Thunder overcome late rally by Clippers to win a physical one in Los Angeles

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The Thunder and the Clippers are likely second round playoff opponents, should neither team be able to overtake the Spurs for the number one overall seed in the Western Conference. If it ends up happening, and if Sunday’s contest at Staples Center was any indication, we’d be in for a battle of epic proportions.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 19 points late in the third, before L.A. staged a furious comeback. Things were tight, physical, and chippy down the stretch, with a flagrant foul by Serge Ibaka on Blake Griffin — and its aftermath — among the deciding factors. In the end, the Thunder hung on for a thrilling 108-104 victory that snapped the Clippers’ four-game winning streak.

It was a sleepy first half for the Clippers, who started off slowly and trailed by as many as 16 points early. Chris Paul opened just 1-of-7 from the field, and the Thunder were getting whatever they wanted offensively.

It took some time, but Paul woke up, and sparked a 15-5 run to end the third by scoring nine points during that span to cut the Thunder lead to single digits.

The Clippers cut the lead to two with just over six minutes remaining, thanks to a 10-0 run that was sparked by a curious substitution from Thunder coach Scott Brooks. He sat Russell Westbrook in favor of Reggie Jackson, and Jackson missed a long three-pointer and committed a turnover to help fuel L.A.’s comeback.

The Thunder had the lead back up to seven, before consecutive corner threes from Matt Barnes had the game back within reach for the Clippers. And that’s when things went off the rails.

Ibaka and Griffin were engaged in a physical battle in the paint for the entire game, and Ibaka crossed the line with the Thunder leading by three and 1:52 remaining. With a downward chopping motion, Ibaka swung and landed a hit to Griffin’s groin with his right arm, resulting in an initial ruling of a flagrant foul one by the officials.

The referees reviewed the play, and the call stood. But the rule book defines what Ibaka did as a “punching foul,” which should come with it an automatic ejection. Ibaka was allowed to stay in the game, and he made two key plays down the stretch that sealed the win for his team.

Initially, the foul call benefited the Clippers, as they scored seven points on a single possession (the three from Barnes, the technical free throw, and another three from Jamal Crawford) to take a one-point lead.

But as Ibaka was allowed to stay in the game, he scored inside on an and-one play where he was fouled by Griffin with under a minute remaining. It was Griffin’s sixth foul, so he was done for the afternoon.

Then, Ibaka blocked a layup attempt from Matt Barnes with seven seconds remaining that would have cut the Thunder lead back down to two.

Big win for the Thunder, and a valiant effort by the Clippers to come back and compete after falling behind by so much so early.

We can only hope that the playoff bracket looks in April the way it does today, so we can see many more games between these two teams as early as the postseason’s second round.

Stan Van Gundy speaks out again in support of protesting athletes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy used his team’s trip to Washington to again voice his support for athletes who kneel during the national anthem and his opposition to President Donald Trump.

Van Gundy was asked before Friday night’s game against the Wizards what he hoped would result from the president’s criticism of NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and the resulting national dialogue about political activism by professional athletes.

“I don’t know what good can come out of anything the president has said,” Van Gundy said. “As far as the athletes’ protest, I hope people would pay attention to the issues that caused the protest in the first place and realize that we have problem disproportionately with police brutality towards men of color.”

Van Gundy also criticized fans who have booed those athletes because they believe the gesture is disrespectful to the United States military.

“I thought that one of the things the military is fighting for is the American way of life and our values, which I think starts with freedom of speech,” Van Gundy said. “Our country was founded on protest. Otherwise, we would still be a colony of England. You would think people would appreciate non-violent protests that will be made.

“If you don’t stand for freedom of speech and you don’t think those players have the right to freedom of speech, what American values are you for?”

It was not the first time Van Gundy has spoken out on these issues. When Trump was elected last November, Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press it was the first time he had been “ashamed” of his country.

Last month on the team’s media day, he read a prepared statement in support of athletes who use their visibility for political purposes, including protests during the anthem. The NBA has a policy requiring that players stand for the anthem.

The Pistons’ visit to Washington was their first since Jan. 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out Saturday with sprained left ankle

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Orlando Magic because of a sprained left ankle.

Rose twisted his ankle after being fouled by Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe while driving to the basket in the fourth quarter on Friday. Monroe grabbed Rose by his neck and pulled him to the floor.

Rose landed awkwardly, but stayed in the game to shoot two free throws before going to the bench. The play was originally called a common foul but was upgraded to a flagrant 1 Saturday by the NBA.

Jose Calderon started at point guard Saturday for the Cavaliers, who have won their first two games.

Rose signed a one-year contract with Cleveland in July. He became the team’s starter when Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston. Rose was named the league’s MVP in 2011 while with the Chicago Bulls, but has battled injuries since.

 

Kyrie Irving, any regrets about using profanity toward fan? “Hell no.”

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Fans yelling obscenities at NBA players and trying to goad them into a response — always while camera phones are recording — has become a thing. DeMarcus Cousins will be paying $25,000 for responding to a fan cursing at him in Memphis.

Kyrie Irving is likely going to get fined for an incident Friday night after the Celtics knocked off the Sixers in Philadephia. It made the rounds on social media Friday night, with a fan yelling at Irving as he leaves the court “Kyrie, where’s LeBron?” and Irving responding with a crude phrase. Here is the exchange as Irving leaves the court (NOTE: The language is NSFW, if offended don’t watch the video).

Saturday Irving was asked about the incident, and he admitted he should have bit his tongue, but he has no regrets, as reported by A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“Hell no,” Irving said (when asked if he had regrets). “Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s the social media platform we live on.

Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”

Irving also addressed the bigger issue, something Cousins discussed when talking about his fine. Via Chris Forsberg at ESPN.

“At the end of the day, we’re human. It’s in heat of the moment and frustrations arise, we were at halftime, we were down by 4, in an environment, a season-opener in Philly. Being with a young team like we have here and staying composed, handling that before we go in the locker room and addressing what we have to do in the locker room and going out and handling business and getting the W, that’s really the only thing that matters to me.

“It’s up to the league at this point. But, like I said, I’m going to take full responsibility for what I said. I don’t have any regrets for it.”

Irving is going to get fined. The league has issues with its players cursing at fans. Understandably.

That said, the league may need to step back on consider situations like this. If fans are taunting players, at what point should a player be able to respond to the fan? Should arena security (at the request of the officials, or maybe a player) intervene? Players should not be asked to bite their tongue no matter what is said, and even if a fan paid for a ticket it doesn’t give them the right to cross any line. As more fans seem to go after their 15 minutes of social media fame baiting players, the league may need to reconsider where it draws its lines.

Reports: Pelicans to sign Jameer Nelson with Rondo out

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With Rajon Rondo out 4-6 weeks with a sports hernia, the New Orleans Pelicans were looking for a solid backup point guard.

This week, to make room to sign Richard Jefferson, the Denver Nuggets waived veteran Jameer Nelson.

While other teams such as the Rockets were calling, the Pelicans and Nelson have reached a deal, reports both Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports added this.

Nelson, in his 14th NBA season, became the top free agent on the market and received interest from contenders such as the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder and several other franchises that hoped to add the respected and accomplished veteran. But for Nelson, the Pelicans represent an opportunity to play significant minutes and provide leadership.

The Pelicans had a full roster of 15 players, they could have waited until next Tuesday and gotten a disabled player exception to add a 16th player, but they decided to go with something more permanent.

Jrue Holiday starts at the point for the Pelicans but with Rondo out — he was supposed to start next to Holiday — there is no depth at the position. The Pelicans can have Nelson step in and get minutes from the first time he steps on the court.

Nelson is still a solid pick-and-roll point guard, but what he brings to the table the Pelicans need more is shooting — he shot 38.8 percent from three last season and is a good spot up player. He can penetrate and make plays off handoffs as well, but it’s his shooting on a team that needs it that will be most valued.

The Pelicans have started the season 0-2 with losses to Memphis and Golden State. They take on the Lakers in Los Angeles Sunday night.