Chris Paul, Tim Duncan

Spurs close out school, season for Clippers with clean sweep

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For the Spurs, it was another step toward their goal — they wanted plenty of rest before they take on the Thunder next series (sorry Lakers fans), now will get a week (rumors are the Western Conference Finals start May 28).

For the Clippers, this was school — Chris Paul does not want to admit it, but teams learn how to win in the NBA. They run into a wall in the playoffs, learn what they need to improve (or sometimes what kind of players to add) and then next season take the next step.

Sunday night was the end of this school year for the Clippers, the Spurs swept them out of the second round of the playoffs in the closest game of this series by far, 102-99. The win advances the Spurs to the Western Conference finals, where they will take on the Thunder, unless you believe in Lakers miracles (Thunder lead that series heading home for Game 5 Monday). No starting date for the next round has been set.

Winning is a process in the NBA, one the Spurs have down and the Clippers are figuring out.

“Just learning, just watching that team maneuver,” L.A. guard Randy Foye said. “And understanding how they execute game plans, and what they do is definitely something you can take from it…

“Just watching guys like (Manu Ginobili), just watching guys like (Tony Parker), just watching how they maneuver, how they continue to attack — they’re down 1, they’re down 10, they’re up 10 they just continue to keep the pressure on and keep the defense on their heels. Tim Duncan does that, too. That is something I will definitely take from this.”

The Clippers seemed to be learning and improving in this series. In Game 4 their offense seemed to attack the Spurs defense the best it had in any of the games. But then, when it got to the end of the game, the Spurs were able to get a couple stops. The Clippers struggled all series to get stops, with Tim Duncan scoring 21, Tony Parker 17 and the Spurs as a team shooting 52.8 percent on the night.

Clippers had the expected rush to start the game, but by five minutes in the relentless Spurs had started to grind them down. At one point in the first half the Spurs led by 12 and were shooting 53 percent to the Clippers 33 percent. The crowd at Staples sounded like it was a Tuesday night February, not a playoff game.

But Los Angeles made a push behind some entertaining play by Eric Bledsoe and Mo Williams, and it was just 51-47 San Antonio at the half.

Then the third quarter saw the kind of scrap, fight, and stepping up of their game the Clippers are going to need in future years. They did it behind their stars — Chris Paul had nine points in the third, Blake added 10 and had three dunks in a row. The Clippers were attacking again, Bledsoe was putting on a show again on his way to 18.

Los Angeles was up 92-88 with 4:54 left in the game Reggie Evans checked in for DeAndre Jordan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately called for hack-a-Reggie — intention fouls to send him to the free throw line. It worked, just like it did Saturday — Evans missed both free throws and Vinny Del Negro had to call a timeout to get him out of the game for a decent free throw shooter. When the Clippers needed a three with 1.7 seconds left, the Clippers didn’t have a time out to use to set up a play or advance the ball.

“It worked. It worked,” said Manu Ginobili. “In Game 3 it was huge, today it was less times, we did it only twice, but they had to make changes, they had to call a time out and it really helped us.”

The Clippers hung in until the end, down 1 with :11 seconds to go Paul drove the lane but he lost control on what appeared to be a kickout pass, with the Spurs Danny Green draped all over him. It was a turnover and it was the ballgame.

To a man the Spurs talked about wanting the rest that is coming their way now. They know their next series will be a physical challenge beyond what they have yet seen.

The Clippers were taken to school, but like any education what really matters is how they apply it next time around.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.