Kurt Helin

Washington Wizards v Atlanta Hawks - Game One

Hawks start hot, finish cold, Wizards take Game 1 on road 104-98.

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The Atlanta Hawks scored 37 points on 64 percent shooting in the first quarter.

The Atlanta Hawks scored 35 points on 25 percent shooting in the second half.

Spin that as an improved Wizards defense or the Hawks just missing good looks (reality is it was a mix of both), it doesn’t matter. The Wizards seemed to shake off the rust from their one-week layoff in the second half, slow the pace and change the game.  The Wiz hit the shots the Hawks defense gave them — John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 46 points and 14 assists — and Washington stormed back.

The Wizards picked up a 104-98 win on the road, taking a 1-0 lead over the No. 1 seed in the East. Game 2 is Tuesday night in the ATL.

This is the fourth straight series the Wizards have won Game 1 on the road, an NBA record.

“Last year, like I think I told you guys, we were just happy to be in the playoffs, we were happy to move on, and we didn’t really have any high goals after the first round,” Beal said postgame. “But this year we expect more of ourselves, we expect to get past the second round, we have that same same desperation we had in the previous round.”

“I think they made more plays in the second half than we did,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, putting it mildly. “I think defensively we just had a couple lags, a couple of lulls, that allowed them to get back in it and get a little separation. Offensively I think we’ve got to be more aggressive, we’ve got to get to the paint, attack more, and continue to move the ball, but I think that’s got to start with us being more aggressive getting to the paint.”

Atlanta was aggressive early. The Hawks of January — the team that went undefeated for a month and showed spectacular ball movement — had been largely absent through the end of the season and into the first round of the playoffs, but they showed up for the start of Game 1.

Atlanta came out moving the ball and hitting shots, going on a 9-0 run at one point and a 17-6 run in another both in the first quarter. The Wizards couldn’t keep up and trailed 37-26 after one. Then in the second quarter Dennis Schroeder used his speed to carve up the Wizards defense at the start while DeMare Carroll was knocking down threes and had 21 points in the first half.

Hawks lead comfortably 63-53 at the half, racking up an offensive rating of 131 points per 100 possessions in the first 24.

But this game was a tale of two halfs.

Washington tightened up its defense and cut off that penetration but even when the Hawks got the ball inside they didn’t finish. Plus the Wizards contested the arc better. Some of it was just the Hawks missing shots. In the first half, the Hawks were 13-of-18 inside eight feet and 9-of-17 from three. In the second half, the Hawks were 7-of-19 inside eight feet and 4-of-21 from three.

“I think the majority of the second half (we settled too much for jump shots)” Budenholzer said. “The thing you always have to be careful with, I thought we had some good looks, but I think we’ll get better looks, more consistent scoring if we’re more aggressive driving it.”

The Wizards played through injuries beautifully. John Wall injured his wrist on a hard fall in the second quarter but never left the game. Bradley Beal rolled his ankle and had to go back to the locker room in the second but returned to the game — noticeably hobbled and slower, but he returned.

Paul Pierce was his usual self in the playoffs, putting up 19 points and hitting 5-of-8 shots when contested (according to the Sports VU cameras). The Wizards also got strong bench play. Postgame Wizards coach Randy Whittman singled out Drew Gooden (12 points) and Otto Porter (10) for their contributions.

The Hawks did not — their starting lineup was +10 in 18 minutes of action, but that means when bench players were on the floor the Hawks were -16. Budenholzer got away with it against the Nets, but he might need to tighten his rotation now.

Rumor: Orlando taking time to start coaching search waiting on Thibodeau situation

Tom Thibodeau
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It is the conventional wisdom around the league that, short of the Bulls making it to the NBA Finals, once the season ends Chicago is going to part ways with coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Orlando Magic have a coaching vacancy right now.

While there are a few people expected to be interviewed for the job —interim coach James Borrego, Scott Skiles, and Scott Brooks among them — Orlando has not started the search process yet. Why? The theory is they are waiting on Thibodeau, reports Josh Robbins at the Orlando Sentinel.

The theory mentioned most often revolves around current Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. The league observers speculate that the Magic want to see whether the Bulls and Thibodeau will part ways after the Bulls conclude their playoff run….

League observers caution that Thibodeau’s hire by the Magic would not be a given even if Thibodeau becomes a coaching free agent.

It would be awkward to bring in someone like Brooks for an interview, and then have him stew and sit for a couple weeks (at least, maybe more than a month) while you wait on Thibodeau would be unprofessional. To put it kindly.

Thibodeau would bring a strong defensive focus and a great level of attention to detail to the organization. He’s not a guy whose name comes up first on the “best player development” coaches list, but young players like Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic have thrived under him.

Orlando is an attractive destination for a coach, but if Thibodeau is let go he’s going to have plenty of options.

Watch game clock misfire on final Game 7 play for Spurs, tipping hand

Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes, DeAndre Jordan, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw,
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The clock operator made an enormous mistake at the worst time at the end of Game 7 in what was a slugfest of a series between the Clippers and Spurs.

Chris Paul had just made his amazing shot to put the Clippers up two, but the Spurs had time left on the clock — one second. Gregg Popovich had Borris Diaw inbounding the ball on a play that sent several shooters out to the arc then had Kawhi Leonard roll to the rim for an alley-oop attempt. The referee hands the ball to Diaw, the players start moving and…

Buzzzzzz. The horn sounds to end the game.

Except the ball was still in Diaw’s hands — the clock operator messed up and started the clock when Diaw touched the ball, not a player on the court.

After the game, Popovich said that mistake allowed the Clippers to see what the final play was going to look like, it gave their defenders a heads up. You can see how hot he is in the video. As he should be.

When the actual play ran Matt Barnes read the alley-oop attempt and, playing free safety, came over and swatted the pass away, ending the game. Did he get there a step quicker because he saw the play start once before? Who knows. As Popovich admitted as well after the game, the odds of success on a one-second play at the end of a game are slim to start.

But that screw up certainly didn’t help.

What matters now is that the Clippers win and advance to the second round.

Chris Paul has biggest game with most on line, drops 27 (VIDEO)

Tim Duncan, Chris Paul
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There’s a rather silly theory some talking heads — usually not NBA guys — that Chris Paul lacked the internal fortitude and leadership to win big games. That was always crap, but it was out there.

Anyone who says that after Saturday night is a fool.

The Clippers and Spurs faced off in one of the greatest — if not the greatest — first round series ever and it took 27 points from Paul on a night he injured his hamstring to get the win over the Spurs. Paul was nothing short of brilliant, hitting 9-of-13 shots, including 5-of-6 from three. That includes the game winner.

Hobbled Chris Paul, Clippers’ role players do just enough to dethrone Spurs in Game 7

Chris Paul
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There is not going to be a better series these playoffs.

As they had for six games before, the Spurs and Clippers went back and forth in Game 7 Saturday night trading blows — there were 31 lead changes and 16 ties. Traditionally Game 7s see players get tight, shooting percentages drop, there are ugly turnovers. This game — while not flawless — was well played by both teams, with big shots and role players stepping up.

But nobody stepped up more than Chris Paul.

With 1:25 left in the first quarter he had to leave the game and went back to the Clippers locker room with what is officially a strained hamstring. But that was not going to keep him out of the game. CP3 had 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, plus had six assists as he continued to orchestrate the Clippers’ offense.

Then, with the game tied 109-109 and just 8.8 seconds remaining, Paul won the series.

The Spurs had one second to try and tie the game, but a time keeping screw-up tipped the play, and Matt Barnes knocked away an alley-oop attempt to Kawhi Leonard.

The Clippers won 111-109 and take the series 4-3. They advance to face the Houston Rockets starting Monday in Houston.

Paul is so bothered by the hamstring Doc Rivers said he’s not sure if CP3 can play in Game 1 of the next round.

“With two minutes left, Tim Duncan walks up to me and says ‘This is the first round?'” Rivers said. “I was thinking the same thing.”

What had been key for the Clippers all series was getting other guys to step up, not just Paul and Blake Griffin. They got that Saturday night. Matt Barnes had 17 points, a key offensive rebound late, then knocked away the alley-oop attempt on the final play of the game. He played his best game of the series.

Jamal Crawford was the other key. The Clippers had to play a stretch in the first half without Paul due to the injury, and then Blake Griffin sat with foul trouble, yet the Clippers stayed close in an excellent game because Crawford got hot. He had 12 of his 15 points in the first half when the Clippers needed them to stay close to the Spurs.

“Jamal was huge, Matt Barnes was huge for us tonight,” Rivers said. “I thought that (stretch with the bench in the first half) was the difference in the game, that stretch. They could have gotten away from us with our two key guys out of the game, and they didn’t.”

If this is Tim Duncan’s final game, the future first-ballot Hall of Fame went out on a vintage note. Ducan, whose contract is up and hasn’t announced if he plans to return at age 39, scored 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, plus had 11 rebounds. He was nothing short of brilliant.

Tony Parker added 20 points, and Danny Green finally broke out with 16 plus made a couple amazing defensive blocks.

This was a game with so many wild moments, but maybe the most ridiculous exchange came at the end of the third. First Austin Rivers tried to foul Manu Ginobili in the backcourt (the Clips had a foul to give) but Manu anticipated it and went into a shooting motion and got the call and three free throws. It was a by-the-book call but one where the refs rarely give it to the shooter. That left just a few seconds on the clock, CP3 brought the ball back up the floor and knocked down a ridiculous 28-foot, off-balance, banked-in three. It was the Clippers by one after three, 79-78.

It was like this all game.

The Spurs didn’t lose this game; the Clippers won it.