Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Teague’

Hawks’ Schroder has eye on big stage


VIDEO: Dennis Schroder leads all scorers as the Hawks take down the Warriors

LAS VEGAS – Dennis Schroder knew he was up against the clock.

“I watched until the 70-minute mark, then I went to the game,” the Atlanta Hawks’ 2013 first-round pick said.

He was in Las Vegas with the Hawks’ Summer League team and they had a game Sunday evening, taking him away from watching his countrymen in the FIFA World Cup final against Argentina.

“We watched it in the locker room a little bit,” said Schroder, who grew up playing soccer before he took up basketball. The Hawks, though, had to take the floor before the match got to the 113th minute, when Mario Goetze scored to give Germany the 1-0 lead and the championship.

“It’s always good when our nation wins a world championship or a European championship,” Schroder said.

The 20-year-old won’t get the chance to compete on the world stage later this summer as a full-fledged member of the German national team. The Germans did not qualify for the FIBA World Cup (which until now has been called simply the world championships) in Spain.

The Germans weren’t helped by the fact Dirk Nowitzki has not played for the national team since 2011 in the European championships when Germany failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

Schroder, the first native German drafted in the first round since Nowitzki went No. 9 in 1998, will play for Germany in the 2015 European championships with hopes of getting his country back to the Olympics for the first time since Nowitzki led them to the 2008 Beijing Games. Schroder has hinted in recent interviews that Nowitzki could decide to play once again in an effort to get the country to Brazil in 2016.

But before all of that, the 6-foot-2 point guard is focused on his NBA career and carving out a consistent spot in second-year coach Mike Budenholzer‘s rotation. Schroder played in 49 games last season and went through long stretches of watching from the bench.

The level of competition, Schroder said, was an intense eye-opener after playing two years professional in his home country where at times he could put in cruise control, yet still be the best player on the floor.

“You have to compete every night and I think that was the biggest adjustment for me is to compete every night against the best point guards in the world,” Schroder said. “That was the toughest thing to do.”

There is opportunity for Schroder behind starting point guard Jeff Teague. The Hawks traded Lou Williams to Toronto, leaving Shelvin Mack, as his prime competition.

Schroder is a quick penetrator and a primarily pass-first point guard whose shooting need works. He can be flashy and breathtaking with a first step that darts him toward the basket. His lightning-quick first step might be the reason he showed up to Vegas with a gold stripe running through the front of his hair.

“It’s me,” Schroder said of the stripe. “Everybody knows it’s me.”

The goal is for everybody to know who he is by his play on the floor. So far in Las Vegas, he has delivered both up and down performances. He put up a highlight-reel effort with 30 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range and 9-for-10 from the free throw line in Sunday’s double-overtime loss. However, he also had eight turnovers in 32 minutes against a team made up exclusively of D-League players.

Through three games Schroder’s averaging 18.0 ppg and 3.3 apg. He’s shooting 44.7 percent (17-for-38), which is an improvement over his 38.3 percent last season (23.8 percent from 3). The No. 17 overall draft pick last summer is a skilled and confident player, but he also knows there is work to be done before he reports to training camp in October looking to play a much more significant role for the Hawks.

“What I’m working on is leading a team, talking to them, and try to focus on my shot a little, 3s and 2s, but the biggest thing is lead the team,” Schroder said. “I don’t worry about it [his role next season]. I worry about practicing hard and try to do the  things that I can control.”

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…)

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).

Hawks set up well to add a star


VIDEO: East Draft Review: Atlanta Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The big free agent destinations for this summer are Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami.

But what about Atlanta?

Few teams are set up to sign a star better than the Atlanta Hawks, who created more cap space with a trade reportedly agreed to on Sunday.

John Salmons is under contract for $7 million next season, but the Hawks only have to pay him $1 million if they waive him by Tuesday. That’s exactly what they’re expected to do, so by trading Lou Williams‘ $5.45 million deal (Lucas Nogueira doesn’t have a contract), the Hawks have created an additional $4.45 million of cap space.

As it stands, that gives the Hawks more than $13 million of cap space total. Assuming they extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents Shelvin Mack (more important now that Williams is gone) and Mike Scott and don’t extend one to Gustavo Ayon (who played just 26 games last season), they have a little more than $15 million in cap space.

That’s not enough to offer a max contract to LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but it’s enough to make a serious upgrade on the wing, where DeMarre Carroll started 73 games last season.

It’s just not cap space that makes a star player a good fit in Atlanta. It’s the supporting cast.

The best way to complement a star who draws the attention of extra defenders is with shooting. And starting with Kyle Korver, the Hawks have an abundance of that. They ranked fifth in 3-pointers last season and fifth in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint. It was their ability to space the floor with all five guys that gave the Indiana Pacers a world of trouble in the first round of the playoffs.

Bigs Paul Millsap and Pero Antic can step out beyond the 3-point line and Al Horford — expected to make a full recovery after December surgery on a torn pectoral muscle — has been one of the league’s best mid-range shooters over the last few years.

Those bigs are also good rebounders, and Jeff Teague is a solid point guard who can make defenses scramble on the pick-and-roll. That takes pressure off a star to carry the offense by himself.

Of course, beyond James and Anthony, there’s not a real offensive star (on the wing) to be had in free agency. Lance Stephenson might be the closest thing, but he doesn’t quite fit into the Spurs East model that Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer are trying to build in Atlanta (neither does Anthony, really).

And so, while Ferry did well in clearing contracts to get to this point, his tenure with the Hawks can’t be ruled a success until he actually gets the team back where they were — making three straight trips to the conference semifinals — before he got there.

Joe Johnson‘s contract is kind of ridiculous, but the Joe Johnson that we saw in the playoffs this year is exactly the kind of the player that would fit in well with the Hawks right now. Ferry has done well to set up a strong supporting cast, but there’s one more big step to take.

#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 …

 

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

Pacers’ title dreams fading fast

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeff Teague knocks down the shot of the night in the Hawks’ win over the Pacers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As much as this moment is about Jeff Teague and his improbable shot (and the shrug that followed it), Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, and the feisty spirit of the worst team (on paper) in the playoffs choking the daylights out of the best team (on paper) in the Eastern Conference, it’s not.

Not yet.

The Atlanta Hawks have to wait to get their due. They won’t get the credit they deserve for dealing what could be a death-blow to the Indiana Pacers’ season and their fading championship dreams because the demise of coach Frank Vogel‘s team is that epic.

Startling doesn’t do the Pacers’ free-fall justice. Not now. Not after you watch them get taken apart the way they did Thursday night in a 98-85 loss at Philips Arena by a Hawks team that didn’t have to play great to beat them. The Hawks did make 10 of their 18 second-half 3-pointers.  And they had their way with the Pacers off the dribble, cashing in with 37 free-throw attempts. But they only shot 38 percent and got outrebounded by 10.

And yet, they were still the tougher team when it mattered. They certainly played well enough to shatter whatever is left of the false sense of confidence the Pacers packed for this road trip.

“It feels out of character for us to play this way,” Pacers All-Star Paul George said of his team’s scattered effort. “We can’t get comfortable with this, especially if we have a dream of winning it all. We have to be much tougher than what went on out there tonight. Our toughness in questionable right now, to say the least.”

As much as this series is about the Hawks and their Cinderella story — the only team in the playoffs with a losing record leading the top team in the conference 2-1 as a huge Saturday afternoon Game 4 looms that could push the Pacers over the edge — it’s about the nightmare the Pacers will endure if things continue the way they have for 10 of the 12 quarters these teams have played so far.

This is about Vogel and 7-foot-2 All-Star center Roy Hibbert, the biggest man in the series who has come up the smallest (3-for-16 from the floor the past two games). Vogel tried to say the right things after yet another disappearing act from his center. He proclaimed his confidence in Hibbert. He called him his team’s anchor and said he hadn’t lost faith in him. But he stopped short of saying that Hibbert would be in the starting lineup for Game 4.

“We’ll look at everything,” Vogel said. “Can’t say that right now, but I have confidence in Roy Hibbert. He hasn’t played well to this point, but I do have confidence … we’re not going to quit on him. I know that. We’re going to keep working with him and try and figure it out. We’ll see. He’s our anchor, we won 56 games with him as our starter and that’s the simplest answer.”

Can they win three more with him as the starter in this series? Hibbert has scored a grand total of 18 points (yes, you read that right) in the series and hasn’t recorded a single block. He’s had just one double-digit rebound game in his last 27 outings. That’s not the sort of production any team expects from its highest-paid player.

“We’ve all tried to talk to him and keep him confident,” David West said. “It’s hurting him. He wants to help us and he wants to play well. He’s hard on himself. We’ve got to figure out a way to get him involved. He’s got figure out a way to get himself involved. It’s a long playoff series, so we’re not going to panic. We came down here to get one game and that’s what we’re intending to do.”

Whether or not they’ll do it with Hibbert playing a major role remains to be seen. Ian Mahinmi played the final five minutes and 30 seconds of the third quarter in Hibbert’s place and Luis Scola played the entire fourth quarter as Hibbert sat on the bench.

When pressed one last time about whether or not he’ll keep Hibbert in that first five, Vogel still wouldn’t give a definitive answer.

“We’ll see,” he said, “… probably.”

There isn’t much time to deliberate. Pacers boss Larry Bird was caught on camera with his face buried in his hands during one disastrous possession early on in the game. It’s an appropriate reaction and gesture for the Pacers’ entire body of work since the All-Star break.

A 33-8 record at the halfway point of the season has morphed into pure chaos on and off the floor. They’ve crumbled under the weight of expectations at nearly every turn, every triumph meet with a corresponding hiccup.

Earlier Thursday George admitted that the Pacers had gotten full of themselves after that great start. They foolishly believed their own hype before recognizing that there was another half of the season to be played and that they’d do so as the hunted and not the hunter.

“We were competing with Miami and chasing that No. 1 seed instead of just building habits and focusing on ourselves and becoming a better team,” George said. “I think that’s where we got off track and what led us down this road.”

The road could come to an end much sooner than expected for the Pacers, long before that Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals they hunted for so long.

That’s why as much as this should be about the Hawks and what they’ve accomplished, to this point, it just can’t be … not with the tire fire that the Pacers’ season has become.

Hawks ignore drama, focus within

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 3 tonight at Philips Arena is critical for both the Hawks and Pacers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — His responses sound like something you’d get from RoboCop, layered but brief and all about his team. Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer knows how this game is played.

You don’t spend as much time in the playoff mix, as he did for nearly two decades as an assistant in San Antonio learning from longtime Spurs boss and recently minted Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, and not understand how the game between games is played.

The Indiana Pacers are a team mired in turmoil just hours before Game 3 of this first round series against the Hawks tips off at Philips Arena tonight. A Yahoo! Sports report detailing a practice “fist-fight” between Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner prior to the Hawks’ Game 1 win in Indianapolis is the latest item to catch fire.

“Every team goes through that,” said Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who has struggled mightily in this series. “Sometimes, you’ve got to get things off your chest instead of letting things fester.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel is reportedly fighting for his job with every game swinging the momentum one way or the other, so much so that Pacers All-Star Paul George acknowledged that he’s feeling the pressure to save Vogel from the unemployment line.

“It’s the NBA, we’re all coaching for our jobs,” Vogel said. “All I know is that I’ve got incredible support from Larry [Bird]. We all have high expectations and we’re trying to win the next game.”

While the Pacers grapple with their own internal, chemistry issues, Budenholzer has his Hawks focused on the opportunity knocking with the series tied at 1-1. There’s no sense in peeking across the way to see how fragile the Pacers are right now. It’s something Budenholzer neither either cares about nor can control.

All he can do is focus within, make sure his team is prepared to rebound from that Game 2 whipping and seize control of the series by handling their business at home. From the start, Budenholzer has set a certain tone in Atlanta. It’s one that has been devoid of the emotional roller coaster many teams experience throughout the course of a season, and one that should serve his team well now.

“Our emotions are in a good place,” Budenholzer said. “I can’t really comment on or reference them [the Pacers]. Our group is resilient and competitive. I like our team’s personality. We have a challenge in Game 3 and we have to step up mentally and emotionally. But our group has been very resilient and tough-minded all year. We’ve felt good about them all year and that hasn’t changed.”

Budenholzer, wisely, is content with his team sticking strictly to the game and how they can take advantage of whatever mismatches they have in this series, rather than getting caught up in the media swirl surrounding their opponents. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap aren’t answering questions about the crumbling foundation of their team. Budenholzer doesn’t have to defend the work he’s done this season to anyone.

The Hawks are the only team in the playoff field that had a losing record during the regular season. But if we’ve learned anything through these first few days of the playoffs it’s that the seeding, in almost every series, has proved to be meaningless. The Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, considered by many to be dark-horse title contenders, are both down 0-2 in their respective series after hosting the opening games.

A team as complete as the Spurs have been stung by the playoff chaos. They got thumped in Game 2 by Dallas and now have to scrap to regain their home-court advantage. With upheaval all over the playoff bracket, Budenholzer is playing it smart by sticking strictly to basketball.

“For our group and coaching staff, the seeds and who does what and all of those things that are discussed externally, we don’t really spend any time energy or thoughts on that,” Budenholzer said. “We’re more focused on what’s between the lines. We have high standards and we stick to those. We’ll compete and see where we are.”

Where they are is sitting in a prime position to continue a playoff trend of surprise teams upending the favorites and potentially pulling off the unthinkable.

“If you look at the overall picture, we’ve done our job,” Millsap said. “We came up [to Indianapolis] and got one. Now we have to hold it down at home.”