Atlanta Hawks v Phoenix Suns

Josh Smith plays like an All-Star in Hawks’ win over the Suns

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After the reserves for the 2012 NBA All-Star game were announced last week, and after Josh Smith was once again left off of the Eastern Conference squad for the eighth consecutive season, he sounded off. Smith said politics were to blame for him not being named to the team, and that he apparently “didn’t know the right people” in order for him to get selected.

If the coaches in the East had seen the performance Smith delivered in the Hawks’ 101-99 win over the Suns on Wednesday, they wouldn’t have had a choice.

Smith put up a line of 30 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and three blocked shots, on a night when Atlanta’s actual All-Star, Joe Johnson, was virtually invisible. Johnson managed just six points on 2-of-10 shooting in over 36 minutes of action. But despite his poor performance, he may have had the most important impact on the game’s final outcome with his words.

“I was going to pull Josh out early in the 4th,” Hawks head coach Larry Drew said afterward.  “And right when I subbed Joe in, Joe said ‘Leave him out there, he’s young.’ I thought he was tired, I mean we played last night and he played quite a few minutes, so I just wanted to give him a quick blow. But he wanted to stay in, and I’m glad he did because he just played a phenomenal game.”

Early in the fourth, when Drew was contemplating giving Smith that rest, the Suns were still in control, but just barely. Phoenix had seen a 15-point third-quarter lead reduced down to one when the fateful conversation took place, just two minutes into the final period. From that point on, Smith scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds as the Hawks were able to run their lead to as many as eight, before holding off Phoenix to close it out.

“Joe saw where I was having a pretty good night and he was able to get in [coach’s] ear a little bit,” Smith noted afterward. “And he listened.”

Johnson was a little more direct in detailing what he presented to his head coach.

“He was going to take him out, but you got a guy rolling like that, man, he’s 24 or 25,” Johnson said. “He can handle it. He’s got some mileage he can put on that body, so ride him ’til the wheels fall off. We’ve got two days off, he can rest tomorrow.”

The Hawks have no games over the next two days for the first time in this lockout-shortened season. Rest is definitely on the agenda — for both players and coaches.

“I told the guys I don’t even want to see them tomorrow,” Drew said.

“I don’t want to see him either,” Smith said later, with a laugh. “I want to see the bed, the pillow, the covers. All that good stuff.”

This rest is well-deserved for Smith, especially after he put the team on his back to get this win by playing the entire second half, and almost 45 of the game’s 48 minutes in total. But next weekend, when the All-Star festivities are taking place in Orlando, he’ll get some additional rest — some that, many would be able to argue, he didn’t deserve at all.

Notes

– Joe Johnson was named as a participant in the three-point contest over All-Star weekend on Wednesday, despite his percentage from beyond the arc of just .356 which currently ranks him at 65th on the season. So, how did this happen?

“It was kind of something I’ve been wanting to do since I was here in Phoenix,” Johnson told NBCSports.com. “I did it when I was in Phoenix and didn’t have a good outing, so I thought if they needed a fill-in or what-not, I’d be that guy. I just kind of threw it out there, and they went for it. So here I am.”

– Steve Nash was whistled for somewhat of a phantom technical foul at a critical moment in this one, and the Hawks took their first lead since the first quarter on the technical free throw with 7:38 to play in the game. Both Nash and Alvin Gentry had reactions of complete shock and disbelief when it was called, which leads you to believe the refs may have misinterpreted something they heard or saw. Nash explained his side of the story afterward.

“It was tough, it really changed the momentum of the game,” Nash said. “Hinrich called ‘double fists’ which was their zone defense, so I went to the sideline and I really just mouthed to Alvin, ‘they’re in double fists,’ like asking him what offense he wanted us to run. And [the ref] thought I said, ‘They’re horrible.’ I don’t want to make any comment about the referees. I’ll just say it’s unfortunate he misinterpreted what was said.”

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.