Official Game Thread: Hawks at Celtics, Once More, with Feeling!


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“No, seriously, Bama, how did we let this guy get away from our recruiters?”

 

Our Atlanta Hawks got next-to-no help in the Leastern Conference standings, not in the intervening days between their first win since April 2018 against the Boston Celtics, and the rematch at TD Garden tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston). Not unless we’re trying to catch the Bucks.

The Lakers that could play were a hot mess against the Nets that could play yesterday. The T’wolves tried their best by dragging Indiana into OT on Wednesday but ran out of gas. The Kings couldn’t help us out by crowning the heat at home yesterday, what would’ve been Miami’s fourth-straight loss amid a seven-game road swing. The last-place Pistons couldn’t hang on to a big first-half lead, letting Chicago win their second in a row in Wednesday’s suddenly rescheduled game. The Knicks lost that night, but only because the elfin’ Magic won.

Milwaukee dropped their fifth-straight on national TV last night, as TNT hosts tied themselves into knots all night trying to mansplain how folks like Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal (the latter voted in as a starter, on behalf of his 9-17 Wizards) will all deserve their All-Star slots, while Trae Young (as per 92.9’s Mike Conti, fastest Hawks player to reach 4,000 career points, surpassing the great Bob Pettit) is somehow unworthy of a return to the game in his host arena. Because winning matters! Or career years, or something.

Anyway, Coach Bud isn’t under fire because he’s got a couple COTY trophies sitting at his home, in the same town where he just got swept in consecutive games by Nick Nurse’s once-struggling Raptors. Track record matters, and consecutive 60-ish-win seasons while coaching an MVP into the playoffs as a top-seed offers an adequate shield when the swoons and the disappointing trends kick in.

Budenholzer’s successor with the Hawks, Lloyd Pierce, remains on a seat that’s not piping hot, but simmering. Pierce remains out on paternity leave, but he’s peeking at the Celtics games hoping ace assistant Nate McMillan can continue to instill practices on the court conducive to winning basketball for his Hawks (12-16).

Nate Mac isn’t interested in consuming LP’s top job, but he quietly has the motivation to help his current employer catch up with his prior team, the perennial-playoff Pacers, in the chase for postseason seeds. 2.5 games separate the Hawks from Indiana, who’s currently 4th in the NBA Least, and it’s the same buffer between Atlanta and Collin Sexton’s 14th-seed Cavs.

“We’ve got to put together a 48-minute game. We’ve got to make our breaks,” McMillan expressed to media ahead of today’s game, again insisting he’s not doing anything “major” that Pierce would have done to top a Celtics team (14-14) who played on Wednesday without at least two key starters.

There were some things, however, that Hawks fans could spy, with their little eyes, as evidence that McMillan can diagnose and address woes that players, under Pierce, seem left to figure out for themselves. One example: with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, 6 rebounds, just two 3FGAs taken and one made, a pair of made free throws, two steals, and a plus-14 finish during Atlanta’s 122-114 win at the Gahden, Cam Reddish had as close to a perfect game as one should come to expect of the sophomore swingman right now.

“I think the ball movement was a little bit better,” Cam correctly noted of his team, without any intention of shade. Reddish’s efficient fullcourt performance helped Trae and the frontcourt tag team of John Collins and Clint Capela (combined 44 points, 19 boards, and two swats), who overwhelmed Boston on screen rolls. It also kept the extended shooting struggles of Kevin Huerter (29.7 FG% past four games) and Danilo Gallinari (combined 3-for-10 3FGs @ BOS) from affecting the team’s best field day of the season (57.1 team FG%, highest since beating Beal’s Wizards on 1/26/2020).

Correcting his personal struggles as a closer in recent games, Young (16 points, 6-for-7 FGs in the 4th quarter) will want to cut down on his eight turnovers in the rematch with the C’s, who will likely have Kemba Walker back in their stead, but not hound-dog Marcus Smart. Yet it was encouraging that the other Hawks, including Reddish, cut down on the goofs while being disruptive on defense. They aided Atlanta in winning Wednesday’s turnover battle (16-15 on team TOs; just 1 TO by Trae and 2 by the Hawks in the 4th-quarter), keeping their final-frame lead, for once, from evaporating.

Walker’s back after missing Wednesday’s game due to injury management, but the Massachusetts Ranger is one of the notable veteran guard even TNT hosts won’t pencil in over Young, not this season (career-lows 36.4 FG% and 4.0 APG). If Atlanta can keep Kemba from getting to the free throw line (career-high 90.2 FT%, although on just 3.2 attempts/game), make him chase around screens, and force him to settle for his waning mid-range shots (37.0 2FG% on the season; 40.7 3FG% this month), they can limit the chance for him to regain his “Cardiac Kemba” persona late in this game.

Jaylen Brown (sore knee) is listed as questionable, perhaps putting more pressure on Tatum (35 points, 11-for-21 FGs, 10-for-11 FTs, 4 fourth-quarter assists vs. ATL) to earn his All-Star keep. Daniel Theis (team-high 1.80 Defensive RPM) is off the injury report, and he’d only need nine fingers anyway to help Boston thwart the Hawks’ interior attack.

To compensate, Atlanta’s perimeter shooting needs to be on point, and Young can pile up even more points by stepping out just a tad bit further – that is to say, on his mid-rangers (3-for-3 2FGs @ BOS, all betw. 21-23 feet from the basket). The Hawks rank 25th in the league on catch-and-shoot three-point makes (8.5 per game, 0.6 more than Boston), and Huerter and Gallo must find their spots, not hesitate, and get good looks up before Celtic defenders with a foot in the paint can recover.

One Western Conference team did give the Hawks the hook-up. The Spurs went to Charlotte and gave the short-handed Hornets an L on Valentine’s Day, then left behind a schedule scramble by having four players test COVID+ (RIP to DeMar’s dad, btw) as the Hornets had to hibernate under health ‘n safety protocols.

Charlotte hasn’t played in six days, and if they do get to host Golden State tomorrow, it will likely be their last home game in a while, as they’ll have six West Coast games on the road to close out the first half. One of the teams the Hornets would have played today, Denver, got re-routed to Cleveland instead, and have been short-staffed themselves as they prepare to meet the Hawks in Atlanta on Sunday.

The Hornets sit happily atop the Southleast Division, but only by 1.0 games ahead of Atlanta, who could outrace Miami to the top of the division if they can pull together for a winning stretch over the next few days. Knowing they’ll get little love from the media punditry, over the next week as coaches place their votes for reserves, Trae, JC, Clint and the Hawks understand they have to make their own All-Star-worthy case.

 

Hearts out to our Squawkfam in Texas. Let’s Go Hawks!

~lw3

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"This is like Bawb praising Gallo at the FT line!" ~n1qu3

We need Bogi and Hunter back soooo bad. Send Kevin and Cam to the bench.

Well not now!

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Boston will have to wait a little longer to see Rondo (out, back pain) play at the Gahden again. Another day, another opportunity to know that Bogi, "Done," and Hunter are still out.

Hawks Game Notes indicate Trae Young is 10th among Hawks all-time for made threes (420-for-1210), and a current Celtic and fellow former one-time All-Star is at #9. The circumstances behind their tenures, their shot locations and their on-ball defenders differ greatly, but Jeff Teague made ten more threes as a Hawk on only four more attempts (430-for-1214). Up next on Trae's sights once he passes Teague: Warriors great Kent Bazemore (453-for-1277).

~lw3

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59 minutes ago, NBASupes said:

Could this be a winning streak? 

What the ....

200w.webp?cid=ecf05e4714uwbngt5cd2y6lsuz

This is worse than Nique calling the game over even though we're only up like in the 3rd quarter.

:Nique: "Hol' me bak, Bawb.  I'mma kick his a** like I did that suit guy."

:Bob: "Wuh-hooo, Nique.  You gave that dude 2-piece, no biscuit."

Don't worry, @macdaddy.  I'm burnin' the sage and chantin'.  Gotta get rid o' the evil spirits, Kyme-style.

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1 hour ago, bleachkit said:

Trading JC to Boston? No thanks. Ainge will be like "Taco and a 2nd, final offer."

well Taco did get more Allstar votes!

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I expect the Sees will double Trae and play ball deny, they can't let him get loose for another 40.  The question is, can Cam bottle the last game.  He was stellar on defense and patient on offense.

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      In honor of Charlie Harper, the Cavs have settled into a two-and-a-half-man halfcourt offense (NBA-worst 104.0 O-Rating, 2nd-worst 15.6 TO%), with Garland bringing up the ball, Sexton creating off drives, and Allen or McGee cleaning up the many, many misses (29.3 team O-Reb%, 4th in NBA; 30.1% this month) for second-chance opportunities. This is far from the offense and contributors that Bickerstaff envisioned, but with Okoro, Osman, Prince, Damyean Dotson, So-Not-D-Wade and rookie Dylan Windler all shooting between 35 and 42 percent from the field (all below 33.3 3FG%), ya dance with what brung ya.
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      Clint Capela (who deserves at least some mention during All-Star Reveal Night, NBA-high 13.9 RPG) was masterful versus Jokic on Sunday, and he will have his hands full once again keeping Cleveland’s few bigs off the offensive boards. The Cavs in their current configuration have no answer for John Collins (30.8 FG%, 0-for-8 on threes, 20 combined points in last 2 games), who should find himself feasting if he collects and keeps the ball off the ground. Same for Danilo “Salsa Piccante” Gallinari, who is capable of pairing with Tony Snell and helping Atlanta dominate the bench scoring if he’s not over-dribbling.
      It’s almost time for the All-Star Reveals! Whether Trae or Clint gets a nod or not tonight, hopefully they and the Hawks enjoy a quality, victorious game that doesn’t have the Atlanta-based TV hosts speaking disparagingly about Atlanta, while praising Sexton for whatever he’s doing on Cleveland’s behalf. Either way, I already have my volume set to zero for the grand occasion.
       
      Get well soon, Tiger. Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “Psst… Trae! C'mere. You ever heard of Henny Youngman?”
       
      Here’s all I’ve got, ahead of today’s game between our host Atlanta Hawks and the Denver Nuggets (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Altitude TV in DEN).
      Keep That Woman and That Family far, far away from All-Star Sunday in Atlanta. And, from Oklahoma. On any off-day before or after the break. Yes, Kougar Kim, this means y’all.
      Hawks fans, when was the last time you thought of Kris Humphries? It’s probably been more than 72 days, right? Exactly.
      Chandler Parsons thought he was in the clear after fooling around with Kendall, correct? Krash.
      LeBron had to leave sunny Florida to return home to icy Ohio, just to save Tristan Thompson from The Kurse that nearly ate Lamar Odom alive, and poor Tris still can’t quite escape (believe me, he’s tried). If they want to double-down on Canadians, they can go chase after Jamal Murray (career-high 50 points with no FTs on Friday, because he can make buckets with a hand or two in his face or with a nifty pass from his center and without pleading for help from the refs. Must be nice.) on their own time, not ours.
      D-Book! Be careful, young man. I'm not even talking about your pending stay in The A.
      I do not know the current cuffing statuses of Trae or JC or C-Redd or D-Hunt or Reddy V, and I don’t care to find out from TMZ, not until after at least, like, a postseason run or three. Let me catch Kim, or Kourt, or Kylie, or Cait, or Rob, anywhere around this town this March and I will personally call Mayor Keish and inform her of a citizens’ arrest underway.
      We’ve already got fifty-leven “Real” “House” “Wives”, wannabe Insta-celebs in this town who can’t get married, can’t stay married, and haven’t Swiffered a floor since the close of the Byzantine Empire.
      Listen to my mayor, Kim and Kompany. We Full!
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “I liked Beard Club for Men so much… I bought the company!”
       
      I didn’t have many wild NBA preseason predictions, except for this one:
      Danny Ainge, quietly, is preparing for his exit from Boston.
      Ainge doesn’t wait for rumors to swell before he decides he wants to spend more time with family. You’ll recall the Phoenix Suns were just six weeks into the 1999-2000 season, doing just fine at 13-7 when Ainge, then their 40-year-old coach and the newest inductee of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, said he wasn’t “jumping ship.” He was “diving overboard,” he insisted, “to save his family,” leaving his still-young star backcourt of Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway on deck, scratching their heads, without a paddle.
      Danny righted the ship back home, then rowed his boat ashore at Boston, his legendary old team from the 1980s, to preside over basketball ops in 2003. He turned the tide for the Celtics with some celebrated maneuvers in 2007’s offseason. Since Boston earned its last banner in 2008, he has swung one big offseason deal after another to keep the C’s afloat. My hunch is, he sees it’s time to set sail again.
      Ainge moved his family to the tidy suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts upon harpooning the Celtics executive gig. But his soul screams, “West Coast Guy.” A three-sport high school All-American at Eugene High in Oregon, Ainge tantalized scouts as a collegian in Provo, Utah. Perhaps while playing with the Blue Jays in Toronto while studying at Brigham Young, he realized basketball might grant him more personal agency to move about. But he couldn’t complain about getting drafted by Larry Bird’s Celtics in 1981.
      After getting traded away in 1989, Ainge remained on West Coast teams – the Kings, the home-state Blazers, the Suns, for the balance of his NBA career. He retired in 1995 as a Sun, and after a spell as a TNT analyst he returned to run Phoenix’s team as its head coach the following season.
      He’s had his share of health issues, notably mild heart attacks in 2009 and in 2019, and you could do a lot worse than hanging around Beantown when you’re in need of top-notch medical care. But there’s this feeling, on my end, that Danny left his heart somewhere within 750 miles or so of San Francisco.
      It’s impressive that, as a GM/PBO for nearly 20 years with the same team, Ainge has never had to fire a head coach. Jim O’Brien sparred with Ainge’s roster re-shuffling before pulling an Ainge himself and resigning in the midst of the 2003-04 season. John Carroll finished out that season as an interim, then Ainge hired TV analyst Doc Rivers.
      Rivers endured feisty rookie guard Rajon Rondo, hung on long enough to win his ring with The Three Amigos, and looked on sadly as the plan to hand the leadership torch over to Rondo, a four-time All-Star, went up in flames as his pupil suffered through one debilitating injury after another. Shortly after one in the middle of 2012-13 quashed Rajon’s season and the Celtics’ title dreams, Doc and Danny finagled a trade that sent the coach to the Clippers.
      And then, there’s Coach Brad. The former Final Four wayfaring Butler U. coach, Brad Stevens has been at the helm since 2013. His Celtics could never quite get past LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the conference finals, then came up short in 2020’s conference finals against LeBron’s old coach, Erik Spoelstra, when the Miami heat made it out of the East to face James’ Lakers last season.
      While banners ultimately matter for this franchise, the Celtics haven’t had a 50-win season since 2017-18, Stevens’ peak season derailed by Kyrie Irving’s injury a mere month before the playoffs arrived. Percentagewise, it’s not looking likely they’ll be in the ballpark this season, either.
      The path to championship contention has been rocky this season for the Celtics. They have their current Big Three edition (Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum) together finally, now that Walker is working his way through injury management for his knee and Tatum is withstanding his personal bout with COVID. But Marcus Smart has been out all this month due to a strained calf, while Daniel Theis injured his finger midway through a bad loss at Washington, pressing Tristan Thompson (how is that man not 30 yet?) and the semi-sized Semi Ojeleye into extended frontline minutes.
      Boston (14-13) inched back above .500 with a relieving 112-99 win here at TD Garden, against a Denver Nuggets team also initiating a back-to-back, last night. But as they make a quick turnaround to face the struggling Atlanta Hawks tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Boston) and on Friday, inching above .500 in the Eastern Conference is not where Ainge, Stevens, and the Celtics’ fanbase wish to be.
      Ainge has been quick to shield his coach from the sour dispositions overheard on Boston tahk radio. “We’re not playing with the passion that we need,” Ainge acknowledged to Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe a few days ago, adding, “I think that’s on the players. And the players on the team are on me.”
      “This was a team that was put together by me,” Ainge continued. The extent of Boston’s offseason, in a nutshell, was trading away Stevens’ former Butler star Gordon Hayward for not much more than a trade exception that’s unlikely to be used, coming away with Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith in the Draft, dispatching Enes Kanter to Portland for some second-rounders, and adding Hawks two-timer Jeff Teague and Thompson to patch up the roster holes. That doesn’t scream, “GM of a conference finalist going full-bore to push his club over the hump into The Finals.”
      “We’re not playing with enough consistency and,” (trigger warning, Hawks fans: here comes The U Word!) “urgency, and it’s my job to look to see what we can do to improve the team, but that’s always much harder than improving from within.”
      Those comments are intended to comfort Celtic fans and take some heat off of Coach Brad (a little heat around Boston right now would be nice). But, as has been well documented around here, Ainge rarely ever makes a splash before the NBA Trade Deadlines arrive. While the Celtics strive to achieve full health and, indeed, improve from within, my guess is that Ainge sees his marathon of pulling Boston’s strings has run its course.
      Having gone 5-10 over the past month, Boston got back into the win column by handling business at home yesterday against a Nuggets team that itself was without some key pieces – Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, Gary Harris. The C’s resorted to letting Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray (combined 68 points, but 12 TOs) have at it while neutralizing their teammates’ abilities to chip in. Given that Denver had to overplay guys like Zeke Nnaji, R.J. Hampton and Facundo Campazzo while saving up bodies for the Wizards today, the victory for the Celts, while resounding, wasn’t terribly reassuring.
      Even a series sweep as a gift from the sputtering Hawks is unlikely to win over hahts and minds up in what used to be known as Brady Country. The Celts will swing south next week, visiting the Pelicans and then the Mavs one day before arriving at State Farm Arena. Everyone wants to see a strong finish by this team before Brown (career-highs of 26.0 PPG, 3.4 APG, 55.7 2FG/41.5 3FG/75.2 FT shooting splits), a fixture of the summertime protests here in Atlanta, returns home once more, for a likely spot in the All-Star Game. The building of positive momentum up the conference standings, regaining parity with the Bucks, Nets and Sixers, need not wait for the second-half schedule to commence.
      Much has been made of the Celtics’ offensive ills, characterized by excessive iso-ball (5th in isolation play frequency, but 5th-worst with 41.3 eFG% on those plays, barely better than Atlanta’s 39.4%) and poor finishing around the basket.  Finally heeding former Celtic Dominque Wilkins’ pleas, Boston swung the ball from side-to-side last night.
      They produced decent looks, particularly outside the three-point line above the arc (Brown was 5-for-9 from this variable range). Brown turned over the ball a season-high seven times, and Tatum suffered through a poor perimeter shooting night. But they and many Celtics were especially good getting deep in the paint and scoring (17-for-20 within 7 feet vs. DEN, as per bball-ref). Without guys like Millsap around to be a bother, Boston did a better job of reading the defense while penetrating, producing opportunities to score or create for teammates.
      Lloyd Pierce has left the Hawks to spend more time with family, too, but just momentarily. Pierce’s second child is on the way, leaving head coaching duties to Nate McMillan, who split last year’s season series versus Stevens while coaching Indiana. Whether or not Nate Mac turns around the Hawks’ fortunes during their stay in Boston, if Atlanta (11-16; 1-7 this month) continues their string of lagging starts and dragging finishes, as evidenced in Monday’s 123-112 flop in New York, LP may soon wind up with more family time than he anticipated.
      Struggling coaches, like Pierce and Stevens, offer up the old secret recipe of “We got good looks, we’re just not hitting shots!”, and “Our opponents just couldn’t seem to miss!”, with a few added herbs and spices, during increasingly dour press conferences. For the Hawks, sitting around and waiting to see find out what kind of shooting day their opponents will have is not getting the job done.
      The only teams near Atlanta, with their 11.0 opponent TO% this month, are the Jazz and the Suns. But those teams (now) have high-caliber defenders around the perimeter (Conley, CP3 and Bridges), no longer just relying on Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker to step it up and force tough shots on that end. Those teams are winning, although I bet Phoenix would have liked a second-half stop or two last night against Brooklyn to keep their winning streak alive.
      If Cam Reddish (four steals, total, and 1.9 D-Rebs/game in 8 February starts) is no longer in the business of producing turnovers and getting stops, then he must at least be capable of staying in front of his man when his opponent’s handling the rock.
      Reddish, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter must entice Boston’s backcourt ballhandlers to settle for, “Oh, heck, why not?” contested jumpers and rely on C+C Muscle Factory members John Collins and Clint Capela to limit opportunities for putbacks and second-chances. They’ll get somewhat of a break tonight, as Walker sits and a rested Teague (DNP vs. DEN) starts with assistance from the eager-beaver rookie Pritchard (7 assists, 1 TO vs. DEN; 42.4 3FG% this month), but adherence to defensive principles remains the same. Tony Snell (sore Achilles) is available to help out as well.
      At the other end, shooting one’s way out of a slump occasionally entails going 1-for-4 on threes, not 2-for-8 in games like Reddish had on Monday. You’re not getting out from under sub-20-percent perimeter shooting by lofting seven or eight chances every game, as was the case for Cam in the last two losses, extending Atlanta’s record to 0-7 when he takes more than five 3FG attempts (1-2 last season, the losses in blowout fashion versus the Bulls and Cavs).
      As he demonstrated by fumbling away Atlanta’s last chance at getting off the mat to seize the lead in New York, Cam is over-dribbling and not electing to pass the ball much. Zero games with four or more assists, while shooting as wretched as he has been, is the definition of a “Ball Stopper”. To cut down on the “BS”, Reddish must understand with his open looks that there’s a reason he’s as open as Narragansett Bay, and he must commit instead to more intentional drive-and-kick action, aided by teammates getting open for passes, helping Atlanta’s offense (52.4 February eFG%, 23rd in NBA and just above Boston’s 51.3%) avoid another day of doomed dormancy.
      Cam’s on a streak of eight games with at least one assist, but as Huerter understands (5.0 APG, 1.6 TOs/game, 1.3 SPG and 41.5 3FG% in February) coming away with a paltry one or two assists, and few defensive stops or transition buckets, is insufficient. Red Velvet hasn’t done much of late with his own green light (8-for-30 from the field in last 3 games, incl. 4-for-20 on threes), but at least he gets the hint that if his shot isn’t falling, he has to do more for his team than just keep firing away until it does.
      Ainge has exhausted what once seemed to be a treasure trove of other teams’ first-round picks, moves that cemented his “Trader Danny” reputation. Brown himself arrived as a result of the Nets getting thirsty for KG and Paul Pierce in 2013. Tatum came by way of the Sixers’ thirst to move up and take Markelle Fultz, Philly dangling Sacramento’s fumbled 2017 pick as bait.
      The Celtics have all of their own future first-rounders in tow, but with the organizational bent against tanking (don’t have anybody recalling the big chase back in the day for Tim Duncan), it’s unlikely to see much of that bearing fruit, not in the form of out-the-box future stars. With eleven Celts under contract for next season, Theis being the most noteworthy exception, with Stevens locked down under a multi-year contract extension, with his middling team over-the-cap and hard-capped, and with Giannis locked down for the foreseeable future, I don’t get the sense Ainge wants to hang around much longer to see things play out.
      Danny (and eldest son Austin, current Celtics player personnel chief) look West and see a younger son, Tanner, serving as a county commissioner in Provo. Cooper Ainge tried his luck as a walk-on at BYU. Youngest son Crew went to play ball at Utah State before returning to The Bay State to finish his college years at hometown Babson College. Yet another BYU grad, Danny’s nephew was with the G-League’s SLC Stars, waived last week only after injuring his foot in the Glubble.
      The Celtics, anchored by passing local legends Tom Heinsohn, KC Jones, Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek, seem to have been the only reason Ainge ever came East, and the organization, with its waning lore, appears to be the only thing still tethering his family to this coast. The destiny is near-manifest.
      Out in L.A., LeBron and AD aren’t going anywhere, and you can best believe the wannabe contenders in the Western Conference are willing to do what it takes to get on the defending champion Lakers’ level, and quickly. Portland always feels like they’re a couple pieces away, maybe they’ll seek to demote Neil Olshey and entice Oregon’s prodigal son home. Phoenix is on the come-up, maybe they’ll find room to give Ainge a second chance to make a first impression. Utah would move whatever Ainge perceives as heaven and earth to get him in their front office. Perhaps the Clippers want to saddle up to the table with Boston again, for more of a front-office-oriented swap this time around?
      He’s no longer the Young Man he was when he left his prior NBA job. But don’t be too surprised if Danny Ainge jumps on the urge to Go West.
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3
    • By lethalweapon3
      “What’s that you want, Coach Thibs? ICE? ICE? ICE?”
       
      It’s not just our Atlanta Hawks under a cold spell! They’ll get to understand this from a front-and-center view all this week, as it seems the entire Eastern Seaboard, from the Georgia mountains north, has been walking through a winter plunder-land.
      By the time Our Fine Feathered Friends depart on Tuesday morning for Boston, after tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network) concludes, the near 40-degree temps will feel downright balmy. It’s probably the only time the Hawks will spend this week free of some combination of frigid temperatures and slippery roads and sidewalks.
      Just 0.5 games behind Atlanta (11-15) in the standings, the current 11-seed Chicago Bulls, playing the Pacers in Indy tonight, are the thin layer of ice keeping the Hawks in the Play-In picture. To keep from falling through, unconventionally, the Hawks must bring some warmth to their proceedings with the Knicks (13-15, seeking 3rd straight win) and the Celtics. But on a team that has lost six of their last seven games, with no sign of reinforcements coming in from the cold, who is providing the rays of sunshine?
      “Where my coach? Where my coach?” Johnny Davis’ heart swelled with pride as he was summoned to center court to share in his star player’s glory. “Is he around?”
      Allen Iverson declared his All-Star Game MVP trophy as a “tribute”, to his teammates on the Philadelphia 76ers, his family, his day-one friends. But, first and foremost, to Coach Davis. It had been up to this point a rocky, uphill climb, each of them in their fifth season together. Yet they were reaching the pinnacle of Iverson’s success as an All-NBA superstar, their team was making moves and making waves as perhaps the best in the Eastern Conference, and The Answer left no doubt as to whom he could credit, at the moment of his highest achievement, to date.
      Of course, you know it didn’t quite happen that way. Not for Coach Johnny D. The former Hawks assistant went 22-60 with a rookie Iverson, Jerry Stackhouse, and flotsam on the ever-rebuilding Sixers. The bespectacled Larry Brown would reap the rewards. Davis wouldn’t get another crack at a head coaching gig for seven seasons, as an assistant taking the reins for the struggling and fired Doc Rivers down in Orlando.
      Davis’ reward, for coaching another terrible team through another terrible season? A lottery win, bringing Atlanta prep sensation Dwight Howard down to the Magic Kingdom, joining Steve Francis and a suddenly spry Grant Hill. The Magic carpet ride ended for Davis when a 31-27 start led to a six-game losing streak that began right when Hill, again, got hurt. Five years later, Howard would lead Orlando to the Promised Land of the NBA Finals, but it was Stan Van Gundy holding the coaching reins by then.
      For folks like Davis, Detroit’s Scotty Robertson, Chicago’s Kevin Loughery, Stan Albeck and Doug Collins, Seattle’s K.C. Jones, among those coaches who lived long enough to catch the country ditty “I Got The Boy,” on the radio, I just know they turned that dial all the way up. “Winning” a lottery pick, and even “winning” in the sense of developing the pick into quick stardom, often can mean “losing” a job while coaching up the team around him.
      Nurturing a lottery prize into an All-NBA-caliber talent, as a coach, then being tethered for the rise toward championship contention, is awfully rare. Just go off the top of the 2018 NBA Draft alone. How many of the top-ten lottery picks are already on Head Coach #2, or some higher number, in their current locales? I think we can count the coaches still standing – Rick Carlisle, Steve Clifford, Lloyd Pierce – on one hand, and maybe still have a digit or two left over. In their respective cases, hopefully no GMs or owners are thinking of using those fingers to throw up deuces anytime soon.
      Kevin Knox didn’t even turn out to be the best takeaway for the Knicks in 2018’s Draft (that would be second-rounder and center Mitchell Robinson, who will miss about a month or so after injuring his hand in Friday’s 119-101 win in Washington). Knox and Robinson transitioned from coaches David Fizdale to Mike Miller to current taskmaster Tom Thibodeau, who has the Knicks feeling as confident as they have in quite some time.
      Thibs’ aid in making the Knicks look not-too-shabby is so appreciated, on a high-profile franchise that hasn’t sniffed a playoff appearance in eons, that the fact he has benched and all-but-shelved Knox for the past ten games is no real biggie.
      Thibodeau became one of those “You Got The Man” coaches, when he took over for Vinny Del Negro (for the “crime” of back-to-back seasons of .500 ball and first-round exits) right on time for Derrick Rose to become the league’s youngest-ever MVP in his hometown of Chicago.
      But Thibs didn’t just simply take over. He crafted a defensive juggernaut around a scoring star not known to exhibit much defense at all, using role players like Taj Gibson to lock opponents down. Perimeter scoring help off the bench from Kyle Korver certainly helped, too.
      The balance worked out, to the tune of 60+ win-quality seasons and rave reviews. But for Thibodeau’s reputation for running players into the hardwood, via excessive practices and playing time among those he entrusted, and Rose’s resultant career-changing injury in 2012’s NBA Playoffs, there’s no telling how far the two could have advanced as an offense-defense pair.
      Rose never wavered in his outward appreciation for Thibodeau, even after the Bulls years washed out and the two found their way to Minnesota. “I stuck with him and he looked out for me,” D-Rose wrote in his 2019 autobiography, “I’ll Show You,” as his coach leveled with him about his limited control over the now-veteran’s playing time with the T’wolves. “That’s one of the reasons I stuck with him and wanted to come back.” Now they’re reuniting again, and it feels so good.
      “I’m feeling grateful, anxious,” said Rose (14.7 PPG and 1.7 SPG in 3 Knicks games, 54.8 FG%), now a former Piston after being traded to New York in exchange for Dennis Smith, Jr., to the New York Post, “but at the same, I know what I have to do coming here. It’s about helping the young guys, playing as hard as I can, and, for one, thanking Thibs.”
      Styles clash, as do eras, yet Rose’s age-22, MVP-season stats (24.1 points, 7.4 assists, 3,0 rebounds 1.0 steals per-36; 48.1/33.2/85.8 2FG/3FG/FT shooting splits) can be compared with Trae Young’s current age-22 line (27.2, 9.8, 4.1, 0.7, 45.1/36.7/88.6). Perhaps even favorably, in Young’s case. Unfortunately, a half-baked Hawks team around Young only adds to the skepticism as to whether Pierce will be around to see things through. The swirl of media-borne skepticism around their team’s direction will only heighten as the losses mount and the touted All-Star weekend in Atlanta approaches.
      Much was made of LP’s defensive 75-second ramble last week, when pressed about how, exactly, he expects Hawks opponents to “feel us” defensively. If Young (now ahead of only 3 players, out of over 460, with his minus-2.67 DRPM, as per ESPN) sincerely hopes to keep Pierce around, he would do well to adhere to any of those defensive details, focus on perfecting them in games, and then publicly praise his coach when those efforts lead to stops and transition buckets.
      To be a player-coach duo worthy of keeping together for the long haul, it’s incumbent upon Young to make opponents, and fans, “feel” them as sympatico. As the subject of LP’s derision, The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner infers, post-game statements after a loss like, “I just think a lot of teams are throwing things at us that we’re not prepared for right now,” are another day, another opportunity to d@mn one’s coaches with not even faint praise.
      Trae fans have been miffed by the perception of a souring relationship between the Hawks star and his head coach, likely emanating from the cold reception LP initially gave to Young being omitted from the Team USA “finalist” list of 40-some players last winter. With the likelihood that a multitude of American veterans, particularly those that had limited postseason exposure and can afford to wait for 2024, will graciously bow out of playing under Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Pierce this summer in Japan, there is a reasonable chance Trae will be tabbed as an alternate. It would be ideal for Young and his coach if, into and through this summer, they still share the same NBA employer.
      In New York, Thibs isn’t weighted down with the misguided decisions of Knicks management past, as evidenced by the Smith trade. The regime that passed up on SGA, the Bridges, Empire Stater Kevin Huerter, and Michael Porter for the upside of Knox has been impacted, too. GM Scott Perry now answers to team president Leon Rose, the former CAA super-agent who hopes to woo top-tier talents to Manhattan again, or at least away from that other borough.
      A team-wide commitment to inchworm tempo (lowest pace in NBA) and vice-grip defense (107.2 D-Rating, better than all except the Lakers and Jazz) includes Julius Randle, a candidate for All-Star and Most Improved honors (career-highs of 22.4 points, 9.6 D-Rebs and 0.8 steals per game; also 36.6 MPG, because Thibs), Alec Burks (1.2 steals per-36), 35-year-old addition Gibson, and even lotto-rookie Obi Toppin (1.3 blocks per-36). Thibs has taken vinegar to several players’ defensive oil and, with some vigorous shaking, made a tasty vinaigrette.
      Even without Robinson, the shot-swatting pivot, the Knicks have shown the ability (and willingness) to step up defensively while dialing up the offense all the way to 11. To sweep its back-to-back this weekend, New York returned from D.C. and heated up the nets by hitting 12 of 28 3FGAs in a 121-99 win over the Rockets. The day before, season-highs of 50 defensive rebounds and 11 steals (4, by the inspired Rose) helped cast a spell on Alex Len and the Brad Beal-less Wizards (held to 9-for-34 on threes).
      With steady veteran Elfrid Payton helping rookie Immanuel Quickley handle the rock, the Knicks’ players turned the ball over against Houston just seven times. They’ve only committed more than 20 turnovers as a team on one occasion, back on December 29 in a win at Cleveland. Thibs knows that when his team wins the turnover and loose-ball battles, or, in the case of their win in Atlanta on January 4, taking higher-quality shots, his team gives itself the chance to prevail on most nights. Randle enjoyed a 28 point, 17 rebound, 9 assist evening in Atlanta last month, as did second-year pro RJ Barrett (26 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) in a similar fashion.
      New York starters took just 12 threes against the Hawks last month, sinking only one. But they played to their strengths, unimpeded by Hawks defenders (4 ATL steals, 2 blocks vs. NYK), and superior bench play from Austin Rivers and Quickley helped the Knicks overrun Atlanta in the final frame. As with the 38-13 Pacers fourth-quarter run along the way to a 125-113 home loss on Sunday, it’s a painfully perpetual theme for Atlanta (NBA-worst minus-8.4 4th-quarter Net Rating, incl. 118.1 D-Rating, 29th in NBA) that only Pierce, and an offense-minded “closer” in Young (NBA-high 5.7 TOs per-36 in clutch minutes, min. 10 games played), can collaborate to fix.
      Nerlens Noel, the #6 pick of 2013’s NBA Draft, moved into the Knicks’ starting lineup on Sunday, in place of Robinson, and he is putting up the kinds of modest yet impactful numbers (last 3 games: 6.7 PPG, 10-for-15 FGs, 5.7 RPG, 2.7 BPG) one can only hope we can one day see out of the NBA’s most recent #6 pick. While Onyeka Okongwu figures out how to blend into Atlanta rotations on both ends of the court, tonight may be a good time to offer Syracuse native Nathan Knight some steadier frontcourt minutes behind Capela and John Collins.
      Pierce and his staff get little public credit for helping mid-tier pick Huerter (career-bests of 54.1 eFG%, 1.3 TOs/game and 1.2 SPG) become an All-Rookie second-teamer and a decent perimeter gunner, for ensuring Collins remains a worthy “Hey, let’s see if Atlanta will take our trash so the restricted free agent won’t leave them for nothing!” talent, for helping Clint Capela be the contributor everyone hoped he could be, for helping De’Andre Hunter become the sophomore pro hardly anyone was expecting. And it is just a rolling assumption that Trae’s swift ascension toward All-Star strata is all-natural, a foregone conclusion.
      That is all understandable LP’s positive work gets overlooked, given the results in the standings and the scoreboard often fall below expectations for Atlanta’s Basketball Club. Without a voice with gravity standing up on behalf of Coach Pierce before, during, and after the games, with persistent floundering and the appearance of tone-deafness, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility Young wakes up one morning to a bucket of ice water, courtesy of an old-fashioned drill sergeant like Jim Boylen, or winds up extracting splinters from his video-room seat while enduring a Hubie or a Fratello-type telestrator tongue-lashing.
      It’s not Lloyd’s job to be his star player’s eternal source for spotless, sunny dispositions. But Trae and his fellow young core of Hawks may soon figure out, too late, that there ain’t no sunshine when he’s…
       
      Let’s Go Hawks!
      ~lw3