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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Rockets miss chance to steal game in Oracle

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Houston had a chance to steal a game in Golden State and it clanked off the rim. Thirty-three missed threes. 33.

Houston had a 102 offensive rating in Game 1 of the second round (12.8 below their regular season average), they took 57 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 29.8 percent of them — 33 misses.

That is the stat that sums up why the Houston Rockets blew a chance to steal Game 1 on the road — this felt like a blown opportunity because those chances are rare at Oracle Arena. The Warriors stumbled in this game, the Rockets did not grab the opportunity.

The Warriors hung on to win Game 1 104-100. Game 2 is Tuesday night back in Oracle.

In an intense defensive game that turned things sloppy at times, the Rockets missed the shots that define their offense. The Warriors defensive strategy of crowding the shooters seemed to throw off the Rockets, and Houston didn’t get the calls they expect/get bailed out by (depending on your perspective). More on the officiating in item No. 2 below, but know it wasn’t the reason the Rockets lost. They just missed their shots.

The other reason they lost was one Kevin Durant. He has been the best player on the planet for a couple of years now and continues to show it on the biggest playoff stages. He had 35 in this game — the same as James Harden, but Durant’s felt more clutch as he hit them when his team needed them.

Game 1 was about the defenses, and now the Rockets need to adjust to how the Warriors have chosen to defend them.

The Warriors did not switch Harden’s picks to give Houston the matchup it wanted, instead, Stephen Curry (or whomever) would do a hard show to cut off the drive, then recover, and they did that smoothly. (Late in the shot clock the Warriors switched those picks but at that point Harden’s options were limited and he just had to try a stepback three everyone knew was coming). Golden State — and Draymond Green in particular — also did an excellent job of contesting Harden on drives while at the same taking away the lob to Clint Capela.

Warriors got away with sloppy play for long stretches of the game, they turned the ball over on 30 percent of their possessions in the first quarter, 20.6 percent for the game (22 total). Be careless with the ball like that again and it will cost them a game.

However, their stars both got the matchups they wanted and hit the big shots when needed. For example, when Mike D’Antoni subbed in Nene for rebounding in the final minute, Curry got the switch he wanted and sunk the dagger in the Rockets.

Houston had a chance to respond and went to a Harden stepback three that did not fall (and he was not fouled by Draymond Green on that play… again more on the officiating below). Chris Paul grabbed the rebound after Harden’s final miss, Harden was still on the ground trying to sell the call that wasn’t coming, so CP3 attempted to draw a foul on Klay Thompson he didn’t get, then got ejected with his second technical when he yelled at the referee for not giving him the call. CP3 will be writing a check to the league for this.

In the end, the Warriors fought through their adversity to get the win and go up 1-0, knowing they can play a lot better — they didn’t take great shots at times, didn’t take care of the ball, and were not always sharp defensively. The Rockets can play better too, but it feels like this was as good a chance as they were going to get to steal a game. Maybe Houston can prove that idea wrong in Game 2.

2) “Refereeing is an inexact science. So it is what it is.” That was Draymond Green, and he’s right. The officials are human, they miss calls, and that’s just part of basketball. However, Houston’s system is built on pushing the rules and getting calls, and those calls did not come in Game 1. There are legitimate questions about where the line is and how it should be enforced.

Mark Cuban put it this way.

Houston and Harden have a system that pushes the rules to their edge — and they count on getting those calls as part of their offensive strategy. It’s baked into the system. Those calls were not coming on Sunday, the referees were consistent — and at times incorrect — not calling fouls where Harden was contacted in the air, where he didn’t have a landing zone (Klay Thompson in the first half should have gotten fouls for that). The idea that a jump shooter has to have a place to land has been a point of emphasis for officials for a while now. Houston banks on it.

However, it’s not clean cut and easy to call, especially with Harden. He leaps forward on his shots, he’s not vertical. His final three-point attempt, where he wanted a call on Green, was not a foul and a good no call by the referee, as Joe Borgia explains well, here.

Harden does leap forward, not straight up, and if he goes into the defender’s space that’s not a foul. However, there were missed calls where the Warrior defender closed into Harden’s space and a foul should have been called.

Warriors fans can “whataboutism” this — and they would be right. There were also times Harden pushed off (Kevon Looney) and no call was made, or a player was just in a good defensive position (Andre Iguodala) and Harden got the call anyway. Things tend to balance out over the course of the game.

Houston wants to say historically Golden State gets the benefit of the whistle. That there is an institutional bias benefitting the Warriors.

That’s a lovely esoteric argument, but it’s not going to help them in Game 2. The question is how will that one be officiated compared to Game 1.

3) Boston goes into Milwaukee, plays a textbook game, and comes away with a comfortable Game 1 win. Things could not have gone much better for Boston — they set up a list of things they wanted to do in Game 1, then proceeded to just go down the list and check them off.

That started with defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. In NBC’s preview of this series I wrote Al Horford was the key for Boston, he had to be big on both ends. He was that in Game 1 — 20 points and he did a great job defending the Greek Freak. Still, nobody saw this coming.

Boston went into Milwaukee and owned Game 1, taking it 112-90. It was the kind of performance that had Boston looking like a contender — something they have done in flashes for the season, but have not been able to sustain.

This was no one-man show, the Celtics threw multiple defenders at the Greek Freak, but it was Horford’s ability to recover that was key to forcing Antetokounmpo into a 7-of-21 shooting night. More importantly, Antetokounmpo had just two assists. The Bucks were not moving the ball, finding the open man, the making the Celtics pay.

“If they’re going to play like this the whole series, I just have to make the right pass, and trust my teammates to knock down shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the game.

Offensively, Boston took the shots they were given — 41.5 percent of the Celtics shot attempts came either as midrange jumpers, or longer (floater range) shots in the paint, but they hit 56.8 percent of them. Milwaukee forced the Celtics into the shots nobody wants to take, but if Boston can knock them down at that rate Milwaukee will be in real trouble this series. Kyrie Irving had 26 to lead the Celtics.

However, Boston’s defense — and Milwaukee’s offensive struggles — were the real keys. Especially in the first half, the Bucks seemed to take a lot of difficult, contested shots that were not going down. Then again, by the NBA’s tracking data, the Bucks also were 18-of-50 (36 percent) on uncontested shots, too. Just nothing was falling.

Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee need to find that offensive flow before Game 2 or the hole they will find themselves in will be just about impossible to climb out of.

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.