The Clippers overcame an early 15-point deficit in Houston to clinch a playoff spot with a double-digit win over the Rockets, but it was anything but easy.
Houston was playing without Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley, so L.A. should have had a relatively stress-free night at the office. But Blake Griffin was forced to leave after playing just six minutes due to back spasms, which is going to be a huge cause for concern as the team enters the final few weeks of the regular season.
From Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles:
Griffin departed with 5:48 left in the first quarter. He was grabbing his lower back as he walked off the court and continued to hold it as he bit his jersey in the Clippers’ huddle during a timeout. He then limped off the court with Clippers trainer Jasen Powell to the locker room. …
Griffin has been dealing with hip issues recently, and Rivers believes that led to the back injury.
“It was his hip yesterday, it had nothing do with his back, but I think that’s what triggered it,” Rivers said. “Whatever was going on before, that’s what triggered the back injury. It scared the hell out of me because I’ve had that reaction myself. That’s a back injury. They don’t think it’s awful, but it’s a back injury.”
While it’s too early to panic, back spasms can be extremely unpredictable and difficult for an athlete to deal with. Kevin Garnett is obviously much further along in his career, but he’s been dealing with the same injury for weeks now with no end in sight.
Griffin has been the best player on the Clippers for the bulk of the season, and once you get past guys named Kevin Durant and LeBron James, he’s high on the list of players in that next tier who would deserve to be in the MVP conversation. It goes without saying that L.A. will need him at full strength once the postseason begins, otherwise another first round playoff exit is almost assuredly on the horizon.
LeBron James didn’t get his wish – Dwyane Wade and the Heat – for the Eastern Conference finals.
In advance of tonight’s Warriors-Thunder Game 7, his coach isn’t specifying a preferred NBA Finals opponent.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:
“We just want the winner,” Lue said. “Just whoever wins. We’re preparing for both and after tonight we will get a chance to see who we finally play.”
This seems like the wrong approach. I’d rather face the loser. That team is likely more beatable. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. Lue is accepting the inevitable.
The Warriors would probably be the tougher matchup. They’ve been the better team all season and would put Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love into a ton of pick-and-rolls. It’s a great offensive matchup for Stephen Curry. But beating Golden State – the defending champions with a 73-9 record – would bring greater glory and personal redemption to LeBron, who clearly views the Warriors as an outlier.
The Thunder would be no pushovers, but Cleveland would have a better chance of winning. Even with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City just hasn’t played as well as Golden State over a long stretch.
This is obviously a discussion only for fun. The Cavs have no say in their Finals opponent. The Warriors and Thunder will decide that tonight.
DeMar DeRozan sounds like he wants to re-sign with the Raptors, and Toronto wants him back.
But what about those Lakers rumors?
Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report, via Noah Coslov of Bleacher Report Radio:
I’m breaking up with you.
No, I’m breaking up with you first.
The Warriors went an NBA-record 73-9.
And the Thunder massively outplayed them in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals.
No, Golden State wasn’t at full strength. But Oklahoma City reached a level the Warriors hadn’t all season. Even if Golden State had hit peak performance, I’m not sure that would’ve been enough. The Thunder were that good.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were their superstar selves. Steven Adams defended inside and out. Serge Ibaka hit timely shots and moved well defensively. Andre Roberson made open 3-pointers and cut. Dion Waiters read the floor to make the right shot or pass. And everyone rotated correctly throughout entire defensive possessions.
Oklahoma City was awesome, handing the Warriors 28- and 24-point losses.
But Golden State rallied to force a Game 7 tonight. If the Warriors win, they’ll become just the eighth team in NBA history to lose multiple games by more than 20 in a series and still win it. The seven to do it:
- Houston Rockets lost to Los Angeles Clippers by 25 and 33 in 2015 second round
- Atlanta Hawks lost to Miami Heat by 29 and 26 in 2009 first round
- Houston Rockets lost to Phoenix Suns by 22 and 24 in 1995 second round
- Philadelphia 76ers lost to Boston Celtics by 40 and 29 in 1982 Eastern Conference finals
- Denver Nuggets lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 31 and 28 in 1978 Western Conference semifinals
- Los Angeles Lakers lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 21 and 26 in 1972 Western Conference finals
- Minneapolis Lakers lost to St. Louis Hawks by 34 and 30 in 1959 Western Division finals
The Warriors never stopped believing in themselves, even when getting routed. That mentality has them one game from a comeback for the ages.
DeMar DeRozan sounds like he wants to re-sign with the Raptors.
But does Toronto want to give max money to someone who 39% from the field and 15% on 3-pointers in the playoffs?
Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:
This is probably the right course. I don’t know whom the Raptors could get if they lets DeRozan walk, but if he signs elsewhere, they would have just about $19 million in cap space – less than a max salary. I doubt they could land a better replacement.
I’m not sold on DeRozan as a playoff player, though he legitimately took the next step this regular season. But I’d rather keep him, hope he learns to handle the challenges of the postseason and possibly use him in a trade down the road. It’ll cost a max salary if DeRozan isn’t willing to take a discount, but that beats the alternative of losing him for nothing but cap space.