Bucks use strong start, finish to beat Clippers 112-101 (VIDEO)

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks can beat any team in the NBA when they keep the ball moving, even a star-studded playoff contender like the Los Angeles Clippers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and eight assists, and the Bucks finished strong after nearly squandering an early 23-point lead in in a 112-101 victory over the turnover-prone Clippers on Friday night.

Antetokounmpo was one of three Bucks with at least eight assists. Milwaukee tried to beat the Clippers down the floor in transition and made the extra pass in halfcourt sets in accumulating 35 assists on 44 baskets.

“When the ball is moving like that and you’ve got that many assists, it’s some good shots,” said center Greg Monroe, who also had 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting.

Crisp passing, opportunistic defense and the Clippers’ sloppy play allowed the Bucks to persevere in spite of watching their early edge dwindle to 77-74 late in the third quarter following four 3s in the period by Chris Paul. He finished with 21 points, five assists and four turnovers.

The Bucks reasserted control with a 15-2 run for a 92-76 lead with about 9 minutes left, capped by Antetokounmpo’s driving dunk past Blake Griffin, and Jason Terry‘s open 3 from the corner.

Milwaukee also used a 20-2 run over the final 4:33 of the first quarter to open a 19-point lead at halftime.

Fighting to stay in the playoff picture, the Bucks played with a sense of urgency that was missing in a lackluster home loss to Denver on Wednesday night. Guard Malcolm Brogdon said coach Jason Kidd drove home the point in part by making the team run a lot in practice on Thursday.

“I thought their intent, their energy, their focus and the carry-over to tonight was very good,” Kidd said.

Mistakes crippled the Clippers throughout the night. Los Angeles had a season-high 23 turnovers, including 16 in the first half.

“We gave a young team confidence by turning it over,” coach Doc Rivers said.

THIRD WATCH

The Clippers at least played well in the third quarter, with Paul nearly singlehandedly bringing his team all the way back from the early hole. The Clippers star hit all four of his 3-point attempts in the period.

The Bucks controlled the rest of the game, outhustling the Clippers for rebounds and shots in the lane.

“The way we just started the game and they jumped on us, that hurt us,” Rivers said.

Paul and Griffin each had 21 points to lead the Clippers, while Jordan finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

PAUL’S THUMB

A sore left thumb forced Paul to the bench briefly after his fourth 3 of the third quarter to draw his team within three. The Bucks went on their late run with Paul out of the lineup.

Paul returned on Feb. 24 after missing 14 games with a torn ligament in the left thumb.

“I knew it was going to hurt one of these days whenever I got hit in it. So I got hit in it good but I’m cool. No, I wasn’t worried,” Paul said.

STAT LINES

The Clippers lost despite shooting 56 percent from the field. The Bucks had 11 steals and shot 55 percent while committing 10 turnovers, four less than their season average.

“I thought deflections and steals were high, but the passing was contagious,” Kidd said.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Rivers, who had a decorated college playing career at Marquette, spoke to the Golden Eagles players and coach Steve Wojciechowski earlier Friday at Marquette’s practice court about eight blocks from the Bradley Center. … The Clippers fell to 0-9 on the road when trailing at the half.

Bucks: G/F Khris Middleton returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the Bucks’ last game on Wednesday. Middleton has been back a month after starting the season rehabbing from a torn hamstring. He finished with 19 points and nine assists in 32 minutes. … F Michael Beasley is off crutches and riding a stationary bike four days after leaving a loss at Cleveland with a hyperextended left knee. He was due to miss the current three-game homestand, and Kidd said that Beasley would be reevaluated as planned later this weekend.

UP NEXT

Clippers: At Chicago on Saturday night.

Bucks: Host Toronto on Saturday night.

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.