VIDEO: Daily Zap: April 19
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ | Clips falter late | Pierce embraces villain role | Nowitzki savors playoff berth | Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity
No. 1: Hibbert: ‘I’m the weak link on defense’ — The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggle on Saturday night as they lost Game 1, and their home-court advantage, to the Atlanta Hawks 101-93. The demise of the Pacers can be directly linked to their diminished defense, which used to be the heart of their squad. The anchor of this defense, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, said after yesterday’s loss that he’s the “main culprit” for the team’s defensive failures. Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star has more from Hibbert:
Roy Hibbert was the player — more than any other on this roster — that Pacers coach Frank Vogel rooted his team’s smash-mouth identity around when he took command four seasons ago, dispatching a run-and-gun offense in favor of the inside-out game in which Hibbert could thrive. The Pacers would rule the paint, and Hibbert’s 7-2 frame would serve as their backbone.
It worked wonders for 3 1/2 seasons, and Hibbert’s ascent mirrored that of the team’s. While the Pacers became a championship contender, their All-Star center rose to a runaway pick for Defensive Player of the Year.
That, of course, feels like ages ago. Now, Hibbert is mired in his worst slump in years, one that’s pulled the Pacers into a 1-0 hole to an Atlanta Hawks squad quick to capitalize on the ever-disappearing big man Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Yes, the “What’s up with Roy Hibbert debate?” rages on.
The player Pacers fans grew to know over the past few seasons was, again, noticeably absent.
“I’m gonna keep working at it,” Hibbert said dourly after the game, his head down, his words sparse. “I’m gonna come in and keep doing what I do in practice, work on my hook and get in position down low. Hopefully when I’m called upon I can do it consistently.”
Do it consistently is everything he hasn’t done over the past two months. And he’s been even worse in the past two weeks: Since being benched versus Atlanta on April6, Hibbert has gone 7-of-37 (18.9percent) from the field for all of 17 points in five games.
Not the sort of play you want from a player raking in $14.2million this season.
“We’re an inside-out team,” Lance Stephenson said. “When Roy’s going, we’re great. We got to get everybody in the post going.”
“We just have to get certain guys under control as a team,” Hibbert said. “I’m sure we’ll look over film. I’m the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup. I guess we’ll have to adjust.”
Indiana, meanwhile, was never able to garner consistent offensive production from Hibbert or David West, the tandem the Pacers can typically rely on to do the dirty work down low. What was supposed to be a significant Indiana advantage turned out, for one night at least, to be a draw.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball in the paint and the post,” said [David] West, who finished with eight points and battled foul trouble most of the night.
Hibbert’s offensive performance was all the more bizarre. After sinking a hook shot in the lane 43 seconds into the contest, Hibbert was nonexistent on that end of the floor for nearly three quarters.
VIDEO: Warriors vs. Clippers: Game 1
No. 2: Clips falter late — The Los Angeles Clippers led the Golden State Warriors 103-102 with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. But they struggled in the closing minutes with turnovers by Darren Collison and Chris Paul proving to be too much to overcome as the Warriors won 109-105 to steal home-court advantage in the series. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has more on the Clippers late-game struggle:
The moment was right in front of the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, there to be seized by two teams that have much disdain for each other.
When the time came to grab hold of that moment, when Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series hung in the balance, the Clippers failed.
“I don’t want to say it was the pressure of the playoffs. It was just the way the game went,” said J.J. Redick, who had 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting, four for five from three-point range. “. . . We want to beat these guys. They want to beat us. And sometimes that leads to mental errors.”
On Saturday it also led to Blake Griffin playing only 19 minutes 14 seconds because of foul trouble.
Griffin eventually fouled out with 48.3 seconds left, less a minute after he’d tied the score at 105-105 on two free throws with 1:31 left.
He tried to give the Clippers the lead, but missed a layup and a follow tip-in try. Then Griffin fouled David Lee while trying to get another offensive rebound, his sixth, sending him to the bench with 16 points and three rebounds.
The Clippers didn’t score again.
“I kept putting myself in a hole and a bad situation fouling,” Griffin said. “I can’t say whether that affected other guys or not. It affected our team, obviously. Like I said, I’ve got to do a better job.”
With or without Griffin, the Clippers botched opportunity after opportunity.
Chris Paul finished with 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. But he had six turnovers, and missed two key free throws late in the game.
“I’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Paul said.
“We made too many mistakes to win the game,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “When you do that, you lose the game.”
The Clippers now have lost Game 1 of a playoff series six times since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.
They lost the series each of previous five times that has happened.
“I told them going in, you would love to win all your home games,” Rivers said. “But if you don’t, you don’t. And you’ve got to win one on the road, maybe two on the road, to win the series. I’ve said that to them all year. You have to be prepared for all that. We have to win a game on the road now.”
VIDEO: Postgame: Pierce and Williams
No. 3: Pierce embraces villain role — The Toronto Sun mocked the age of the Brooklyn Nets on the cover of their Saturday newspaper, saying Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are older than dinosaurs. This jab proved meaningless as Pierce led the Nets to a 94-87 victory over the Raptors, taking home-court away from their division rival. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News has more on Pierce’s willingness to play the role of villain:
Paul Pierce enjoys being the villain. He wears that hat well in opposing arenas, like a badge of dishonor.
So as he was leaving Air Canada Centre — after one of those clutch performances that justified GM Billy King making the trade last July — he motioned to the crowd to keep the boos flowing, taunting angry fans by throwing his headband into the seats, only to have it hurled back in his direction.
By the third time, though, the headband didn’t return.
“Yes (they wanted my headband),” Pierce said with a sly smile. “The cameras were on them so they wanted to keep their pride. You saw that the third time was the charm. (The Toronto fan) will wear it one day as a souvenir.
This is why the Nets acquired Pierce — for clutch final moments in crazy, pivotal games, and for the attitude it requires to come out on top.
Dubbed a “Dinosaur” on the front page of the local Toronto paper because of his age, the 36-year-old Pierce buried the Raptors in Game 1 of the opening round, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes of a wild 94-87 victory that started with a profane insult from Toronto’s GM and ended with a broken shot clock.
“Truth-asaurus Rex 1, Raptors 0,” Pierce retweeted from his account not long after the game.
“(I’ve seen Pierce do that) countless times, man,” Garnett said. “I knew when he hit that three, I knew he was in a rhythm. And then the ball just found him and he was just classic ‘Truth.’ Epic.”
The 37-year-old Garnett was also called a “Dinosaur” on the Toronto Sun cover but had no hard feelings.
“It’s all good. It’s not our first time. When (I would) go to San Antonio, they’re similar. I’ve read this book before,” he said. “It’s nothing new. But I love the Toronto fans. They’re passionate, they love the Raptors, and that’s what’s up. That’s true NBA basketball.”
VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Mavericks vs. Spurs
No. 4: Nowitzki savors playoff berth — The Dallas Mavericks have failed to win a playoff game since they defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 Finals to win their only NBA Championship with Dirk Nowitzki. After missing the playoffs last season, the 35-year-old Nowitzki realizes the importance of this playoff run as another one is not always guaranteed. The Associated Press reports on how Nowitzki plans to carry the load for the Mavericks in their opening round series against the one-seeded San Antonio Spurs:
The 7-foot Nowitzki — relatively new father and old hand in the postseason after missing it last year for the first time since 2000 — is just happy to be back in what he calls the big dance, a phrase he stole himself.
“How big our shot is, we’ll see,” said Nowitzki, whose eighth-seeded Mavericks open the playoffs Sunday at San Antonio against the Spurs, the defending Western Conference champions, who finished with the league’s best record. “But we have a shot. It’s better than being ninth, so we’re going to go for it.”
Nowitzki, 35, started his 16th season not really knowing where his likely Hall of Fame career was headed. He was coming off his first knee operation, a setback that had a lot to do with the end of Dallas’s 12-year playoff streak.
He also had new priorities after his daughter was born last summer, keeping him in Dallas and away from family in his native Germany longer than usual during the off-season.
Nowitzki figured he could be the same player, and everybody around him said he was.
Sure enough, his scoring average rose for the first time in five years, and the rest of his numbers looked much as they did in 2010-11, when the Mavericks won the franchise’s only championship. Nowitzki credited an intense summer of working out to stay in shape.
“The thing that you don’t know fully is the load he carries for this franchise,” Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a mammoth load, not only in scoring, but the leadership aspect of it, how he changes games for other players. And the seriousness with which he takes responsibility for winning and losing.”
The Mavericks’ president for basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, openly wondered whether Nowitzki had to do anything else for Dallas, then remembered whom he was talking about.
“He’s so incredibly competitive,” Nelson said. “He’s like the great ones, man. He’s got that spirit that the [Roger] Staubachs and the Nolan Ryans and the Mike Modanos and the Troy Aikmans and those kinds of guys have.”
In other words, Nelson places him among the biggest names in Dallas’s football-leaning sports history. And Nowitzki’s contract will end when his 13th trip to the playoffs does, so the team’s owner, Mark Cuban, has to decide how much life is left in those legs.
One thing seems certain: Nowitzki will not play anywhere else.
“There’s a lot of guys who’ve been able to score,” Cuban said. “But it’s that mental toughness, competitive aspect, the type of person he is and the example that he sets, not just for basketball fans in North Texas and around the world, but for every future Maverick that walks into the clubhouse.”
Nowitzki has a new scoring sidekick in Monta Ellis. His 14th straight season of leading the Mavericks in scoring could be his last. Carlisle will always be trying to limit his minutes, and there’s no telling when the production will drop.
But it’s not very likely to be during the next couple of weeks, even if the Mavericks are swept in the first round.
“If I didn’t like to compete still, I might as well go home,” Nowitzki said. “That’s why I’m still playing, because I love to be out there trying to help my team win games.”
Nowitzki will certainly have a sense of familiarity in the playoff opener. It will be the sixth time he has seen Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the postseason. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich has been there for all of them.
“He’s been everything,” Popovich said of Nowitzki. “He’s needed to rebound more, and he did. He’s had a myriad of shots that every year we see new things whether it’s his fadeaway or his drives or his spins, pump fakes.
“He worked himself into a position offensively where he’s impossible to guard. But he’s still pretty much the same thing.”
Even though nobody was sure where Nowitzki was headed when the season started.
VIDEO: West Playoff Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Rockets
No. 5: Wes Matthews overcomes doubt and adversity — Wesley Matthews path to the NBA, and the playoffs, has not been an easy one. But despite the struggle and doubters, Matthews has prevailed to become the starting shooting guard for the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Bruce Ely of The Oregonian reports on the Matthews’ story:
Wesley Matthews this week scanned a pack of reporters in Portland and named them, one by one.
“Wrote me off,” the Trail Blazers guard says. “Wrote me off … Wrote me off … wrote me off before I even got here.”
At various times, they said he was just a shooter. Not good enough to start. Overpaid.
“I know what’s out there. Shoot, Jesus had haters,” Matthews says. “I know I’m going to have doubters if Jesus can’t be loved all the way.”
To him, the perceived slights are like food, nourishing his hunger to be better, to prove he belongs, and on Sunday, there figures to be a feast before him when the Blazers open their best-of-seven playoff series in Houston.
The pregame buildup of doubts and slights might as well be a replay of his life. The “abandonment,” as he calls it, by his father. The conspiracy he and his mother swear existed to strip him of Wisconsin’s top high school basketball honor because he chose Marquette over Wisconsin. And that unnerving Christmas Eve phone call to his half-sister that was picked up by a sobbing aunt, who said 20-year old Tesa had died in her sleep.
Each time, Matthews has triumphed. He and his father are now “solid” and either talk or text daily. He won the prestigious Mr. Basketball honor by having a historic state tournament performance. And he discovered Tesa had a newborn, and he has since developed a relationship with his niece.
“You are never going to be able to write me off. No matter how bad you may want to, no matter how much you think it will be better for me to be somewhere else, or doing something else, you are never going to write me off,” Matthews says. “Because here’s the thing about me:
“I’m going to find a way.”
He set career highs by averaging 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and making 201 three-pointers, the second most in franchise history, and he did it with a steely stare and an I-told-you-so defiance. His persona is best captured in his Twitter staple, a message followed by the hashtag “worstbehavior.” Sometimes, he just tweets #worstbehavior.
“It’s almost like a no-mercy type thing,’’ Matthews explains. “Relentless. Going to give you everything I have, every single time. Love it or hate it, I’m giving you everything I got.’’
His mindset comes from years of practice, and years of mentoring from his mother, Pam Moore, who at Wisconsin became one of the most decorated track athletes in Big Ten history. She was a mix between a drill sergeant and principal, hounding Wesley about his practice habits and schoolwork.
There were simple rules: No C’s on report cards, no slacking in practice (she would watch from the stands in basketball and the car in soccer), and absolutely no losing. Period.
“My mom,’’ Matthews says flatly, “is tough as hell. And her mom is tough as hell.’’
Moore summed it up this way:
“We didn’t allow quit, we didn’t allow defeat,’’ Moore says. “It wasn’t acceptable. No one should beat you, and if they did, you would have to deal with me. I would be the one who determines if a kid is physically stronger or faster than you.’’
Moore says she was the mom in the stands coaching and yelling.
“Everybody knew my mouth,’’ Moore says with a chuckle.
And even today, in Madison, the competitive itch hasn’t left her. On the road, she says she can’t stand to follow, which has led to “my share” of speeding tickets.
“I don’t like driving behind people. I need to be ahead of people,’’ she says. “I still have a problem with that. I’m just a competitor.’’
So perhaps it’s no surprise that Matthews often asks to defend the toughest player, from Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry. And perhaps it’s no surprise he itches for the chance to have his number called for a chance at a last-second shot. He has been trained to win, and the only way you win is by going hard.
“My foot is rarely off the gas, and if it is, it’s always hovering over it,’’ Matthews says.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blake Griffin accidentally (?) dosed a Warriors’ fan with water after he fouled out. … Durant’s arms are long. … Kyle Korver blocked Roy Hibbert … twice. … Robert Covington was named D-League Rookie of the Year after he averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. … The new buyers of the Milwaukee Bucks gave a lengthy interview in which they state their hope to follow the Spurs/Thunder model and have construction for a new arena begin within 12 months.
ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Paul Pierce’s jumper with 51.5 seconds left against the Raptors silenced the Air Canada Centre crowd and secured the Nets’ victory. Pierce was mic’d up during the play, and had some interesting things to say after his clutch shot.
VIDEO: Mic’d Up: Paul Pierce