Bucks sweep Pistons to advance, Jazz stave off elimination

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks scored 41 points. NBAE / Getty Images / AFP
Updated 24 April 2019
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Bucks sweep Pistons to advance, Jazz stave off elimination

  • Milwaukee reach second round of postseason for the first time since the 2000-01 season

LOS ANGELES : The Milwaukee Bucks wiped away 18 years of frustration on Monday by beating the Detroit Pistons 127-104 to complete a four-game sweep of their first round Eastern Conference playoff series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 41 points as the Bucks reached the second round of the postseason for the first time since the 2000-01 season when they made it all the way to the NBA semifinals.

Top-seeded Milwaukee cruised through the first three games and after a slow start in Game 4, they took control late and won by a comfortable 23 points.

“I think it’s important that we take a second tonight. Enjoy it,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s a good night for Milwaukee. It’s a good night for the Bucks.”

Breaking their streak of eight straight playoff exits so quickly means Milwaukee has more time to prepare for their next opponent — the Boston Celtics, who are coming off a sweep of Indiana.

The Bucks matched their regular season dominance over the Pistons, winning all four games. They had met in the postseason four times with the Pistons winning them all.

Antetokounmpo had a quiet night in Game 3 with just 14 points but he had all his weapons at his disposal in the close-out game.

“I remember our first playoff series (in 2015),” Antetokounmpo said. “Chicago, the last game, game six, they beat us by 50 or something insane. But where we were and where we are right now, it’s been an unbelievable journey.”

Milwaukee finished the third quarter with a 17-3 run, taking a 10-point lead into the fourth after the Pistons had led much of the way.

The Blake Griffin-led Pistons set an NBA record with their 14th consecutive playoff loss, a losing skid that began in 2008.

Milwaukee was also the second team in playoff history to sweep their first round series by at least 15 points in each game, joining the 1980 Celtics.

Last year, the Bucks lost to the Celtics in a seven-game series. This year’s second round series will have some new faces.

Milwaukee has Brook Lopez as a starter and added veterans George Hill and Nikola Mirotic.

Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving were out with injuries for the Celtics last year.

Elsewhere, Donovan Mitchell scored 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter as the Utah Jazz staved off elimination in Game 4 with a 107-91 victory over the Houston Rockets.

“It’s not over,” Mitchell said. “We have another one, and another one, and another one.”

Jae Crowder added 23 points, Ricky Rubio tallied 18 points and 11 assists and Derrick Favors finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for Utah, who trail three games to one.

Utah outscored Houston 31-12 in the fourth quarter to set up Game 5 on Wednesday.

Mitchell said they now realize what they have been doing wrong and what it is going to take to win the series.

“We all been struggling with our shots all series,” said Mitchell. “We didn’t play hard at the beginning. The last two games we played harder.

“There is no way we were going to go out like that. We figured out what we have to do. The best thing for us is to continue to play team basketball.”

James Harden scored 30 points to lead Houston. Chris Paul added 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Eric Gordon tallied 16 points.

The Rockets shot a dismal 17 of 46 from three-point range.


Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

Updated 23 May 2019
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Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

  • ‘I have an obligation to speak against atrocities,’ basketball star tells Arab News
  • ‘Whatever I am going through in my personal life doesn’t impact my performance on court’

CHICAGO: NBA superstar Enes Kanter says he loves his homeland Turkey as much as he loves professional basketball. 

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Erdogan has arrested Kanter’s father, and bullied his family after accusing the basketball player of being part of the Hizmet movement of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the president asserts was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Two years ago this week, Erdogan demanded that Kanter be arrested, and fears of violence from the Turkish state have gotten so bad that the FBI installed a panic button to help protect the player.

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression.

“His (Erdogan’s) regime’s and his hostility to me began in 2013 when I first start criticizing (the) government on unjust, unfair and illegal closures of college preparatory centers linked to businesspeople in the Hizmet movement,” Kanter said.

 “This closure pretty much became the first public clash between the Erdogan regime and the Hizmet movement,” he added.

“It was obvious that there was something that Erdogan doesn’t like about the Hizmet movement. Up until the closures of college preparatory centers, no one knew about that,” Kanter said.

“The way Erdogan handled this relationship was brutal, ruthless, unjust and unfair. I can’t stand for any of these, so I stood up against this tyranny and started criticizing. Neither Erdogan stopped his approach nor I, and we’ve kept clashing since then.”

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression. (AFP)

Kanter played for the Turkish national team at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and for the Turkish U18 national team in 2009.

He led Turkey to the bronze medal at the European Championships in France, and was named Best Player and Best Center at the 2009 European Championships by Eurobasket.com. 

Kanter signed with the Utah Jazz in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, the New York Knicks in 2017, and the Portland Trail Blazers in February this year.

The Trail Blazers lost the Western Division Playoffs, the first step to the NBA Championships, to California’s Golden State Warriors in the final game on Monday.

Erdogan’s threats have placed enormous pressure on Kanter, but he insists it has not impacted his performance or his commitment to help the people of Turkey.

“I’m a successful professional athlete, and whatever I’m going through in my private life would never impact my performance on court,” he said.

“They’re two different worlds for me … I’ve known nothing else but basketball … since I was 13, so I guess it’s pretty important,” he added.

“I see basketball and my platform as a way to teach the younger generation how to be successful and hopeful for the future,” Kanter said.

“Once you’re a successful professional athlete, younger generations see you as a role model, so … I’m trying to do my best to set my life as a role model to them,” he added.

“I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities. I believe that as a human being I should be standing for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech … Me being a celebrity makes it easier for people to hear, see and experience what I believe.”

I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities.

Enes Kanter, Portland Trail Blazers center

On Erdogan, Kanter does not mince words. “He’s a dictator by definition. He silences media, destroys opposition, demonizes his critics … so all these make him a dictator,” Kanter said.

“Turkey deserves a leader who’s open minded, democratic, progressive, intelligent, modest and forward thinking, a leader who embraces everybody in the community regardless of their political choices.”

The harassment from Erdogan has put Kanter’s family at risk too. “I can’t say they’re safe when my dad lost his job and got jailed based on terrorism charges because I’m his son,” Kanter said. “These allegations are baseless and ridiculous, so how could I feel they’re safe?”

He said he respects Gulen and the Hizmet movement, rejecting Erdogan’s claims against them.

“I’m so close to Mr. Fethullah Gulen in terms of his life philosophy and teachings. I admire his way of extracting an individual’s inner potential … in order to be a better person in his or her community,” Kanter said.

“Erdogan should know that he’ll be brought to justice one day and pay for his mistakes. First, he should stop all his unjust, inhumane acts against the people of Turkey. Second, he should start making everybody’s life better in Turkey.”

Before moving to the US in 2009 to attend college in California, Kanter was a star basketball player in Turkey’s premier leagues.

He said despite playing for the NBA in the US, he still sees himself as a champion for Turkey and its people.

“I was Turkey’s best basketball player, and I’m still Turkey’s best basketball player. The only difference is that I’m now representing my country in the US. I left Turkey for a better opportunity in my career, to play in the NBA,” he added.

“I think everyone in society has an obligation to speak out on issues of human rights and democracy, and to stand tall against atrocities, inhumane practices and dictatorships,” Kanter said.

Celebrities like himself “have a bigger opportunity to make a difference and to raise awareness on such issues because of our platforms,” he added.

Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. (AFP)