NBA Playoffs: Atlanta wins ugly, but moves on to the second round

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In all honesty, I would never wish repeat viewing of the Atlanta Hawks’ series-clinching victory over the Orlando Magic on my worst enemy. The on-court product was brutal. Neither team could convert any of their shots, the turnovers were many, and the execution on the whole was fairly awful. Atlanta’s 39.2 percent shooting from the field wasn’t acceptable by any conventional standard, but this wasn’t exactly a conventional game, nor a conventional series. In this bizarro dimension, 39.2 percent is apparently passable, and as the playoff trope often goes: Atlanta’s shooting wasn’t good, but it was good enough.

The Hawks certainly won’t complain with winning Game 6 to close out the series and move on to the second round, regardless of the quality of their competitive display. All of the ugly possessions in the world can’t change the verdict already in the books, and can’t make the Hawks anything lest than Eastern Conference semifinalists.

Orlando’s peripheral players extended their well-memed inability to hit shots, but their shooting problems were exacerbated by a team-wide disinterest in hitting the glass. Dwight Howard did his job — as has been the case all series — to grab 15 boards, but the rest of his team totaled just 16 of their own. 16. Meanwhile, the Hawks collected 36.8 percent of their own misses, and Joe Johnson (of all players) grabbed a game-high seven offensive boards. That’s not superior size, strength, or athleticism, but merely an active guard finding the right spots to create extra possessions. Any Magic player could have done the same, but instead they failed to keep Johnson (and Al Horford) boxed out and didn’t seek out loose balls with the same fervor as their opponents. Orlando played hard, they didn’t apply themselves in this one particularly problematic area — and it cost them.

Still, even with the underwhelming performance on the glass, the Magic had two shots at sending this game into overtime, and failed to convert. The first set produced a wide open three for J.J. Redick, which fittingly found nothing but rim. The second — a gifted opportunity after Horford landed out of bounds while collecting the rebound off of Redick’s attempt — was heavily pressured. Hedo Turkoglu had a five-second count breathing down his neck as he attempted to inbound the ball, and his passing angles were already limited due to his location near the right corner along the baseline. Jason Richardson ultimately received the pass, but was pressured to shoot immediately, and then contested by Josh Smith. It wasn’t to be, as the Hawks dodged both bullets and won Game 6 in regulation.

Maybe Atlanta — a team that had its three leaders in field goal attempts shoot a combined 13-of-55 from the field — isn’t the most worthy second round club, but they successfully managed to not play worse than Orlando. They forced the Magic to play them on uncomfortable, difficult terms, and gutted out an ugly series with an ugly win. Johnson got his (and got his shot attempts), Crawford dropped 19 points, the defense held strong, and the game was won, however unglamorously.

Such a performance may not bode well for the Hawks’ chances against the Bulls in the second round (anything more than a single Atlanta win in that series will be a huge surprise), but it’s good enough for now. Tonight, the Hawks are victors. Victors who couldn’t make a shot, mind you, but victors nonetheless.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.

PBT Extra: Why Derrick Rose more likely to be Spur than Chris Paul next season

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San Antonio heads into this summer looking to answer the question: What do we need to do to challenge the Golden State Warriors? Well, besides keeping Kawhi Leonard healthy.

They need to get more athletic, particularly along the front line, and they need a secondary shot creator and playmaker, that’s all at the top of the list.

One rumor that keeps gaining traction, Chris Paul to the Spurs. In this PBT Extra, I get into why that move is unlikely, and why a one-year contract with Derrick Rose is more probable. Basically, if you want to see a significant roster shift in San Antonio, wait until the summer of 2018.

LeBron James: ‘The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder’

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BOSTON (AP) — It took 10 games and halfway through the third round of the NBA playoffs before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally encountered their first true dose of resistance this postseason.

After cruising to a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead over Boston, the Cavs were humbled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irving to battle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chatter about an NBA Finals’ matchup of two teams with unblemished playoff records is gone, but the challenge from the Celtics has sharpened the focus of the defending champs. Cleveland is expecting another unflinching effort in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn’t backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the series.

“The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder,” said LeBron James, who rebounded from a playoff-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been saying that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some adversity after a blistering 10-0 start to the postseason.

The way they responded Tuesday night – particularly on the defensive end – is a good sign for their prospects of wrapping up their third straight Eastern Conference crown on Thursday.

Boston shot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line in the first half of Game 4 on their way to building as much as a 16-point lead.

While Irving’s scoring ignited the Cavs’ comeback, it was made possible thanks to Cleveland’s defensive effort over the final 24 minutes. Cleveland limited the Celtics to 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.

“We have to go in with a bunker mentality that we had in Game 1 and Game 2, to go out and do what we do, but we have to defend,” James said. “We have to execute offensively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss because some of those guys play a lot better at home. That’s just how the game be played.”

If the Celtics were playing with house money heading into the series, they are flush with it again as they return to the Garden.

They’ve given themselves a chance to erase the sting of their 44-point loss in Game 2. The Celtics are also guarding against ending their season by having to watch the Cavs celebrate a conference title on their home floor.

Boston lost All-Star Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the postseason to a hip injury in Game 2, forcing coach Brad Stevens to shuffle his lineup and rotations in Games 3 and 4.

In addition, Jae Crowder suffered a strained left thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 as well, but returned to play the entire fourth quarter.

It’s an indication that despite still being in a dire 3-1 hole, the resolve inside Boston’s locker room remains strong.

“We owe our fans a better performance, and we know that, and we’re going to play hard,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “You’re going to see a team playing hard, very hard, the entire game.”

It’s also why Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that his team must keep all thoughts of being on the cusp of a return to the NBA Finals at bay for now.

“You can’t (think about it). As much as you want to, it’s not over,” he said.

If nothing else, Lue said their recent taste of adversity should help them remain humble heading into Game 5.

“I think it is making us better. And it’s making us tougher. It’s making us work,” the Cavs coach said. “Because they got a tough group over there. (Terry) Rozier is tough, Avery is tough, (Marcus) Smart’s tough. Crowder. So, they got a lot of tough guys that are going to compete so they’re making us compete, which is good for us.”

 

PBT Podcast: Celtics draft or trade? Carmelo future? All from your Twitter questions.

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What will Boston do with the No. 1 pick, keep it or trade it?

What does the future hold for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks?

Is there a correct way to eat pizza? Actually, the answer to that one is yes, and it is not with a knife and fork, Donald Trump.

PBT’s Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh discuss all that that and more from your Twitter questions.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.