Atlanta Hawks Smith reacts as the Indiana Pacers West walks across the court in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff NBA basketball game in Atlanta

Hawks run past ice cold Pacers to even series 2-2

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Suddenly, the Indiana Pacers don’t look so in control of this series anymore.

The Pacers defense that got them to the No. 3 seed in the East and helped them race out to a 2-0 series lead went missing for long stretches on Monday night — especially their transition defense. And that allowed the Hawks to get some easy buckets on the break, and for Josh Smith to remind everyone what an impressive athlete he is for a big man.

Smith had 29 points (a career playoff high), made some key plays down the stretch and the Hawks beat the Pacers 102-91. That evens the series up at 2-2 with Game 5 Wednesday night back in Indiana.

Which is good news — the Pacers were a dramatically better team at home.

On the road in Atlanta they struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm, although part of that is that once again Hawks coach Larry Drew went to his big lineup with Johan Petro at center, Al Horford at the four and Smith at the three (although in the fourth quarter Drew went back to his smaller lineup with Horford at the five and it worked).

Despite the size Indiana spent the first six minutes of the game making a point of establishing Roy Hibbert in the paint, and with that slowed-down style they were able to get back and set their defense. They were able to play their game, they were able to grind.

Then the Pacers just stopped — they settled for jump shots that they seemed to always miss, and the Hawks grabbed the boards and got out and ran. The Hawks are so much better and so much more entertaining when they get out and run, but they too often do not.

Atlanta ended the first quarter on an 8-0 run thanks to Indiana misses and the fast breaks and penetration they allowed. It was capped off by transition Devin Harris floater layup to end the quarter and Atlanta led 22-21 after one.

It didn’t end there, the Hawks extend that run to 16-1 run and eventually all the way to a 25-6 run as the Hawks knocked down 7-of-8 from three in the second quarter. Meanwhile the Pacers shot 7-of-21 in the second quarter (not that they were a whole lot better later, they shot just 38.1 percent for the game). Atlanta pulled away and it was 57-40 Hawks at the half.

Once again, Paul George had trouble getting going with Josh Smith guarding him, and he finished 6-of-16 shooting on the night (21 points).

The Pacers started to grind the lead down again in the second half and make it a game again for a couple reasons. One, they slowed the game down again. Second, both Harris (dehydration) and Horford (four fouls) were on the bench and the Hawks matchups went away. The Pacers went on 15-2 run and we had a game again as the Hawks shot 3-of-21 in the third quarter. It was a seven point game entering the fourth.

But the Pacers could get no closer than four all through the fourth quarter. It was 86-81 Hawks with 3:30 left when Smith hit a three (one where you could hear the crowd start to groan as he took it then go wild when it splashed through the net). Next Hawks possessions Horford drove across the lane but Hibbert did a good job on him, the shot missed but Smith got the offensive rebound, made a smart pass out top to Kyle Korver who drained another three. It was a nine point lead, and while the Pacers tried Smith slammed the door with a minute to go when he put away a dunk in transition off a George missed shot.

The Hawks had an offensive rating of 110 (points per 100 possessions) in this game — that is 7.7 points better than their season average and 13.4 points better than what the Pacers allowed on average this season. That is a couple games in a row the Hawks have broken the Pacers code.

Game 5 Wednesday will be interesting — can the Hawks keep up their defensive effort and get some easy buckets in transition on the road? Or do we see the Pacers from the first two games again?

We’ll see, but it likely comes down to that Josh Smith vs. Paul George battle.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

Via Twitter:

The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.

Jabari Parker held out of Bucks lineup vs. Heat for breaking team rule

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MIAMI (AP) Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is out of the starting lineup for the first time this season Saturday night at Miami after breaking a team rule.

Parker will play coming off the bench, coach Jason Kidd said.

Kidd declined to elaborate on the move, which came after the Bucks held a long players-only meeting following a loss Friday at Orlando. The meeting got heated at times, and Parker said he wasn’t well received when he expressed his point of view.

Parker has scored at least 20 points in four consecutive games. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Thon Maker, making his first career start.

Gregg Popovich on Trump: “Can’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth” (VIDEO)

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Today across the country many hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets as part of the Women’s March to protest Donald Trump, his misogyny as demonstrated in prior comments made about women, and policies he’s promised to put in place to weaken women’s health including defunding Planned Parenthood and gutting the Affordable Care Act. Gregg Popovich, no stranger to speaking his mind about Trump, was asked about the marches today and how he felt about the former reality TV star’s first hours in office.

Popovich responded for around four minutes, spanning a wide breadth of topics including Trump’s maturity level, respect for the presidential office, and Trump’s cabinet members waffling on implied meaning when he insulted a handicapped reporter in November of 2015.

Via Cleveland.com:

I wish that he was more — had the ability to be mature enough to do something that really is inclusive rather than just talking and saying ‘I’m going to include everybody.” He could talk to the groups that he disrespected and maligned during the primary and really make somebody believe it, but so far we’ve got a point where you really can’t believe anything that comes of his mouth.

Popovich also expressed his frustration with Trump’s insecurities, referencing his need to discuss the size of the inauguration crowd from Friday — reported widely by major news outlets in both text and video/photographic evidence — as far smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009.

“I’d just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity, psychological, and emotional level of somebody that was his age,” said Popovich, adding, “It’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist, and make fun of handicap people.”

It’s an interesting period in American history to be sure. Things are at such a fever pitch after Trump’s election that whether people like it or not — and no doubt many won’t like Popovich’s comments or this article about it — the lines between diversion and real life, including politics, has begun to blur.

It’s great to see that coaches and players in the NBA are able to speak their minds about topics openly like this, perhaps surprisingly so when you consider the amount of money involved for the league and teams.

If you’d like to read the full comments you can do so here:

Ricky Rubio will miss Nuggets game for personal reasons

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ricky Rubio has left the Minnesota Timberwolves for personal reasons and will miss at least the next game on Sunday against Denver.

Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau says he expects Rubio to get back into town late Sunday and rejoin the team for practice on Monday.

Rubio did not play in the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night because of tightness in his left hip. Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones filled in admirably, helping the Wolves defeat the Clippers, 104-101.

Rubio has been the subject of trade rumors for much of the season, with the belief that Thibodeau would prefer a point guard who shoots better from the perimeter. In his previous five full games, Rubio was averaging 13.2 points and 14.0 assists.