Clippers rally to beat Thunder following ejection of Serge Ibaka

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LOS ANGELES — The Thunder looked to be well on their way to a convincing win over the Clippers on Wednesday, following a strong first half that saw them dominating the game offensively, and doing so with relative ease.

But the results of an entanglement between Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin with 6.2 seconds remaining in the half changed all of that, and the loss of Ibaka via ejection impacted the game to the point where the Clippers took control almost immediately to begin the second half.

A 30-16 third quarter sealed OKC’s fate, and L.A. finished with a 111-103 victory to improve to 6-3 on the season. It was the Thunder’s second loss of the year, but head coach Scott Brooks refused to blame it on the loss of Ibaka, who had already amassed 13 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting in under 17 minutes of action.

“They just got tangled up,” Brooks said, when asked to explain how he saw it afterward. “That’s part of it. That’s nothing that I get into. I respect what they do, my job is to coach. Players play, officials officiate the game. I have no complaints about what happened. The bottom line is they outplayed us, they created some turnovers on our part, and offensive rebounds. That’s why we lost the game. We didn’t lose the game because of that incident.”

The incident, as Brooks put it, unfolded after Ibaka flung Griffin toward the floor after the two became entangled. Matt Barnes was right there as he always seems to be, and immediately shoved Ibaka, escalating the situation. Barnes was also ejected, but it didn’t have nearly the same impact. And not surprisingly, Doc Rivers didn’t think that what Barnes did warranted an early shower.

“The only way I think Matt can possibly get thrown out in that situation is if they say he was the instigator of the whole thing,” Rivers said. “I didn’t see it that way. Clearly, I thought Ibaka grabbed Blake and swung him around, and I thought that was what instigated everything. Matt is a tough guy and he sticks up for his teammates, at least he did on that one. And that’s good.”

Barnes may be done playing the part of enforcer, at least if a since-deleted message he posted to his Twitter account is to be believed. “I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these [n—–]! All this [s—] does is cost me money,” he wrote.

Regardless of how everyone views what happened, the impact on the game’s outcome was undeniable. The Thunder were already without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who is away from the team due to a death in the family, and with Ibaka disqualified that left them extremely thin on the front line. OKC was getting whatever it wanted offensively in the first half — the team scored 33 points in the final 8:05 of the first quarter, by the time they had the lead to 11 in the second they had scored 26 of 42 points in the paint, and the spacing Ibaka helped provide was an important part of the Thunder shooting 54.5 percent from the field over the first two periods.

Ibaka claimed he hadn’t seen a replay of what happened, so he didn’t want to talk too much about it afterward. He also seemed done with it, no doubt empowered by his teammates and their “no excuses” mantra that was everywhere after this one.

“It’s a physical game, and anything can happen,” Ibaka said. “The referee made the decision, so I’ll take it. I didn’t see the video of it afterward, so I’ll need to watch it.

“I was very disappointed, but I’ll learn from my mistake,” Ibaka said. “All I can do know is focus on the next game.”

Kevin Durant did the heavy lifting for his team, finishing with 33 points and 10 assists, with 18 coming in the second half. He blamed everything but the ejection of Ibaka for the loss, while sticking to repeating his coach’s message that there were plenty of other reasons the game was lost.

“We’re not making no excuses,” Durant said. “We’ve got to finish the game out. No excuses. No matter who’s out there, we’ve just got to play. They beat us.”

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.