Elimination game Josh Smith is a thing, Rockets live to play another day

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For the fourth time these playoffs, the Houston Rockets stepped on the court knowing if they lost they could make tee times for golfing the next morning — their season would be over.

On just the Rockets’ second possession of the game, Josh Smith walked into a straight on three early in the clock — a shot the Warriors will gladly let him take.

Smith drained it.

He did it again a couple minutes later, capping a 12-0 run by the Rockets to start the game that set the tone for the night. The Rockets held off the Warriors charges in a wild game to survive and get to play in Game 5 Wednesday.

“He started it off for us, knocking down shots and being aggressive,” James Harden said of Smith. “That’s what we need, our four men — Josh and TJ (Terrence Jones) — to be aggressive. Be aggressive and attack the basket. He kind of got it going for us, and the other guys picked it up.”

Smith has done this all playoffs — when the Rockets are up against the wall, it’s Smith making plays. Elimination game Smith is a thing.

In the four Rockets’ elimination games this season, Smith has 63 points on 22-of-34 shooting (64.7 percent). In those games, he’s hit 10-of-18 from three. Most impressive, in those games he’s 10-of-13 on contested looks — even when the defense comes out on him he’s knocking it down.

If your reaction to that is “he can’t sustain that level of play” you’d be right. Over the course of a season he will not sustain it — but in a playoff series he doesn’t have to. Just a quarter here (say, the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers) or a game there.

Smith just isn’t ready for his time with the Rockets to end. He came to Houston mid-season after Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons paid him just to go away. Smith was a free agent with options, but chose to come to the Rockets because of a relationship with Dwight Howard and the chance to win. When this season is over, Smith is a free agent who could land anywhere. But he’s not letting that time come to an end just yet.

It’s not just Smith; other guys step up in these games as well.

“Josh (Smith) got us off to a great start, James (Harden) had a phenomenal game… I thought Trev (Ariza) did a really good job for us early, hit some big shots”

James Harden is obviously the engine for the Rockets’ offense and in the four closeout games he has a combined 125 points (including 45 against the Rockets Monday). He has hit 34-of-60 shots in those close out games and has a dozen threes.

Beyond him, Dwight Howard has 70 points in those games and is shooting 53.9 percent on contested looks in those contests. Trevor Ariza has 74 points in the games and is 16-of-33 from three. Corey Brewer has knocked down some big shots, particularly in the Game 6 comeback against the Clippers.

The Rockets will need three more can’t miss games from Smith and friends to advance past the Warriors, and that is unlikely. It goes back to the idea that the Rockets can’t sustain that level of shooting, that their role players will regress to the mean. Probably during Game 5 in Oakland.

Maybe. But the Rockets don’t have to sustain the crazy level of shooting that long. Just enough to survive another day. If you don’t think that can happen, you haven’t watched this resilient Rockets team these playoffs.

Bucks’ minor-league coach suspended two games for rant (video)

Bucks minor-league coach Chase Buford
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Chase Buford, who coaches the Bucks’ minor-league affiliate, went on an epic rant after the Wisconsin Herd’s latest loss. He singled out referee Matt Rafferty as a “f—ing clown” and said the officials were “bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating.”

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:

G League release:

Wisconsin Herd head coach Chase Buford has been suspended for two games without pay for a direct and extended public attack on the integrity and credibility of the game officials.

I can’t recall an NBA coach ever getting suspended for something he said during a press conference.

I also can’t recall an NBA coach ever saying something so inflammatory during a press conference.

In 2005, then-NBA commissioner David Stern threatened to ban Jeff Van Gundy from the NBA after the then-Rockets coach criticized officiating. That incident still led to just a $100,000 fine. Twice as large as any previous fine for a coach. But still just a fine, nonetheless.

Watch entire Kobe Bryant memorial service (video)

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The public memorial for Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant featured several unforgettable moments, including:

But I can’t overstate how well done the entire event was, how heartfelt the speakers and performers were. If you missed it yesterday and are in the right headspace, it’s worth watching to get a more complete understanding of Kobe and Gianna.

Joel Embiid flips off Hawks guard Kevin Hurter (video)

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Joel Embiid scored 49 points in the 76ers’ win over the Hawks yesterday.

It appeared he was gunning for 50.

With Philadelphia up 14 in the final minute, Embiid dunked. Then, he hit an off-the-dribble 3-pointer. After grabbing a rebound on the other end, Embiid brought the ball up court himself – with the shot clock on.

Atlanta guard Kevin Huerter raced from behind and stole the ball. Embiid gave him the finger.

Embiid, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

There’s always this thing about you shouldn’t shoot the ball if you’re up 20 or something like that. And I feel like it should go both ways. I’m running the clock down and I feel like the game is over. That’s why I’m doing it. But to me, if the other team is gonna keep playing defense, and they’re gonna keep shooting the ball at the other end, I feel like we should just be like, ‘Well, be better next time,’ and just go out and score.

How dare Huerter play basketball. During a basketball game.

Embiid had just been attacking for multiple possessions! He was dribbling toward the Hawks’ basket with urgency! How was Huerter supposed to know that was the suddenly the moment Embiid was done playing?

What nonsense.

Three Things to Know: Emotional celebration of Kobe’s life just start of day for Harden, Booker

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Emotional, moving Kobe Bryant Celebration of Life just start of the day for James Harden, Devin Booker. The most fitting way to honor Kobe Bryant? Play the game of basketball with passion. Leave everything on the court.

James Harden and Devin Booker did just that.

Harden, Booker, and Russell Westbrook were at the powerful and unforgettable Kobe Bryant Celebration of Life memorial Monday afternoon at Staples Center in Los Angeles. All three left that event, hopped on charter flights, and were playing in NBA games that night.

Harden had 37 points on 14-of-25 shooting, leading the small-ball Rockets past the Knicks.

Westbrook also was in Los Angeles and then in Houston for the game, but he did not play (officially due to a sure thumb).

Booker’s flight took him to Salt Lake City where he scored a fitting 24 points to spark the Suns in an upset win over the stumbling Utah Jazz.

However, the most impressive double-duty of the day belonged to Oregon women’s basketball star Sabrina Ionescu. She spoke at Kobe’s memorial that morning.

Then she was on a plane to the Bay Area where she laced them up for the Ducks against Stanford and made history becoming the first college basketball player — male or female — to score 2,000 points and have 1,000 rebounds and 1,0000 assists in a career.

Somewhere, Kobe is smiling watching the way Ionescu plays. That passion is the most fitting way to honor him.

2) Bradley Beal scores 50+ points for the second straight game. Wizards lose for the second straight game.
Bradley Beal is putting up up points like he’s an NBA Jam game come to life — “He’s on fire!” In Chicago Sunday night Beal scored a career-high 53 points, but Washington still lost in Chicago.

Monday night against the Bucks Beal topped it, scoring 55 points — including 22 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then seven more in the extra frame — and still the Wizards lost. Again.

Around the league last summer, teams were making calls to see if the Wizards were ready to trade Beal. Instead, he took the cash and showed his loyalty to the franchise by signing a max extension. Beal and everyone else knew the Wizards would struggle this season, he made his $71 million decision (and you can’t blame a man for getting paid).

Those trade calls are going to start up again next summer, but the Wizards are intent on getting John Wall back on the court with Beal and their younger players such as Rui Hachimura then making a playoff push next season. Beal is not going to be on the move. Yet.

Also of note out of Milwaukee’s win, Khris Middleton scored Milwaukee’s final nine points on his way to 40 for the night.

3) Joel Embiid scores career-high 49 points in 76ers win. Joel Embiid is another one of the NBA players who has talked about how much Kobe influenced him — watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals is what inspired him to play basketball.

Embiid played inspired ball on Monday night, scoring a career-high 49 points plus grabbing 14 rebounds in a 76ers win at home over the Hawks.

That win leaves Philadelphia just one game back in the loss column from Miami for home court in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. (A Heat/76ers matchup is looking more and more likely in that first round.)

However, the Sixers found out Monday that Ben Simmons will be out for an indefinite amount of time due to lower back pain. Losing the All-Star could be a blow to the Sixers home court (and maybe playoff) chances.