NBA Playoffs: Hawks give Bulls a run for their money on the boards

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In their Game 1 victory, the Atlanta Hawks pulled off a hell of a trick: not only did they completely negate one of the Chicago Bulls’ greatest advantages, but they did so in a way that flew completely under the radar.

Sure, they bothered Derrick Rose and limited Carlos Boozer. They also took away Chicago’s defensive efficacy by hitting tough shots against considerable pressure. But those things were well evident and, in the aftermath of the game, well-covered. Yet, the fact that the Hawks — a decidedly subpar rebounding team — managed to play the Bulls — the only team in the NBA to rank in the top five in both offensive rebounding rate and defensive rebounding rate — to a draw on the boards went slightly ignored. Basketball fans and analysts are trained to look for glaring differences, but in this case it was the absence of a glaring difference that should have stood out most.

Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are strong rebounders, but Chicago’s boarding prowess is a team-wide effort; Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kurt Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, and Luol Deng all do good work on the glass, and the balance of strong offensive and defensive rebounders made the Bulls the best overall glass-cleaning team in the NBA this season. That standing wasn’t exactly on display in Game 1, as Atlanta limited the effectiveness of Chicago’s offensive rebounders while the Hawk bigs fought to create extra possessions of their own. Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, and Jason Collins each grabbed at least two offensive boards, while Joakim Noah and Carlos boozer had just one offensive rebound combined.

We’ve seen the Bulls’ rebounding technique in action; there’s no concern of whether Chicago can rebound well in the context of this series, but merely whether they’re willing to put in the proper effort. This was just a matter of execution and effort, and Chicago’s regulars — from Noah to Boozer to Deng to Brewer and beyond — just didn’t attack the boards as assertively as they have all season. It’s an easily remedied situation, but the fact that it’s a situation at all grants the Hawks credit for yet another improbable accomplishment. Out-rebounding the Magic (who are a strong defensive rebounding team, but below average on the offensive end) was one thing, but to meet the Bulls at a point of strength and force a draw was a considerable accomplishment.

Rose, after his struggles and a late-game ankle tweak to boot, will be front and center in the Game 2 spotlight, but keep an eye on the rebounding column. The Bulls should have a considerably easier time if they take care of their responsibilities on the glass, and the Hawks should have yet another chance to steal a win on the road should they remain as successful in their rebounding pursuits.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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