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Allen Crabbe knows it’s time for him, Blazers’ bench to step up against Warriors

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — It’s clear to Allen Crabbe – and just about everyone else who’s watching – that Portland’s bench needs to do more against the Warriors.

And Crabbe is pointing to himself as someone who needs to step up.

The Trail Blazers’ reserves had a combined 35 points Wednesday night when starters Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum struggled with only 23 points between the two of them, and Golden State won 110-81. The bench sparked a rally for a time in the second quarter but couldn’t match the depth of the Warriors at the end, finishing 13 of 32 from the field and 4 of 18 from 3-point range.

That’s not going to be enough to beat Golden State, which got 50 from its bench. Still, it was an improvement over Game 1, when Portland’s backups had a combined nine points in a 121-109 Warriors win.

Crabbe has been especially frustrated, with just three points in the opening game of the series and six in the second.

“Definitely not playing the way that I wanted to, not really contributing the way I wanted to offensively,” the 6-foot-6 wing said. “So it is kind of frustrating. But that’s the sweet thing about it. It’s a seven-game and we’ve still got more games to play, so I’ve still got time to pick it up.”

Now the series moves to Portland for Game 3 on Saturday, giving the Blazers a chance to play catch-up at home. Reserve play will be vitally important for the Blazers, especially if Lillard and McCollum are again held back by the Warriors.

Crabbe similarly got off to a slow start in last year’s first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers but improved and scored 20 points in Game 5 against Golden State in the second round. Overall, he averaged 9.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 11 playoff games last year.

“As a shooter on this team, as somebody who can score off the bench, that’s what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to just keep shooting the ball and wait until it starts falling for me,” he said Friday at the Blazers’ practice facility. “It will pick up from there.”

Crabbe averaged 10.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists overall this season after signing a four-year contract worth $75 million with the Blazers last summer. He had a season-high 30 points in an overtime victory over Detroit in January. He also broke out in a 105-98 victory over the Timberwolves in early March with 25 points, including a career-high eight 3-pointers – just one off the franchise record by a reserve.

In his last 10 games of the regular season, he averaged nearly 12 points but he missed Portland’s three final regular-season games with left foot soreness after an MRI revealed inflammation.

The Blazers’ bench was an issue during the regular season – they were ranked 26th in the league – but as Portland rebounded after the All-Star break, so did the reserves.

With Lillard and McCollum resting after Portland clinched a playoff berth, point guard Shabazz Napier scored 32 points in a 99-98 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, who played their starters.

Napier was the top player off the bench in Game 2 of the playoffs, with 10 points.

Coach Terry Stotts said it’s a whole-team effort if the Blazers want to make some noise. Last season, Portland came back after a 0-2 deficit to beat the Clippers in the opening round.

“I think it’s important that all the players on the court – that everybody’s ready to make contributions,” Stotts said. “We made it a competitive series last year because it was a team effort. And we need the same team effort.”

Crabbe, like many of the other players at the practice facility on the eve of Game 3, characterized it as a must-win.

“We know how important this game is,” he said. “We’re locked in and we’re gonna go out there, gotta give it our all.”

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Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.