NBA Playoffs: Atlanta wins ugly, but moves on to the second round

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In all honesty, I would never wish repeat viewing of the Atlanta Hawks’ series-clinching victory over the Orlando Magic on my worst enemy. The on-court product was brutal. Neither team could convert any of their shots, the turnovers were many, and the execution on the whole was fairly awful. Atlanta’s 39.2 percent shooting from the field wasn’t acceptable by any conventional standard, but this wasn’t exactly a conventional game, nor a conventional series. In this bizarro dimension, 39.2 percent is apparently passable, and as the playoff trope often goes: Atlanta’s shooting wasn’t good, but it was good enough.

The Hawks certainly won’t complain with winning Game 6 to close out the series and move on to the second round, regardless of the quality of their competitive display. All of the ugly possessions in the world can’t change the verdict already in the books, and can’t make the Hawks anything lest than Eastern Conference semifinalists.

Orlando’s peripheral players extended their well-memed inability to hit shots, but their shooting problems were exacerbated by a team-wide disinterest in hitting the glass. Dwight Howard did his job — as has been the case all series — to grab 15 boards, but the rest of his team totaled just 16 of their own. 16. Meanwhile, the Hawks collected 36.8 percent of their own misses, and Joe Johnson (of all players) grabbed a game-high seven offensive boards. That’s not superior size, strength, or athleticism, but merely an active guard finding the right spots to create extra possessions. Any Magic player could have done the same, but instead they failed to keep Johnson (and Al Horford) boxed out and didn’t seek out loose balls with the same fervor as their opponents. Orlando played hard, they didn’t apply themselves in this one particularly problematic area — and it cost them.

Still, even with the underwhelming performance on the glass, the Magic had two shots at sending this game into overtime, and failed to convert. The first set produced a wide open three for J.J. Redick, which fittingly found nothing but rim. The second — a gifted opportunity after Horford landed out of bounds while collecting the rebound off of Redick’s attempt — was heavily pressured. Hedo Turkoglu had a five-second count breathing down his neck as he attempted to inbound the ball, and his passing angles were already limited due to his location near the right corner along the baseline. Jason Richardson ultimately received the pass, but was pressured to shoot immediately, and then contested by Josh Smith. It wasn’t to be, as the Hawks dodged both bullets and won Game 6 in regulation.

Maybe Atlanta — a team that had its three leaders in field goal attempts shoot a combined 13-of-55 from the field — isn’t the most worthy second round club, but they successfully managed to not play worse than Orlando. They forced the Magic to play them on uncomfortable, difficult terms, and gutted out an ugly series with an ugly win. Johnson got his (and got his shot attempts), Crawford dropped 19 points, the defense held strong, and the game was won, however unglamorously.

Such a performance may not bode well for the Hawks’ chances against the Bulls in the second round (anything more than a single Atlanta win in that series will be a huge surprise), but it’s good enough for now. Tonight, the Hawks are victors. Victors who couldn’t make a shot, mind you, but victors nonetheless.

Kobe Bryant said he traveled by helicopter to spend more time with kids

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Kobe Bryant was such a superstar, his method of transportation to and from practice – helicopter – became a sensation.

Bryant died in a helicopter crash Sunday. In an old interview, he described why he traveled by helicopter.

Kobe Bryant on The Corp:

Traffic started getting really, really bad. Right? And I was sitting in traffic, and I wound up missing a school play, because I was sitting in traffic. And these things just kept mounting. I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft, but still not compromise family time. And so that’s when I looked into helicopters and being able to get down and back in 15 minutes. And that’s when it started. So, my routine was always the same. Weights early in the morning, kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, do my extra work, media, everything I needed to do, fly back, get back in the carpool line, pick the kids up. And my wife was like, “Listen, I can pick them up.” I’m like, “No, no, no. I want to do that.” Because you have road trips and times where you’re not – you don’t see your kids, you know? So, every chance I get to see them and spend time with them, even if it’s 20 minutes in the car, I want that.

The irony and tragedy of Bryant and his daughter dying in a helicopter crash is just gut-wrenching.

Grizzlies call up Josh Jackson from minor league

Josh Jackson
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A few months ago, the Grizzlies thought so little of Josh Jackson, they didn’t even bring him to training camp. He remained on an NBA contract. Memphis gained no roster or salary-cap flexibility. The Grizzlies planned to send him to their minor-league affiliate, but the Hustle hadn’t yet opened their training camp. There was nowhere else for Jackson to be. The Grizzlies just didn’t want him around.

Now, Jackson will get his chance on the parent club.

Grizzlies:

The No. 4 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Jackson still has a lot to prove with his maturity, professionalism and production.

But this is an opportunity – for Memphis to showcase him before next week’s trade deadline and for Jackson to showcase himself before unrestricted free agency next summer.

Grayson Allen is injured. Jae Crowder is also banged up. Jackson could actually receive playing time.

Kobe Bryant’s death a unique tragedy

Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson
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Magic Johnson – one of the NBA’s brightest stars – stood behind a podium, smiled and shook the world. Johnson had HIV and was retiring from the Lakers, he announced. Confusion, speculation and, most prominently, grief followed. Everyone thought he’d die. Charles Barkley said, “It’s kind of like somewhat of a death of a brother.” Larry Bird called it “probably the toughest day I’ve had since my father passed away, and I’ve been very depressed and sort of been out of it.” Pat Riley called for a moment of silence before a game.

More than 28 years later, Johnson mourned Kobe Bryant.

Bryant’s death yesterday was the tragedy everyone believed Johnson’s diagnosis to be. Sudden. Crushing. Unbelievable. All the same emotions came pouring out. Except this time there was no mistaking the finality.

Johnson has continued living, thriving, inspiring. He’s a renowned businessman, beloved celebrity and fantastic ambassador for basketball. It’s the type of retirement expected for Bryant, because why wouldn’t it be?

The NBA has grown accustomed to its titans aging gracefully. Unlike baseball, the NBA hasn’t existed long enough for multiple generations of old-timers to pass away. Unlike football, the NBA doesn’t subject its players to such traumatic physical tolls.

Just two MVPs in all of NBA history had died, Wilt Chamberlain (age 63 in 1999) and Moses Malone (age 60 in 2015), and those deaths felt far too soon.

Bryant was only 41.

Just four All-Stars died younger. Don Sunderlage was in a car crash at age 31 in 1961. Maurice Stokes suffered a head injury during a game, became paralyzed then – after teammate Jack Twyman cared for him for 12 years – died at age 36 in 1970. Pete Maravich had a heart issue while playing pickup basketball at age 40 in 1988. Reggie Lewis suffered a heart attack during what should have been the midst of his career at age 27 in 1993.

Lewis – like Len Bias (who died of a cocaine overdose at age 22 in 1986) and Drazen Petrovic (who died in a car crash at age 28 in 1993) – never got to fulfill their potentials. That creates its own kind of anguish.

There is no analogue to Bryant’s death.

Bryant’s accomplishments – one MVP, five championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, 11 All-NBA first teams, two All-NBA second teams, two All-NBA third teams and 18 All-Star appearances – place him among the very greatest of all-time greats. No player anywhere near that stature had ever died anywhere near this young.

Bryant could be charming and ruthless, sometimes simultaneously. His play and conduct earned him loyal fans and harsh critics. The never-ending Kobe debates seemed only to inflame the passion of his supporters.

Few adored him like fellow NBA players. They admired his skill and determination. He responded by mentoring many. It’s difficult to overstate just how cherished Bryant was in this league.

Few understand the cold realities of the NBA like Austin Rivers. He grew up with his father, Doc Rivers, frequently gone playing and coaching. As a result, they aren’t particularly close. Now an NBA player himself, Austin speaks of their distant relationship with far more acceptance than wistfulness. He’s too focused on competing to do much else.

Yesterday, Austin cried on the court:

Then, explained how little he cared about the Rockets losing a basketball game:

Others shed tears in arenas around the country. The NBA could have cancelled yesterday’s games. Playing while grieving proved difficult for many.

There was just no good way to handle the loss. Mere moments of silence felt insufficient.

The Spurs and Raptors began their game yesterday with shot-clock violations in honor of his No. 24. Other teams exchanged a shot-clock violation and eight-second violation in honor of his other number. Trae Young wore No. 8.

Other tributes popped up around the world. Bryant was a global icon.

He was also a loving father. As incredibly wide as this tragedy lands, it also cuts unimaginably deep. Bryant’s daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, also died in the helicopter crash.

Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018, Bryant just lit up when discussing her:

Bryant’s death is devastating – for those touched closely and, because of its unparalleled nature, even those not. Nobody was ready for this.

It’s a punch in the gut. The basketball world – which expanded far larger than imaginable in 1991, when Johnson made his announcement, because of people like Bryant – remains in a daze.

In wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, Kendrick Perkins seeks forgiveness from Kevin Durant

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins
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Kevin Durant once called Kendrick Perkins his favorite teammate of all-time.

A couple weeks ago, they were beefing on Twitter,exchanging barbs that didn’t look as friendly as previously.

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death has Perkins reflecting.

Perkins:

Good for Perkins. Amid all the sorrow, Bryant’s death creates an opportunity for people to re-assess their priorities. Grudges almost always aren’t worth it.