Josh Smith plays like an All-Star in Hawks’ win over the Suns

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After the reserves for the 2012 NBA All-Star game were announced last week, and after Josh Smith was once again left off of the Eastern Conference squad for the eighth consecutive season, he sounded off. Smith said politics were to blame for him not being named to the team, and that he apparently “didn’t know the right people” in order for him to get selected.

If the coaches in the East had seen the performance Smith delivered in the Hawks’ 101-99 win over the Suns on Wednesday, they wouldn’t have had a choice.

Smith put up a line of 30 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and three blocked shots, on a night when Atlanta’s actual All-Star, Joe Johnson, was virtually invisible. Johnson managed just six points on 2-of-10 shooting in over 36 minutes of action. But despite his poor performance, he may have had the most important impact on the game’s final outcome with his words.

“I was going to pull Josh out early in the 4th,” Hawks head coach Larry Drew said afterward.  “And right when I subbed Joe in, Joe said ‘Leave him out there, he’s young.’ I thought he was tired, I mean we played last night and he played quite a few minutes, so I just wanted to give him a quick blow. But he wanted to stay in, and I’m glad he did because he just played a phenomenal game.”

Early in the fourth, when Drew was contemplating giving Smith that rest, the Suns were still in control, but just barely. Phoenix had seen a 15-point third-quarter lead reduced down to one when the fateful conversation took place, just two minutes into the final period. From that point on, Smith scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds as the Hawks were able to run their lead to as many as eight, before holding off Phoenix to close it out.

“Joe saw where I was having a pretty good night and he was able to get in [coach’s] ear a little bit,” Smith noted afterward. “And he listened.”

Johnson was a little more direct in detailing what he presented to his head coach.

“He was going to take him out, but you got a guy rolling like that, man, he’s 24 or 25,” Johnson said. “He can handle it. He’s got some mileage he can put on that body, so ride him ’til the wheels fall off. We’ve got two days off, he can rest tomorrow.”

The Hawks have no games over the next two days for the first time in this lockout-shortened season. Rest is definitely on the agenda — for both players and coaches.

“I told the guys I don’t even want to see them tomorrow,” Drew said.

“I don’t want to see him either,” Smith said later, with a laugh. “I want to see the bed, the pillow, the covers. All that good stuff.”

This rest is well-deserved for Smith, especially after he put the team on his back to get this win by playing the entire second half, and almost 45 of the game’s 48 minutes in total. But next weekend, when the All-Star festivities are taking place in Orlando, he’ll get some additional rest — some that, many would be able to argue, he didn’t deserve at all.

Notes

– Joe Johnson was named as a participant in the three-point contest over All-Star weekend on Wednesday, despite his percentage from beyond the arc of just .356 which currently ranks him at 65th on the season. So, how did this happen?

“It was kind of something I’ve been wanting to do since I was here in Phoenix,” Johnson told NBCSports.com. “I did it when I was in Phoenix and didn’t have a good outing, so I thought if they needed a fill-in or what-not, I’d be that guy. I just kind of threw it out there, and they went for it. So here I am.”

– Steve Nash was whistled for somewhat of a phantom technical foul at a critical moment in this one, and the Hawks took their first lead since the first quarter on the technical free throw with 7:38 to play in the game. Both Nash and Alvin Gentry had reactions of complete shock and disbelief when it was called, which leads you to believe the refs may have misinterpreted something they heard or saw. Nash explained his side of the story afterward.

“It was tough, it really changed the momentum of the game,” Nash said. “Hinrich called ‘double fists’ which was their zone defense, so I went to the sideline and I really just mouthed to Alvin, ‘they’re in double fists,’ like asking him what offense he wanted us to run. And [the ref] thought I said, ‘They’re horrible.’ I don’t want to make any comment about the referees. I’ll just say it’s unfortunate he misinterpreted what was said.”

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2007 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. To add further insult to injury, LeBron pushed this team past a very good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.

Steve Kerr on Chris Paul: ‘More than anything, I feel bad for Chris’

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul didn’t play in Game 6 on Saturday night. The Rockets failed to eliminate the Golden State Warriors, who forced a Game 7 with a 115-86 win in Oakland.

Paul’s status for Game 7 is still unclear, although things aren’t looking good. Paul’s hamstring injury will be hard to heal in such a short amount of time, even with round the clock treatment and the power of will the veteran point guard brings to the table.

The Point God has a tendency to get hurt at just the wrong time. Paul famously broke his hand in April of 2016, and along with Blake Griffin‘s quad injury, allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to get the better of the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs that year. Paul also missed two games against the Rockets in the playoffs with a sore hamstring in 2015, a series the Clippers and Paul lost in seven games.

The NBA is not blind to Paul’s bad luck, either. Opposing head coach Steve Kerr commented on it to reporters, outlining not only what he thought they might do rotationally but his feelings about Paul’s injury history.

Via ESPN:

“More than anything, I feel bad for Chris,” Kerr said before the Warriors’ 115-86 rout of the Rockets at Oracle Arena. “The guy’s a phenomenal player and competitor and pretty much willed his team the last two games. He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career, and it’s a shame. I hate when anybody gets hurt.”

Kerr mentioned that he knew the reality of the situation is that by the end of the season, not everyone is going to be healthy. No doubt it’s a good thing for Kerr and the Warriors that Paul will likely miss Game 7. It’s unfortunate for a veteran like Paul, whose stellar career is dogged by unfair narratives of playoff failures.

Maybe Houston can try again next year when they have LeBron James?