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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.