Ex-NBA C.J. Watson on Simmons against Hawks: ‘Honestly, it’s hard to watch’

The Philadelphia 76ers had a great opportunity to make a long playoff run this season. Philadelphia had the best record in the Eastern Conference and was clear favorites against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After three games, the 76ers led the series against Atlanta 2-1 and had an 18-point lead in Game 4 and a 26-point lead in Game 5, but they would lose both games and ultimately lose the series in 7. 

In the series against Atlanta, Ben Simmons, who was first-team all-defense this season, struggled on the offensive end. The three-time All-Star averaged 9.8 points per game in the series and shot 15/45 from the free-throw line. Late in Game 7, he had an opportunity for a dunk, but it passed it off. Simmons took only four shots in Game 7 and finished the game 2/4 from the field with only five points. 

According to former NBA player C.J. Watson, a recent guest of the Go4it podcast hosted by Paul Gant, it was tough to watch Simmons struggle against the Hawks.

“I think it’s just a lack of confidence,” Watson said. “Honestly, it’s hard to watch, but the NBA Is going into bigger guards, which is fine, but you gotta be able to score. If I were a coach or GM, I would want to pick players, who are all threats on the court, so I want five people who can shoot the ball, who can dribble, and who can be all interchangeable. Things of that nature.”

When asked if the 76ers can have success with Simmons if he does not shoot, Watson said the following.

“Without shooting, I don’t think so,” Watson said. “I think he has to develop a jump shot, at least. “It doesn’t have to be a three-point jump shot. It has to be at least a free-throw line jump shot, be able to hit a pull-up jumper, something of that nature, but he has to be able to score the ball. Like we said, he’s already an effective player. If he could add that one piece to his game, he could be even better. and help his team more.”

Philadelphia has an interesting decision to make with Simmons. Do they keep him and hope he grows his game on the offensive end, or do they trade him? 

If it were up to Watson, Simmons would be traded.

“I think I have to break them up,” Watson said about the Embiid-Simmons pairing. “I think they need more shooting around a guy like Joel Emibiid. He definitely has to have shooting. They have to take the model like the Phoenix Suns have. If you have a big like that, who can score the ball, you have to put a lot of shooting around him, a lot of guys who don’t need the ball, a lot of defensive guys. I think that’s what they’re missing.”

You can win with the 24-year-old Simmons if you don’t have to rely on his scoring, so if Philly can find another scorer, they can win. However, if they bring the same team back next season, they will continue to run into the same problems unless Simmons grows his game on the offensive end.

Watson talks Simmons at the 10:20 and the 31:46 mark of the video:

Suns’ Payne: ‘I didn’t think all this was going to come about, us making it to the Finals’

For Suns backup point guard Cam Payne, it’s been a difficult journey to the NBA Finals. Payne was a first-round pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2015 out of Murray State. During his time with OKC, Payne struggled with injuries and was eventually traded to the Chicago Bulls.

The 26-year-old Payne again struggled with injuries with the Bulls. After two and half seasons with the Bulls, Payne was waived by Chicago. He would bounce around the NBA and be out of the league in 2019. 

The five-year veteran eventually went to China and the G League.

“Everybody in my family, they’ve seen me play,’ Payne said during media availability on Monday. “They always want to see me play. So, for me, it kind of hurt to go back home, and everybody ask you, what you doing? Who you playing with next year? It would be questions like that, that kind of — you’re like, man, I ain’t really trying to answer that question. Obviously, I’m trying to work out. Obviously, I’m trying to make a team. So, it’s a lot of things that come with working hard, and those are one of the pillars for me, people asking what you’re doing, who you going to play with next year, little things like that always in the back of my head when I’m working out because I never want to be back at the bottom, going to China and stuff like that. It’s just built me a little different coming in on this next go-round. So just keep my head down, keep working, do it for the name on the back of my jersey and keep my head up. That’s about it.”

Ultimately, Payne got another shot. On June 30, 2020, Payne was signed by the Suns as they entered the bubble in Orlando. Phoenix went 8-0 in the bubble, and Payne was solid, averaging 10.9 points and 3.0 assists per game. This season, Payne was solid, but his real impact came in the playoffs, more specifically, the Western Conference finals.

Without Chris Paul(health & safety protocols) in Games 1 and 2 against the Clippers, Payne came up big. He was steady in Phoenix’s Game 1 win and broke out in Game 2. Payne had a career-high(playoff or regular season) 29 points to go along with nine assists and helped the Suns take a 2-0 series against the Clippers. Phoenix may not have defeated Los Angeles without the contributions of Payne. 

6/30/2020: Payne signed by the Suns

6/30/2021: Suns defeat Clippers to advance to the NBA Finals.

According to Payne, being in the NBA Finals is totally unexpected.

“To be honest, when I first signed, I just wanted to be able to get some time in the bubble and try to make someone’s roster next — this season, basically,” he said. “I had a pretty good bubble run. I didn’t think all this was going to come about, us making it to the Finals. I kind of feel like we were going to be able to make the playoffs, but here? No, not even a little bit. It’s a crazy roller coaster this thing here. Life’s crazy. So I just put the work in, put the time in, prayed on it, everything, and I’m just going to keep on doing the same thing, and hopefully, we can come in on top.”

No one expected this from the Suns and Payne, but for him to be at this moment, at this point, is a testament to hard work and dedication. Now, he’s four wins away from an NBA title. What a difference a year makes.

 

Bucks’ Middleton: ‘Honestly, it’s been a long journey, but it’s been a great journey’

After 47 years, the Milwaukee Bucks are back in the NBA Finals. Khris Middleton scored 23 of his game-high 32 points in the third quarter, and Jrue Holiday added 27 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists as the Bucks defeated the Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at State Farm Arena on Saturday night.

Milwaukee wins the series 4-2, and now, they get ready for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals.

Despite not having Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed Games 5 and 6 due to a hyperextended left knee, the Bucks found a way. Getting to the NBA Finals was not an easy journey for the Bucks, which their head coach Mike Budenholzer discussed after the game.

“Yeah, what a roller coaster of emotions, especially this series,” Budenholzer said. “But the series before and opening with Miami, and how good they are. So just impressed with the resilience of the group, the character of the group. They just have a focus, and an edge that’s put us in a good place put us in an opportunity to keep playing. And so you’ve got to deal with all those emotions, everything that goes into each round, and this group has been able to do that. It’s impressive, but we’ve got more to do.”

Middleton and Antetokounmpo came into the NBA together with the Bucks, and the two went through the highs and lows in Milwaukee, including some playoff disappointments over the years, to get to this point. Middleton reflected on that journey following the victory.

“Honestly, it’s been a long journey, but it’s been a great journey,” Middleton said. “It’s been worth it. We put ourselves in position to be in the NBA Finals. After winning 15 games in our first year here and seven years not making the playoffs, to the last two years thinking we had a chance and just didn’t do enough, and now we’re here. This is what we’ve work for. Extremely happy that we’re still playing.

According to Holiday, this journey to the Finals is a story he will tell his children.

“Man, it’s been — it’s a story that I get to tell my kids, and it’s a story I get to tell people, and that’s one of the coolest things,” Holiday said. “Playing against the Heat and what we did against them; and then coming back against Brooklyn, one of the most talented teams in the league, or ever, honestly, against one of the best, what, top three of the greatest scorers of our game; and then a great Atlanta team, a young team but that have some crucial players.”

Last season, the Atlanta Hawks missed the playoffs. This season, the Hawks made it to the Eastern Conference finals, which unexpected to many, so no matter what happened in Eastern Conference finals, this season was a success. According to Trae Young, who returned and had 14 points and nine assists on Saturday after missing Games 4 and 5 with a foot injury, Atlanta wants to keep this winning vibe going.

“I definitely feel like this is a start,” Young said. “I mean, this is the beginning. We’ve accomplished so much this year, but just the guys in the locker room, the young guys, we all understand that this is just the beginning. It’s fun. We had the city excited. We want to keep it this way.”

The Bucks move on to the NBA Finals against the Suns, and if they can get Antetokounmpo back, and he is fairly healthy, maybe they beat Phoenix. If they don’t get the two-time MVP back, winning an NBA title will be tough for Milwaukee.

Suns’ Booker on eliminating the Clippers: ‘This is nice and all, but we’re going for the Larry(O’Brien trophy) for sure’

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker made the postseason for the first time in his career this season, and he has taken full advantage of it. Booker and the Suns are on their way to the NBA Finals after defeating the Clippers 130-103 in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.

Booker, who had 22 points and seven rebounds in the series-clinching victory over the Clippers, is averaging 27.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game in the playoffs. 

The two-time All-Star has experienced a lot of losing in Phoenix. The Suns averaged 24 wins in Booker’s first five seasons in the NBA. Then, they hired Monty Williams as their head coach last season, and he created a winning culture. While the Suns missed the playoffs last season, they went 8-0 in the bubble. Ultimately, they acquired Chris Paul, and the rest is history.

Following their Game 6 victory, Booker reflected on his journey. He’s happy to be in the Finals, but he wants to win a title. 

“Just a long time coming,” Booker said. “That’s what I said to Jay Gaspar, our equipment manager. “He’s the only one in the organization that’s been here longer than me. He’s going on year 30. So, he was here and Julie, so Julie has been here also. But it’s been a long time coming. We seen the bottom, the bottom of the bottom for multiple years, and just keeping our head down. Waiting on this moment right here. Monty(Williams) coming in, building the culture, him leading us with the preparation meets opportunity. That was these moments right here, and we took it, and we ran with it. But we still have work to do. This is nice and all, but we’re going for the Larry for sure.”

Williams added on Booker: “I’m happy for him because I’ve been with him every day now athletically for two years. So, I’ve seen the work. I’ve seen the passion; I’ve seen his family and how they, not just him, but they want it. They love Phoenix. They don’t want to go anywhere. They wanted to just kind of watching it like, wow, this is pretty cool.”

There are a lot of players that would have requested a trade if they were in Booker’s shoes. Credit to him for sticking it through, and now he is four games away from winning an NBA title:

Watch below as Booker talks getting to the NBA Finals, Chris Paul, and more:

Suns’ Paul: ‘I just kept thinking, if we do what we’re supposed to do, I get the last laugh’

Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul has made it to the NBA Finals! Paul scored 31 of his game-high 41 points in the second half, including 19 points in the fourth quarter, as the Suns defeated the Clippers 130-103 in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center on Wednesday night. With the win, Phoenix will make the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Paul’s 31 points in the second half is the most he’s scored in the second half in his career(regular season and playoffs). 

In addition, the 36-year-old Paul, who scored 37 points in a series-clinching win against the Nuggets in the second round, became the oldest player in postseason history with 35 points in consecutive close-out games within a postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The 16-year veteran struggled with his shot in the team’s Game 5 loss against the Clippers, but Suns head coach Monty Williams knew that Paul could have a breakout performance in this series, and it came at the right time.

“I’ve told you guys from the jump I wanted to stay out of his way,” Williams said postgame. “There were questions about his production before tonight, and in my heart, I felt like it was a matter of time. I didn’t know it was going to be like that, but that’s who Chris(Paul) is. He was tired, and he was still making those kinds of plays — getting to the basket, the threes, orchestrating everything.”

Paul, who spent six seasons with the Clippers, broke Los Angeles with his performance in the second half, and the Suns knew that when Patrick Beverley shoved Paul in the back after a Clippers’ timeout in the fourth quarter. Beverley would get ejected, and Phoenix continued to pour it on.

“Over the years, people talk junk to me, and a lot of times I usually say something back, but I done changed a little,” Paul said. “A little. A little. And I just kept thinking, if we do what we’re supposed to do, I get the last laugh. So you stay the course long enough, you break ’em, and that’s what we did.”

Jae Crowder, who scored 19 points in Game 6, added on Beverley’s shove: “They broke. We know we broke them. There’s no better sign of defeat than knowing that moment, that moment where it’s like competition meets and we just — you can’t do anything else to help your team overcome that situation. He just broke. That’s what we were trying to reach.”

Paul, who was traded to the Suns by the Thunder last offseason, getting to this point was not easy. He’s suffered untimely injuries in past years during the playoffs and had untimely injuries this postseason(shoulder, COVID), but according to Paul, he knew his chance to make it to the Finals would come.

When asked if he ever thought this moment would not happen, Paul said the following:

“No. No. I ain’t built like that. It’s just get to work,” he said. “Get to work. What was it, Game 3, I find out I tore some ligaments in my hand. I said, oh, here we go. But you just — I got an unbelievable team around me.”

Not many people had the Suns in the NBA Finals, but guess what? They’re here, and with home-court advantage in the Finals, injury issues with both the Hawks and Bucks, and based on the way they’re playing, Phoenix has an excellent chance to win a championship.

Watch below as Paul talks making NBA Finals:

Bucks’ Tucker: ‘It’s the Eastern Conference finals; there’s no excuses’

Coming into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Atlanta Hawks knew they would be without their star guard Trae Young(bruised right foot) against the Bucks. However, Milwaukee lost its star player and could be without him the rest of the way.

Giannis Antetokounmpo left Game 4 with just over seven minutes to go in the third quarter and did not return after he hyperextended his left knee trying to block Clint Capela’s shot. The two-time MVP did come back to the bench but had a noticeable limp and returned to the locker room.

After Antetokounmpo’s injury, the Hawks, who led the Bucks by 10 when Antetokounmpo went out of the game, outscored the Bucks 25-10 the rest of the third quarter. Atlanta would take a 25-point lead into the fourth quarter and ultimately defeat the Bucks 110-88 at State Farm Arena to tie the series at 2.

Game 5 is Thursday night in Milwaukee.

Without Young, Lou Williams, the three-time 6th-man of the year award winner, got his first career postseason start on Tuesday night, and Williams had a game-high 21 points and eight assists.

“When superstar caliber guys go out, you put some other guys in the game, and their eyes are this wide, and they’re like this is a great opportunity for me to show and prove my abilities,” Williams said. “You don’t want to be the guys that let them off the hook because Giannis was off the floor. I think we all felt that energy, and we just ratcheted up our energy and continued to go.”

Jrue Holiday led the Bucks with 19 points, to go along with nine assists and five rebounds. According to Holiday, without Antetokounmpo, everybody else has to step up.

“I think just based off of how he was grabbing his leg, it seemed like it was pretty bad,” Holiday said. “So from there, you are concerned, and you don’t want to see anybody, especially a teammate, get hurt, but you kind of have to shift to somebody has to step up. Multiple people have to step up.”

P.J. Tucker, who had eight points on Tuesday night, added on Antetokounmpo: “It’s not good. Any time you see your best player go down, it’s not great. But it’s an opportunity for somebody else and everybody else to step up. It’s the Eastern Conference finals; there’s no excuses. It doesn’t matter whoever is playing, not playing. They’ve got guys out; everybody’s hurt, everybody’s banged up, everybody has injuries. You have to fight through it and win.”

Credit to Atlanta for the way they played in Game 4. They came out with more passion and energy than the Bucks, which is why they were able to tie this series at 2.

According to reports, Antetokounmpo is expected to get an MRI on Wednesday, so what happens with that MRI could determine how the rest of this series plays out. Depending on how things go with Young’s injury, both teams could be without their best player in Game 5.

Notes:

Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has been battling right knee soreness throughout the playoffs, had a breakout game for the Hawks. He scored 20 points(6-14 from downtown) on Tuesday night.

Before Game 4,  Bogdanovic scored 20 points in the first three games of this series combined.

 

 

 

Antetokounmpo on Middleton: ‘We were like, get the hell out of the way, give him the ball’

After struggling with his shot in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks, Khris Middleton finally came alive at the right time, and that time was the fourth quarter of Game 3.

Middleton scored 20 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks defeated the Hawks 113-102 on Sunday night at State Farm Arena to take a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4 is on Tuesday night in Atlanta.

In the first two games of the series, Middleton, who also added 11 rebounds and seven assists on Sunday night, scored a combined 30 points, and he almost did that in the fourth quarter on Sunday night. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Middleton is the first Bucks player with 20 points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game over the last 25 postseasons.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, but tonight was about Middleton. 

“Some games it’s me, some games it’s Giannis(Antetokounmpo), some games it’s Jrue(Holiday),” Middleton said. “We all have a great feel about who has it going, who has the best matchup, and who can create the best looks. When it’s my turn or my time to have it, I’m thinking the same way: just try to get the best shot up for everybody.”

Antetokounmpo added on Middleton: “Greatness. Greatness. What I saw today was unbelievable. He was freaking unbelievable. Carried the team at the end. Man, like he turned the ball over two times, and after that, he was locked in and like “pass me the ball,” and we gave him the ball. There’s moments that is we know when to set screens for him, and we know when he wants the ball, and that was the moment. We were like, get the hell out of the way, give him the ball, take us home, Khris, and that’s what he did.”

Trae Young led the Hawks with 35 points and four assists, but he injured his ankle late in the third quarter after he stepped on referee Sean Wright’s foot. Young, who is expected to get an MRI on Monday, returned in the fourth quarter, but he was clearly limited. 

“It was really my blow-by speed,” Young said. “That’s a big part of my game, my ability to blow by anybody. When you’re on the left side, and you’re trying to blow by, you’ve got to use your right foot. So my left-hand pass to Bogey — I was going down the left side; it was in a lot of pain going back. Like I said, it’s more just the push-off and the blow-by….

“When I came back in, it was kind of sore. It made me mad I couldn’t really go as fast as I wanted to, and when I did, it hurt. So I’ve just got to get treatment and hopefully get it better for the next game.”

If Young is not healthy, the Hawks don’t have a shot in this series. It’s a tough break for Young and the Hawks, but again, Game 3 was all about the greatness of Middleton. 

Suns’ Ayton: ‘My teammates are really relentless’

The Phoenix Suns are about to do the improbable. The Suns are one win away from getting to the NBA Finals after defeating the Clippers 84-80 in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday night at Staples Center.

This was a ’90s style playoff game as both teams went cold in the fourth quarter. The two teams combined for 29 points in the fourth. Phoenix shot 21% from the floor in the final period, while the Clippers were held to 16% shooting. After the Clippers cut the lead to 71-70 following a Paul George free-throw with just over ten minutes left, the two teams did not score for over three minutes. Los Angeles cut the lead to one on several occasions but could not get over the hump.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Clippers shot 0-12 in the 4th quarter on shots that could’ve tied the game or taken the lead. That’s the most such attempts without a make in the 4th quarter of a game over the last 25 postseasons.

“I think it was an ugly game from beginning to end, honestly,” Devin Booker, who led the Suns with 25 points before fouling out in the fourth, said after the game. “if you’re talking from a scoring aspect, but we dug in and got stops, and it’s the playoffs – any way you can come out with one.”

Deandre Ayton, who scored 19 points and grabbed a career-high 22 rebounds, was happy with the way Phoenix stayed together during the team’s cold spell in Game 4.

“My teammates are really relentless,” he said. “We have a thing on the team where something called togetherness, and we play as a unit, we come together, and we just fight over adversity and fight over fatigue. Our mental stamina was there today, and we did a good job of that.”

Now, it’s time for Phoenix to focus on Game 5(Monday night), where they have an opportunity to get to the NBA Finals in front of their home fans. If they can get it done in Game 5, Phoenix will make it to the Finals for the first time in 28 years.

Chris Paul was one win away from the Finals back in 2018 with the Rockets before losing to the Warriors in 7, and he knows that the job is not done until you get four wins.

“Three wins don’t win the series,” Paul, who 18 points and seven assists, said postgame. “So, right now, we did what we came here to do, we wanted to get one of these, and now we got to stay focused and be ready to go back to our crowd.”

The Clippers have battled back this whole playoff run, so they’re not done until the Suns win four games. However, without Kawhi Leonard(missed sixth straight game with knee sprain), it appears the Clippers may have finally run out of gas. We’ll see what they have in Game 5.

Notes:

-Paul George led the Clippers with 23 points, 16 rebounds, and six assists on Saturday night before fouling out late in the game, and Reggie Jackson added 20 points.

-Suns’ Booker got rid of the mask he uses to protect his broken nose in the third quarter. After the game, he explained why.

“I just I think I took it off after I missed a layup,” he said about the mask. “I said after the game if I get hit again, which you don’t realize how much you get hit in the face until you take it off. But I can get surgery after the season. I’m not blaming anything on the mask, but I haven’t played basketball with a mask ever in my life. So it takes some getting used to, and at that point in that time, I didn’t want it.”

Bucks shutdown Young, defeat Hawks in Game 2

The Milwaukee Bucks dominated the Atlanta Hawks from start to finish in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. Milwaukee, who never trailed in this game, led by as many as 41 points and would defeat Atlanta 125-91 at Fiserv Forum on Friday night to tie the series at 1.

Milwaukee took complete control of this game in the second quarter. The Bucks shot 78% from the field in the quarter and outscored the Hawks 43-17. 

Jrue Holiday had 14 of his 22 points in the second. The Bucks would go on a 20-0 run in the quarter and led 77-45 at halftime. In the words of the great Marv Albert, it was extended garbage time from there, especially in the fourth quarter when both teams’ starters were on the bench.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 25 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. After losing Game 1, the two-time MVP knew Milwaukee needed to get Game 2.

“I think everybody is on the same page,” Antetokounmpo said postgame. “We know what we’ve got to do. And everybody knew that we’ve got to come in here and get this game.”

Khris Middleton, who had 15 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds on Friday night, felt Milwaukee needed to be more physical in Game 2.

“So tonight, we wanted to set the tone,” he said. “Just make sure they weren’t going to be comfortable. We wanted to be physical with them, do it without fouling, of course; that was just the main message tonight; the aggressiveness that we didn’t have from Game 1 needs to be here in Game 2.”

Trae Young had 48 points and 11 assists in the Hawks’ Game 1 victory, but Game 2 was a different story. Young struggled with his shot(6-16) and finished with 15 points, six assists, and nine turnovers. Holiday, with assistance from Brook Lopez on the pick-and-rolls, limited Young. 

“I think just mix it up, make it difficult for him,” Holiday said about Young. “Not get too many easy looks. Last game, he was living in the paint. Had a lot of floaters. Was pretty much there for him. We didn’t really want to get him started early, and I don’t think he went to the free-throw line much tonight, which is also pretty big for us.”

Young felt the officials allowed the Bucks to be more physical with him in Game 2.

They didn’t do anything too much different,” Young said. “They just played more aggressive. It was just more aggressive, and Scott (Foster) and them allowed more to go tonight. Just got to be better and be able to respond a lot better.”

The NBA is a game of adjustments, and the Bucks adjusted and played better on Friday night. Now, the series shifts to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4. We’ll see what adjustments both teams make at State Farm Arena. Game 3 is on Sunday night.