In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the Indiana Pacers won the opener of the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to their efficient offense. They shot 51% from the field, made 8-19 threes, and got to the line 37 times. They had 23 assists on 35 baskets, and only 12 turnovers.
They needed all of that, because the Heat also shot over 50% from the floor, and got big games from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but the Pacers had all five starters with 15+ points, and were able to maintain an early lead throughout the game. The Heat looked poised to make a run at several points in the fourth quarter, but the Pacers were able to make big plays every time they needed them to hold the Heat, who could never get closer then 9 points in the 4th, at bay.
The Pacers showed excellent ball movement from the start of the game, driving and kicking for early threes (they were 5-6 in the first quarter), and finding cutters to the basket. Lance Stephenson was excellent, running the offense for long stretches, making 8-12 shots and dishing eight assists. They were able to use the high pick and roll to open up the paint and get east shots, which they converted throughout the game.
The Heat looked sluggish. A step late all game in their rotations led to a ton of fouls and free throws for the Pacers. They tried to get out and run, and had some success with Wade and James in transition, but ultimately it wasn't nearly enough, as their small lineups simply could not stop the Pacers from getting to the rim or forcing double teams that left open shooters.
I expect this game, where both teams shot over 50%, to be an anomaly in this series, but it was a surprisingly entertaining game one.
The Western Conference Finals get underway tonight in San Antonio:
Unfortunately, the Thunder will be without Serge Ibaka, who is not only the backbone of their defense but their third scorer, a player who can consistently make the open jump shots that are created by the defensive attention paid to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Ibaka makes a huge difference for them protecting the rim, and it's a real disappointment that the Thunder will not be at full strength.
The Spurs will have Tony Parker back after he sat out most of the last game of their 2nd round series against the Blazers with a strained hamstring.
Hopefully this will be an exciting and close series even without Ibaka, but it does feel like the Spurs, who would have been slight favorites, are now much bigger ones. Their efficient offense and talented depth should be even more effective without the Thunder defensive anchor on the floor.
The Lynx moved to 2-0 by winning their home opener in overtime against the Connecticut Sun yesterday. They had their banner raising and ring ceremony before the game, and it looked like they were still celebrating when the game started, as the Sun raced out to a big lead. The Lynx tightened up their defense in the 2nd half, and tied the game at the end of regulation on a Seimone Augustus basket. Lindsay Whalen, who struggled all game, took over in the extra period and got the Lynx their second win of the season.
Coach Cheryl Reeve singled out rookie Damiris Dantas for praise for her screening and passing, as the Brazilian power forward made all four of her shots (7-7 on the year) and snagged nine rebounds as well. Maya Moore went for 33 and 12, and is looking, as mr. eggplant noted yesterday, like a rich man's Paul Pierce.
If you missed it, Saturday was a big day for soccer, as Arsenal ($(#&Y(#^@!) won the FA Cup by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to Hull City to win 3-2 in extra time. It was Arsenal's first trophy in nine years, and relief was evident. Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid won La Liga by hanging on for a 1-1 draw away to Barcelona. It's been a while since anyone besides Barca or Real Madrid won the title, so it was great to see a team with a much smaller budget take it. They have a chance next week to win a double when they meed Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
A few words on yesterday's Love-a-thon:
We know he's not going to sign an extension this summer. We know he's going to opt out next summer. We DON'T know that he won't re-sign with the Wolves. The truth is he'd be leaving a lot of money on the table to do so. If the Wolves can somehow get it together next season and win, they might be able to keep him.
I would rather go forward that way then I would trade him for most of the packages we saw floating around yesterday. The problem either way is that I don't have much faith in the front office to get this done. I don't have faith that they will execute a good Love trade (I have GSW nightmares dancing in my head) and I don't have faith that they can execute a good plan this summer that will result in a winning team.
Flip Saunders says the coaching decision will come after the draft lottery on Tuesday. I don't know why he's paying one second of attention to the lottery, which is essentially a non-event, especially for a team in the Wolves position. The chances of them moving from the 13th spot are tiny.
It is beginning to become apparent that if the Wolves want a coach with NBA head coaching experience, they are going to have to choose from the 2nd or 3rd tier. Sam Mitchell (of course, an ex-Wolf) is a name that appeared this weekend. I haven't done much research, but I don't recall being too impressed with him when he was in Toronto. I guess he'll be the subject of my next coaching candidate article.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Electra won the Euroleague with two fantastic wins over much richer, more talented teams--CSKA Moscow in the semis and Real Madrid in overtime in the Final. They are coached by David Blatt, an American who played at Princeton and in Europe professionally, and has developed a terrific reputation as a coach. I would love it if the Wolves talked to him (and/or Ettore Messina, the legendary CSKA coach) about the job. I think either one would be fantastic.
Today in History
1568: Mary Queen of Scots arrested by English
1571: Manilla, Phillipines is founded
1848: Mexico cedes Texas to the U.S.
1862: Homestead Act goes into effect
1865: Jefferson Davis captured by Union in Georgia
1884: Ringling Brothers Circus premieres
1897: Oscar Wilde released from Reading Gaol
1921: Congress sets quotas for immigration
Today's musical birthday is Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman) born in 1951 (d. 2001).
It might be a long week. Hang on. Open up.