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.

Russell Westbrook triple-double keys OKC in 3OT thriller vs 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and Oklahoma City and the Philadelphia 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before the Thunder pulled out a 119-117 victory on Friday night.

Andre Roberson scored the winner with 10 seconds left for the Thunder. But one of the early contenders for NBA game of the year belonged to Joel Embiid and Westbrook as they drove, blocked and rebounded their way toward one big play after another.

Embiid scored 34 points in 48 minutes with an achy back and rallied the Sixers from a 17-point hole.

Embiid, Philly’s franchise center and social media star, grabbed his lower back when he took a hard foul on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. Embiid grimaced during timeouts on the bench and trudged into position a few times.

Embiid sucked it up and carried the Sixers in the fourth and the first overtime. His feed to a charging Ben Simmons on the baseline for a two-handed dunk tied the score at 94-all with 53 seconds left in the quarter. The Sixers closed the fourth on an 11-0 run.

Embiid scored the first bucket of OT and the Sixers led for the first time in the game. The Sixers’ five-point lead with 1:20 left in overtime was wiped out on Paul George‘s 3-pointer and a Westbrook bucket that made it 102-all. The Sixers blew their final possession on an ill-conceived 3 for Dario Saric.

Round 2 was just as fun.

Westbrook and Robert Covington exchanged 3s and George tied it at 109 on a driving layup. Westbrook and Embiid swapped buckets that kept it even and the Sixers had one more chance to win it with 1.2 seconds to go in the second OT.

Embiid and Westbrook combined to score eight straight points in the third overtime, and Embiid even waved goodbye as the crowd went wild when Steve Adams fouled out of the game.

But Embiid seemed gassed at the end and there’s no telling how the heavy workload may affect his availability the rest of the week.

The Sixers were featured on ESPN on Friday as part of Philadelphia All Access, and Sixers’ related content was aired throughout the day on all platforms.

“I’m not a fan,” coach Brett Brown said. “I like living behind closed doors.”

But Brown understood the exposure would help build the brand and serve as a recruiting pitch of sorts to any free agents intrigued about becoming part of The Process. The Sixers put on a show in the fourth until Embiid gave them a scare.

Embiid’s health woes have dogged him since his college career at Kansas and every slip, ache or bump throws Sixers fans into a panic. Embiid has been banged-up lately but he calmly went to the line and made both free throws. He fell again when he tripped over Adams, who earned a foul, and sank two more free throws to make it 78-72.

 

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.