Clipper defense, Darren Collison lead L.A. to win over Houston

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For both the Clippers and the Rockets, the conventional wisdom is the same: If they can defend well and consistently in the playoffs they move into contender status.

Wednesday night it was the Clippers that defended when it mattered — the Rockets shot just 33 percent in the fourth quarter.

Combine that with some impressive play from Darren Collison — he had 12 points in the fourth quarter — and you get the Clippers pulling away for a 101-93 victory at home. That makes the Clippers 3-0 against the Rockets this season, but as this was the fifth game at the end of a road trip the Rockets come loaded with excuses for an off outing.

The Rockets legs looked tired late as the Clippers intensified their defense. A couple key Rockets looked flat all night — James Harden shot just 6-of-16 on his way to 18 points plus he had six turnovers; Chandler Parsons shot just 3-of-13. Without those guys the Rockets offense sputtered as they just tried to go inside to Dwight Howard without an outside to balance things.

That was part of the reason this was a lower-scoring game than expected. This game started out as a dream for the Clippers who were allowed to get in transition and raced out to a 17-4 lead. But for the rest of the first half the Rockets ground it down — Patrick Beverly harassed Chris Paul into a slow first half while the Rockets bench outscored the Clippers subs 21-10 in the first 24 minutes. The third quarter was back and fourth, with the Clippers up 74-73 after three.

Then in the fourth the Clippers went on a little run (8-3) early to give them a some cushion, and they wouldn’t give that up the rest of the way.

That’s where Collison came in — he had 7 straight in the fourth quarter (he finished with 19 points) to keep the Clippers ahead. Collison got more run, including time at the two, after Jamal Crawford had to leave the game just before halftime due to a calf injury. There is no word yet on how serious it is.

Glen Davis — you can call him “Big Baby — made this his Clipper debut in the fourth he was solid in the role 2 points (off of free throws), grabbed 2 rebounds, had 2 blocks, and gave up 3 fouls.

Blake Griffin had a huge night, scoring 23 points (on 25 shots, not exactly efficient) and adding 16 rebounds. He showed off his handles all night but Houston did a good job contesting him.

Dwight Howard finished with 23 points (on 12 shots) and 11 rebounds to lead Houston.

You can’t read much into a February game in terms of potential playoff meetings. That said, this helps keep the Clipper in a top four seed (they are currently the four seed, percentage points ahead of the Rockets) and a chance to have home court in the first round. Which is going to matter in the West.

Just not as much as who defends.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.

PBT Extra: Why Derrick Rose more likely to be Spur than Chris Paul next season

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San Antonio heads into this summer looking to answer the question: What do we need to do to challenge the Golden State Warriors? Well, besides keeping Kawhi Leonard healthy.

They need to get more athletic, particularly along the front line, and they need a secondary shot creator and playmaker, that’s all at the top of the list.

One rumor that keeps gaining traction, Chris Paul to the Spurs. In this PBT Extra, I get into why that move is unlikely, and why a one-year contract with Derrick Rose is more probable. Basically, if you want to see a significant roster shift in San Antonio, wait until the summer of 2018.

LeBron James: ‘The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder’

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BOSTON (AP) — It took 10 games and halfway through the third round of the NBA playoffs before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally encountered their first true dose of resistance this postseason.

After cruising to a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead over Boston, the Cavs were humbled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irving to battle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chatter about an NBA Finals’ matchup of two teams with unblemished playoff records is gone, but the challenge from the Celtics has sharpened the focus of the defending champs. Cleveland is expecting another unflinching effort in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn’t backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the series.

“The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder,” said LeBron James, who rebounded from a playoff-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been saying that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some adversity after a blistering 10-0 start to the postseason.

The way they responded Tuesday night – particularly on the defensive end – is a good sign for their prospects of wrapping up their third straight Eastern Conference crown on Thursday.

Boston shot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line in the first half of Game 4 on their way to building as much as a 16-point lead.

While Irving’s scoring ignited the Cavs’ comeback, it was made possible thanks to Cleveland’s defensive effort over the final 24 minutes. Cleveland limited the Celtics to 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.

“We have to go in with a bunker mentality that we had in Game 1 and Game 2, to go out and do what we do, but we have to defend,” James said. “We have to execute offensively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss because some of those guys play a lot better at home. That’s just how the game be played.”

If the Celtics were playing with house money heading into the series, they are flush with it again as they return to the Garden.

They’ve given themselves a chance to erase the sting of their 44-point loss in Game 2. The Celtics are also guarding against ending their season by having to watch the Cavs celebrate a conference title on their home floor.

Boston lost All-Star Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the postseason to a hip injury in Game 2, forcing coach Brad Stevens to shuffle his lineup and rotations in Games 3 and 4.

In addition, Jae Crowder suffered a strained left thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 as well, but returned to play the entire fourth quarter.

It’s an indication that despite still being in a dire 3-1 hole, the resolve inside Boston’s locker room remains strong.

“We owe our fans a better performance, and we know that, and we’re going to play hard,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “You’re going to see a team playing hard, very hard, the entire game.”

It’s also why Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that his team must keep all thoughts of being on the cusp of a return to the NBA Finals at bay for now.

“You can’t (think about it). As much as you want to, it’s not over,” he said.

If nothing else, Lue said their recent taste of adversity should help them remain humble heading into Game 5.

“I think it is making us better. And it’s making us tougher. It’s making us work,” the Cavs coach said. “Because they got a tough group over there. (Terry) Rozier is tough, Avery is tough, (Marcus) Smart’s tough. Crowder. So, they got a lot of tough guys that are going to compete so they’re making us compete, which is good for us.”

 

PBT Podcast: Celtics draft or trade? Carmelo future? All from your Twitter questions.

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What will Boston do with the No. 1 pick, keep it or trade it?

What does the future hold for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks?

Is there a correct way to eat pizza? Actually, the answer to that one is yes, and it is not with a knife and fork, Donald Trump.

PBT’s Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh discuss all that that and more from your Twitter questions.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.