NBA Playoffs: Defending Brandon Jennings (it's not as hard as you think)

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NBA_jennings.jpgSaturday was the playoff debut of the Brandon Jennings show.

Sure, the Hawks won game one against the Bucks, pretty handily actually. But what you were talking about later, the only thing that kept Milwaukee even in it (and led them on a run to make it a little interesting) was Jennings. He had 34 points on 14 of 25 shooting. Jennings was draining threes and hitting his little lefty floaters in the lane. He kept getting good looks seeming whenever he wanted.

How do the Hawks contain the quick Rookie of the Year candidate?

Well, by doing a lot of the things they did last time, actually. Thanks to Synergy (the best new toy on the planet, seriously) I watched all of Jennings plays in the first game, and he was hitting the shots you want him to take.

Jennings does not have a great midrange game; according to Hoopdata he shot 29.9 percent from 10-15 feet, and 34 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point line (he shot a respectable 37 percent from three). But in the first half, those midrange shots were what was falling.

His early makes: 10-foot running left handed floater, 18-foot contested jumper, step-back three, uncontested layup in transition, step-back 18-footer over Al Horford, three pointer over Jeff Teague (who bit on a crossover). Those makes might bother you if Kobe Bryant were hitting them, but Jennings is not likely to repeat that feat.

Meanwhile, all game when he drove the lane and tried to get a layup in the halfcourt offense, he got it blocked. Josh Smith and Horford each got him a couple times. Take out the two transition layups and his only make came on a pretty scoop banker with just over a minute left in the game. The rest of the time they took away his easy shots. Jennings just hit the hard ones.

That happens in the NBA. But you play the percentages, the Hawks need to bet he can’t do that again. When it was clear he was hot they still doubled off him (to cover Carlos Delfino in the post?) a once and lost him at the arc a couple times, they could contest his shot better. But he’s not likely to be that hot again.

One thing the Hawks could do a better job of is forcing Jennings to drive to the right. Mike Bibby in particular let Jennings go to his much-preferred left any time he wanted (less Bibby on Jennings is just a good idea generally). He hits that left-handed floater consistently. Force him to do something he likes less to the right.

Also, be physical, as much as the refs allow. Joe Johnson could body him well and had some success with that in the last game.

Look for Jennings to have less of an impact this game, so long as the Hawks continue to take away his layups. And if he does, that could be trouble for the Bucks, they will need Salmons or someone to step up.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.

Check out top 50 plays from Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame career (VIDEO)

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First Kobe Bryant. Then Tim Duncan.

Now Kevin Garnett. The Hall of Fame class in five years is going to be stacked.

But before we move on from Garnett’s announcement this week that he is retiring after 21 years in the NBA, let’s look back at his greatest plays (compiled by the folks at NBA.com). Enjoy this for 11 minutes rather than watching your NFL fantasy team flounder. Again.

D’Angelo Russell said he used to play as Luke Walton on NBA 2K; Stephen Jackson calls that crap

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference to discuss the controversy with teammate Nick Young before the start of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center March 30, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Did anyone ever fire up NBA 2K9 back in the day, decide to be the soon-to-be-champion Lakers, look at a roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom then say “I’m going to be Luke Walton”?

D'Angelo Russell says he did.

The Lakers young point guard has praised the new Laker coach at every turn — Russell and Byron Scott did not get along, the point guard is much happier now — and that includes talking about Walton’s playing days to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I told him I remember playing with him on (NBA) 2K; I used to always play as him. I’m a fan. I’m definitely a fan. Because he was a point forward. I can’t speak on Elgin Baylor and all those guys, but my era, I know he was a point forward.”

Really? NBA veteran and current analyst Stephen Jackson called Russell out on that.

Jackson has a point.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.