Posts Tagged ‘Ivan Johnson’

Pacers Need Bully Ball To Travel


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Winning at home is a given. It’s what the Indiana Pacers are supposed to do when facing a lower-seeded opponent in the playoffs. Bullying said opponent is always a good thing, too, especially when you are trying to shift the pressure back on the Atlanta Hawks the way the Pacers did with their 106-83 Game 5 beat down of the Hawks Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

But now comes the real challenge for the Pacers, armed with a 3-2 lead and the chance to end this series in Game 6 Friday night in Atlanta.

Do it again.

Be the bully.

Impose your will.

But, do it away from home this time.

Do it in Atlanta, where you haven’t won since 2006. Snuff out that 13-game losing streak on the Hawks’ home floor. Make those of us who are still skeptical of the Pacers’ Eastern Conference contender status believers.

It’s easy to play the tough role at home. Both of these teams have done that through five games. If you want to be taken seriously, though, you’re going to have to make a statement on the road at some point. If you don’t believe that, ask the Memphis Grizzlies (who used a huge road win in Los Angeles Tuesday night to take control of their first-round series against the Clippers).

Pacers’ big man and unquestioned leader David West understands what needs to be done. He showed as much in Game 5 with a much-needed breakout performance (24 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the floor). For all the things All-Star swingman Paul George can do to take over a game, the Pacers need a show of force to get past the Hawks and move on to whatever challenges await them in the conference semifinals.

West instigated things in Game 5 and his teammates followed. George finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Roy Hibbert with 18 and nine and Lance Stephenson 12 rebounds as the Pacers outmuscled the Hawks on the boards 51-28. West finally backed up his barking with the production and the Pacers reaffirmed their control in this series. Now they have to take this show on the road.

“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, take a couple of jump shots and get our guys going and get our flow,” West said. “We looked at the film [from Games 3 and 4 in Atlanta] and we left about 30 to 40 points on the board down there just not concentrating on our finishes. We didn’t give up that four or five minutes stretch we gave up in the two games at their place where they were able to extend the lead and make us fight uphill the rest of the way. It’s more about us, we were just a little bit more focused, we’ve had a couple of fiery film sessions and really, really challenged guys to own up and I thought guys did a good job responding to that. We were the initiators and not so much reacting to what they were doing.”

The Pacers earned the clear advantage in Game 5 with a show of physical force, one that caused the Hawks to melt down with Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson earning technical fouls, causing coach Larry Drew to chide his team afterwards for losing their composure and not playing smart.

It had nothing to do with the Pacers’ scheme or their analytics. It had to do with Pacers’ coach FrankVogel‘s favorite word, “disposition.”

Improved disposition on both ends of the floor by the Pacers, the better team by basically every measure, have to find a way to do what they did in Game 5 in Game 6 Friday night at Philips Arena.

Vogel disagrees, of course. He’s still clinging to the notion that this is tactical battle instead of an emotional test of wills.

“It’s just about how we’re playing in that building versus this building,” Vogel said. “I think there has been a series of moves in this series where you play a game and something works or doesn’t work and you make an adjustment. Their adjustments down there, give Drew credit, changed the momentum. Hopefully, we changed it back into our momentum and hopefully we can get game 6.”

West knows better. You lose 14 straight games in Atlanta and the pressure shifts right back on the home team for Game 7. The skeptics come roaring back into the picture, questioning the Pacers’ mettle.

A legitimate contender, the sort of big-time outfit the Pacers’ paper profile suggests they are, finds a way to end this series in six.

“We just have to fight,” West said. “We can’t have those spells where we’re on somebody else’s floor, where we for four to six minutes we are turning the ball over and giving them extra opportunities. We’ve got to to be able to go in there and handle that environment and control the basketball game. Go inside, set the tone defensively and let the chips fall where they may after that.”

Hawks Bow Up And Bounce Pacers


ATLANTA — If the Hawks were looking for a bruiser, a goon, a bona-fide lip buster even, they could have found someone who fit the profile better than Jeff Teague.

Ivan Johnson, Johan Petro, Mike Scott, DeShawn Stevenson and Dahntay Jones would all get the part over Teague in an open casting call for the role of NBA enforcer. The wiry strong but slight Teague would get laughed out of the audition.

Yet there he was Saturday night at Philips Arena, delivering the symbolic and very real elbow to the back of Indiana Pacers’ bully David West, with seven minutes to play in the first half of a game the Hawks dominated from three minutes in until the finish. Their 90-69 blowout win in Game 3 of this first playoff series not only allowed the Hawks the bounce back effort needed after two rough road losses to start the postseason, but also served as a statement game for Teague and his teammates.

They were up 21 when West shoved Al Horford to the ground on a fast break, earning a Flagrant 1 foul for his lick. Something had to be done. Teague knew it and didn’t hesitate. His instincts just kicked in.

“Well, kinda” he said, rubbing his low-cut mohawk. “I thought the play he made wasn’t right. So I had to let him know we were going to be there, that we’re not going to back down from anybody. I think that’s the same way they play. They try to be very physical and tough about it. And David West is a strong guy. He plays hard and plays physical. But I think we met the challenge tonight.”

For this one night the Hawks did exactly that, extending the Pacers’ losing streak at Philips Arena to 12 straight games, regular and postseason combined.

The Hawks held the Pacers to a new franchise playoff low 27-percent shooting, the previous low set against the Pacers in 1994. The 30 points they allowed in the first half sets a new franchise playoff record, and the 69 points allowed in the game is tied for the second-lowest mark in franchise playoff history.

Horford dusted himself off after that shove from West and roasted the Pacers for career-playoff highs in points (26) and assists (16), joining Dikembe Mutombo and Moses Malone as the only Hawks since the 1986-87 season to 25 or more points and 15 or more rebounds in a playoff game.

The Hawks used a 42-10 run to stagger the Pacers in a fight that was over by halftime. Hawks coach Larry Drew made his adjustment, a lineup change for the bigger with Petro instead of Kyle Korver, and Josh Smith locked in defensively on Pacers All-Star Paul George — it worked to perfection.

But the biggest adjustment was in attitude. They refused to be pushed around for a third straight game by West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers.

Horford couldn’t believe it when he realized that it realized that Teague was the first responder on that shove from West.

For the record, Horford said he thought West’s play was a hard foul but not anything dirty. It wouldn’t have mattered by then anyway. The Hawks left Indianapolis desperate for a win; desperate to show their home crowd that the team they saw on screen in Games 1 and 2 was not the team that would show up for this one; desperate to shut up the critics who bash them, rightfully mind you, for being such an inconsistent bunch.

Horford said he was going to work the way he did Saturday night no matter what anyone else said or tried to do about it.

“I was just being aggressive, playing with a lot of energy,” he said, crediting the circumstance and the late-arriving but raucous home crowd equally for energizing his team. “My teammates did a good job time and time again of getting me easy baskets. They were finding me whether it was off help or drive and kick. Defensively, I just wanted to set the tone and be more aggressive. I go out there with that same mindset every game. Tonight, I had to step up and make some plays on the offensive end.”

Smith served in a similar capacity on the defensive end, limiting George’s opportunities and effectiveness early by confining the Pacers’ best offensive player to a small patch of real estate on the wing and limiting his forays into the paint to a minimum.

“I just tried to keep a body on him, knowing and understanding that he is the focal point on the perimeter, as far as what they do offensively,” Smith said. “I just tried to stay engaged, tried to be elusive a little bit as far as pin downs were concerned. That was pretty much the game plan.”

Teague and Devin Harris did their part, too, thoroughly outplaying their counterparts in blue (George Hill and Lance Stephenson) on a night when the Hawks’ starters combined to shoot just 6-for-26 from the floor.

“This team has done something it’s done all year long, and that’s respond,” Drew said. “After two losses in Indiana, and coming home … I really felt we would respond. We came out early and the energy was there. We had some guys that played tremendous tonight. It all started with Josh Smith. I thought his effort on Paul George really set the tone for the game. George is such a terrific player. He’s really elusive off the dribble, and to throw a guy like Josh, who has the versatility to defend all five positions … I thought Josh really set the tone.

“The other guy I thought did a phenomenal job defensive was Jeff Teague. He got a couple of fouls early, but I thought he did a really good job in defending George Hill. The first two games of the series, George Hill has really played well. He’s shot the ball extremely well, but tonight I thought our guys took the defensive challenge. Our defense was the thing that really got us going.”

The defense, energy, resilience and refusal of at least one man to see the Pacers kick sand in the Hawks faces anymore. The Hawks shut the Pacers down offensively and turned them over (22 for 24 points) enough to blow the game open and keep West, Hibbert and George from capitalizing on their obvious size advantage.

“I thought they beat us at each position tonight; not with the different lineup that they played,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We didn’t take care of the ball very well. When you don’t screen with physicality and you don’t separate out of those screens, and don’t execute your sets, and let the other team take your airspace, it’s going to leave you with a poor shooting night and a lot of turnovers.”

Wherever the physicality of the series goes from here, Game 4 Monday night promises to be another bruiser, Smith insists the Hawks are ready.

“Yeah, it’s the playoffs. Adrenaline is flowing and emotions are running high,” he said. “It is going to get a little chippy, especially down there in the paint. The bigs for Indiana, they play a physical game and all we’re trying to do is match their physicality and exceed it a little bit. We’re not backing down from anything and it should be a pretty good series.”

We know Teague is already locked in and ready to go.

“We’re not backing down from anybody,” Teague said, “No matter what.”

Series Hub: Pacers vs. Hawks

The Lakers’ Most Devastating Loss Yet?


ATLANTA — In a season marred by one stunning loss after another, the Los Angeles Lakers might have suffered the most devastating setback of them all against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

With Kobe Bryant crumpled in the corner of the floor in front of the Lakers’ bench at Philips Arena with 2.6 seconds to play, all the work the Lakers have done to redeem themselves from a pitiful start to this season flashed before their eyes.

Bryant landed awkwardly with Hawks swingman Dahntay Jones underneath him after his baseline jumper that could have tied the game bounced off the rim. The way the crowd (which was a raucous pro-Lakers group a la Staples Center Southeast) went silent, you’d have thought it happened in Los Angeles.

A severely sprained left ankle will sideline Bryant indefinitely. X-rays of the injury were negative, but Bryant was clearly in pain and limped to the sideline for the final 1.5 seconds of the shorthanded Hawks’ 96-92 win. The Lakers’ chances of finishing off their miraculous reversal of playoff fortunes might also have to be a limp to the finish if Bryant is out for an extended period.

Much was and will be made of the play that Bryant was injured on, with the initial shot fired by Bryant.

“As defensive players, you can contest shots, but you can’t walk underneath players,” Bryant said. “That’s dangerous for the shooter.”

He later Tweeted his frustrations:

Jones, sensing the coming firestorm, refuted all charges and argued that he was only doing his duty as a defensive stopper and nothing more:

Whatever the chatter, the damage has already been done to the Lakers. (more…)

Hawks Have New Faces, New Pressure

ATLANTA — Josh Smith considers himself a realist. And he’s never been one to hold his tongue where his team is concerned.

So while you might hear championship talk from someone in every single training camp around the league this time of year, the Hawks’ forward refuses to play that game in a situation where name tags were actually necessary like they were at media day Monday at Philips Arena.

Only five of the 18 players the Hawks will suit up for their first practice Tuesday were a part of the organization last year. The Hawks jettisoned six-time All-Star Joe Johnson (Brooklyn Nets) and starting small forward and former No. 2 overall Draft pick Marvin Williams (Utah Jazz) as two of the nine players sent packing during a summer makeover/fire sale engineered by new general manager Danny Ferry.

That leaves Smith, All-Star center Al Horford, starting point guard Jeff Teague and back up big men Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson as the returning nucleus of a team that made five straight trips to the playoffs. A sixth is as far as Smith is willing to go with his preseason hype before seeing this new group, complete with as many as  in action.

“Every summer I take a look at my team and try to make an educated guess about where we fit,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a challenge, going against some of the top-notch teams in the East when you consider Miami comes back strong as ever. Boston went out and got better, got a couple of steals late in the draft to go with what they already had. Basically, all of the teams that were up there made moves to stay in that mix. I’m not going to lie, it is going to be a challenge. But it’s always been a challenge for us. And we always seem to find our way into the playoff mix. This season is no different.”


Slim Pickings Left In Free Agency

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Training camp is still about eight weeks away, but good luck trying to find any more free agents who can make a real impact on your team. A month after free agency opened, only slim pickings remain.

Want proof? The remaining free agent who played the most minutes last season is Alonzo Gee. Most rebounds? Shelden Williams. Yep, we’re down to the bottom of the barrel.

At this point, if teams are still looking to fill roster spots, they have certain needs. So we’ll list the best available guys by position. Here are three point guards, five wings, and three bigs who could be useful (or not) next season…

Point guards

1. Derek Fisher (OKC)
23.9 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 2.7 APG, 37.1% FG, 32.1% 3PT
The veteran will celebrate his 38th birthday next week, and it’s been a while since we’ve heard anything about a possible destination for next season. After a rough regular season, he shot a solid 38 percent (18-for-48) from 3-point range in the playoffs.

2. Jannero Pargo (ATL)
13.4 MPG, 5.6 PPG, 1.9 APG, 41.5% FG, 38.4% 3PT
Pargo provided an offensive lift for the Hawks in a handful of games last season. (more…)

MLK Day Games Highlight Special Day


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We all survived the NBA’s lost summer, made it through a frantic free-agent scramble to a fireworks-filled season-opening slate on Christmas Day to this, the most sacred of days on the league calendar.

Few days on the schedule present teams with an opportunity to pause and take heed of a message spread decades ago, a sentiment that resonates in every corner of every locker room in the league, while also looking ahead to the wide expanse of this particular season. But that’s what the Martin Luther King Day spectacular provides on an annual basis, and no lockout-induced, abbreviated season or compressed schedule will ever change that.

With 11 games on a loaded schedule, including blockbuster matchups from early afternoon until the wee hours and a five-game national TV menu,  there should be something for everyone as always.

The extended holiday weekend has always been a favorite of mine, dating back to 2004 when I got my first glimpse of a young and dominant Dwight Howard playing for Southwest Atlanta Christian on back-to-back nights. A visiting writer in town to cover the Hawks-Pacers MLK Day matchup, I decided to drop in on Howard’s games that same weekend to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t take long for me to see.

Howard is one of the headliners today and helps kick things off when his Magic square off against the Knicks in New York at 1 p.m. ET (League Pass).

A few things we’ll be watching for on this special day:

— Rudy Gay & Co. Seek Redemption Against Bulls! … Bulls at Grizzlies, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

The Grizzlies lost Zach Randolph to a knee injury and got smoked by the Bulls (104-64) the last time these two met, on New Year’s Day in Chicago. The Bulls held Gay to a season-low five points in that game. He’s been on a tear ever since. He’s averaging 20.2 points on 48 percent shooting from the floor in his last five games and has assumed an even greater leadership role on and off the floor for the Grizzlies with Randolph out indefinitely with torn ligaments in his knee. With the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, and the best record in the Eastern Conference in tow, the Bulls don’t need an invitation to play big on the biggest stage.