Dominant Zach Randolph leads Grizzlies to Game 3 win over Clippers

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Zach Randolph didn’t have much of an effect at all on the first two games of the Grizzlies playoff series against the Clippers in Los Angeles. In a must-win Game 3 situation once the series shifted to Memphis, he was the reason the Grizzlies stayed alive.

Randolph finished with a game high 27 points and 11 rebounds as Memphis came away with the 94-82 victory that cut the Clippers lead in the series to two games to one.

The play of the Clippers’ bench had been the story of the series to this point, but as is often the case with role players on the road, those performances tend to disappear. That was certainly the case with Eric Bledsoe, who had sparked the Clippers in each of the first two games, but couldn’t get anything going in Memphis. Bledsoe finished scoreless in 14 minutes of action with three personal fouls, and he probably shouldn’t have been left out there even that long considering the negative impact he was having on the game for his team.

Instead, it was the reserves of the Grizzlies who were able to provide a lift, led by Quincy Pondexter with 13 points in 26 minutes of action.

But even in the first two games that the Clippers won in this series, Memphis largely was able to outplay L.A. when both teams had their starting units on the floor. That was once again the case in Game 3, but it was even more extreme.

In addition to Randolph’s monster performance, Marc Gasol was effective offensively with 16 points, and was consistently free of defenders with plenty of space to shoot. That was helped by Randolph’s presence inside, as well as by Mike Conley’s ability to distribute, which gave him 10 assists against zero turnovers for the game — numbers that outweighed his lackluster 1-for-9 shooting performance.

Statistically, this was essentially a reversal of Game 1, where the Clippers got everything they wanted and killed the Grizzlies on the boards. In Game 3, Memphis won the rebounding battle 45-33, but more troubling for L.A. was the Grizzlies’ 17-5 edge on the offensive glass that led to a 22-4 advantage in second chance points.

In addition to the Clippers’ bench not providing the spark L.A. has grown accustomed to over the first two games of the series, Chris Paul was completely ineffective in this one in running his team’s offense. He finished with just eight points and four assists, to go along with an uncharacteristically high five turnovers.

It’s funny, because the very first possession of the game for the Clippers was executed to perfection. Blake Griffin posted deep on the low block in isolation, Chauncey Billups found him with a clean entry pass, and Griffin spun toward the basket and banked home a four-footer for the first points of the game. From then on, it seemed as though the Clippers were struggling to even initiate their sets, and possessions became reduced to dribbling misadventures that more often than not resulted in long jumpshots (or heavily contested ones) as the shot clock was about to expire.

A great performance from Randolph came just as his team needed it the most, but overall, in a game that essentially would have meant the end of the Grizzlies’ season had they lost and fallen behind 3-0 in the series, the bounce-back effort from a 56-win Memphis team was to be expected.

The Clippers aren’t expecting to see two subpar games in a row from Chris Paul, and they will likely make adjustments to ensure that Randolph goes back to a closer version of the player they saw in the first two games. The pressure on the Grizzlies won’t be any less in Game 4, however, because a loss would mean an opportunity for the Clippers to close out the series at home next week.

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?