Want to know if the Clippers are for real? Ask the Celtics (who lost to them by 29)


I’ve done some sports talk radio spots the last few days around the nation and this still seems to be the question on a lot of sports fans lips:

Are the Clippers really that good? Like title contender good?

Why don’t you go ask Doc Rivers or the Celtics? Or Rajon Rondo? Or Paul Pierce? Maybe not Kevin Garnett, that probably doesn’t go as well.

Boston became the latest victim of the Clippers combination of pressure defense and fast break finishing — Los Angeles handed Boston its worst loss of the season, 106-77. It was a thrashing. That is 15 straight wins for the Clippers (against 14 different teams, nearly half the NBA).

This game was over early — Boston opened the game shooting 3-of-11 and those misses became fast break opportunities for the Clippers and suddenly it was 18-4 before TNT even bothered to start showing the game (blame Darren Collison).

For the Clippers, everything was working — Blake Griffin was hitting midrange shots on his way to 15 points. Chris Paul was doing his best Curly Neal impression dribbling through the Celtics defense. Willie Green was draining threes.

And that was before the Clippers even got to their real strength — their bench. Matt Barnes had 21 points and Jamal Crawford 17. Even Lamar Odom was making plays without scoring, racking up 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots.

We all get dazzled by the Clippers highlights but they are running off their defense — Boston shot 40 percent on the night, had 18 turnovers and 7 shots blocked. Each one of those misses or turnovers becomes the Clippers in transition, where their bigs run the floor faster than yours, their guards — CP3 and Eric Bledsoe — make the right decisions with the ball and they have shooters who can fill lanes or run to the corner for a three.

Boston, meanwhile, looked like they didn’t even know what hit them and never seriously threatened in the game. They got the lead down to four in the second quarter, so the Clippers responded with an 8-0 run and you knew what kind of night it would be. Kevin Garnett had 16 points on 11 shots, but every other Celtic struggled (Rajon Rondo was 4-of-121, Paul Pierce 5-of-13, and so on down the line).

A couple of days after the Celtics looked like they had a win they could build on in Brooklyn, they got steamrolled by the hottest team in the NBA. The only Celtic able to slow the Clippers was Jared Sullinger, and he did it by getting a flagrant foul for hitting Griffin around the neck.

Boston, now 14-14, need to just put this behind them and move on.

So maybe don’t ask them if the Clippers are for real. The evidence is in the final score.

Through unpredictable season for Spurs, Popovich remains steady

Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich is not changing how he coaches, not after 22 seasons leading the Spurs.

The NBA’s most tenured steward is always going to focus on defense. He’s always going to dismiss talk of his brilliance because “it’s just basketball.” And he’s not going to overwork his players even though an unprecedented rash of injuries has the Spurs battling for their playoff lives for the first time in two decades.

“At this point, he’s not changing,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s a formula that has worked quite well. They have great veteran leadership and they pass it along to the young guys. You see the young guys are growing. That’s why they’re so good.”

They’re not as good as they have been, but their impressive success this year is a testament to Popovich.

San Antonio has been without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games this season and Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green have all missed significant time with various injuries. In all, the Spurs have missed 165 games as a team while battling everything from sprained MCLs to fractured wrists.

The injuries haven’t dramatically altered how Popovich manages the 82-game regular season.

“I think Pop did a great job overall, it’s not easy,” Parker said. “It was a tough one for him this year. Since I’ve been here, we have never had that many injuries. So, Pop did the best he could and I think overall he did a good job.”

Aside from All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, no Spurs player is averaging more than 28 minutes per game and veterans Parker and Manu Ginobili are averaging 20 minutes per game. Popovich has also been able to sit Aldridge, Ginobili and Pau Gasol for rest during the season.

Popovich was among the first coaches to sit players for rest rather than injury. He opted to keep Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green at home rather than have them play at Miami on Nov. 30, 2012. The action resulted in a $250,000 fine and sharp rebuke from then NBA Commissioner David Stern. The NBA changed its rules to allow teams to rest its players, but only if they listed in a timely manner who would be resting on their injury reports.

Popovich doesn’t have the firepower to repeat that mass seating now.

“It was hard to rest guys, limit guys’ minutes,” Green said. “We had some guys come back from injuries, that’s when he limited some of the guys’ minutes.”

But Popovich still has made sure players received their needed rest.

The 40-year-old Ginobili has provided the Spurs with a needed lift this month after sitting out eight games to rest. In Wednesday’s victory over Washington, Ginobili outran 31-year-old Ramon Sessions to a loose ball and then dove on it to save the possession.

“It just tells you that nobody has an excuse not to do it,” 37-year-old center Pau Gasol said of Ginobili’s hustle. “A 40-year-old does it, what about a 25 or 30 or 35 or 37 year old?”

Parker has not sat out any games for rest, but he did miss the first 19 games of the season after recovering from left quadriceps tendon surgery. Even before he lost his starting position to Dejounte Murray, Parker has spent a lot of time on the bench. Not that Parker has enjoyed the time off the court.

“For me personally, I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent it was almost too much rest,” Parker said. “I wish I had played more games, but it is what it is. Other guys, I hope they feel fresher. We’re going to need it.”

While Parker may not enjoy the rest, it seems to be paying off.

The Spurs have won five straight after losing eight of 11 games to drop into 10th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. San Antonio was in sixth place, one-half game behind Oklahoma City.

The Spurs recently beat a short-handed Golden State team by 14 points. The Spurs played with energy that they haven’t shown since early in the season when they were third in the West.

That should help then down the stretch, and possibly into the playoffs. Being rested, healthy and playing good defense is a recipe that has yielded five championships in Popovich’s tenure and extended the careers of franchise stalwarts like Tim Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

“Everybody’s bringing the juice,” Murray said. “We’re playing together on offense. I just feel like there’s more juice on defense. As I always say, defense, we’ve all got to be on the same page and be hungry and greedy on `D.’ We’ve got to keep going, we can’t get comfortable.”


Giannis Antetokounmpo to tell his story on 60 Minutes this week (preview clip)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up hocking wares — clothes, sunglasses, whatever — on the streets of Athens, Greece. He easily could still be living there, the tallest salesman in a poor part of a country with high unemployment and real challenges.

Instead, he is a multimillionaire living comfortably in the United States, and is one of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and still improving. In a few years we may well be saying he is the best player on the planet.

Antetokounmpo will be telling his story on the legendary television news magazine 60 Minutes this week, and the show released a clip. Check it out.

This is the best missed free throw to game winner you will ever see

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’ve all seen this situation before at every level of basketball: A team down three points gets fouled in the final seconds and has two free throws, so the shooter aims to make the first free throw then miss the second and create a rebound he or a teammate can grab then throw back in to tie the game. It works about as often as an NFL Hail Mary — either the shooter makes the shot anyway or the defense gets the board — but what other choice is there?

Nobody has ever pulled it off as well as Paulinho Boracini of the Brazilian league team Cearense.

Intentional or not (and I lean not), he banked the second free throw off the rim toward the corner, ran it down himself and hit the game-winning three.

Damn. That’s impressive.

(If Boracini and Cearense sound familiar, you win the award for “watching too much Knicks preseason basketball” because they played New York in a 2015 exhibition.)

Giannis Antetokounmpo doubtful with ankle injury for Bulls game

AP Photo/Morry Gash

MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks say Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The All-Star forward got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.