Incredible 35-point performance from Deron Williams leads Nets to overtime Game 4 win over Hawks

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NEW YORK — Deron Williams had scored five total points on 2-of-15 shooting over the last two games of Brooklyn’s first-round playoff series against the Hawks, and was benched for the entire fourth quarter of Saturday’s Game 3, which the Nets won more due to an uncharacteristically lackluster Atlanta performance than because of anything else.

But Williams figuratively rose from the dead on Monday, and turned in an incredible performance to lead his team to a 120-115 overtime victory which evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

“It’s very satisfying,” Nets head coach Lionel Hollins said of Williams afterward. “The kid has overcome a lot of adversity, with the injuries and with the negativity around his name. For him to come out showed a lot of character to put on a performance like that, especially when we needed it. Because without that performance, I don’t know if we get out of here with a win. I’ll take it, and I’m excited about it.”

Williams finished with 35 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals, and scored 16 in the fourth quarter while making some incredibly difficult shots. He had been buried by the media in recent days, and Hollins, unprompted, jumped to his defense at Sunday’s practice.

“I’m disappointed in how everybody’s coming down on Deron and trying to treat him like he’s a pariah,” Hollins told reporters. “Deron’s a good person, he’s a good player. Now, is he on the level that you guys think he should be? That’s your fault for thinking that somebody should be something.”

“No player is the same as he was four years ago,” Hollins continued. “All I’m saying is the guy has played well and somebody picks out that he has two points. So what? He played well. It’s not just about the scoring. There’s a lot of teams that would be better because they have some guys who score a lot of points. But it’s about winning, it’s about doing the right things for the team. And I’ll defend Deron till the end on that and all my players to the end.”

On this night, no defense of Deron was needed. He started off hot with 11 first-quarter points, and set the tone early for his teammates by playing with a high level of aggressiveness. The Hawks were largely unfazed, however, and went on a run in the second quarter to erase an eight-point deficit and take a six-point lead into the halftime intermission.

One particular play stood out — a fast break opportunity where Atlanta pushed the ball, and zipped three quick passes around to create a wide open corner three for Mike Scott, which he calmly knocked down. These were the Hawks that won 60 games during the regular season, and it appeared as though they might have returned in time to take control of the series.

Atlanta carried its strong play through the third, where it pushed the lead to as many as 12 points. The Hawks dominated the period by knocking down 13 of their 20 shot attempts, and hitting the offensive glass hard to rebound all but two of their misses.

But Williams opened the fourth quarter by hitting back-to-back threes and a step-back jumper to cut the lead to three, while singlehandedly bringing his team back. He made a lot of tough shots, but the craziest came with his team trailing by two and just under two minutes to play. The shot clock was winding down, and he was being hounded by Jeff Teague some 35 feet from the basket.

And then, this happened.

“I said thank god,” Hollins remarked, when discussing the shot that was characterized as a prayer in a postgame question. “We needed it, and it was answered.”

It was by no means the game’s deciding play; that would have been this one from Thaddeus Young, an and-1 floater with just under a minute to play in the overtime session. But it was one of the most important in terms of keeping the Nets in it long enough to eventually emerge victorious.

“I honestly don’t know what happened,” Williams said of his shot-clock-buzzer-beating shot. “I just knew the clock was winding down, I had to get a shot off and it felt good as soon as it left my hand.”

Williams never responds publicly to criticism, and seems to take any negative comments in stride — including some that came from his former teammate Paul Pierce just before the postseason began. But he does hear them, and when someone like his head coach takes up publicly for him, the kindness doesn’t go unnoticed.

“It definitely means a lot,” Williams said of Hollins defending him. “I thanked him today after the game, and it means a lot when your coach, when you’re struggling like that, when your coach comes out and defends you the way he did, it definitely means a lot. It says a lot about how much he cares about not only me, but this team and our players.”

Hollins has been able to turn the negativity surrounding Williams early in this series into a huge positive, which has galvanized his team in the process. Williams was able to respond on the court with a transcendent Game 4 performance, and hopes to build on it the rest of the way.

“I just want to keep being aggressive like this throughout the series,” Williams said. “We evened it up, we’re playing better as a team, and we’re figuring things out. So I just need to keep being aggressive like this.”

LeBron James says Lakers have off-court issues, out vs. Rockets (groin)

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”

Mike Trudell of the Lakers:

Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.

LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.

Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.

It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.

76ers: Ben Simmons suffered subluxation of knee cap, considering treatment options

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Ben Simmons injured his knee during the 76ers’ win over the Wizards yesterday.

The diagnosis is in, and the prognosis sounds worrisome.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

How quickly will Simmons recover? Once he recovers, will he face elevated risk of re-injury?

These questions now haunt Simmons and Philadelphia.

Simmons is a young star who’ll begin a max contract extension next season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons opened Philadelphia’s championship window, and now rain is drizzling through. Philadelphia can’t reach it ceiling without Simmons healthy and providing value.

Even more modest goals in a disjointed season will be more difficult to reach.

The 76ers were just adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward. Now, they must again re-configure their plan – maybe for a significant chunk of the remainder of the season.

Even more burden falls onto Embiid, who has been shouldering so much with this mismatched roster. Simmons plays across the positional spectrum, so any number of 76ers could fill in while he’s out. Many of those lesser players will complement Embiid more smoothly than Simmons did. But the talent deficit without Simmons can’t be offset.

That’s the scary issue for now – and maybe a while.

Kelly Loeffler calls WNBA players supporting her opponent for senate ‘out of control cancel culture’

Sue Bird wears shirt supporting Raphael Warnock in senate race against Kelly Loeffler
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WNBA players and Kelly Loeffler hit a stalemate.

Players want to oust Loeffler as Atlanta Dream co-owner because Loeffler – a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia – holds political stances they disagree with and is advocating against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler said she won’t sell, and the league won’t force her out.

So, players have turned to Loeffler’s senate race, wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts in support of Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock.

Holly Rowe of ESPN:

Loeffler statement:

ATLANTA—Today, political outsider and conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler issued the following statement in response to WNBA players wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” t-shirts. The shirts endorse Kelly’s Democrat opponent, Raphael Warnock, following her criticism of the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter political organization.

“This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June:

“We come together around sports, but promoting a political agenda divides us rather than unites us. The lives of every African American matter, and there’s no place for racism in our country. But I oppose the BLM political organization due to its radical ideas and Marxist foundations, which include defunding the police and eroding the nuclear family. On the other hand, our flag represents our values of freedom and equality for all. If we can’t unite behind our flag, much less the national anthem during this struggle, then what keeps us together? It’s sad to see that there’s more interest in tearing our country apart than in solutions that bring us together. I’ll continue to defend American values and our flag, because this is not a game – it’s the future of our country. “

“Cancel culture” is a vague term with shifting definitions. But people supporting voting for one political candidate over another? That comes nowhere near any reasonable definition of cancel culture.

WNBA players are not just basketball players. They’re human beings with varied interests – including politics. That should come perfectly naturally to a self-described “political outsider” who’s a sitting senator and running for re-election. If it’s reasonable for Loeffler to be interested in politics (it is), it reasonable for WNBA players to be interested in politics.

As far as Loeffler restating her previous points, she remains errant.

Writer recants report that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers executive Larry Bird
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The report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because the team didn’t spend enough?

Never mind.

Pacers release:

Statement from Larry Bird

“A published report indicated that I left my position as President of Basketball Operations in 2017 because ownership was not willing to spend “big money” and that it frustrated me enough to step aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone to know I left there because it was time for me to move on from the Pacers.

“I had worked with Kevin Pritchard and at that time I felt Kevin was ready to take over and he has proven that. I can’t thank Herb and Mel Simon, along with Pacers Sports & Entertainment, for the opportunities to, at first, coach, and then later move into the front office.”

Statement from ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan:

“About three weeks ago during a discussion on the podcast The Hoop Collective, I misspoke when I expressed my opinion regarding the business practices of the Indiana Pacers, and inferred that Larry Bird had been frustrated during his time as team president. It was a careless remark, based solely on my opinion, and therefore should have never been said. Larry Bird never expressed those feelings to me, and I apologize to both Larry and team owner Herb Simon for poor choice of my words.”

I don’t know why the Pacers bothered quoting Bird, who still works for the organization as Advisor to the President of Basketball Operations. MacMullan’s clear recantation says everything necessary (and speaks to her integrity and humility).

It’s good this story got cleared up.

Some things that remain true: