Thunder’s turn for dramatic comeback — down 13 inside 4 minutes OKC comes back to beat Clippers, win Game 5

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That was maybe the most thrilling game of the playoffs.

And it is a complete punch to the gut for the Clippers.

The Los Angeles Clippers were the better team for 44 minutes on Tuesday night. With four minutes left in the game, the Clippers were up 13 points, they had gotten huge games out of Blake Griffin (24 points, 17 rebounds total) and Chris Paul (17 points, 14 assists and 4 steals). Kevin Durant had been ice cold.

Then it all came apart for Los Angeles. Meanwhile the Thunder showed the poise of a team that has been to the Finals, had been on the big stage — they made plays.

First Russell Westbrook hit a driving layup. Then Durant hit a pull-up three. Durant hit big some free throws. Reggie Jackson gets a layup off a Durant pass. Durant hit another three (one where Doc Rivers wanted his team to foul before the shot). Durant hits a layup. Westbrook steals the ball from Chris Paul in the backcourt (when Paul seems to shoot it trying to get an extra free throw rather than accept the intentional foul), then Westbrook passes to Jackson who is fouled by Matt Barnes (no call) and the ball goes out off Jackson but the referees say it is off Barnes — the referees missed the original call with no foul on Barnes, then blew the replay where the ball clearly went off Jackson but it was ruled “inconclusive.”

On the ensuing inbounds play and the Thunder down two and 11.3 seconds left, Westbrook unnecessarily went back and took a three — and Chris Paul fouled him on the shot. On the elbow. It was a terrible foul. Westbrook hit all three, the Thunder were ahead. On the final play Paul tried to drive, Serge Ibaka did a good job cutting off the lane and with a double from Jackson Paul lost the ball.

Thunder win, 105-104, and take a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Thursday night.

The Thunder were elated post game, the Clippers distraught… well, not Doc Rivers. He was flat out angry… no, not angry, livid. He was ripping the referees for the call with 11.3 seconds when the ball went out off Jackson and was still awarded to the Thunder. Rivers said if the Clippers get the ball as they should have the Thunder have to foul and the Clippers could have won the game.

“That is a game defining and possibly a series defining call. And that’s not right,” Rivers said in a press conference that is going to earn him a healthy from the league.

But he is right, the ball went out off Jackson. And the official explanation from Chief referee Tony Brothers after the game was terrible:

“When the ball goes out of bounds, the ball was awarded to Oklahoma City. We got review the play. We saw two replays. The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and one from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And from these two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it’s inconclusive we have to go with the call on the floor.”

That’s a terrible call.

That’s not why the Clippers lost — Los Angeles was up 7 with :49 seconds left and handed the game over to the Thunder.

They lost because up two and about to be intentionally fouled near halfcourt by Westbrook, Paul didn’t accept the foul but rather went up into a shooting motion to try to get an extra free throw. Paul got stripped instead by Westbrook. It was also Paul who fouled Russell Westbrook on a three with 6 seconds left — it may have been a light foul, but Paul put himself in a position where the refs could make that call.

“Everything that happened there in the end is on me…” a clearly devastated Paul said in his post-game news conference televised on NBA TV. “You got to keep playing, but this one is bad though.”

To open this game the Thunder seemed to have a hangover from the Clippers dramatic 16-point comeback in Game 4 and Los Angeles raced out to a double-digit lead. The Clippers were controlling the pace, moving the ball and looked good, with Paul leading the way

The Thunder came back early in the second quarter and that is what happened for the rest of the game — the Clippers would make a run, the Thunder would respond.

That’s what happened in the final minutes — the Thunder made plays. Durant nailed threes, he finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook made the big steal late but for most of the game he was the best Thunder player and finished with 38 points.

OKC made the plays late, the Thunder kept their poise late, the Clippers collapsed.

We will see if the Clippers can bounce back from that in Game 5 loss. They were clearly devastated after the game, the Thunder were looking like a team that just won the series.

They may have.

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safty

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.