Posts Tagged ‘Hawks’

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

The new (LeBron) world order in the East


VIDEO: LeBron’s homecoming means a return to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings for the Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Take the words of LeBron James as gospel on what will become of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the hometown hero back in the mix. As LeBron told SI.com, this is just the first step of the process:

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.

The Cavaliers’ metamorphosis from lottery outfit to true championship contender won’t happen overnight. While Las Vegas and everyone else seems to have forgotten about the San Antonio Spurs (the team that smashed the two-time defending champion Heat in The Finals last month), LeBron’s keen eye for history allows him to see that.

Even with LeBron, the Cavs might not be the best team in what could be a loaded Central Division next season.

Don’t forget, the Cavaliers couldn’t even make the playoffs in a watered down Eastern Conference last season. And the Atlanta Hawks made it to the playoffs last season with just 38 wins.

LeBron’s belief in the Cavaliers’ core group won’t necessarily be enough to push them past the Indiana Pacers, the team  that owned the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, or the potentially revamped Chicago Bulls, were they to secure the services of free-agent Carmelo Anthony and get a healthy season from one-time league MVP Derrick Rose.

No one should forget about the Toronto Raptors, winners of the Atlantic Division, or Washington Wizards, a surprise Eastern Conference semifinalist after knocking off the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams retained their marquee free agents — Kyle Lowry in Toronto and Marcin Gortat in Washington —  and will both be a year wiser and better.

Still, LeBron’s arrival changes the Eastern Conference landscape the same way it did four years ago when he showed up in Miami and (along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) turned a middle of the road Heat team into a contender.

Forget what that Cavaliers’ roster looks like today. Focus on what it could look like when the Cavs are done exploring their options. Swing a Kevin Love deal and add veterans and LeBron-friendlies like Mike Miller and Ray Allen, and perhaps that process LeBron mentioned can be accelerated.

The one thing that was true in 2010 about LeBron and his approach remains true this time around: He cannot do it alone. Wade and Bosh were crucial then and Irving and Wiggins will serve as his chief aides this time around. Love would certainly be the X-factor, but with or without Love, there is a new world order in the East.

Here’s an early look at the top eight in the Eastern Conference (as of this moment):

1) Indiana – Even with all of their dysfunction at the end of the season, the Pacers remain the most formidable roadblock for contenders in the Eastern Conference.

2) Cleveland – They get a big edge from the LeBron bump … YES, he means that much to whatever team he’s on. And that’s before we see what else the Cavs can come up with this summer.

3) Chicago – Carmelo pushes them up to a near tie for the No. 2 spot. Toss in Pau Gasol and we’re talking about a possible new No. 1. But there is much work to be done in the Windy City.

4) Toronto — Masai Ujiri is in the midst of changing the culture in Toronto, the most important step being his successful effort to keep Lowry in the fold.

5) Washington — Trevor Ariza remains an important piece for the Wizards, but he’s replaceable if a deal cannot be struck. The Wizards have as strong a young backcourt tandem in John Wall and Bradley Beal as there is in the East.

6) Charlotte – The addition of Gordon Hayward, if the Utah Jazz don’t match the $63 million offer sheet, does not vault the Hornets into the top half of the playoff chase.

7) Atlanta – The return of Al Horford from injury is more important than just about any free-agent signing the Hawks could execute this summer.

8) Miami – They lost out on LeBron but will keep Bosh and Wade as Pat Riley tries to repair the damage of the departure of the best player on the planet.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

 

Hawks snag Sefolosha on 3-year deal


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive wiz and the ultimate system guy for the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some of Danny Ferry‘s best work as general manager of the Hawks has come during these summer months, when many of his colleagues are spending lavishly for players Ferry is busy bargain hunting for players who perfectly fit the Atlanta Hawks’ system.

Ferry might have found his latest gem in defensive wiz Thabo Sefolosha, who agreed to terms on a 3-year, $12 million deal earlier today, as first reported by RealGM.

Sefolosha, a starter in Oklahoma City the last five seasons, fills the void on the wings for the Hawks, who traded veteran reserve guard Lou Williams to Toronto earlier this week.  Sefolosha averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 61 starts last season and served as Thunder’s defensive ace on opposing team’s best perimeter player.

The Hawks proved last year, their first under coach Mike Budenholzer, that they could plug different players into their system and get fantastic results. Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star nod in his first season with the Hawks while guys like DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack had standout seasons. 

Sefolosha was a mainstay in that Thunder lineup during that franchise’s rise from lottery outfit to legitimate contender, working alongside the reigning KIA MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

The Hawks have an offensive specialist on the perimeter in veteran shooter Kyle Korver. Sefolosha gives them kindred spirit on the defensive side and a player versatile enough to fit into whatever small-ball, Spurs-lite scheme Budenholzer has in mind for the future.

Once again, Ferry is loading the cupboard with great fits at reasonable prices, the same as he did last summer when the Hawks were flush with cap space and spent wisely (if at all).

Diaw finally finds comfort zone


VIDEO: Tony Parker on the words of wisdom he had for his longtime friend Boris Diaw earlier in his career

MIAMI — The first nervous steps of Boris Diaw‘s NBA career were tough to watch.

The talent was obvious: A 6-foot-8 basketball savant with point guard skills and the size, length and ability to play as many as four positions. What was also clear is that Diaw’s understanding of the game was beyond that of a normal rookie. The Atlanta Hawks’ front office knew it, which is one of the main reasons they selected the young French prospect with the 21st pick in the 2003 Draft.

But there was glitch in the system. Diaw’s coaches had no idea how to use him. The Hawks, at the time, hadn’t figured out how to use a player with Diaw’s hybrid skill set. They couldn’t figure out if he was a point guard or a center or whatever was in between. So they tried him everywhere, from point guard to center … and sometimes all in the same half of the same game.

“Well, I did a little bit of everything,” Diaw said with a smile Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the day after helping his San Antonio Spurs to a 2-1 lead over the Miami Heat with a huge Game 3 win in The Finals. “It was helping me to learn pretty much every position. I remember starting the game at the five and going out to do the [opening] tip and then playing point guard during the same game.”

It was a testament to his polish and professionalism at such a young age that the Hawks leaned on him that way, not to mention their sheer desperation, what with a roster that was being rebuilt from the ground up at the time. Diaw, however, wasn’t necessarily ready for a role like that. He’d played at the highest level professionally in France but needed time to adjust his game to the NBA, time he didn’t get in Atlanta.

Back then his teammates whispered about how long he’d last, whether or not he was truly cut out for the NBA and if and when he’d scurry back to Europe.

It wasn’t until much later in his career, after he left Atlanta via the controversial Joe Johnson sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix in the summer of 2005, that Diaw’s best was revealed. He earned the league’s Most Improved Player Award in 2006 the with the Suns, thriving in Mike D’Antoni‘s free-flowing system.

He opened some eyes around the league as the NBA game was evolving into its current form, with floor spacers and a global style that has been the trademark of the top international leagues for years.

San Antonio has proved to be the ideal fit, complete with playing alongside his friend since childhood Tony Parker and in a system that prizes ball-sharing and versatility like no other system in the league. That would explain Spurs coach Gregg Popovich inserting Diaw into the starting lineup before Game 3. His presence forces the Heat into some uncomfortable matchups, specifically for Chris Bosh, who cannot take advantage of Diaw on the perimeter the way he can Tiago Splitter or even Tim Duncan.

In fact, Diaw ends up with the advantage because he can play inside and out while also serving as an extra ballhandler and facilitator and rebounding like a power forward and guarding both in the paint and on the perimeter. He’s one of the best and most creative passers in the league, big man or not. And he’s unselfish to a fault, making him the ideal teammate in today’s NBA.

Again, the Spurs’ system (impact over stats and detail over flash) and Pop’s methods, are the perfect fit.

“Every coach is different, everybody has a different philosophy,” Diaw said. “I’ve had a lot of teams and a lot of coaches in my career. So it’s definitely gratifying when you get a coach like Pop recognizing a little bit of the background and the way we play in Europe, the way we share the ball and not so much the one-on-one basketball. It’s just a lot of fun to play on this team.”

The best part, for both Diaw and Parker, is the chance to realize their hoop dreams together. They won gold at EuroBasket last year as leaders  of the French national team and are two games away from winning a Larry O’Brien trophy together with the Spurs.

“For me it’s a little bit different,” Parker said of Diaw’s career renaissance with the Spurs. “Everything that you see him do today I’ve seen him do it the last four or five years doing that. He was playing great basketball in Phoenix and had some rough years with the Bobcats. When the Spurs asked me about Boris and should we take him, I was like ‘he’ll be a great fit for our team.’ I’m so happy for him, to see him blossom at the big stage. And everybody can see what he’s doing and what he’s capable of.

Diaw’s work with the French national team should not be overlooked. Parker said it was a career-changing time for Diaw, who has made adjustments to his game and lifestyle in the wake of that huge summer.

“It was a big thing for us and I think it made Boris keep improving and keep getting better,” Parker said. “Since he’s been with us we have high expectations every game. We want to win a championship. So it made him be even more focused and take care of his body. He’s got a chef and he’s being very healthy and is playing his best basketball right now. As his friend since I’m 14 years old, it’s like a dream to win a gold medal with the national team and  this year have another opportunity to win a championship. You have to put it in perspective … when we grew up there were not a lot of European guys in the NBA. I never thought I’d be with him on the same team and being two wins away from winning a championship.”

If Parker didn’t, no one did.

Stackhouse hoping for coaching career

TREVISO, Italy — He never imagined this, and not just the part about coaching a group of high schoolers from the United States against France’s under-20 national team Saturday afternoon as part of the adidas Eurocamp international scouting bonanza.

Coaching anybody anywhere. Jerry Stackhouse never envisioned the role as his 18-year NBA career in eight cities, complete with two All-Star appearances as a Piston, was winding down. Broadcasting, maybe. But not this.

“And then I was watching my kid playing on the eighth-grade team,” he said. “The guy was just rolling the ball out there with them and (the players were) not really learning. That spurred me to get into it. I love it. Those last three or four years that I played, I felt like my role, as soon as the season was over, I was headed to the AAU circuit.”

Which eventually brought him here, about 20 miles north of Venice, for three games in three days with a roster of elite college prospects from around the United States, starting with a 77-67 loss to the more-experienced French club at La Ghirada Sports Complex. Which could quickly get him back to the NBA.

Stackhouse said he talked with the Hawks last summer, soon after retiring, about staying in his adopted hometown as a player-development coach and that he met with new president Phil Jackson about a role with the Knicks in 2014-15. While staff decisions in New York are essentially on hold until a head coach is hired, the sense from Stackhouse’s side is that “there could be some realistic possibilities coming in.”

“I enjoyed this year, just doing some broadcasting, doing radio and still being able to build what I want to do from a basketball standpoint coaching wise,” he said. “But I think I’m ready. When you look at the guys that had completely no experience, like Jason (Kidd) last year and his success, I think that’s what it’s going to. It’s going to coaches that can really understand these players now. That’s the key.”

He calls the former players who became head coaches with zero bench experience — Doc Rivers, Mark Jackson, Kidd — the blueprint. There are differences, though, some in Stackhouse’s favor. He is looking at being hired as an assistant, a much easier bridge to cross than directly to the No. 1 chair. On the other hand, while Kidd immediately went from player to head coach, Rivers and Jackson had time away and did not face the possibility of having to coach contemporaries.

“I feel like I’m going to bring the same energy,” Stackhouse said. “The thing about it is, the fact that my career playing allowed me to sit in every seat, from a star player to the 15th guy on the team. I didn’t look at myself that way as a player. I felt like I could still compete and even in my last year in Brooklyn, I was able to be a part of what’s going on. But now I can understand the dynamic for everybody that I coach — as a sixth man, everything, you’ve got to try to include them. You’ve got to bring ‘em in and reel ‘em in and let them know that they’re an essential part of what’s going on. I think I can better force that than anybody because I’ve sat in all those seats.”

As a player, at least. Now he is trying for a new spot in the NBA.

#BestNBAPlayoffSaturdayEver!

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Damian Lillard finishes off the Houston Rockets with the buzzer-beating dagger in Game 6

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This was already the best first round of NBA playoff basketball these eyes have seen.

From the opening tip of the very first game to last night’s Dame of Thrones dagger from Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard that eliminated the would-be-champion Houston Rockets in six games, this first-round whirlwind has been above and beyond anyone’s wildest imagination of what the first step of these 2014 NBA playoffs could be.

We’ve had 21 games decided by five points or less, eight overtime (or multiple overtime) games and a final weekend of the first round like nothing we’ve ever seen. The previous record for Game 7s in the same first round is just two, done several times and most recently in 2012 (the first round didn’t go to Game 7s until 2003).

By the opening tip Sunday this will be the most games we’ve ever seen in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

So this historic two-day finish, a staggering five Game 7s, kicking off today with three winner-take-all contests — making this the #BestNBAPlayoffSaturdayEver! — is the happy ending to every hoops lover’s dream scenario.

This is also the first time in NBA history we’ve had the pleasure of watching three Game 7s on the same day. All you have to do is tune in to TNT at 5 p.m. ET and you’ll get roughly eight straight hours of the game’s very best fighting it out for their playoff lives.

If we get five more games anything like what we’ve already seen, you’ll need extra supplies to get through what should be an absolutely wild weekend.

Your Saturday menu …

Game 1 — Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers, 5:30 p.m. ET


VIDEO: TNT’s Game 7 preview of Hawks-Pacers

Will we get a Roy Hibbert sighting in what should easily be the most important game of his career, to date? He’ll be in uniform. And he’ll probably be in the starting lineup, as he has in all six games of this series so far. But will he actually show up? That’s the question that lingers for the Pacers’ flummoxed All-Star center.

The Hawks are not going to change their stripes now. They’re going to stretch the floor and try to make the Pacers defend that 3-point line as best they can, a strategy Mike Budenholzer‘s crew has worked to perfection when they are knocking down their shots. They’ll need another 15-for-27-type effort that helped them win Game 5 in Indy and not the 9-for-35 misery that cost them Game 6 at home. By the way, No. 8 seeds are 0-2 all-time against No. 1 seeds in Game 7s.

Let’s be real. The Pacers should have the edge. Paul George avoided suspension after he and several other players from both teams stepped onto the court during an altercation between Pacers point guard George Hill and Hawks forward Mike Scott in Game 6.

Except, of course, for that little fact that the Hawks have basically owned the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse the past month. “My thing is that three of the last four times we’ve played these guys (in Indy), they built 20-point leads and beat us pretty good,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “So I don’t think anyone from this team can think we’re going to be OK just because we’re back home.”

***

Game 2 — Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m. ET


VIDEO: TNT’s Game 7 preview of Grizzlies-Thunder

Grizzlies big man Zach Randolph could not avoid the NBA’s disciplinary council, losing his chance to play in Game 7 after jaw-jacking Thunder rookie center Steven Adamswho adds the rugged Randolph to his long list of opposing players that have lost their cool trying to deal with the big fella. Raise your hand if you thought Adams would be the most important player in this series … didn’t think so!

As usual, Thunder coach Scott Brooks is in the crosshairs with his team’s season on the line. His lineup decisions — Caron Butler for Thabo Sefolosha? — with Randolph out will be scrutinized to no end if things go awry. It’ll be his fault regardless of what happens. Brooks has become a convenient scapegoat whenever folks discuss the Thunder.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is ailing, too, giving coach Dave Joerger even more to worry about than just playing without Z-Bo. He’ll have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in full attack mode, not to mention that home crowd that won’t sit down until the game is in hand one way or another. If the Grizzlies really are planning on doing something special tonight, they’ll have to do it with some big-game contributions from someone with experience in these pressure-packed situations (Mike Miller anyone?).

If the Thunder can’t find its way out of this series, they’ll need to take a long and hard look at their personnel … and that’s from Brooks and his staff all the way down to the end of the bench. They don’t have an endless title-chasing window with this group, even with Durant and Westbrook headed into the primes of their careers. Game 7 is huge for all involved but it’s even more critical for the future of this particular Thunder group.

***

Game 3 — Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET


VIDEO: TNT’s Game 7 preview of Warriors-Clippers

You have to give Warriors coach Mark Jackson credit, he’s played the mind game in this series every bit as well as his team has played the actual games on the court. “The pressure’s on them,” Jackson told to the Mercury News Friday. “They earned the right to have home court, and they’ve got some stars — some in uniform, and one in a suit and tie. The pressure’s on them.” There’s plenty of pressure on Jackson, too. His players know it and so does everyone else. They’re fighting for him as much as anyone, per J.A. Adande of ESPN.

Speaking of pressure, that buzz about this being a defining moment for Clippers superstar point Chris Paul is not going anywhere. He’s working on a bad hamstring, but all eyes will be on CP3 tonight. As good as Blake Griffin , Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and others have been this season, this is still his team to lead to championship glory. His matchup with Steph Curry has been every bit as entertaining as expected, but he needs to finish with a flurry or face the wrath of a growing number of critics who insist he hasn’t come up big in the biggest situations for his team in the postseason.

The Warriors enjoy one of the best home crowds in all of sports. But they’ll have to dial-up a signature performance without the aid of that bunch that keep Oracle Arena rocking every night. That means cold-blooded marksmanship from Curry and Klay Thompson and something extra from Draymond Green, who has become the wild card in this series. If he can work his way under Griffin’s skin and get the Clippers’ All-Star into early foul trouble, the entire complexion of this game changes.

That “star in a suit and tie” that Jackson referenced, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, is doing double and perhaps even triple time on the job these days. The vice president of basketball operations is serving as the resident healer in chief not only for his players but also other employees within the organization in the wake of the Donald Sterling drama. For 48 minutes, and hopefully five or even 10 more tonight, he’ll be locked in strictly on what’s going on between those lines on the Staples Center floor.

***

As they say, you better get your popcorn ready for the #BestNBAPlayoffSaturdayEver!

Oh, and save some for Sunday …

 

Suspensions for Pacers’ Butler, George?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mike Scott and George Hill scuffle in the second quarter of Game 6 between the Pacers and Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Indiana Pacers will host Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday. But it remains to be seen if their biggest star, All-Star swingman Paul George, will be a part of the action.

Both George and reserve forward Rasual Butler stepped off of the bench and onto the court during a second quarter scuffle between George Hill and Atlanta Hawks reserve forward Mike Scott in the Pacers’ Game 6 win Thursday night at Philips Arena.

At least one expert on the topic, former NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson, believes a suspension is forthcoming for someone …

Hill and Scott drew technical fouls for their shoving match. George and Butler took small steps but remained in the bench area. But the league has historically held players to the letter of the law in these cases.

The rule states that “during an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.”

Jackson was the man who handed out one-game suspensions in the 2007 playoffs when then Phoenix Suns big men Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the “immediate vicinity of their bench” after Robert Horry body blocked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table in Game 4 of a series between the Suns and San Antonio Spurs.

“The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear,” Jackson said then. “Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he wasn’t worried about it after Game 6.

“I haven’t seen (the video), but somebody told me about it,” he said. “I’m not concerned with any suspensions until we hear something.”

Pacers get their game 7 at home

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

VIDEO: Mike Scott’s dunk over Ian Mahinmi was a show-stopper but not enough win Game 6

ATLANTA — So this is what all the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference fuss was about.

The Indiana Pacers freaked out about it, obsessed over it all summer, from the moment they walked off the floor on the losing end of things last summer in Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.

They stalked from the day training camp opened and still fretted over it as their season careened from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

It was their mission this season to earn it, knowing full well they might need to use the home-court advantage that comes with it to get out of a jam at some point during these playoffs.

But so soon?

In the first round?

Against the Atlanta Hawks?

Of course not.

But it doesn’t matter now. None of the minutiae matters with their entire season down to this one, winner-take-all Game 7 Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Whatever missteps have been made along the way become background music to their playoff soundtrack if they can string together back-to-back wins against that 38-win Hawks team that has had their number the past month, both in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Thursday night’s dramatic come-from-behind 95-88 win before a sellout crowd at Philips Arena was the season saver.

History, and more importantly infamy, will have to wait.

“This was a gutsy win for our guys,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

Saturday night’s Game 7 is a must-win … to save face, the future and the Pacers from the humiliation of one of the greatest collapses of a so-called contender in league history.

“It’s zero-zero. One game. It’s tournament time,” Pacers All-Star Paul George said after he and his teammates avoided becoming just the fifth No. 1 seed in NBA history to fall to a No. 8 seed. “It’s win or go home time. So we’ve got to play a great game, because we know as well as they know that they’re capable of beating us on our home floor.”

The Pacers haven’t played one of those great games in forever. They’ve managed to just get by up to this point in this series. They outlasted the Hawks in Game 6 more than anything, staying in it long enough for George, who was in foul trouble early and throughout the game, and David West to take turns playing hero down the stretch.

It was the execution of a delicate two-man dance the Pacers have not been able to rely upon throughout this series.

Faced with a choice between survival and surrender, the Pacers’ two best and most reliable players snatched away a game the Hawks simply gave away. They scored 24 points each, West scored 12 of his in the fourth quarter on 5-for-6 shooting from the floor after making just 5-for-14 before halftime.

The Hawks were up 84-79 after a Jeff Teague 17-footer with 3:16 to play sent the crowd into a frenzy. Three disastrous offensive possessions later — Hawks center Pero Antic turned the ball over, then missed a wild 26-footer followed by a missed 17-footer from Paul Millsap —  and West finished things off on a clear out with a driving runner with 1:07 to play that put the Pacers up 87-85 and ahead for good.

Lance Stephenson added 21 points and 9 rebounds and the Pacers got quality minutes and production from Ian Mahinmi, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson on a night when Vogel decided regulars Roy Hibbert (12 minutes), Luis Scola (12 seconds) and Even Turner (DNP — coach’s decision) weren’t a part of the solution.

“We tried some different lineups,” said West, who added 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals to his statistical tally in Game 6. “Coach just rolled the dice. Down the stretch I was talking to Paul down the stretch and I told him it would be just me and him down the stretch. I thought our team did a great job closing the show. We got enough stops. Ian was great on Millsap, and it paid off for us.”

We won’t know for sure until Saturday if it was a temporary fix or not.

What’s clear, however, is that these Hawks have no fear in them where the Pacers are concerned. Never mind that 0-8 record all-time in road Game 7s.

They bounced back from a Game 4 loss and stroked the Pacers in Game 5, leading by as many as 30 points as they turned the home crowd against George, West, Stephenson and a frantic bunch that didn’t handle the business at hand. The Hawks shot the cover off the ball that night, knocking down 15 of their 27 shots from deep compared to just nine of 35 in Game 6.

“They’ve burned us a couple of times,” West said. “We’ve had some stretches where we didn’t put the ball in the basket. We just can’t allow those stretches where we allow 20 points to our three or four. We’ve got to make sure we get a shot on goal on every possession, because they are so explosive, especially from the three-point line. We’ve played all year for this, to get Game 7s in our building. The energy is going to be great. We just have to handle our business.”

If only it were that simple for the crew that has courted this moment and this stage for so long!


VIDEO: The Pacers stayed calm down the streetch to force a Game 7 against the Hawks

 

Hang time podcast (episode 158): the Sterling verdict and featuring Bob Rathbun

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Banned for life!

Those three words, those three simple words uttered by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Tuesday, will alter the landscape of the league for generations to come.

The racist and bigoted comments from longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling will not be tolerated. Silver made that clear in response to a nasty exchange between Sterling and a lady friend of his that surfaced over the weekend.

We dive in on the fallout, the playoffs and all that comes with it this time of year in the NBA on Episode 158 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Sterling Verdict and featuring the TV voice of the Atlanta Hawks Bob Rathbun.

The Washington Wizards have already pulled off the first shocker of the playoffs, sending the Chicago Bulls fishing. Can the Hawks really pull off this first round upset of the Pacers? And the Grizzlies over the Thunder? The Trail Blazers over the Rockets?

Dive in for all of that and more on Episode 158 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Sterling Verdict and featuring Hawks TV voice Bob Rathbun …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver annouces that he has banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life

Pacers survive, save season … for at least another day

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George talks to Rachel Nichols about the Pacers’ season-saving Game 4 effort in the win over the Hawks

ATLANTA — Survive and advance.

It’s a no-drills edict for each and every team in the NBA playoff field, but one that resonates in a particular way for a crew  built on the bedrock the Indiana Pacers have been crafted upon. An ugly win somewhere else is viewed differently in a locker room where David West rules the roost and a self-made, homegrown All-Star like Paul George reigns as the biggest talent.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to the Pacers’ physical Game 4 altercation with the Atlanta Hawks, a potentially series- and season-saving 91-88 slugfest that saw the No. 1 seed Pacers even things up with the No. 8 seed Hawks at 2-2 heading back for Game 5 Monday in Indianapolis.

George and West, with their back-to-back game-saving 3-pointers in a 21-second span with just two minutes to play, lifted the Pacers, at least temporarily, out of a funk that threatened their entire season.

It was twilight zone time when West sank his 25-footer, if for no other reason than he’s the last person on the Pacers’ roster anyone would expect to be in a position to take and make that shot. Roy Hibbert, who sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game, was going wild as the Pacers rallied for a 89-85 lead with 1:33 to play. Meanwhile, Lance Stephenson, whose been known to lose his cool a time or two in the heat of the moment, is preaching for everyone to stay calm, reminding his teammates that there was plenty of game still to be played.

“We needed that moment,” Stephenson said. “we needed this game. We turned it around, it’s 2-2 and I feel like it’s 0-0 now. The whole game I felt like we played hard, but those last three minutes of the game I saw that will to win that had been missing. It was good to see it come back.”

The immediate effect was obvious. The music was on in the Pacers’ locker room after the game. There weren’t any questions about what’s ailing them and why they can’t seem to get right, on and off the floor. There was a reprieve from the inquisition that they’ve had to endure for weeks. An off-day roasting during a film session with Frank Vogel and his staff helped clear the air and refocus this beleaguered group as they hunkered down for what, until Monday, was their biggest game of the season.

“It’s the difference between a win and a loss,” Vogel said. “With playoff wins and playoff losses, there’s a great elation when you win and a great disappointment when you lose. There’s a big difference.”

For all of the grief they’ve taken since the All-Star break, it should be noted that the Pacers responded to their season being minutes away from being on the brink in the only way they know how, with a guts-to-the-floor second-half effort that had become their trademark early on this season.

They had to lock down on defense with 6.9 seconds to play as the Hawks attempted to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Hawks had to settle for a 27-footer from Pero Antic — not Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague, all of whom had shredded the Pacers in one way or another at times in the previous 47 minutes and 53 seconds — that bounced off the rim as time expired.

“We’re a half-court defensive team. We take pride in guarding guys half court,” a weary George said after playing a game-high 44 minutes and collecting team highs in points (24) and rebounds (10) to go along with 5 assists. “We knew Kyle Korver was the main option. George Hill did a great job fighting him over the screen and not letting him come back off. From that point, David West was locked in on his guy and we just forced them to take a tough shot.”

The Pacers know they don’t have to play Mozart to survive the Hawks in the first round of these playoffs. They can get by with chopsticks, provided they play like the No. 1 seed and not some shell of that team.

There are matchups that will cause problems. The Hawks, perhaps more than any other team in the Eastern Conference playoff field, present many. But this series is back on track, a best-of-three with the Pacers once again holding the home court advantage.

That’s what made Game 4, and those final 12 minutes, so unbelievably critical to the Pacers’ season-long cause.

“This game could have gotten away from us and we’d be down 3-1,” said George, who missed two free throws with 7.5 seconds to play that could have made that final defensive stand unnecessary. “It’s going to be a long series. This team is not going away. We just have to build some consistency.”

It has to come one game and one step at a time as the Pacers frantically rebuild their collective confidence, starting with Hibbert, Hill and Stephenson and on down the line.

“We know that this series may go to seven [games], you never know,” Hill said. “When Boston put together their Big 3, just about every series they had went to seven. Listen, we’re up for the challenge. And no matter what happens throughout the course of a game or a series, we’re built for this. We’re built to be physical, to be tough and to grind it out.”


VIDEO: The Pacers held on for a Game 4 win over the Hawks in Atlanta