The Extra Pass Tuesday roundup: Doc Rivers talks Clippers defensive woes

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LOS ANGELES — The long grind of the NBA season is about building habits, building sustainable ways to win that can carry a team through the playoffs.

For the Clippers this season, that building focus is on defense (their offense is going to score plenty). Before his team’s opening night game Tuesday the Clippers’ Doc Rivers said his team was a pretty good defensive team last season, they just needed to defend the three point line better and defend better in transition.

Well… the Lakers hit 14-of-29 from three (48 percent) and ran past the Lakers to get the win Tuesday.

“I thought we lost our compure a little bit, I thought we lost our discipline maybe more, so we got a lot of work to do,” Rivers said.

That much was painfully obvious to anyone who saw the game. But okay then, what kind of work builds a defense? Rivers called it the “boring process.”

“Just with repetition,” Rivers said. “It’s not that hard, it really isn’t. Trust first, then repetition. I thought we broke our trust early, I thought we dodged a ton of bullets in the first half… they were shooting 42 percent and our defense wasn’t very good. And I kept saying guys, every time we break down eventually they are going to make some of those shots and I think in the second half they did.”

As he has all preseason, Rivers was careful to prop up his pet project for this season — DeAndre Jordan — while taking a little shot at a Clipper star.

“I thought DJ was sensational, I thought him in particular. Blake, we have to get him better defensively, but everybody,” Rivers said. “But I thought DJ was sensational… I would love to say (the breakdowns) was the bigs, but it wasn’t a lot of times. Our guards pulled in at the wrong time, going for steals, gambling, breaking coverage. It’s just like in football, if you break coverage you better hope the quarterback doesn’t see it, and tonight I thought they passed the ball great and saw everything.”

Rivers other postgame message to his team? You better get used to this kind of effort to beat you.

“Good lesson for us. The good thing is we have 81 more games, the bad thing is everybody is going to play us that way,” Rivers said. “When you’re anointed before doing it people are going to attack you. And we’re going to have to get used to that type of energy every night. “

The Clippers need to fix their defensive trust issues quickly — they play Golden State Thursday. If you think the Lakers bench could knock down threes, get a load of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

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Pacers 97, Orlando 87: Indiana’s defense did what you expect — Roy Hibbert blocked 7 shots, the Magic shot just 38.7 percent as a team (and 37.5 percent inside 8 feet) and Orlando ended up scoring just 84.1 points per 100 possessions. Still the Magic hung around in this one until a 15-1 ending the third quarter and opening the fourth by the improved Pacer bench put the game out of reach.

Heat 107, Bulls 95: That score makes this look a lot closer than it was — Miami took control of the game in the second quarter, led by 25 and while the Bulls tried to make it interesting with a late run there just wasn’t that much doubt how this would end. While the big three for was solid, it was the bench that really won this for Miami — Shane Battier was 4-of-4 from three on his way to 14, Mario Chalmers had 13, Ray Allen hit three from beyond the arc, Norris Cole was a team best +17.

Lakers 116, Clippers 103: The Lakers bench scored 76 points on the above-mentioned pourus Clippers defense and played like a Mike D’Antoni team — the ball found energy. Xavier Henry had a career high 22 points, Jordan Farmar had 16 and the Lakers got an improbably — but for them very satisfying — win.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.