O.J. Mayo on DeMarcus Cousins: “That guy has some mental issues.”

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Down 25 points in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks, DeMarcus Cousins swung his arm backward while battling for position and struck O.J. Mayo directly below the belt. Mayo’s reaction to the hit and the ensuing fallout resulted in technicals for both players, but the real jabs were thrown after the game:

“It wasn’t intentional, but there was a lot of trash talk,” said Cousins, who had been fighting Mayo for position when he delivered the no-look blow behind him.

“Man, I was so pissed,” Mayo said after his 19-point, seven-rebound performance in the rout. “It’s just, where does that come in in the game, you know what I mean? He’s a talented player, has a chance to be an All-Star. But you do stuff like that, it takes you down a class.”

“That guy has some mental issues, man,” Mayo said. “He’s a talented player. He has an opportunity to be the face of that organization, but I don’t think he wants it. …

“He’s immature, man. Big maturity problem. Hopefully, he’ll grow up out of it and become great. He definitely has the talent to.”

From ESPNDallas.com  | Tim MacMahon 

Let’s get something out of the way first. O.J. Mayo is having an incredible season, and he seems like a very intelligent guy, but he should be the last person in the world scolding someone for being immature.

After all, this is the same O.J. Mayo who burst on to the national scene in high school by showing up his opponents during a blowout, throwing the ball high into the stands after a dunk. This is the same O.J. Mayo that was involved in heavy recruiting violations that led to USC vacating all of its wins that year. Yes, this is the same O.J. Mayo that got in a fist-fight with Tony Allen over a gambling debt, was suspended 10 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy, and bristled publicly about his role on a playoff team.

So while Mayo has learned how to stay out of trouble and be a top scorer in Dallas, it also appears he’s learned how to mount very, very tall horses. While his condescending tone towards Cousins is understandable considering the location of the blow, the projecting he does is perhaps most interesting. The same exact things Mayo says to Cousins could have easily been said to him months prior, and aside from the “mental issues” comment, it almost sounds like Mayo is doing some veiled empathizing with Cousins during his plight to stardom.

To be fair, Cousins has made plenty of mistakes during his first few years, but more often than not, they’re rooted in pride. Getting called out by an announcer, getting stomped by 25 points — these are things that attack a competitive person at their very core, and maybe it’s not the worst thing that Cousins hasn’t gone the way of so many other talented lottery picks by throwing in the towel completely. Many others would have already crumbled under the load of expectations, the scrutiny, and the constant character attacks.

Although occasionally misguided, Cousins’ passion is still evident, so the hope lives on that once he finds a more stable situation, his pride will no longer manifest itself in selfish, damaging acts, but instead will spark the great performances he’s capable of. His competitive fire needs to be tamed, not extinguished.

That’s the shame of it all, though. Often times this season, it does seem like Cousins has lost pride in his team and is playing mostly for himself. Watch him on the defensive end or when he doesn’t have the ball. He just sort of stands there, only re-engaging when directly attacked or when he’s given the ball again. Those are the types of things that can become habitual, and that’s much, much more alarming than a moment where frustration may have boiled over.

Cousins seems to be encouraged to both hurry up and wait, which makes you wonder what will happen to his dream of stardom and success that’s been deferred. Maybe it will just sag like a heavy load, like it has for so many others. Or will it explode?

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.