NBA Playoffs: Hawks take Game 1, scoff at the notion of unsustainable offense

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After years of watching the Atlanta Hawks operate within a zone of improbability, you’d think we might be better prepared to see them again best a sure favorite.

Yet here we are, as dumbstruck as the now 0-1 Boston Celtics. Atlanta didn’t stumble into a revelation of efficiency or make a crucial late-season addition. They merely played the same illogical brand of basketball that has marked the franchise for the last half-decade, and by way of talent, energy, and flat-out good fortune, they pounced on a Celtics team that wasn’t quite ready to begin their playoff run. I won’t submit into cliché and say that the Hawks “just wanted it more,” than the Celtics, but they certainly wanted to work more than their breathless opponents; Boston practically began the game hunched over, while Atlanta started their night with a 31-point rampage. That contrast speaks for itself, and although the game eventually leveled out, that almost seems beside the point.

By the time Atlanta’s shots stopped falling at such a ridiculous rate, the damage had been done and the game had been sufficiently mucked up. Although the Celtics typically benefit from uglied games minimized to single-possession battles, the Hawks — with their grit and uncanny ability to hit contested jumpers — too have managed to make this style their own.

That approach may have been epitomized by the odd success of Atlanta’s makeshift rotation of bigs. Josh Smith still provided his expectedly dynamic contributions, but beyond Smith were Jason Collins — whom Hawks head coach Larry Drew again elected to start as a defensive counter — and Ivan Johnson, two big men skilled in basketball’s dark arts, and thrown into relevance due to injuries to Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. The decision to play an offensive liability like Collins against one of the best defensive teams in the league was an odd decision by Drew, but one that ultimately paid off; Collins played a huge role in erasing Kevin Garnett during the first half, and in his own detour into the impossible, actually converted three field goals — a feat he’s accomplished just seven times in the last four seasons.

For his part, Johnson contributed a surprisingly beneficial four points and five rebounds. That output may not seem like much, but considering that the Hawks only managed 83 points total (in a win, mind you), that Johnson himself matched the scoring total of Boston’s entire bench, and that three of his rebounds came on the offensive end in a game where extra scoring opportunities were much-needed, his impact stretched well beyond what those underwhelming numbers might imply.

It was micro-level contributions like those of Collins and Johnson that fleshed out Atlanta’s otherwise baffling performance, and gave it the texture to make it something other than what it was. The Hawks were on top of the world for minutes at a time, but as is usually the case with this team, every brilliant play was eventually met with several highly questionable ones. Only zeal was left to fill in the gaps; whether by feeding off of an earned home crowd or drawing from a self-instilled bit of confidence, the Hawks approached this game as one they could steal. They stared down a team that had been playing brutally effective defense over the last several months, drove into the paint at their whim, and dared try to beat Boston with Collins in tow and spot-up jumpers from Smith as a consistent weapon.

And it worked, because these are the Hawks, and this is just what they do. They render discussions of offensive sustainability completely irrelevant with their style and audacity, and the mitigate the importance of defense by managing to create shots in spite of it. Nothing is easy and nothing is aesthetically pleasing, but they manage to win in spite of themselves and our better judgment.

Even if all we can do is shake our heads in disbelief, the Celtics are undoubtedly left doing the same.

Closing thoughts:

  • Just to make things that much worse for Boston, Rajon Rondo — the single Celtic who managed to put together a decent game — decided to fully embrace the game’s madness and make physical contact (a chest bump, but still) with official Mark Davis. Davis had all but killed Boston’s hopes for an endgame comeback with his correct determination that Josh Smith was fouled on what Rondo thought should have been a jump ball, and Rondo responded with harsh words and foolish action. The NBA doesn’t take any player making contact with an official lightly; it seems very likely that the Boston will be without both Ray Allen (ankle) and Rondo for Game 2, making things that much more fun for the struggling Celtics.
  • Joe Johnson did some nice work defensively against Paul Pierce, but was absolutely miserable as a spot-up shooter. Smith, Kirk Hinrich, and Jeff Teague were able to get some nice penetration against Boston’s defense, but when they looked to the perimeter, they often saw Johnson standing more than a foot behind the three-point line. Even with the understanding that nothing that these Hawks do makes sense, I’m not sure how to even approach the peculiarity of Johnson’s placement. (On a related note: Johnson finished 0-of-9 from beyond the arc.)
  • Smith is a tremendously fun — if curious — player, but I’ll never quite understand how he manages to have such great court awareness without having even the slightest bit of self-awareness. He’s a wonderful practitioner of the “extra pass,” and yet many of his shot attempts betray the basketball savvy that seems to inform his more altruistic efforts. You remain an enigma, Mr. Smith, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

LeBron James, making career-low 67%, pledges to shoot at least 80% on free throws in playoffs

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LeBron James is making a career-low 67% of his free throws this season.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“Yeah it’s killing me, it’s killing me,” James said

But I’ll be fine for the playoffs. For the rest of the regular season I’m going to end up shooting in the 60s, which is a career-low for me, but the postseason I’ll be up there in the 80s.

LeBron has never shot better than 78% in any regular season. He has only once eclipsed 78% in a postseason, shooting 81% in 2014.

If he could simply decide to shoot better from the line, why hasn’t he done it already?

That said, the Cavaliers look like they’re just biding their time until the playoffs. Their focus should increase, and LeBron’s free-throw percentage should rise with it.

But to 80%? Though I’ve learned never to count out LeBron, I’m skeptical.

Dwight Howard ate equivalent of 24 candy bars daily for about a decade

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Dwight Howard‘s love for candy is infamous, though in recent years he has talked more about healthy habits.

Just how much candy did he consume at his peak?

Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

By February’s All-Star break, it was time for a full-blown intervention, and Dr. Cate Shanahan, the Lakers’ nutritionist, led the charge, speaking to Howard by phone from her office in Napa, California. Howard’s legs tingled, he complained, but she noticed he was having trouble catching passes too, as if his hands were wrapped in oven mitts. Well, he quietly admitted, his fingers also tingled. Shanahan, with two decades of experience in the field, knew Howard possessed a legendary sweet tooth, and she suspected his consumption of sugar was causing a nerve dysfunction called dysesthesia, which she’d seen in patients with prediabetes. She urged him to cut back on sugar for two weeks. If that didn’t help, she said, she vowed to resign.

To alter Howard’s diet, though, Shanahan first had to understand it. After calls with his bodyguard, chef and a personal assistant, she uncovered a startling fact: Howard had been scarfing down about two dozen chocolate bars’ worth of sugar every single day for years, possibly as long as a decade. “You name it, he ate it,” she says. Skittles, Starbursts, Rolos, Snickers, Mars bars, Twizzlers, Almond Joys, Kit Kats and oh, how he loved Reese’s Pieces. He’d eat them before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, and like any junkie, he had stashes all over — in his kitchen, his bedroom, his car, a fix always within reach. She told his assistants to empty his house, and they hauled out his monstrous candy stash in boxes — yes, boxes, plural.

Howard is 6-foot-11 and muscular, and he does strenuous workouts daily. He can handle far more food than the average person.

Still, dear lord, that’s a lot of candy.

This anecdote was part of Holmes’ fantastic story on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches’ place in the NBA. I suggest reading it in full.

Report: Paul George wants to play with Gordon Hayward

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Paul George called this “one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of.” He bemoaned the Pacers’ place as “the little brother of the league.” He pushed back against Indiana fans booing their own team. He expressed frustration about being kept in the dark on trade discussions before the deadline. Just last week, he told Zach Lowe of ESPN the Pacers lack an identity.

This all ought to strike fear into the Pacers, with George headed toward free agency in 2018 and Lakers rumors swirling.

How does Indiana convince George to stay?

One possibility: Signing Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who has a player option after this season.

Lowe:

George would love to play with hometown boy Gordon Hayward, according to sources

My best guess: George doesn’t have a particular affinity for Hayward, but just wants a better supporting cast, and Hayward – who was born and grew up in Indiana and played at Butler – appears more attainable than other stars.

But the Jazz are better than the Pacers and can offer more money. If he makes an All-NBA team, Hayward might not hit the market at all. If he does become a free agent, the Celtics – with former Butler coach Brad Stevens – loom as a bigger threat to poach the forward.

This is an extreme longshot and only raises more questions about what the Pacers can actually do to keep their superstar.

LaVar Ball rebuffs LeBron James’ warning: ‘They’re not going to stop me from doing what I’m doing’

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LaVar Ball, father of highly touted UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, continued his media tour by discussing the difficulties LeBron James‘ sons will face due to the high expectations implicit with their dad.

LeBron didn’t like that one bit, saying: “Keep my kids’ name out of your mouth. Keep my family out of your mouth.”

LaVar Ball on Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t have a problem with LeBron.

It’s just how people, they asked me a question about, do I think superstar players’ kids are good? And just my opinion that I’ve never seen one that was really good. LeBron is going to make his kids probably one of the best players ever, according to him. Now, there’s going to be some outside opinions. I’ve just never seen superstars that have kids, because they have to live up to that – they don’t have to live up to it – but I’ve never seen none really live up to what their dad has done.

So, he could be the first or not or the last. So, like I said, it’s not about me having his kids’ mouth. I’m not worried about his family. I’m not worried about his kids. If somebody asks me a question I’ll answer it the way I feel like answering it. But I have nothing against LeBron or his kids.

So, they can go ahead and make them the best or make them the worst. It ain’t got nothing to do with me.

People just asking me questions. I’ve been talking all my life. It’s just now the cameras and the things are in front of me. So, I’m just saying, if people ask me something, I’m going to give you an answer, because I can have freedom of speech to say whatever I want. And it’s either going to be good or bad, and it’s just for conversation for the next day.

I don’t have nobody telling me nothing. I don’t have nobody telling me nothing. It’s just like people saying, “Keep my family’s mouth” – whatever they’re saying, I don’t care. They’re not going to stop me from doing what I’m doing. If they take a little edgy edge on it and they get a little touchy because I answered something a certain way, who cares? They’re not going to do nothing to me. I’m not going to do nothing to them. So, it ain’t no big deal.

LaVar Ball’s inability to say the phrase “Keep my name out of your mouth” or any variation of it is poetic.

Some advice to LeBron: Don’t respond. You’ll get nowhere with someone who can say so much publicly about something he admits “ain’t got nothing to do with me.” The elder Ball is too attention-hungry to back down, and engaging him further will only serve his agenda.