Grizzlies take 2-1 series lead with Game 3 win over Thunder

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It was by no means a beautiful effort from the Grizzlies in Game 3 against the Thunder, but they’ll take the effectiveness of it over the aesthetics.

Memphis held Oklahoma City to 36.4 percent shooting, and survived a late run thanks to some key missteps by the Thunder down the stretch. As a result, the Grizzlies now lead the best of seven series two games to one after coming away with an 87-81 home victory on Saturday.

Game 4 is Monday night in Memphis.

We said prior to this one that for the Thunder to continue to have a chance in this series, that Kevin Durant would need to do most of the heavy lifting, just as he’d done through its first two games. While he was spectacular in stretches, especially in the second quarter when he scored seven straight points to bring his team back within striking distance after Memphis had gotten out to a double digit lead, overall the Grizzlies were able to slow him down.

Durant finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, while playing almost 46 of the game’s 48 minutes. He started the game 6-of-8 from the field, but finished it shooting just 9-of-19. Part of that was due to Tony Allen’s on-ball defense, and part of it may have been due to fatigue, although the latter was downplayed by head coach Scott Brooks afterward.

With Durant not quite as spectacular offensively, OKC was going to need some other guys to step up and deliver, and they simply didn’t get the needed contributions. Kevin Martin struggled for the second straight game, chipping in 13 points off the bench but on 6-of-17 shooting. Serge Ibaka’s struggles were mighty early, as he missed two open dunks and a couple of bunnies near the basket. He finished with the same shooting line as Martin exactly, but added 10 rebounds.

The Thunder cleaned up some things on the defensive end, and that effort is what kept them in the game despite the dismal shooting. They held Zach Randolph to just eight points, and kept Mike Conley in check after his stellar Game 2 performance. They found themselves tied at 81 with just under two minutes remaining, but didn’t score the rest of the way thanks to some costly crunch time mistakes.

Reggie Jackson played an excellent game overall for the Thunder, but made consecutive errors that keyed the Grizzlies’ end-of-game surge. He was called for a charge on a fast break where he ran over Mike Conley, and then, after a couple of free throws from Marc Gasol put the Grizzlies back up two and Durant missed on the ensuing possession, Jackson committed a silly foul in the backcourt at a time when all his team needed was a defensive stop.

There were still 50 seconds remaining in the game at the time of the foul, which would have been plenty of time for OKC to defend. Instead, the two free throws from Conley extended it to a two-possession game.

Gasol was called for a very questionable block on Durant on the next trip down, but in perhaps the ultimate case of “ball don’t lie,” Durant — a 90.5 percent free throw shooter on the season — missed both of his attempts.

Just like the first two games of the series, the team that lost this one can point to plenty of things that went their way that will be signs of encouragement for the following contest. But it just doesn’t feel like the Thunder have enough from a personnel standpoint to win three of the next four to take the series.

NBA reacts to Suns’ Devin Booker dropping 70 on Celtics

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Devin Booker was the story of the NBA Friday night.

The 20-year-old Suns’ guard — who never scored more than 19 points in a game at Kentucky in college — dropped 70 on the Boston Celtics in a losing effort. He becomes only the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 70 in a game. At the end the Suns were fouling and calling time outs to stop the clock and get the ball back to Booker, but as Phoenix coach Earl Watson said to those who complained, “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”

NBA Twitter exploded at what Booker did.

Booker himself responded this way.

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).