PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

Mike Scott and hot-shooting Hawks outlast Pacers in Game 5

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After the first, he bounced as he backed down court.

After the second, he trotted away and slapped his rear end as if he were a horse. (Giddy up!)

After the third, he shook his head widely side to side as if not even he could believe the fortuitous bank.

After the fourth, he winked as he returned to the other end of the court.

Mike Scott made 3-pointers on four consecutive second-quarter possessions as the Atlanta Hawks celebrated early and survived late, ultimately beating the Indiana Pacers 107-97 Monday.

The freewheeling Hawks now lead the series 3-2 and are only one win from becoming the sixth No. 8 seed ever to upset a No. 1 seed. With Game 6 in Atlanta on Thursday, the Hawks could end the Pacers’ free fall before the weekend.

But maybe Indiana has just a little fight left.

Early in the third quarter, this seemed like every Hawks win in the series. They were spreading Indiana’s once-suffocating defense, confidently raining 3s.

Roy Hibbert picked up his fourth foul (in just 12 minutes of play). On the same stoppage, Lance Stephenson – whose earlier airball drew boos from the home Indiana crowd – earned a technical foul.

A couple minutes later, the Hawks led 80-50 – claiming the largest lead in the series by either team.

“We can close this gap,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who also had a third-quarter technical, implored his team before the fourth quarter.

At the time, Vogel’s words sounded hollow – the last gasps of a coach headed to the chopping block. But Vogel backed his words with necessary action.

The Pacers used three lineups in the fourth quarter, each smaller than the last:

  • C.J. Watson-Lance Stephenson-Paul George-Chris Copeland-Ian Mahinmi
  • C.J. Watson-Lance Stephenson-Paul George-Chris Copeland-David West
  • C.J. Watson-George Hill-Paul George-Chris Copeland-David West

None of those three lineups had played together all season, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Indiana began the fourth down 20. Copeland hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Watson found space. George got aggressive. All the while, the Pacers’ smaller and quicker players better defended Atlanta on the perimeter.

Multiple times, Atlanta’s lead fell to single digits, but Indiana had its best chance down nine with four minutes left and never got closer than eight .

The Pacers’ Game 5 comeback run out of time. Their season hasn’t necessarily.

Despite tonight’s setback, they should have renewed hope of reaching the second round. These small lineups can work.

As Atlanta’s lead dwindled against Indiana’s mobility, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was the one struggling to match up. Atlanta doesn’t have the juice to compete with the Pacers playing anywhere near even their average, and it showed.

It’s up to Vogel to keep the momentum going.

Hibbert never returned after sitting with his fourth foul, and he finished with zero points and zero rebounds. The mounting pressure on Vogel to bench his All-Star center has never been higher. With the Pacers’ season definitely and Vogel’s future with the team probably on the line, there’s little option now. Hibbert must sit.

And that still might not be enough.

The Hawks are capable of getting hot and stealing one game of two from nearly anyone in the league. Tonight, they made 15-of-27 from beyond the arc, setting an Atlanta franchise playoff record for 3-pointers made and an Indiana franchise playoff record 3-pointers allowed.

Korver made 5-of-10 from beyond the arc, and Shelvin Mack and DeMarre Carroll hit a couple, too. Scott also hit his fifth 3-point attempt in the second quarter.

After that one, he just ran back on defense. The Hawks draining 3s and beating Indiana has become business as usual.

Unless the Pacers learned in the fourth quarter how to save their season.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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