Clippers come from 16 down in the 4th quarter to take Game 4 from Thunder

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LOS ANGELES — The Thunder jumped on the Clippers early in Sunday’s Game 4 matchup, and were out to a lead of as many as 22 points before nine minutes of game time had elapsed. They withstood runs that had L.A. within four in the second quarter, and back within eight late in the third after the lead had ballooned up to 15 once again.

In the fourth, Oklahoma City appeared destined to cruise to victory, leading by 16 points with under nine minutes remaining, with no sign that the Clippers would be able to figure things out in time to rally and avoid a three games to one deficit that would have all but sealed their fate in the series.

But the home team’s desperation paid off. L.A. used some small lineups as a last-ditch effort, switched Chris Paul onto Kevin Durant defensively, and got an incredible performance on both ends of the floor from reserve Darren Collison to put together an improbable comeback, and steal a 101-99 victory that evened the series at two games apiece.

“That’s desperate coaching,” Doc Rivers said afterward. “Yesterday as a staff we said Durant was beating us with his dribble. If you put a guard on him, you could make him more of a post-up player.”

The strategy worked to perfection in terms of disrupting the Thunder’s fourth quarter offense, which became stagnant at the worst possible time. There was too much Russell Westbrook, who was 4-of-10 shooting in the period, and when Durant did get the ball, often times he was trying to post up the much smaller Paul at the elbow, which created disastrous results.

That decision allowed L.A. to swarm Durant with double teams, usually with the speedy Collison coming over to help create chaos. Durant turned it over three times in the fourth, and the Clippers had 12 fast break points over the final 12 minutes — a huge reason for their success. In fact, 12 of L.A.’s 14 fourth quarter field goals came right at the rim, and many of them were uncontested.

Durant was in no mood to credit Paul for the defensive job he did in the fourth after such a disappointing loss, but there was some truth to his words that went beyond the clearly bitter taste in his mouth.

When asked what changed in the fourth after he was able to score 30 points through the first three periods on mostly good looks, Durant said simply: “Nothing. I scored in the fourth.”

He did indeed — 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, to give him 40 for the game.

And when asked specifically to detail the challenge Paul presents defensively?

“He doesn’t,” Durant said matter-of-factly. “It’s not a one-on-one. When I catch the ball, they sent in a double team. When they sent the double team, they did a good job of crowding me and making me get rid of the ball. When it’s one on one, I got the advantage.”

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks had few answers postgame, saying only that he’d look at the film and make some adjustments, while commenting more than once on the game’s physicality. Rivers confirmed it’s not something the Clippers can do a lot of in the future and expect the same amount of success.

“Situational,” he said of matching up Paul on Durant defensively. “We do like it because of CP’s hands, he’s pretty strong. But I don’t like it because then you’re taking a lot out of CP. That’s not a matchup we are going to live with, I can tell you that.”

The part about not wearing down Paul is critical, because when things were at their darkest in this one, he’s the one who fought more than once to drag his team back. In the fourth, he scored six straight points to cut a lead that was then 12 to just six with 6:13 to play, before Collison took it from there offensively, scoring nine of his 12 points in the period from that point forward to continue the comeback, and help close the game out.

“Darren Collison was amazing today,” Paul said afterward. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship with somebody like I have with D.C. because we both push each other and motivate each other. Maybe because I was a rookie with him in New Orleans. You just got to love a guy like that who plays with so much heart and never gives up. Game ball goes to Darren Collison.”

Collison was huge down the stretch, but the Clippers wouldn’t have gotten to the point where they had a chance at the comeback if it wasn’t for Paul’s grit, on both ends of the floor, that was present in just about all of the 45 minutes on the court. He finished with 23 points and 10 assists, to go along with five rebounds and four steals, while turning the ball over just once.

The Clippers stole this game from their opponent, and they know it; the desperation on the part of Rivers, Paul and Collison on their home floor ended up being enough to pull this one out. It’s not a scenario that’s repeatable for L.A., especially against a Thunder team that’s proven capable of generating big leads against the Clippers, and holding them for extended stretches.

Now with the series tied heading back to Oklahoma City, Rivers knows his guys can’t afford to get off to another slow start, and will need to match the intensity of an angry Thunder team from the jump in order to have a shot.

“They’re seething right now,” Rivers said. “They had an opportunity to go up 3-1 and now it’s an even series. We were almost on the mat and we got off of it. We didn’t get pinned. We’re back up and now we’re all even.”

Report: Ime Udoka, Ettore Messina, David Fizdale to interview for Hornets job

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The Charlotte Hornets have a new GM in Mitch Kupchak. Upon taking the helm, Kupchak made short work of firing head coach Steve Clifford.

Now, the Hornets need a new coach and they have quite a few names to choose from.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets will be interviewing current San Antonio Spurs assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina along with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale.

Via Twitter:

All three have extensive coaching experience under their belts. Udoka played in the NBA for seven seasons and has been an assistant coach in San Antonio since 2012.

Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion as a coach, and a two-time winner of the Euroleague Coach of the Year award. He’s coached abroad and in the U.S. since 1989, and he’s been with the Spurs since 2014.

Fizdale coached the Grizzlies for two seasons. Before that he was a longtime assistant coach with the Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra.

Hornets star Kemba Walker said that who the team chose as GM would influence his decision to re-sign after 2018-19. Walker loved Clifford, so who Charlotte picks as coach could carry significant weight with Walker as well.

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders. In fact, I would argue most of it is not.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts vs. the roster he has to coach?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did. The question for Blazers management is, if not Stotts then who is next? Who are they getting that’s better?

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.