NBA Playoffs: Nuggets collapse down the stretch as the Jazz clinch the series

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Near the end of the first half, it looked like the Jazz were well on their way to rolling over the Denver Nuggets and clinching the series. They were up double-digits midway through the second quarter and the crowd was going crazy. Not only that, but Denver’s vaunted offense was stalling. 

Then Joey Graham showed up, and the Nuggets were right back in it. Coming off the bench, Graham scored 18 of his 21 points in the second quarter. He gave the Nuggets something they had lacked all series — the toughness required to play from behind. He scored on put-backs, cuts, open mid-range jumpers, and even banged in a three. He scored 18 of his 21 points in the second quarter, and the Nuggets went into halftime trailing by only two points. 
Denver kept their energy level up after halftime, getting Deron Williams into foul trouble and holding the lead for much of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Jazz made a run to take back the lead. As that happened, Denver simply melted down. The Nuggets played like a team that misses its coach all series long; that lack of discipline is ultimately what killed them in game six. 
With the Jazz up by three points in the fourth, Deron Williams drove on Kenyon Martin and drew a two-shot foul. After the whistle, Martin gave Williams an unnecessary push to pick up a technical foul on top of the original foul. It was all bad news from there for the Nuggets. Utah only had one field goal in the last six minutes of the game, but they were able to hold on because the Nuggets couldn’t stop themselves from fouling. Chauncey Billups picked up another technical before the game was over, and the Jazz shot 15 of their 51 free throws in the last half of the fourth quarter. 
The Nuggets didn’t play terribly. But between Carmelo Anthony struggling from the field (6-22), their starting frontcourt combining for nine points, J.R. Smith giving them nothing, and all those fouls,  they were simply over-matched by Utah’s unrelenting precision and aggressiveness.
The Jazz get the Lakers in the second round, and there are a lot of interesting matchups in that series. Will Phil Jackson risk putting Fisher on Deron Williams, or will Kobe draw the assignment? Do the Jazz have a defender who can slow down Kobe the way Sefolosha and Durant were (at times) able to in the Thunder series? Will Kirilenko be healthy, and will he end up taking a turn on Kobe? How will the Jazz’s undersized forwards deal with LA’s hulking frontline of Bynum and Gasol? How will the Lakers handle Utah’s eardrum-rattling crowd? Jerry Sloan was able to give the Jazz an advantage in this series by out-coaching interim head coach Adrian Dantley — what will happen when he goes up against Jackson, his old nemesis? Regardless of what the answers to all those questions are, chances are it’s going to be a great series. 

Report: Hornets sign head coach Steve Clifford to three-year extension

Steve Clifford
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With the Hornets fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, head coach Steve Clifford’s future with the team has been a mystery hanging over their heads. Clifford, in his third year with the team, was set to become a free agent after this season. Not anymore. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that the Hornets have signed Clifford to a contract extension that will keep him in town through the 2018-19 season:

The Charlotte Hornets and coach Steve Clifford have come to an agreement on a multi-year extension, the Observer has learned.

The deal includes a three-year guarantee that would keep Clifford in his current role through the 2018-19 season.

In Clifford’s first year with the Hornets (then the Bobcats) in 2013-14, they made the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. This season, they’re off to an 8-6 start despite losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a season-ending shoulder injury during the preseason.
With several teams potentially having openings this summer, it was smart of the Hornets to keep Clifford off the market.

Griffin, Jordan each score 18, Clippers beat Nuggets 111-94

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DENVER (AP) Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan each scored 18 points and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 111-94 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

Jordan finished with 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Griffin had 10 rebounds. Chris Paul had 15 points and 10 assists to give the Clippers (7-7) three players with double-doubles.

The Clippers, who hadn’t been under .500 this far into a season under Doc Rivers, made eight 3-pointers after coming into the game at 31.3 percent.

The Clippers hit their first four shots from deep, missed their next seven but found the stroke again when Jamal Crawford hit a halfcourt shot to give them an 83-72 lead at the end of the third.

Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 20 points and had a career-high 18 rebounds.

Crawford scored the Clippers’ first seven points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 90-76. He finished with 15 points.

Denver started fouling Jordan, and the center was just 7 of 16 from the line in the fourth, but Denver couldn’t hit enough shots to close the gap.

His dunk on a lob from Paul gave the Clippers a 110-93 lead.

Griffin was struggling from the field until he hit a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock midway through the third. He hit two more shots and fed Jordan for a dunk to give the Clippers a 73-62 lead.

Rookie Nikola Jokic had 16 points and Gary Harris scored 14 for the Nuggets, who have lost four straight and fell to 3-5 at home.


Clippers: J.J. Redick had 16 points. … Griffin reached double digits in rebounds for the first time in seven games. He averaged 6.5 boards in his previous six games. … The Clippers were outrebounded for the 12th time in 14 games. They are 5-7 when that happens.

Nuggets: All of Gallinari’s rebounds came on the defensive end. … F Kenneth Faried missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. With C Joffrey Lauvergne (low back strain) also out, the Nuggets were down to 11 players. … Mike Miller made a rare first-half appearance and gave the Nuggets a jolt with two 3-pointers in seven minutes off the bench. He finished with nine points.


Clippers: Host Utah on Wednesday night.

Nuggets: Host San Antonio on Friday night.

George scores 40, Pacers make 19 3s to beat Wizards 123-106

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WASHINGTON (AP) Paul George scored a season-high 40 points and made seven 3-pointers, part of a franchise-record 19 by the Indiana Pacers in a 123-106 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

C.J. Miles added 32 points, his most since joining the Pacers before the start of last season, as Indiana won for the ninth time in 11 games.

Miles was 8 of 9 from beyond the arc, and George also missed only once from deep.

The Pacers finished 73.1 percent (19 of 26) from 3-point range, crushing their previous season high of 44.4 percent (12 of 27).

Gary Neal scored 23 points off the bench for the Wizards, whose three-game winning streak was snapped.

Bradley Beal added 20 points and John Wall scored 18 for Washington, which has lost five of its six games when it allows more than 110 points.

Even with George and Miles combining to shoot a perfect 9 of 9 beyond the arc before halftime, the Wizards remained close for much of the first half and even led for stretches of the second quarter.

But the Pacers failed to cool down and eventually pulled away.

Miles finally missed his first 3-point attempt midway through the third. He answered with his seventh and longest of the game to beat the shot clock and make it 81-74.

George’s turnaround jumper later in the quarter pushed it to 86-77, and then his pull-up 3 from the left wing made it 91-81, the first double-digit lead for either team.

Chase Budinger‘s running jumper pushed it to 99-86 early in the fourth, and the Wizards never got closer than 10 after that.


The Pacers nearly matched last season’s New Orleans Pelicans, who made 15 of 20 3-point attempts in a game in November, 2014. That’s the highest 3-point team percentage in the last five seasons with at least 20 attempts, according to STATS.


Pacers: G George Hill scored 14 points in 32 minutes in his return after missing three games with an upper respiratory infection. . Indiana’s stretch of six consecutive 3s made to start the game ended when Hill’s 28-footer at the first-quarter buzzer rimmed out . With Hill’s return, Indiana’s most-used starting five improved to 5-2.

Wizards: None of Washington’s starters began the second quarter. The Wizards’ second group outscored the Pacers 16-10 to take a 47-43 lead before Beal returned with 6:15 left in the half. . C Nene (sore calf) scored 11 points in 23 minutes after missing practice on Monday. . Wall sat even longer during the second before re-entering with 3:41 left in the half.


Pacers: Host Chicago on Friday.

Wizards: Visit Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Warriors are a tremendous machine

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes
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Watching Golden State Tuesday night, I was reminded of the call when Secretariat easily won the Belmont Stakes to take the triple crown, almost lapping the field: “He is moving like a tremendous machine! Secretariat by twelve, Secretariat by fourteen lengths on the turn! Sham is dropping back… But Secretariat is all alone! He’s out there almost a sixteenth of a mile away from the rest of the horses! Secretariat is in a position that seems impossible to catch. He’s into the stretch. Secretariat leads this field by 18 lengths… They’re in the stretch. Secretariat has opened a 22 length lead! He is going to be the Triple Crown winner! Here comes Secretariat to the wire. An unbelievable, an amazing performance!”

1) The Warriors are not unbeatable, just nobody has figured out how to do it yet. The Golden State Warriors will eventually lose this season. If I had to bet, it will come on their upcoming seven-game road trip (which includes some back-to-backs), but it will happen. Eventually.

That doesn’t diminish what they did Tuesday night, destroying the Lakers to become the first team in NBA history to go 16-0 to start the season. Which is insane. They are playing at a level a notch higher than anyone else in the league right now and their cruising speed can crush teams like the Lakers. LeBron James talked Tuesday about trying to savor the greats of the game — that is good advice. We need to step back sometimes and soak in the moment when we witness greatness. And make no mistake, right now the Warriors are great. Nobody has an answer for their small-ball lineup, nobody can slow the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll. Whatever happens this season — start like this and don’t win a ring and people will only talk about the latter —  right now the Warriors are simply a joy to watch. They play such a smart game. Seeing high IQ players working in unison is a joy for any true fan of the game.

And if you want to bring up them pushing the 72-win Bulls go right ahead — they likely will not get there, but nothing is out of play now. (The 1994 Rockets that started 15-0 lost a game then won seven more, they were 22-1, and yet didn’t even win 60 games. Things happen.). Forget Tuesday’s Laker game, L.A. is a dumpster fire. The Warriors are on an unprecedented streak, playing ridiculous offense behind Curry and their small-ball lineup, plus still having a top-5 defense. Savor this while you can.

2) Paul George drops 40 on Wizards. The Wizards say they want to play small and fast, but mostly they just play small. The Pacers showed them how to do it right on Tuesday night. Indiana hit 19 threes (a franchise record) and shot 73 percent from beyond the arc. It was a good night to be a Pacers’ fan. And it was a good night to be Paul George, who dropped 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting, and 7-of-8 from three. He could always shoot, but I don’t recall him having this kind of confidence in his shot before. He has a Curry-like belief in his shot right now. The Wizards had no answer. We’ve said before George is back, but here is a video reminder.

3) Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 retired in Atlanta. One of the game’s great defensive players and one of Atlanta’s fan favorites — the finger wag will do that — had his number retired in Atlanta on Tuesday night. It was well deserved.

4) Blake Griffin hits three pointer alley-oop. Sure, he knew this was going in all the way. Let’s see him recreate that in a practice. (The Clippers beat the Nuggets, by the way.)

5) Griffin and Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone had some not-so-kind words for each other. If you can read lips, well, then this is NSFW. Griffin and Nuggets coach Mike Malone exchanged a few unpleasantries during the Clippers win Tuesday night.