NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks

NBA Playoffs: Hawks stay alive against Celtics thanks to presence of Al Horford, luck

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There was a point at the end of the third quarter that it seemed like the Atlanta Hawks were going to crumble once again in the second half, but somehow they were able to overcome the turnovers and terrible offensive possessions that saw their 12 point lead with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter shrink to just two points heading into the final stanza. It wasn’t a pretty ending, of course, but it got the job done as the Hawks stayed alive at home with the 87-86 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.

It’s probably not fair to consider everything Atlanta does on offense as “typical Hawks basketball,” but the ending probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone … despite it being insanely crazy. Josh Smith attempted to inbound the ball with 10.9 seconds left, but instead turned it over, giving Rajon Rondo the ball and the chance to win the game while ending the Hawks’ season in ridiculous fashion. Rondo was unable to convert on the other end due to a dribbling snafu, however, and the Hawks just barely eked out the victory.

Game 5 was one of the more entertaining games in the series — and altogether different from the first four, much to no one’s surprise — but the Hawks wouldn’t have been able to do it without Al Horford. Horford was back in the starting lineup for the first time since an injury in early January and his efforts were brilliant, scoring 19 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and adding three steals, blocks and assists while giving Atlanta a much-needed presence in the low post.

The Celtics were hot from the field on Sunday when they took the 3-1 lead in the series, but that certainly wasn’t the case on Tuesday. Boston ended up with a respectable shooting percentage of 44 percent from the field, but Rajon Rondo’s jumper returned to regularity, Paul Pierce missed a potential game-winner late in the game and Brandon Bass continued to struggle from the field. It wasn’t a particularly terrible effort from Boston, either, but if Pierce is unable to play at 100 percent — and he clearly wasn’t on Tuesday, spending stretches on the sidelines — this series is going to get harder for Boston as long as it continues.

As far as the keys to the Hawks offense were concerned, it seems that being able to put their original starting lineup out on the floor was all that was needed to get the offense back on track. Aside from the lapse at the end of the third quarter, Atlanta’s offense moved the ball very well, evidenced by the fact that all five starters scored in double-figures for the first time in the postseason. Josh Smith scored 13 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished six assists on a bum leg, Marvin Williams scored 15 points while looking rejuvenated and Jeff Teague had a solid 16. Joe Johnson probably would have hurt his standing with Atlanta fans even more had they not won the game, though, as his 15 points on 17 shots certainly wasn’t indicative of a player that recently received a max contract.

Going forward, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Hawks are able to build on the momentum as they head back to Boston. Atlanta didn’t look great in Boston, but that might change with Horford back in the mix — and Boston’s been unable to find much consistency this series, anyway, so it’s tough to tell what might happen in Game 6. Rondo has shown the ability to control stretches and, if the Celtics are going to close out the Hawks in six games, he may need to take over on Thursday night … especially if Pierce is still favoring his knee.

Kyrie Irving helps USA to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Kyrie Irving #10 of the United States Men's National Team looks to make a move with the ball against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.

Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States shot 42.4 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for next week’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.

Returning to Chicago for the first time with the U.S. national team, Bulls star Jimmy Butler was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes in his first start with Team USA.

Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry‘s tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of “USA! USA!” with a windmill jam in the final minutes.

Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting.

John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics.

Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans lined the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.

Before Butler’s introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in April.

The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.

Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans’ gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee to make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.