NBA Playoffs: Atlanta Hawks survive night of the living Bucks

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Bucks_hawks.jpgThe Bucks will not die, like the Night of the Living Dead zombies they just keep coming and coming and coming. They are relentless. Intellectually you know it, they do exactly what you expect them to, but they don’t roll over, they will keep defending and keep trying.

The Hawks are the better team, they have the mismatches all over the floor, they are longer and more athletic. That’s what won them this game, 102-92. But like they will all series, the Bucks are going to make them work hard for it.

Early on, this one was ugly to watch, unless you were a Hawks fan in Phillips Arena. In the first half, the Atlanta executed their game plan perfectly. It was 6-6 early when the Bucks made a couple turnovers and no team converts turnovers into spectacular points like the Hawks. One was Bibby stealing a lazy outlet pass and draining the three, he had 19 for the day on 8 of 9 shooting. The Hawks feed off that stuff, and suddenly the lead was 10 and growing.

The Hawks are killing it because they are recognizing their mismatches and exploiting them. Marvin Williams being guarded by Luke Ridnour? The Hawks get him the ball and clear out for Williams, allowing him to back it down and get the good shot in the paint. No Buck could deny Josh Smith or Al Horford position on the block, and they got the ball where they wanted it. Like a great jazz band, for the Hawks it was just variations on the theme all game. They were getting the shots they wanted in the paint (34 points in the paint in the first half). The Bucks try a zone for a while, that fails, Jamal Crawford just shoots bombs over the top of it.

The Hawks had an offensive rating of 161 (points per 100 possessions) at the end of the first quarter, 141 at the half. Crazy good numbers.

But Brandon Jennings would not die. He was the Buck that kept held the Hawks lead to “just” 24 — he was 8 of 14 for 20 in the first half. However, like his teammates he was not really getting into the paint, he was 5 of 7 on jumpers (that means 3 of 7 in close, trying to deal with the length of the Hawks). The problem was the rest of the team had 20 points and shot 28.6 percent in the first half. It was all missed Jumpers.

Then in the third quarter, the Hawks relaxed, the Bucks were zombie relentless. They kept coming in waves.

The Bucks took 17 shots in the third quarter, and just seven were jumpers. They attacked the paint, even if it meant Horford swatted a couple. The Bucks were the aggressors. The result was they scored 30 points, and a suddenly on their heels Hawks team had just 19 in the quarter.

And we had a game. But the Bucks could never get closer than six.

With the game in single digits and just 6 minutes left things reverted to form: The Hawks dominated the paint because they have the physical matchups to do it. In the halfcourt offense in the last six minutes, the Bucks took eight jumpers (five of them threes) to just three shots near the rim. They became a jump shooting team again. Jennings had one layup and four jumpers (two these). The Bucks defense masked these problems.

This game went largely to form. We knew the Hawks had the physical advantage, we knew that the Bucks would scrap and defend. And we expected that over time, the Hawks would win out. Despite all we saw from Jennings, from the Bucks, doesn’t sound like we’ve deviated from the script in any way.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.