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.”

Warriors’ defense, Klay Thompson take over fourth quarter, earn Game 2 win

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Only one team in this series can crank up their defense enough to  win them games.

The Warriors’ offense feeds off that stingy defense — with or without Stephen Curry in the lineup, again Tuesday it was without — and the combination can lead to big runs.

Such as a 34-12 fourth quarter. It was historic, as our own Dan Feldman pointed out on twitter.

Golden State trailed by 17 at one point but came on in the fourth with a defensive energy that held Damian Lillard to 0-of-3 shooting and his entire Portland team to 26.5 percent shooting. Those miss shots fueled transition buckets and opportunities — Klay Thompson had 10 of his 27 points on the night in the fourth — and the Warriors roared back for a 110-99 victory.

Golden State now leads the series 2-0 as it heads to Portland, with Game 3 not until Saturday. The biggest question is whether Curry will play in that game, or will the Warriors use their position of strength to get him more rest (as they did in the Houston series up 2-0)?

The best player on the floor in Game 2 was Draymond Green, who finished with 17 points (on 20 shots), 14 rebound and seven assists. But that’s not where the damage he does starts — it’s on defense. His ability to defend the five, then show out high on pick-and-rolls to cut off Lillard or C.J. McCollum and take away their shots from three. With Curry out, Green also spends a lot of time as the guy initiating the Warriors offense. He crashes the boards. He protects the paint, including a key block late on Mason Plumlee. Green did it all.

Portland raced out to a lead using their vintage style — their defense wasn’t that good, but it was good enough (especially with a cold Thompson who kept missing open looks), and their offense was hitting everything. With the Warriors missing shots it was Portland using the opportunity to run — and it was the Warriors defenders doing a poor job of recognizing the shooters and closing them out. So the opposite of Game 1.

Portland was also getting buckets from Al-Farouq Aminu — 10 first quarter points — and that’s always a good sign because he’s the guy (well, him and Maurice Harkless) that the Warriors will live with shooting.

Still, you knew the run was coming. The Warriors went on a 14-2 run to make it close as the second half started to wind down. But then Portland responded with some real poise and an 8-0 run of their own. Portland was getting their buckets and had a 59-51 run at the half. They continued to hold that lead through the third quarter thanks to a red-hot Damian Lillard, who had 16 points in the quarter.

But again, you knew the run was coming — and this time it was fueled by the Warriors defense. Festus Ezeli was a big part of that, his defensive presence in the paint helped turn things around, he was setting big screens to free up Thompson and others, plus he had eight points of his own in the quarter.

When the game got tight Portland missed seven in a row down the stretch, and that sealed the Blazers fate. Meanwhile, the Warriors kept hitting shots, and the Blazers have no great options to change up the defense and alter that dynamic. Even without Curry, the versatility of the Warriors makes them tough to slow, let alone stop. 

Going home, maybe the Trial Blazers can hit some difficult shots and hold off a Warriors charge in the fourth quarter.

Or, maybe Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors just get better.

Dwyane Wade’s determination outlasts Kyle Lowry’s buzzer beater

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade controls the ball as Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) defends during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016 in Toronto.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Dwyane Wade was helpless as Kyle Lowry‘s halfcourt heave sailed through the air (though Wade cocked his head back and leaned to the side, as if changing his view could alter the ball’s trajectory).

Wade was helpless as the referees swallowed their whistles despite Cory Joseph crashing into him on an inbound. (Haven’t we had enough incorrect no-calls on late inbound plays?) That led to a Heat turnover that preceded Lowry’s miracle shot.

Wade was helpless as the referees again swallowed their whistles despite DeMarre Carroll tugging his jersey on an overtime inbound. (Haven’t we really had enough incorrect no-calls on late inbound plays?) That also created a turnover and gave the Raptors another chance to tie.

So, Wade took matters into his own hands.

Wade snatched the ball from DeMar DeRozan, went to his knees to recover it and charged for a three-point play with 1.8 seconds left – finally clinching a 102-96 Miami Game 1 win in a second-round series Tuesday.

The game went to overtime on Lowry’s long-distance buzzer beater. When the shot fell, Wade dropped to one knee and buried his face in his hand. But he didn’t stay on the mat for long.

The Heat scored first eight points of regulation, and Wade (24 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) outscored the Raptors himself in the extra period, 7-6.

This is Toronto’s seventh straight Game 1 loss, including four at home the last three years with largely this group of players. But as the Raptors’ first-round win over the Pacers showed, this series is far from over. Road Game 1 winners have taken the series 53% of the time, hardly an overwhelming clip.

Toronto must better stay in front of Goran Dragic, who led Miami with 26 points. Dragic, who had 25 in Game 7 against the Hornets, had never scored so much in consecutive games with the Heat. They’re thrilled to run their offense through him more often.

The Raptors should also more resolutely attack Hassan Whiteside, who scared them away from the basket. Beyond Jonas Valanciunas (24 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals), the Raptors were 8-for-20 in the paint with Whiteside in the game. It’s not so much the shooting percentage – which isn’t great – but the low number of attempts in 39 minutes. Whiteside is a premier rim protector, but he’s not invincible. That proclivity for the perimeter failed especially with Toronto’s star guard struggling so mightily.

Aside from his halfcourt highlight, Lowry scored four points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc. More than anything, the Raptors need him to play better.

Otherwise, the shot of the playoffs will only delay the inevitable.

Kyle Lowry sends Raptors-Heat to overtime with halfcourt buzzer beater (video)

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry makes a pass as Miami Heat's Luol Deng (9) and Goran Dragic (7) defend during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016 in Toronto.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Kyle Lowry was 2-for-11, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers.

Didn’t matter.

He hit the big one to stave off yet another Raptors Game 1 loss.

Video via Kenny Ducey of Sports Illustrated

C.J. McCollum on Warriors: ‘They set a lot of illegal screens’

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, center, reaches for the ball between Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, top, and forward Andre Iguodala during the second half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, May 1, 2016. The Warriors won 118-106. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts accused Anderson Varejao of being dirty on a particular play.

C.J. McCollum says the Warriors cross the line much more regularly.

via Jason Quick of CSN Northwest:

“They set a lot of illegal screens,’’ Blazers guard CJ McCollum said Tuesday at the team’s shootaround at The Olympic Club. “They are moving and stuff. That’s the respect you get when you are champions, you get a lot more respect from the referees. You have to figure out a way to get around those screens and make it difficult.’’

One underappreciated element of the Warriors’ success is their excellent screening. Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut are two of the NBA’s best. Even the diminutive Stephen Curry wreaks havoc with his screens, leveraging his shooting ability to befuddle defenders.

Do the Warriors sometimes set illegal screens? Yup. Do they do so more than other teams? Yup. Do they do so more than every other team? Anecdotally, probably, though I’d love to see numbers.

But that’s part of Golden State’s strategy. The Warriors screeners so often straddle the line, they move it. It’s a fine line between a good legal screen and an illegal one, and Golden State dares the refs to blow the whistle.

McCollum can campaign for that to change, and his statements might cause the league to instruct referees to watch Warrior screens more closely. But even if Golden State has to harness its movement and arm extensions on picks, the team is more than capable of setting quality clean screens.