Game of the Night: Clippers keep Paul in check, stun Hornets

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Well, that was unexpected. Monday’s game was supposed to be more of a welcome-to-the-Hornets party for new acquisition Jarrett Jack, but an actual basketball game ended up taking place between the 11-1 Hornets and the 1-13 Clippers. That’s surprising enough; the stunning thing is that the Clippers actually ended up winning the game.

The Hornets went on an early run by forcing some turnovers and making some early jumpers. Blake Griffin was largely ineffective against the Hornets’ stifling paint defense in New Orleans; in Los Angeles, Griffin got himself going by making his first three mid-range jumpers and getting the crowd into the game with a huge transition dunk. Griffin didn’t have any other dunks in the game, but ended up with 24/13/4 by playing tough in the low post, staying patient offensively, and crashing the boards with abandon. Al-Faroq Aminu had a big first half as well, hitting some threes and getting out in transition early — all of his 16 points came in the first half.

After the Clippers went into the halftime break down only two points, everybody in Staples Center waited in fear of a massive New Orleans run that never came. Chris Paul looked oddly passive offensively, and looked to dump the ball to David West (who ended up with 30 points) when the Clippers switched rather than try to attack himself. Paul was mostly quiet after making some early jumpers, and finished with only 14 points and 6 assists.

The fourth quarter was about as ugly as it gets, but the Clippers held on thanks to some huge plays from Brian Cook (yes, that Brian Cook), some very gritty defense to force New Orleans turnovers, and some huge offensive rebounds — the Clippers had five offensive boards in the fourth quarter alone, and the two biggest plays of the game were a Blake Griffin put-back of his own miss to cut the New Orleans lead and a Ryan Gomes tip-in that gave the Clippers a lead they would end up holding for the rest of the game. It looked like the Clippers were in danger of giving the game away with some stupid turnovers and absolutely putrid free throw shooting (the Clippers shot 50.7% from the field and 17-34 from the line, incredibly), but they ultimately hung onto the game by simply outworking the heavily favored Hornets.

After the game, Chris Paul was disappointed with his team’s effort, especially on the defensive end:

“Defensively, we’ve been engaged for the most part. But these past three or four games, we’ve just been winning — we’ve just been getting by. They say winning cures all. But, hopefully with this loss we’ll get back to paying attention to what we’ve got to do as a unit defensively.”

For the Clippers, the win was a much-needed shot in the arm after some very tough losses in close games. When asked about how the Clippers were finally able to close out a win, Eric Gordon put it simply:

“Well, it was just time for us to grow up a little bit. We had a couple mistakes in this game, and the difference is that we didn’t relax, we just kept on going and fighting hard and the game came to us.”

The Clippers only have two wins this year, but they’ve come against two probable playoff contenders in the Hornets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the game, Blake Griffin was happy about the way the Clippers have been able to stun some top teams this year, but he’d like the team to be a little more consistent:

“It’s good [to beat Oklahoma City and New Orleans]. It gives us confidence, but at the same time we have to win the games in between as well. Like I said, it’s good to beat a team with a good record, but it would also be better to beat the teams with the okay records.”

Whether or not the Clippers can find that consistency while continuing to battle injuries remains to be seen. But on this night, the Clippers showed that they can beat any team in this league if they play the way they’re capable of playing and the planets align.

Pat Riley: Friend talked me out of going Dan Gilbert when LeBron James left

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When LeBron James left Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert released his infamous letter.

When LeBron left Miami, Heat president Pat Riley issued a classy statement.

The difference was nearly not as stark following Riley’s final meeting with LeBron in 2014 in Las Vegas.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

Riley told his lieutenant, Andy Elisburg, to get the two championship trophies LeBron had won and pack them in their hard-shell carrying cases. Elisburg also brought charts and an easel for a presentation about the free agents the Heat would pursue. The day of the meeting, a hotel bellhop followed them with a luggage cart carrying the presentation and the two trophies. Riley brought wine from a Napa vineyard named Promise. It was the same label Maverick Carter had presented Riley with when they did the deal four years earlier. Riley respects Carter, and when he walked into the suite and saw James with agent Rich Paul and friend Randy Mims but no Maverick, part of him knew the meeting wasn’t sincere. He told Elisburg to keep the trophies and easel in the hall. James and his associates were watching a World Cup game, which they kept glancing at during the presentation. At one point, Riley asked if they’d mute the TV.

Riley flew home worried and got a text telling him to be ready for a call. About 15 minutes later, his phone rang and Paul was on the other end. The agent handed the phone to LeBron, who started by saying, “I want to thank you for four years …”

“I was silent,” Riley says. “I didn’t say anything. My mind began to just go. And it was over. I was very angry when LeBron left. It was personal for me. It just was. I had a very good friend who talked me off the ledge and kept me from going out there and saying something like Dan Gilbert. I’m glad I didn’t do it.”

The most shocking element of Gilbert’s letter wasn’t that he wrote it. People say dumb things, especially in the heat of the moment. But it was surprising nobody stopped Gilbert from publishing it. Of course, he runs the franchise. But nobody felt empowered to tell him it was a bad idea?

Riley was obviously fortunate to get that message and wise to heed it. But even he has let his disdain for LeBron leaving slip out a couple times.

John Wall doesn’t sound super enthused about Dennis Schroder’s summer-workout request

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The Wizards and Hawks are knotted in a 2-2 first-round series.

A subplot: John Wall vs. Dennis Schroder. They have a history – Schroder starting random trash talk and then telling a teammate to hack Wall’s recently injured wrist, according to Wall – and Wall stared down Schroder after a dunk in Game 2.

A sub-subplot: Wall’s and Schroder’s summer plans.

Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Wall, via Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“I’ve never heard of that going on in the middle of a series,” Wall said Monday after shootaround for Game 4 later tonight at Phillips Arena. “I’m not talking about it right now. I’m locked into a series competing with a guy that’s playing well for his team, competing for his team. That’s probably a conversation I’ll have later on, but I’m locked into Wizards versus Hawks.”

Aside from that, Wall tends to be a loner during the summer when he’s getting ready. He was supposed to work out with Damian Lillard a few seasons ago, but even that didn’t come to fruition. Teammate Brandon Jennings sensed that about Wall.

“I really don’t work out with anybody, to be honest,” Wall said. “Brandon said the same thing, ‘You’re the type of guy that don’t like to work out with people.’ I just always worked out by myself a lot.”

Maybe Schroder thinks Wall will see himself in the Atlanta point guard – a fearless young player trying to prove himself by standing up to established players. And maybe Wall does.

But I suspect Wall just sees Schroder as a pest.

If that’s the case, it certainly won’t change until this series ends.

Marcus Smart responds to Jimmy Butler: ‘It ain’t hard to find me’ (video)

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Jimmy Butler said Marcus Smart is “not about that life.”

Smart, via MassLive:

Laugh at that. This about the Celtics versus Chicago Bulls, not Marcus Smart versus Jimmy. I ain’t got to sit here and say this and that. I’m this. I’m that. I ain’t that type of guy. My actions speak louder than words. It ain’t hard to find me. But, right now, I’m focused on my teammates and this series.

That led to a few excellent follow-up questions:

Are you about that life?

Like I said before, I ain’t got to talk about what I am about. I just show you. I can show you, but I’m not going to tell you. Like I said, it ain’t hard to find me. You heard him. He said, “I don’t think Marcus Smart is about that life.” Last time I checked, if you’re going to say somebody ain’t about that life, you should know, right? But like I said, we’re going to keep this Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics, not Marcus vs. Jimmy.

Has anyone accused you not being tough before?

Never.

What was your reaction to that?

Haha.

Smart flops too much. He gets overly emotional.

But he’s way too tough to let Butler’s comments pass without rebuttal.

The real test will come on the court in Game 5 tomorrow.

Damian Lillard ‘obsessed’ with beating Warriors

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The Warriors just eliminated the Trail Blazers for the second straight year.

Portland star Damian Lillard sounds hardened by the experience.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

After the Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the Golden State Warriors on Monday, point guard Damian Lillard told ESPN he’s developed a newfound obsession with trying to take down the Warriors.

“You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they’re so good that they’re going to be there,” Lillard said after a 128-103 loss in Game 4. “That’s who you’re going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That’s what it is.”

I have no doubt this will drive Lillard. He just finds way to lift himself.

But will the rest of the Trail Blazers keep up with a team that features Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson?

C.J. McCollum is a solid co-star, but it gets dicey beyond that with several players locked into expensive long-term contracts. Portland will have to pry enough production from Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard and the Nos. 15, 20 and 26 picks in the upcoming draft.

The Trail Blazers have a path upward, but needing to climb as high as Golden State, the road is narrow.