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.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.