Beno Udrih, Mike Conley

Grizzlies start hot, finish strong in another overtime, takes 3-2 series lead over Thunder

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Four straight overtime games.

For fans this Grizzlies/Thunders series has been a classic. For the coaches it has cost them sleep, stress and maybe a couple years off the end of their lives.

For the players… well, Memphis is good with it right now.

Memphis started hot opening the game on a 10-2 run, and with smart execution (they played faster, got into their offense earlier and kept making the extra pass) they led by 20. But nobody runs away with a game in this series — Oklahoma City responded with a 13-0 run of their own, they got points from Caron Butler as the much needed scoring option. This was a game again.

An overtime game. Again. But in overtime Mike Miller hit two threes and a missed Kevin Durant free throw — after Joey Crawford interrupted his rhythm — plus a Serge Ibaka tip in that was a fraction of a second too late gave Memphis a 100-99 win.

Memphis now leads 3-2 and is heading home with the chance to eliminate the Thunder on Thursday night.

If the Grizzlies play like they did early in this game offensively come Thursday they may well pull off the upset.

Memphis put up 30 points in the first quarter, shooting 60 percent, as they worked hard to get into their offense more quickly, which let them get deeper into their sets and that led to an extra pass and a good look. Also their bigs running the floor and beating their match down the court led to some easy buckets on rim runs. As they have done all series the Grizzlies had balanced scoring — the leading scorer for Memphis was Mike Miller with 21.

Meanwhile, early on the Thunder were just a lot of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook isolations. Those two combined for 55 points, but again the Thunder were a team looking for a third scorer. Down 18 there were a few boos from a frustrated crowd.

Enter Caron Butler in the third. He had 12 of his points in the second half and sparked a run an 27-6 OKC run to close out the third and start the fourth. The Thunder executed their offense better and, more importantly, just started hitting looks they had missed earlier. They also got help — Westbrook had 30 points, Durant 26 points (on 24 shots) but both Butler and Serge Ibaka had 15 and that was the extra scoring the Thunder offense needed.

Memphis started the fourth 0-of-7 shooting, opening the door for a Thunder squad growing confident and more aggressive with their defense. Then with a Durant three the Thunder took a one point lead with 6:30 left.

That’s when Memphis responded with 9-3 run of their own on 3-of-3 shooting. It’s been like that all series — one team makes a run, the other responds.

The Grizzlies thought thy would win this in regulation — up two with 28 seconds to go they just needed a foul or a shot — instead Westbrook striped Mike Conley out top and tied the game with a breakaway dunk with four seconds left.

Memphis had a last shot, but they made two passes (Conley to Gasol to Zach Randolph) and the shot didn’t get up in time. Memphis scored just 14 in the fourth quarter.

So it was overtime. Again.

In overtime the Thunder were down two with 27.5 seconds left and Memphis played good defense and forced a contested shot at the buzzer — but Tony Allen went over the back of Kevin Durant going for the rebound. Foul and two shots. Durant drains the first, one point game. As he goes to take the second referee Joey Crawford blows his whistle and sprints out to stop the shot, then went over to the scorers table to correct the number of team fouls on the scoreboard. Then Durant gets another chance to shoot, and with a blown rhythm misses.

However the Thunder defended well and down 1 with 2.6 seconds left OKC got one last chance — a Kevin Durant three missed but Ibaka was right there for the tip in and shot. Just after the buzzer sounded. The referees looked at the replay and made the right call, Ibaka did not get it off in time.

Memphis won. They can close out the series Thursday, but will probably need overtime to do it.

Paul Pierce says he’ll retire after season

Paul Pierce
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Clippers forward Paul Pierce has ended the maybe/probably/maybe/probably/maybe saga of whether he’ll play next year.

Pierce in The Players Tribune:

This is it, my final season.

It’s time to move on from the game of basketball.

Just like any difficult decision, I think you’ve got to be at peace with yourself. I’m at peace with retiring, but I’ve got one more ride left. One more season. One more opportunity.

Pierce has had an incredible career, one that will surely vault him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

He started in Boston, where he was the Celtics’ go-to player and his most reliable sidekick was Antoine Walker – and then Pierce didn’t have even Walker. Seemingly destined to be forgotten as a good player on a mediocre team, Pierce received a legacy boost when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived. The Celtics won the 2008 title, and Pierce earned Finals MVP.

After a few more years of Pierce proving he could excel individually and help a team contend, he went to Brooklyn, where the Nets gave him a late-career spark by using him at power forward. He added a stop in Washington, where he made a few clutch shots for the Wizards. Now, he ends his career reunited with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles.

Pierce doesn’t need to add more to his all-time résumé – and he probably won’t. Only Dirk Nowitzki has played more games among active players than Pierce, who turns 39 in a few weeks. The mileage shows. Pierce has declined considerably, and he’s likely in store for a minor role this season.

But on limited minutes, maybe he can still provide a spark on occasion. The Clippers have at least a fighting chance of making Pierce part of another meaningful playoff run.

After that, would he go back to the Celtics on a ceremonial contract to retire? That’s what Rivers wants. Before it reaches that point, there will be plenty of pomp for Pierce, who just set himself up for a grand retirement tour.

 

Timberwolves confirm that Nikola Pekovic out for entire season

Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14), of Montenegro, yawns during NBA basketball media day in Minneapolis, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor said this exact thing last week, which is a pretty good sign that it’s going to happen. Taylor writes the checks.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have confirmed that Nikola Pekovic — who played 12 games last season due to foot injuries — is out for the coming season.

Taylor mentioned buying out Pekovic, but that seems unlikely. Pekovic is owed $23.7 million over the next two seasons, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of a reason he would take a penny less. The more likely outcome is the Timberwolves waive him and then come January (one year after his last game) apply to the league to have his salary excluded. (This would require a doctor approved by both the league and players’ union say that he is physically unable to play in the NBA ever again. If the doctor said that Pekovic would still get paid, but the money would not count against the salary cap for the Timberwolves).

No Pekovic and no Kevin Garnett, but it doesn’t impact the Timberwolves as training camp opens. Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill up front, plus developing young players Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne. Garnett and Pekovic were not going to play much anyway.

Dwyane Wade ready for his Chicago challenge

Chicago Bulls player Dwyane Wade speaks during a news conference Friday, July 29, 2016, in Chicago. Wade who played at Miami Heat for 13 years, joined his hometown team for a two-year contract worth about $47 million. (AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim)
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MIAMI (AP) — It’s not like Dwyane Wade has never dealt with change before.

He played for three head coaches in 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, helped orchestrate one of the most scrutinized free-agent hauls in NBA history when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to play alongside him, and had 112 teammates along the way.

So going into a new locker room doesn’t figure to overwhelm him.

Wade’s first official day of work with an NBA team other than Miami comes on Monday, when he goes to media day on the eve of his first training camp with the Chicago Bulls – the team he grew up rooting for, a club he has faced off against 64 times as an opponent and now the franchise he’ll be asked to help lead.

“It’s going to be difficult, 100 percent. I’m fine with it, though,” Wade said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For me, it goes back to the whole challenge thing. It’s not like I haven’t done this before. At the end of the day we’re all wearing the same jersey right now and we have to come together, just like any team. And that’s going to be tough.”

Wade left Miami this summer in a move that shocked the Heat. He took a two-year deal worth about $47 million from the Bulls, who came in offering a bit more than what the Heat were able to promise. He leaves Miami has one of two players who were on all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem is the other – and as the franchise leader in points by an enormous margin.

But now he changes addresses, changes colors and in many ways is starting over. So are the Heat, who won’t have him and will go into the season without Bosh – still sidelined by the blood-clot problem that ended each of his last two seasons, an issue that now seems to be putting any plans he has for a return to the court in major jeopardy.

Wade said he still wants the very best for Bosh. He’ll just have to send those wishes from afar now, while he gets ready to embrace his own challenge of meshing with Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and the rest of the Bulls.

“When I don’t have anything else left to prove, then I don’t need to play the game of basketball,” Wade said. “I want to prove I’m out of my comfort zone. I’m in a totally different environment, a totally different system. This is a challenge for me, at this stage of my career. Leave it up to me to put myself in a challenge and not just fade to black in the comfortableness of Miami.”

Wade turns 35 in January, and answered plenty of questions about his supposed durability issues last year. He played in 74 games for Miami, got lighter and leaner to take pressure off his knees and hamstrings, averaged 19 points a game and was an All-Star for the 12th consecutive season.

He’s not the Wade who led the league in scoring in 2009, or was NBA Finals MVP in 2006.

He does, however, think he’s smarter than ever.

“There’s no risk for me,” Wade said. “It’s basketball. It’s just a sport, man. And I’m pretty good at it. I know the game and I’ve put in so much work in this sport, everything right now is just the cherry on top of the whipped cream.”

Nerlens Noel calls Sixers crowded center situation “silly,” adds it “doesn’t make sense”

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Jahlil Okafor #8 and Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers play in the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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He’s right. And Philadelphia management knows it.

At the center position, the Sixers have the athletic and defensive minded Nerlens Noel, the offensive-minded Jahlil Okafor, and the untested player who may be the best of the group in Joel Embiid. Elton Brand is on the roster as well.

That’s a lot of talented young players and not enough minutes to go around. Nerlens Noel called the situation out as “silly” speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey. At least he didn’t go so far as to request a trade.

“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centers,” Noel said on the eve of the Sixers’ media day. “With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer…

“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated….

“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel said. “But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The Sixers wouldn’t officially comment, but this summer they did try to get something done — Okafor and Noel were on the trade block. The problem is all the offers that came in were low ball. GM Bryan Colangelo has said he didn’t want to go into the season with this situation at center, but he also wasn’t going to give away one of these three for pennies on the dollar. Colangelo wanted a fair deal.
We saw last season that Okafor and Noel can’t play together, and now the Sixers need to see which ones of these three can play well with No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, who will be a point-forward much of the time.
Expect a deal to get done to move one of the three centers — and it very well could be Noel, he drew the most interest from other teams. It could happen during training camp, or maybe closer to the trade deadline. Maybe this stretches into next season.
But the Sixers know this doesn’t make sense, they just haven’t been able to remedy the situation. Yet.