Chris Paul helps Rockets to 148-142 win over Lakers in double OT

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HOUSTON (AP) With James Harden in the locker room with a hamstring injury and the Houston Rockets desperate to end their losing streak, Chris Paul came to the rescue.

Harden scored 40 points before leaving with the injury late in the fourth quarter, and Paul scored 15 of his 28 points in overtime as the Rockets snapped a five-game skid with a 148-142 double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

“He just willed us to win, and great players can do that,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Certain guys can just say, `We’re not losing,’ and `Whatever it takes,’ and that’s what he said tonight and that’s what he did.”

Los Angeles led by as many as 17, but couldn’t hold on as the team’s season-long losing streak stretched to six games.

Paul made a pair of free throws to tie it at 142 with about a minute left in the second overtime before Tarik Black blocked Kyle Kuzma‘s shot on the other end to give Houston the ball back. P.J. Tucker grabbed a rebound on a miss by Paul and put it back up to put Houston on top.

Tucker blocked a 3-point attempt by Kuzma, and Paul added two more free throws to make it 146-142 with 3 seconds left. Paul made two more free throws after that to secure the win.

The Rockets had hoped to limit Paul’s playing time in his second game back after missing three games with a groin injury. But with Harden out, he ended up playing 42 minutes.

“We worked too hard to let that game go,” Paul said. “We had fought. Different guys had been in and out of the lineup. James carried us all game long and different guys had to step up and it’s just will at that point. Let’s just figure out a way to win it.”

Julius Randle set season highs with 29 points and 15 rebounds, but fouled out with about three minutes left in the first overtime.

“It’s obviously frustrating but … we’re short-handed right now and it would’ve been a lot easier to kind of just pack it in and individually go out and try to put up big numbers until we get healthy or until we get to an easier part of the schedule,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “Our guys really came together tonight and really played well for most of the game.”

Los Angeles was up by 4 in the second overtime before a dunk by Black followed by a 3-pointer from Trevor Ariza made it 140-139 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. The Lakers scored the next three points before Paul’s free throws tied it.

Ariza finished with a season-high 26 points.

Paul gave Houston its first lead since the second quarter with a 3-pointer that made it 127-125 with 2:40 remaining in the first overtime.

The Lakers got two free throws from Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart added a basket on a goaltending call to make it 131-129 with about a minute to go in the first OT.

Black tied it up before Hart missed a 3-pointer to give Houston the ball back. Paul put Houston on top with a short jumper with four seconds remaining, but P.J. Tucker fouled Ingram and he made both free throws with 0.8 seconds left in the first overtime to tie it at 133-133.

Paul had a shot to win it, but he missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Houston got a 3-pointer from Ariza followed by a three-point play from Harden to tie it at 119-all with about a minute left in the fourth. But Kuzma, who scored a career-high 38 points in his last game against Houston, made a 3-pointer a few seconds later to put the Lakers back on top.

Harden was injured when he missed a layup after that and was taken to the locker room.

Gerald Green tied it again with a 3-pointer with 17.7 seconds remaining.

Kuzma followed with a missed 3-pointer, and the Lakers got the ball back with 0.7 seconds left, but they didn’t have time to get a shot off.

Houston center Clint Capela had seven points and seven rebounds in his return after missing two games with an orbital fracture. He wore a mask in the first half to protect the injured area, but it seemed to be bothering him and he took it off at halftime.

 

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff agrees to three-year deal to coach Memphis Grizzlies

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We heard rumblings that the Memphis Grizzlies were looking to remove the interim distinction from J.B. Bickerstaff’s title and make him acting head coach. Now, the team has made their move.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Memphis agreed to a three-year deal with Bickerstaff on Thursday, making him the new head coach of the team.

Bickerstaff, 39, was previously the associate head coach of the Grizzlies under David Fizdale. Fizdale was fired in November, and Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach.

This has been a long time coming for Bickerstaff, who was a longtime assistant coach in Charlotte, Minnesota, and Houston. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets job in 2015 when the team fired head coach Kevin McHale.

The task ahead of Bickerstaff will not be easy. Next season he will get Mike Conley back from injury, but the roster is still in the process of being rebuilt and Marc Gasol, 33, seems like constant trade bait. The Western Conference is tough, but finally Bickerstaff gets his shot at the big job on a permanent basis.

Enes Kanter helps pardon Thunder fans who left playoff game early (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter may be leaning toward opting in to his $18 million player option with the New York Knicks this summer (I would) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have love for fans in Oklahoma City.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Kanter appeared together to give pardons to the Thunder fans who left early during the team’s Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony staved off elimination with their win against Utah, giving the Jazz a 3-2 series lead as they head back to Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Kanter, who played for the Thunder from 2015-2017, says he is still friendly with many of the players on the Oklahoma City roster. Kanter also played for the Jazz for the first three-and-a-half years of his career.

Via Twitter:

I personally don’t understand leaving a game early. Your car is trapped underground or is parked six miles away on some back alley, you’re not leaving any game quickly. The train is going to be jam packed and will sit at the stadium station for like 28 more minutes after you board, no matter when you board.

Don’t leave games early, folks. Try to haggle with the people working the concession stands to give you another soft pretzel for free. Get your money’s worth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

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