Chris Paul’s game-winner at the buzzer sends Clippers to Memphis with a 2-0 series lead

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LOS ANGELES — The Grizzlies may have given their best shot to the Clippers in Monday’s Game 2, correcting virtually all of the mistakes they made in the first game of the series.

Thanks to the buzzer-beating heroics of Chris Paul, however, everything Memphis had wasn’t good enough.

L.A. pulled out the thrilling 93-91 victory to give the Clippers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first round series, and it’s difficult to see where the Grizzlies go from here.

Memphis got destroyed on the boards in Game 1, but managed to stay within two rebounds of L.A. in this one. The Grizzlies nearly matched the Clippers on the offensive glass, and outscored them in second chance points 15-11 after getting demolished in that category by 20 on Saturday.

For most of this game, the starting unit for the Grizzlies outplayed the starters for the Clippers. Memphis got off to strong starts in the first quarter and the third, and rallied late when the lineups for both teams largely featured the guys who play the most minutes. But the depth of the Clippers made all the difference.

Jamal Crawford got things started in the second quarter by splashing home an array of extremely difficult shots. Crawford had 10 in the period to help his team open up an eight point lead, and most wondered if the news earlier in the day that J.R. Smith was named the Sixth Man of the Year instead of Crawford might have had something to with that.

“Honestly, it’s more about winning than anything,” Crawford said. “I know a lot of people say, you know, go out there and prove why you should have been this or that, but you kind of feel like you’ve been proving it all season. So it’s not about that.”

Once the starters were back to start the third, Memphis made its run, and after falling behind by seven put together a 10-2 stretch to claim the lead, before the Clippers stabilized to take a four-point advantage into the final period.

L.A.’s bench went on a tear to start the fourth, thanks to key plays from Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom that pushed the lead to 12 with barely two minutes gone. But the run came much earlier than in Game 1, and with the improved aggressiveness and execution offensively that the Grizzlies had displayed for much of the night, it didn’t feel like it would hold the way it did last time.

Memphis regained momentum once the Clippers reserves had been left in a little too long. There were some wild offensive adventures from L.A. that resulted in turnovers or poor shot selection that allowed the Grizzlies to quickly get it back down to seven, before putting together a 13-6 run to tie it at 89, on the strength of some big shots from Conley and backup big man Darrell Arthur, who was getting some rare crunch time minutes.

“Well, [Zach Randolph] had five fouls and they were playing small so there was no use trying to go back big,” Lionel Hollins said of his decision to go with Arthur afterward. “They were playing a lot of pick and roll and Darrell did a nice job and made some nice plays.”

After Paul and Marc Gasol traded buckets, the game was tied again at 91 with 13 seconds left and the Clippers holding possession. Paul got the ball at the top of the three-point arc, isolated against the best defender the Grizzlies have in Tony Allen. Paul drove right, created some space, and got the incredible game-winning shot to bank home as time expired.

“We got the ball in, and what we tried to do was get Mike Conley to switch on me,” Paul explained. “So that’s why I screened for Jamal, because obviously Tony’s their best defender. They switched for a second, and Jamal threw it back to me and Tony came back to me, and played as good a defense as you could have. I looked up at the clock and thought to myself, I better get a shot off. So I just tried to attack and luckily I made the shot.”

It was a fantastic ending to what was the best game of these young playoffs so far.

“This game was tough,” Conley said. “We thought we played as good of a game as we could.”

In a series that many expected to go six or seven games, the Clippers might have shown in Game 2 that the best effort the Grizzlies can muster may not be enough to make it last that long.

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Kyrie Irving-LeBron James saga featured in hilarious parody of Eminem’s ‘Stan’ (video)

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What’s going on between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James?

I’ve seen better explanations.

But I haven’t seen more entertaining explanations.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.