Grizzlies steal Clippers’ script — come from behind to win, force Game 7

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In the first four games of this series, Chris Paul owned the fourth quarter, while at the same time the Grizzlies would get away from their game plan of pounding the Clippers inside with Zach Randolph. It’s why Los Angeles had a 3-1 series lead.

There will be a Game 7 Sunday because that script has flipped.

Paul, playing through an injured hip flexor, was a shadow of himself in the fourth quarter of Game 6 Friday — 0-1 shooting, no assists and two key turnovers when the score was 80-80 that led to a 5-0 Memphis run and lead the Grizzlies  never relinquished. On the other end, Randolph has 7 points and 4 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.

The result was a 90-88 Grizzlies win that brings them back from 3-1 and forces a Game 7 in Memphis Sunday.

And it is the status of Chris Paul’s hip and Blake Griffin’s knee that may have the biggest say in the outcome of Game 7. If it is the same Paul and Griffin, the Clippers are in a world of trouble on the road.

“I started off the game not sure about (his injury), but I can’t do that Sunday,” Paul said. “Sunday you got out there scrap, claw, whatever.”

Paul was clearly hurting early on and was tentative running the offense. Griffin wasn’t the same guy (but did hit a couple baseline 20 footers Memphis would have let him take all night healthy). The Grizzlies were slow to really try to exploit the pair but did eventually, went on a 14-4 run and took a little lead.

Looking for something, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro switched up and went with an energy lineup that included Reggie Evans and Eric Bledsoe. It wasn’t pretty, but they were outworking Memphis all over the court. It changed the energy on the floor and in the building. Memphis responded to it with some ridiculous passes and turnovers — 13 in the first half — that kept the Clippers close when Memphis should have pulled away.

Clipper fans have taken to Reggie Evans as their fan favorite — they love everything about him. They love his energy, his flops, his ugly offense and all. Fans love a guy that just plays harder than everyone else, and nobody in the league comes in and sells it harder than Evans.

There was a real sense of hope when Paul returned and looked like his old self at the end of the second quarter, with penetration and smart passes. But that was a mirage.

The third quarter saw Memphis get back to its game plan of going inside — Marc Gasol had 23 points for the second straight game — however the Clippers energy level remained high and the game stayed close. It was tied 66-66 entering fourth.

The Clippers at one point went on 10-0 run sparked by Eric Bledsoe and had an eight-point lead, but Memphis answered with a 10-0 run sparked by Rudy Gay knocking down shots you know coach Lionel Hollins didn’t want him to take.

When it was tight late it was the Grizzlies executed and the Clippers could not — Paul was being cut off in the lane, Randy Foye was taking leaning jumpers (and missing), Foye was also stepping out of bounds on rebounds, Eric Bledsoe was taking the most shots (five), and the bounces and calls went Memphis’ way mostly. Meanwhile the Grizzlies for once stayed true to who they are and just kept going inside.

“It boiled down to just understanding their sets, going through our guys who had it going, execution on the offensive end, from the plays coach drew up…” Tony Allen said. “Down the stretch we just clawed and clawed.”

Leading into Game 7 the players are going to talk about clawing and executing and all of it. Both teams will talk about their role players stepping up (that usually happens for the home team in the playoffs).

But it will be the status of Paul’s hip and Griffin’s knee that may have the biggest say. If CP3 is himself again, all bets are off.

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.