Associated Press

With Blake Griffin out Chris Paul dominates fourth quarter, leads Clippers to 115-111 win

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In the first half it seemed everything went wrong for the Clippers.

First, Gordon Hayward went off for a Utah playoff record 21 points in the quarter on 7-of-8 shooting (he would finish the night with 40). Then late in the first half Blake Griffin suffered a bruised big toe — may well be a turf-toe injury — and he had to leave the game. Los Angeles was down 13 after one quarter and nine at the half, but more than that it was hard to see a path back to the win.

Then Chris Paul took over — he was the embodiment of the point god. CP3 had 24 second half points, he was attacking the paint or dishing to DeAndre Jordan rolling down the lane, and more than all that he completely controlled the flow of the contest.

He sparked a 15-0 Clipper run in the fourth — when the Jazz went scoreless for more than six minutes — to get Los Angeles a lead they would hold on to for a 115-111 road win.

The Clippers are now up 2-1 in the series with Game 4 in Utah Sunday.

“We can deal with adversity,” Paul said in a televised interview about what this game showed. “That’s one of our biggest hurdles, things that we’re trying to overcome.”

Playoff injuries have ended so many Clipper playoff runs in recent years, including last season when Paul and Griffin were injured in the first round allowing the Trail Blazers to advance. Griffin suffered his injury with just under four minutes to go in the second quarter, he had stolen the ball from Hayward and pushed it up himself, finishing a layup past Rodney Hood. After Griffin landed, he instantly started limping.

The X-rays on Griffin’s toe injury were negative, but there is no timetable yet for his return.

The injury set up the brilliance of Paul.

“The primary thing is the game becomes about Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said about the adjustments after Griffin’s injury. “He’s arguably the best person doing that in the league, in terms of manufacturing the whole court. So that puts a lot of stress on the defense.”

Paul came out in the second half and attacked the paint more aggressively — something he can do with Rudy Gobert still out injured for Utah — and he was 5-of-6 shooting inside eight feet of the rim in that stretch. His drive started to force defenders to him, and then he would find a rolling DeAndre Jordan for the lob, or he would kick out to an open shooter. Paul was covered by Ingles to start most of the night but worked hard to get Derrick Favors switched on to him, then attacked.

It all worked. Plus the Clippers stepped up their defensive pressure, and that threw the Jazz off balance. Hayward went cold (1-of-4 in the fourth) and Utah started leaning heavily on Joe Johnson to create shots for himself and others (he was 3-of-6 in the fourth), but the balance was gone from the Utah offense.

Even when they got good looks, they just missed them during that fourth-quarter stretch where Utah’s offense fell apart. That ended up being the ball game.

Behind a couple buckets from Johnson late Utah kept it close, but the Clippers hit enough free throws that the Jazz were forced into desperation shots and passes — both of which Hayward missed badly in the final minute.

Until Gobert returns, the Clippers have a formula that works with the CP3/Jordan pick and roll, with them getting into the paint. Los Angeles had a ridiculous offensive rating of 125.4 in this game, against one of the best defenses in the league.

It falls to Utah to slow down the Clippers a little (easier said than done). The Jazz have to get shots, then get some shots — particularly threes — to fall late. The ball is in Quin Snyder’s court to make some adjustments so Utah can even this series on Sunday. And if one of those adjustments is not “Gobert is back” he’s going to need to get creative, and get some role players to step up.

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.