Nate McMillan's fourth chance — Ben Simmons 😔 — NBA Lottery preview

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

  The Opening Tip

  • Ben Simmons is buried inside his own head.
  • We have reached a compromise on the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets. 
  • A quick primer on tonight’s NBA Draft Lottery. 

Tonight's playoff game

1. Nate McMillan is the conference finals’ most unlikely story

The four semi-finalists coaches are Ty Lue, Monty Williams, Mike Budenholzer and Nate McMillan. All have a backstory. 

  • Some are stories of empathy and upliftment, like Williams’ relationship with Chris Paul, and how Paul helped him through unthinkable personal tragedy.
  • Some are less so, like how Budenholzer would have been fired by now if Kevin Durant’s toe was an inch shorter.

No story, however, is more unlikely than McMillan’s, who somehow has Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals.

To recap:

  • He was fired last season by the Pacers (two weeks after signing an extension) and replaced by “Nate Bjorkgren,” who has since been fired for -- and this isn’t the technical reason -- being a complete sociopath
  • McMillan, fired for the third time, got zero consideration for another head coaching job this offseason, so he joined Atlanta’s staff as an assistant for Lloyd Pierce. 

Pierce, also not a stellar NBA coach, was fired on March 1. The Hawks were 14-20. A bet on them making the semi-finals then would pay out roughly a super-max contract now.

Since the firing … Atlanta slapped the interim head coach title on McMillan, won eight in a row, finished the season 27-11, destroyed the Knicks, and upset the 76ers as +250 underdogs in Game 7 on Sunday night.

Now Atlanta finds itself in the conference finals, McMillan’s first in 17 years of coaching. It isn’t really a redemption story -- he won three playoff games in four seasons with Indiana -- but it is an unlikely one for a 56-year-old basketball lifer who seemed out of chances.

[READ: These are the finest moments in the undervalued coaching career of Nate McMillan]

2. Daily GIFYou’ll be seeing this clip for years to come

There may never be a play more apt at signifying a players’ struggles than the one above, where Ben Simmons chose to pass the ball to Matisse Thybulle rather than simply dunk it for two points.

Thybulle got fouled and missed one of the two free-throws.

Thus, a talking point was born.

Here was Joel Embiid’s reaction immediately after the play, and here’s what he said in the postgame:
 

“I’ll be honest. I thought the turning point was when we -- I don’t know how to say it. But I thought the turning point was just, we had an open shot and we made one free-throw and we missed the other."

3. Trivia time

The Clippers, currently playing in their first conference finals in franchise history, are one of six teams to never make the NBA Finals at any point in their history.

How many can you name?

Answers at the bottom.

4. Life comes at you fast ... but also props to Basketball Mega God Kevin Durant

Remember: Nothing is binary ... it is perfectly OK to clown Kyrie Irving for saying painfully un-self-aware things while also appreciating the transcendent level of basketball Kevin Durant reached during the Bucks-Nets series, particularly in Games 5 and 7.

5. The beautifully stupid NBA Draft Lottery is tonight

Which team’s next decade will be altered for the better tonight because of the way a bunch of ping pong balls rattled around?

And which team will fire its entire front office, uprooting families and changing lives, because of the way a bunch of ping pong balls rattled around?

Find out tonight on ESPN.

The NBA Draft Lottery starts at 8:30 p.m.

A few notes and resources to get you ready: 

  • Here are the odds for each team at landing the No. 1 pick, via Tankathon. Houston, Detroit and Orlando all have a 14 percent shot at the top spot. 
  • We can’t overstate how big a night this is for Minnesota. If the Wolves land in the top-three, they keep their pick. If it’s four or lower, it gets shuttled over to the Warriors. 
  • If Houston’s pick falls outside of the top-four (there’s a 47.9 percent shot), OKC could end up with the No. 1 pick (11.5 percent shot) and as high as the No. 5 pick.

[READ: Final mock draft projections before the lottery]

6.  Quick hits

7.  Reads

  • Ben Simmons’ playoff struggle creates a quandary for the 76ers [Fox Sports]
  • How in the world are the Hawks still playing? [The Ringer]
  • What’s next for the Sixers? [The Lowe Post]

Trivia answer: Clippers, Timberwolves, Hornets, Pelicans, Nuggets, Grizzlies.


That's the buzzer.
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