blocked by Chuck Hayes.

Indiana’s combination of talent and defensive prowess will likely be enough to get them out of the first round of the playoffs. However, if they want to advance further and truly become a contender, it is essential for them to fix their late-game execution issues.