Los Angeles Clippers Chris Paul scores the game-winning basket against the Memphis Grizzlies in Los Angeles

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.

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.

Pelicans shut down Tyreke Evans until after All-Star break

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 06: Tyreke Evans #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles the ball during the NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on November 6, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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the Pelicans have dealt with an inordinate amount of injuries so far this season to nearly every key payer on their roster. Tyreke Evans has missed the last five games with a lingering knee issue, and the team says he’s going to sit out their final four games before the All-Star break, as a precaution to make sure he’s healthy for the second half of the season.

From the Pelicans’ official site:

“We’re probably going to hold him out until after the All-Star break,” Alvin Gentry said during pregame at Quicken Loans Arena. “That gives him a situation where he has almost two weeks where he can rehab it and hopefully get it back. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go right after the All-Star break and we’ll be able to play him for the rest of the stretch (of the schedule).”

Evans initially missed the Jan. 2 game at Dallas due to the injury, then was sidelined again Jan. 18 at Memphis. Against Houston, he only played 16 minutes before being taken out of the game, suffering from the same issue.

“I think it’s just rest,” Gentry said of what it may take for Evans to get past the injury. “It’s one of those situations with tendinitis, where you rest and it feels better. That’s better than having him play two games, then sit out one (and have his status in flux). This may help him be able to play the last part of the season, without sitting out.”

Despite being 18-31, the Pelicans are just six games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Their resting of Evans could be read two ways—it could be gearing up to make a push for the playoffs, as much of a long shot as that may be; or it could be the first in a series of instances of shutting down or resting key players to try to position themselves for a lottery pick, effectively hitting the reset button after a season as ravaged by injuries as the one they’ve had.