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.”

An NBA first: Every coach who started last season is back

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MIAMI (AP) — Dozens of NBA players found new homes this offseason. A few front offices dealt with hirings and firings. There’s a new arena in Detroit and an ownership change looms in Houston. The league’s logo was even tweaked.

Change was everywhere.

That is, except the coaches’ offices.

Here’s a first for the NBA: Every coach is back. From the start of last season to the start of this season – barring something happening in training camps, anyway – not a single NBA team has changed coaches. That’s an unprecedented run of retention and an obvious source of pride for coaches across the league as the first practices of the season get set to occur this weekend.

“I think what people are seeing is what this league needs, what these players need more than anything, is stability and a consistent message,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, who’s going into his 10th season. “Otherwise we’re just losing ground if you have to start all over every year. That’s a tough way to win in this business. That’s a tough way to build any sort of culture or consistency.”

No one is starting over in the next few days, at least in the sense that a new staff is taking over a team.

Last season was the first since 1963-64 – and only the fourth in league history – where there were no in-season changes. The league was much smaller back then as well, with only nine coaches having to keep their bosses happy.

It’s a 30-team league now, and a year ago at this time 10 of those clubs had a new coach.

“From top to bottom, we have a very high quality level of coaching,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “This is as stable as our profession has been in decades. Contracts are strong, the league is constructed in a way now where coaching is extremely important and ownership understands the importance of the coaching process.”

There hasn’t been a coaching hire since Jeff Hornacek was formally announced by the New York Knicks on June 2, 2016 – which might not sound that long ago, but in a field without any real job security that’s an eternity. So when coaches gathered last week for their annual preseason meeting, they celebrated the fact that there were no new faces in the room.

“We’ve talked about the importance of supporting one another – and at the same time, the need to try to beat each others’ brains in,” Carlisle said. “It’s a conflicting sort of concept from afar, but internally we are the only ones that know all the challenges that head coaches in the NBA face. And because of that, there’s a real healthy respect for one another.”

Summer vacations are ending now. Coaches will all be grabbing their whistles in the next few days, starting with Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau on Saturday when the Warriors and Timberwolves open training camp – those teams can start early because they’re going to China in the preseason.

The other 28 teams start practice on Tuesday.

“In team-building and pro sports, a lot of times the methodical long game is what’s necessary,” said Spoelstra, the second-longest-tenured coach in the league behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. “But you’re seeing less and less of that. That’s why last year was such a pleasant surprise. I think it really was a celebration of stability and an acknowledgment of how complex this position can be.”

 

Timberwolves sign Aaron Brooks for training camp, maybe more

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Tom Thibodeau brought in Jeff Teague to be the starting point guard in Minnesota (replacing Ricky Rubio, who was never a Thibs favorite). Behind him is the promising young guard Tyus Jones.

Could Aaron Brooks be added to the mix?

Minnesota announced on Thursday it had signed Brooks and he will be in training camp with them. While the terms of the deal were not made official, no doubt this is a contract for the minimum.

Brooks backed up Teague in Indiana last season, that trend could continue. Brooks will battle rookie Melo Trimble — also on a partially guaranteed deal — for the third point guard spot in camp. The Timberwolves have 17 people coming to training camp but do have a roster spot.

Brooks might work for the Timberwolves as a veteran off the bench, and we know Thibodeau likes veterans. Brooks brings energy on offense and he can knock down the three (37.5 percent last season), especially off a catch-and-shoot. However, he struggles defensively, especially if asked to switch. He has a limited game (which is why the Pacers moved on after last season and other teams didn’t come calling), but in a very limited role maybe it works for Minnesota.

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.