Hawks start hot, finish cold, Wizards take Game 1 on road 104-98.

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The Atlanta Hawks scored 37 points on 64 percent shooting in the first quarter.

The Atlanta Hawks scored 35 points on 25 percent shooting in the second half.

Spin that as an improved Wizards defense or the Hawks just missing good looks (reality is it was a mix of both), it doesn’t matter. The Wizards seemed to shake off the rust from their one-week layoff in the second half, slow the pace and change the game.  The Wiz hit the shots the Hawks defense gave them — John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 46 points and 14 assists — and Washington stormed back.

The Wizards picked up a 104-98 win on the road, taking a 1-0 lead over the No. 1 seed in the East. Game 2 is Tuesday night in the ATL.

This is the fourth straight series the Wizards have won Game 1 on the road, an NBA record.

“Last year, like I think I told you guys, we were just happy to be in the playoffs, we were happy to move on, and we didn’t really have any high goals after the first round,” Beal said postgame. “But this year we expect more of ourselves, we expect to get past the second round, we have that same same desperation we had in the previous round.”

“I think they made more plays in the second half than we did,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, putting it mildly. “I think defensively we just had a couple lags, a couple of lulls, that allowed them to get back in it and get a little separation. Offensively I think we’ve got to be more aggressive, we’ve got to get to the paint, attack more, and continue to move the ball, but I think that’s got to start with us being more aggressive getting to the paint.”

Atlanta was aggressive early. The Hawks of January — the team that went undefeated for a month and showed spectacular ball movement — had been largely absent through the end of the season and into the first round of the playoffs, but they showed up for the start of Game 1.

Atlanta came out moving the ball and hitting shots, going on a 9-0 run at one point and a 17-6 run in another both in the first quarter. The Wizards couldn’t keep up and trailed 37-26 after one. Then in the second quarter Dennis Schroeder used his speed to carve up the Wizards defense at the start while DeMare Carroll was knocking down threes and had 21 points in the first half.

Hawks lead comfortably 63-53 at the half, racking up an offensive rating of 131 points per 100 possessions in the first 24.

But this game was a tale of two halfs.

Washington tightened up its defense and cut off that penetration but even when the Hawks got the ball inside they didn’t finish. Plus the Wizards contested the arc better. Some of it was just the Hawks missing shots. In the first half, the Hawks were 13-of-18 inside eight feet and 9-of-17 from three. In the second half, the Hawks were 7-of-19 inside eight feet and 4-of-21 from three.

“I think the majority of the second half (we settled too much for jump shots)” Budenholzer said. “The thing you always have to be careful with, I thought we had some good looks, but I think we’ll get better looks, more consistent scoring if we’re more aggressive driving it.”

The Wizards played through injuries beautifully. John Wall injured his wrist on a hard fall in the second quarter but never left the game. Bradley Beal rolled his ankle and had to go back to the locker room in the second but returned to the game — noticeably hobbled and slower, but he returned.

Paul Pierce was his usual self in the playoffs, putting up 19 points and hitting 5-of-8 shots when contested (according to the Sports VU cameras). The Wizards also got strong bench play. Postgame Wizards coach Randy Whittman singled out Drew Gooden (12 points) and Otto Porter (10) for their contributions.

The Hawks did not — their starting lineup was +10 in 18 minutes of action, but that means when bench players were on the floor the Hawks were -16. Budenholzer got away with it against the Nets, but he might need to tighten his rotation now.

J.R. Smith caught on video beating up man who allegedly vandalized his truck

J.R. Smith
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Sunday was a day of mostly peaceful protests in Los Angeles in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last week. However, some bad actors used the protests as camouflage to loot and vandalize businesses and property near the protests.

One of those people allegedly broke the window of former NBA player J.R. Smith’s truck — and Smith ran him down and beat him up for it. Video of the beating emerged first on TMZ. (Warning, NSFW language.)

Smith quickly posted a video on his Instagram story trying to get out in front of this, saying the guy broke his truck window in a residential street — and Smith was having none of it.

“I just want you all to know right now, before you all see this s*** somewhere else. One of these little motherf****** white boys didn’t know where he was going and broke my f****** window in my truck. Broke my s***. This was a residential area. No stores over here. None of that s***. Broke my window, I chased him down and whooped his ass.

“So when the footage comes out and you all see it, I chased him down and whooped his ass. He broke my window. This ain’t no hate crime. I ain’t got no problem with nobody and nobody got no problem with me. There’s a problem with the motherf****** system, that’s it. The motherf***** broke my window and I whooped his ass. He didn’t know who window he broke and he got his ass whooped.”

It’s unknown at this time if any other legal action will come out of this, the police and prosecutors have a lot on their plates right now.

Smith was out of the NBA this season, despite getting a couple of workouts with teams.

George Floyd’s death brings back painful memories for Rockets’ Thabo Sefolosha

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Thabo Sefolosha knows what it’s like to be a black man, on the ground, being beaten by police officers.

Such was the scenario when George Floyd died in Minneapolis last week.

And five years ago, Sefolosha found himself in a similarly frightening place.

“I was just horrified by what I saw,” Sefolosha said. “That could have been me.”

Time has not healed all wounds for Sefolosha, the NBA veteran who said he was attacked by a group of New York Police Department officers in April 2015 while they were arresting him outside a nightclub in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood. The leg that was broken in the fracas is fine now. The emotional pain roared back last week when he saw video of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air in the final moments of his life as a white police officer — subsequently charged with murder — pressed a knee on his neck.

Sefolosha has seen the video. He hasn’t watched much news since. His experience with police in New York has left him with a deep distrust of law enforcement, the pangs of angst flooding back even when he walks into NBA arenas and sees uniformed officers. And the latest example of police brutality left him even more upset.

“People talk about a few rotten apples,” Sefolosha said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But you know, in my experience and from what we’re seeing, I think it’s deeper than that as a culture that’s deeply rooted in it, to be honest. That’s just my honest opinion. I think it’s really … part of a culture where it’s deeper than just a few bad apples.”

The four officers who were involved in the incident where Floyd died were fired; the one who knelt on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Massive protests have broken out in several cities in recent days, the country torn again over a black man dying at the hands of police.

Sefolosha — a black man of Swiss descent who plays for the Houston Rockets — considered but decided against joining protests in Atlanta, where he is waiting for the resumption of the NBA season that was shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m mad, for sure,” Sefolosha said. “That’s for sure. I mean, it’s 2020. Nobody should have to go through this in this time, especially after black people have given up so much for America. Black people have given up so much and done so much for this country. It’s hurtful to see it this way.”

Sefolosha’s perspective changed forever on April 8, 2015. Chris Copeland, an NBA player at the time, was among three people stabbed outside the club where Sefolosha was that night; police arrived and ordered everyone to leave the area. Sefolosha says he complied but began getting harassed by officers anyway.

Before long, he was on the ground.

Sefolosha’s leg was broken and some ligaments were torn in the fracas, and he was arrested on several charges that a jury needed about 45 minutes to determine were unfounded. He wound up suing for $50 million, alleging his civil rights were violated, settled for $4 million and gave much of that money to a public defenders’ organization working in marginalized communities.

“It changed me a lot, toward the way I see law enforcement in this country,” Sefolosha said. “And also toward the way I see the whole justice system. I went to court and I had to do all of this to prove my innocence. It really got me deep into the system and I’m really skeptical of the whole system.”

NBA players have used their platforms often in recent years to protest racial inequality. Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after police used a stun gun on him and arrested him over a parking incident in 2018. On Saturday, Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics were among those taking part in Atlanta protests.

“You see what happened in Minnesota where three human beings with a badge are watching another human being killing somebody,” said Sefolosha, who has played in the NBA since 2006 and intends to return to Switzerland when he retires. “And instead of saying, ‘OK, this is my duty as a human being,’ the duty was more toward not interfering with the other officer and saying, ‘We are clan, we stick together no matter what.’ It should be the other way around.”

The NBA is closing in on finalizing a plan to resume the season in July at the Disney complex near Orlando, Florida. Sefolosha and the Rockets figure to be contenders for a championship when play resumes.

For obvious reasons, Sefolosha’s mind isn’t there yet.

“I’ll be happy to be with my teammates and reunited with basketball in general,” Sefolosha said. “But you know, we’re human beings, and the fight has been going on for too long and the same protests have been going on for too long. I think it’s definitely time for change and that should be a priority for all of us.”

Michael Jordan releases statement: “I am deeply saddened, truly pained, and plain angry”

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Michael Jordan has been famously apolitical through his playing career and after, rarely commenting on social issues. While the “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment has always stuck to him, as Roland Lazenby points out in his biography “Michael Jordan: The Life,” Jordan’s “keep your head down and don’t draw attention” political outlook was passed down as a family demeanor used to survive in rural North Carolina.

However, in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer, and the eruptions of protests nationwide, Jordan felt compelled to speak and released this statement.

Jordan’s voice is a powerful one and carries a lot of weight, as do his actions.

How he uses that voice, and the actions he takes going forward, will be watched and can hold a lot of sway.

 

On this date in NBA history: J.R. Smith forgot the score

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There comes a point in almost every NBA playoff series when one team knows it’s beat. That team threw its best punch and the other team took it and won anyway. While no NBA team would never go into the postgame press conference and say “we’re beat,” it shows up in their tone and body language.

In the 2018 NBA Finals, that moment came after Game 1.

Two years ago today, May 31, the Cavaliers went to Golden State and were on the verge of stealing Game 1 on the road. LeBron James had targeted Stephen Curry on switches to keep the Cavaliers ahead, LeBron thought he drew a charge on Kevin Durant but it was overturned on review and called a block, and a back-and-forth end of the game saw the Warriors go up one when Curry drew and and-1 foul on Kevin Love with 23.5 seconds left.

Of course, the Cavs put the ball in LeBron’s hands out top, the Cavaliers got the switch and had Curry trying to guard LeBron, when LeBron threw a bullet pass to a cutting George Hill. Klay Thompson hooked Hill, and Hill went to the ground. The foul was called and Hill went to the free-throw line.  He hit the first and tied the game 107-107.

Then came the moment.

“He thought we were up one,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, although Smith was selling at the time he was trying to bring the ball out to get a better shot. The Warriors players thought he was trying to get the ball to LeBron, maybe.

Game 1 went to overtime, where the Warriors dominated (17-7) and got the win. After the game, you could feel it around the Cavaliers — this was their chance and they missed it. The series ended in a Golden State sweep.

It’s a legendary moment of the NBA Finals, even if it’s one Smith and Cavaliers fans would like to forget.