The Extra Pass: Blake Griffin’s alternate reality; plus Wednesday’s recaps

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Tell me if this sounds at all familiar.

24 years old, about 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9. Roughly 250 pounds. Stronger and faster than just about everyone. Phenomenal basketball IQ. Highly skilled, but often criticized for what he can’t do instead of appreciated for what he does.

That’s Blake Griffin.

And at one point, that was LeBron James, too.

The parallels between Griffin and James have never been clearer than they were during the Miami Heat’s 116-112 victory over the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers.

Maybe we just had to see Griffin and James next to each other, sizing each other up, going at each other throughout multiple points in the game, trading dunks and jumpers and perfect cross-court skip passes.

Or perhaps it’s because Griffin, without Chris Paul or J.J. Redick, was playing the role of a one-man offensive wrecking crew; a role James occupied for many years during his time in Cleveland.

Then again, it could have been the raw numbers that triggered it. Griffin’s 43 point, 15 rebound and 6 assist line is the type that sends off alarms in your brain and makes you start the search for other players who are capable of doing such things. LeBron, surprisingly, has never quite done it, although he’s put up similar lines over the years.

All the similarities and comparisons beg the question: what would Griffin look like if he came up like LeBron did?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Of course, playing with the league’s best point guard in Chris Paul has placed Griffin in situations to succeed, but there’s also been some deference of responsibility as well. Late in games for the Clippers, it’s the CP3 show, with Griffin playing solely a supporting role. Over the course of his career, the fourth quarter has statistically always been Griffin’s least productive quarter. He doesn’t disappear entirely, but he fades into the background for sure.

That isn’t to say that Paul is stunting Griffin’s growth by stealing reps, but rather that he might have seriously altered his development in his formative basketball years. That’s perfectly normal. Players don’t become who they are regardless of their surroundings. It’s nature and nurture.

It’s interesting to think of James in that light as well. Although Ricky Davis wanted him to, James never played second fiddle to anyone in Cleveland. If that wasn’t the case, maybe LeBron ends up more like Magic than Michael if all the scoring responsibility isn’t placed on him from the very start. Maybe he’s something else entirely if he’s playing with an elite point guard like Paul.

That idea that players don’t adhere to straight line trajectories often seems lost on many. There are ups and downs, gains and losses. We assume we know what to expect, but new coaches, new players and new roles can change things drastically.

Paul’s injury has offered a small glimpse of what Griffin might have become without him, or maybe what he still could be if he assumes more offensive responsibility. The version of Griffin we eventually “know” will be the player he becomes next to Paul, but even if this last month has changed nothing in the grand scheme of things, to say it’s been a pleasant interruption in Griffin’s career would be understating things. Griffin should have a better grasp of what he alone is capable of now, and knowledge is power.

D.J. Foster 

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source:  Lakers 119, Cavaliers 108: The Lakers are a mess, but that’s solely due to the insane amount of injuries the team has had to endure this season. The Cavaliers are a whole other kind of mess — the kind that gets rolled by a team that finished the game with just four active players. L.A. scored 70 first half points and led by as many as 29 before it got a little bit closer late. Jordan Farmar finished with 21 points and eight assists, Steve Blake had a triple double line of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists, and rookie Ryan Kelly finished with a career-high 26 points. The shorthanded Lakers also set a franchise record for three-pointers made with 18. If Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert hadn’t already fired Mike Brown once a few years back, he might be strongly considering it after what was a particularly embarrassing loss. — Brett Pollakoff

Celtics 114, Sixers 108: These are two of the bottom-four teams in the league in terms of offensive efficiency, but you wouldn’t know it by how easily the scoring came in this one. Jeff Green led the way with 36 points for Boston, 17 of which came in the fourth quarter where the Sixers crept within four points but could get no closer. — BP

Magic 112, Pistons 98: Orlando led by as many as 20 points, but the teams played dead even in three of the game’s four periods. The Magic outscored their opponent by 14 in the second, though, thanks to 10 in the period from Victor Oladipo while the team shot 56.5 percent. Josh Smith led the way for the Pistons, and finished with 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds. — BP

Spurs 125, Wizards 118 (2OT): Washington has been playing much better as of late, with wins over the Thunder and the Blazers in its last two outings. And they continued to battle in this one, even when the game seemed to be finished. There shouldn’t have been a need for a second overtime session, considering the Spurs led by four with eight seconds remaining in the first one, and held a two-point lead with possession of the ball and six seconds left. All Tim Duncan had to do was safely inbound the ball and the game would have likely been sealed at the free throw line. But a high errant pass enabled John Wall to get the improbable steal and score the layup at the other end to force five more minutes. San Antonio outscored Washington 10-3 to finish things off, but expended perhaps more energy than they should have to get this win — something that may be a problem in Brooklyn against the Nets the very next night. Tony Parker left this game with a back issue, and is not expected to be available on Thursday. — BP

Blazers 94, Knicks 90: Not a great game for the Blazers, especially during a 17-point fourth quarter that saw the Knicks crawl back into it and have a small chance late to steal it. LaMarcus Aldridge hit the dagger, but was just 5-of-17 shooting on the night. On the New York side, Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points but needed 28 shots to get there, and besides J.R. Smith’s 18 and a throwback performance from Amar’e Stoudemire, who finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go along with seven rebounds in under 22 minutes of action, there wasn’t a whole lot of production from anyone else. — BP

Rockets 122, Suns 108: Phoenix had trouble from an energy standpoint against the Bulls on Tuesday, and suffered a similar fate against a much better offensive team the very next night. Houston led by as many as 12 in the first quarter, and by the time the fourth came around, the Suns were out of gas. They had no answer for Dwight Howard all night long, who dominated inside with 34 points and 14 rebounds. And the fatigue showed on the defensive end, where the Rockets were allowed to shoot close to 55 percent from the field on the night, and knock down an obscene 68.8 percent of their attempts from three-point distance. — BP

Mavericks 110, Grizzlies 96: Memphis is the team most likely to threaten to take away the Mavericks’ playoff spot in the standings, so this was an important win for Dallas even with so much of the season still left. Samuel Dalembert and Brandan Wright essentially canceled out Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol from a numbers standpoint, and with Mike Conley sidelined due to injury (and of course, 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting from Dirk Nowitzki) that was plenty. — BP

Pelicans 105, Hawks 100: Anthony Davis isn’t an All-Star yet, but has a shot to be named to the squad as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant. He went up against one in Paul Millsap, and outplayed him in helping his team to victory. Millsap finished with 26 points on 20 shots to go along with 10 rebounds, while Davis finished with 27 and 10, on a more efficient 9-of-14 shooting. Davis also anchors the defense in ways others can’t, and scored 10 of his points in the final period to lead his team to a nice come-from-behind victory. — BP

Thunder 106, Timberwolves 97: No Kevin Love for Minnesota, he was out with a stiff neck. Also out were starters Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer. Considering all that Minnesota played a scrappy game just go hang around in this one for three quarters, but a 13-4 OKC run to open the fourth put the game in a place Minnesota could not recover from. Kevin Durant “only” had 26 for the Thunder (plus 9 rebounds and 7 assists), Reggie Jackson pitched in 20. Ricky Rubio stepped up his scoring with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting. –Kurt Helin

Nuggets 110, Bucks 100: This wasn’t a terribly well played game, but in the end the Nuggets backcourt of Ty Lawson (18 points, 13 assists) and Randy Foye (20 points) proved to be too much for the Bucks. Denver was up 18 early in the fourth quarter but Milwaukee made a couple runs as Brandon Knight played well, it took a couple of Wilson Chandler threes late to seal the victory. –KH

Kings 109, Raptors 101: Sacramento took control of this game early as their big front line overwhelmed Toronto — Marcus Thornton had 12 first half points, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and by the third quarter this looked like a rout. But thanks to Steve Novak knocking down threes (he had 11 points in the fourth quarter) Toronto went on a 19-2 run and make a game of it. There was some terrible officiating at the end — Kyle Lowry got robbed of a four-point play and his reaction got him tossed — but the Raptors lost because they were don 22 at one point, not the officials. Cousins finished with 25 points and 10 boards, Rudy Gay chipped in 24-10.

Heat 116, Clippers 112: One of the more entertaining games of the season, especially if you like dunks. Miami raced out to a comfortable early lead but Los Angeles answered with their own run to make it interesting late. We broke this game down in more detail here. –KH

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.

 

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.