NBA Wrap: LeBron saves Heat at buzzer in Game 1

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NBA Wrap: LeBron saves Heat at buzzer in Game 1

In a bonus edition of our coaching candidate breakdown, we look at Vinny Del Negro, who was let go by the Clippers after a franchise-best 56-win season (see story).

In other basketball-related news, Mike Krzyzewski has decided to remain coach of the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team (see story).

Now, here's a recap of Wednesday's NBA playoff action:

LeBron saves Heat at buzzer of Game 1
MIAMI -- LeBron James caught the inbounds pass, changed direction and immediately attacked the rim.

There was no one in his way.

There was no stopping him, either.

James made a layup as time expired in overtime, capping a 30-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist effort as the Miami Heat found a way to outlast the Indiana Pacers 103-102 in a wildly back-and-forth Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night. There were 18 ties and 17 lead changes, the last two of those coming in the final 2.2 seconds.

"Two teams fought hard," James said. "We were able to make one more play."

If this is how this series is going to go, then get ready for a classic between teams that absolutely wanted to face the other with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.

Paul George saved the Pacers at the end of regulation with a 32-footer with 0.7 seconds left, and then made three free throws with 2.2 ticks left in overtime to give Indiana a one-point lead. George pumped his fist gently after the third free throw, then extended his index finger skyward as the teams retreated to their benches to get ready for the final play.

He just left James too much time, and the Pacers left their best shot-blocking option on the bench. Roy Hibbert wasn't on the floor for the final play, and without a 7-foot-2 barrier to contest him, James made the winner look easy.

"Two great teams just throwing punch for punch," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "Our spirit is very high, very confident. We know we can play with this basketball team."

Vogel said he left Hibbert off the floor for the final play out of concern of what defending champion Miami would do with Chris Bosh in that scenario. Afterward, he acknowledged he might have different thinking next time.

"I would say we would probably have him in next time," Vogel said.

Game 2 is Friday night in Miami.

Officials reviewed James' play at the end, though it was clear he beat the clock, and the Pacers walked slowly toward their locker room, lamenting one that got away -- by no fault of George's.

George was fouled by Dwyane Wade on the play where the Pacers had to think they had stolen the series opener. Referee Jason Phillips said Wade hit George, and the Pacers' star made all three free throws for the 16th lead change of the night.

The final lead change came moments later.

"Welcome to the Eastern Conference finals," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Back and forth the whole way."

Wade scored 19 points, Bosh had 17 and Chris Andersen had 16 on 7-for-7 shooting for Miami.

George scored 27 for the Pacers, who got 26 from David West and 19 from Hibbert. The Pacers have won only two series in NBA franchise history after dropping a Game 1.

"It just felt like everything was in our favor," George said.

The final few seconds of regulation were stunning, with Ray Allen -- the sixth-best free-throw shooter in NBA history -- missing one that proved big, and George making a miracle happen.

Trailing by two with 17.7 seconds left, the Pacers had to foul Allen, who surely would have been their last choice. But he missed one of the two free throws, and it remained a one-possession game. Indiana brought the ball into the frontcourt, called time, and then seemed to have nothing really working as the final seconds of regulation ticked away.

So George simply made something happen.

From 32 feet -- from the newly applied Eastern Conference finals sticker on the side of the court, technically -- George connected with 0.7 seconds left, tying the game and giving Indiana life.

Allen didn't get much of a desperation shot off at the end of regulation, and to overtime the teams went.

"It took an overtime to get it done," Spoelstra said. "Glad to get that one."

The Pacers kept landing the first punches in the extra session. George made a pair of free throws to open the OT, and Andersen tied it with a pair of his own. Hibbert scored from close range, and Wade answered with an easy one after a runout for the 16th tie of the night.

George was far from done. He went past James, got into the lane, tossed up a shot after contact and started what became a three-point play that put the Pacers up 99-96. Miami had three chances at the tie -- a desperation 3-pointer by Shane Battier as the shot clock was expiring, then a 3-point try by Battier and another 3 attempt by Battier.

All missed.

But Bosh grabbed the rebound of the last Battier shot that bounced off the rim in that sequence, scored while being fouled by George with 49.7 seconds left, calmly swished the free throw and the teams were -- what else? -- tied again at 99-all.

James scored on a drive with 10.8 seconds left in the overtime, and George answered with the three free throws. With Hibbert on the bench, Indiana had one plan for James on the last play.

"We wanted LeBron to shoot a jumper right there," George said.

He was just better.

And after 3 hours, 18 minutes, it was over.

"We're excited about the win," James said. "But we have to get better going into Game 2."

Notes
Celebrities in attendance included Jimmy Buffett and Anna Kournikova. ... James picked up two first-quarter fouls for just the ninth time in 125 career playoff games. ... West's 18 first-half points were his most before halftime since March 24, 2011, when he had 20 through two quarters against Utah. ... From the not-often-seen department, a lane violation against the Pacers that led to James getting a second (and successful) chance on a missed free throw, and a 5-second call against Wade, both of those coming in the first half.

-The Associated Press

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist. 

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."