Author: Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers v Atlanta Hawks

The Extra Pass: A big test for the Clippers; plus Thursday’s recaps



Pressure reveals character, and the last minutes of the Clippers road matchup with Portland did just that.

Down the stretch, both teams played perfectly to their strengths. The Blazers ran everything through LaMarcus Aldirdge (32 points) on the left block, surrounding him with three-point shooters and daring the Clippers to double. The Clippers, meanwhile, put the ball in Chris Paul’s hands, gave him a simple ball screen and let the magic happen.

None of Paul’s 34 points appeared bigger than his fading jumper on the baseline to give the Clippers a three-point lead with about eight seconds left in regulation. After a frustrating loss to Golden State the night prior, it looked like the Clippers would exact some revenge on another Western Conference foe.

But then Portland did what they’ve been doing to every team around the league. In need of a bucket, Terry Stotts drew up a beautiful sidelines out of bounds play to get a clean look for Nicolas Batum, who buried the open three at the top of the key to tie the game and eventually send it to overtime.

So here the Clippers were, on the second night of one of the toughest back-to-back sets imaginable, playing on the road in overtime against one of the league’s hottest teams.

And right at the beginning of the overtime period, there was Blake Griffin on the floor. Not from exhaustion or the kind of flop he’s most closely associated with now, but because there was a loose ball to go after. Then it was Matt Barnes on the floor, chasing that same loose ball.

There were many moments or highlights to sum up the game for the Clippers, both positive and negative, but this was the one to remember.

I know what you’re thinking. Can a title contender really have moral victories? Isn’t that for, you know, the teams who can’t pull off actual victories?

It’s a fair point, and it didn’t help that the Clippers had their flaws exposed (defense on the perimeter, frontcourt depth) once again.

But still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there were multiple opportunities for the Clippers to pack it in. The excuse of a back-to-back was readily available, and there were a few plays the screamed “it’s not your night.”

For as encouraging as a win this is for Portland in their ongoing quest to prove their sustainability, it was equally positive for the Clippers. It’s important to know just how deep you can dig as a team, both physically and mentally.

It’s a long season, but the Clippers may not be tested like this again. Chances are, they needed that experience more than they need the win.

—D.J. Foster



Hawks 127, Cavaliers 125 (2OT): What a fun battle of point guards. Kyrie Irving went off for 40 points on 33 shots, plus he dished out 9 assists — he looked like a guy who deserves to start in the All-Star Game. He single handedly had the Cavs up five to start the second overtime. But that is when — with Al Horford having left the game with an injury — it was Jeff Teague who made the plays. He had 12 of his 34 points in the overtimes. He played maybe his best game of the season, plus he drained the game winner.

Rockets 100, Grizzlies 92: Second night of a back-to-back, coming off a signature win on national television, down 13 in the third quarter — if the Rockets had lost this game we would have shrugged and blamed the schedule and the Rockets inconsistency. Instead the Rockets cranked it up in the fourth quarter, held the Grizzlies to 27 percent shooting, got 14 points from Jeremy Lin and 11 from James Harden (27 for the game) to storm back and win. That’s the sign of a team that is maturing, growing together.

Spurs 116, Mavericks 107: This was vintage Spurs. Just a day ago after the Spurs lost to the Rockets on national television, I noted that San Antonio had struggled some against teams over .500. Thursday night they came out against a more rested Mavericks team, went on a 12-2 rum late in the first to take the lead, one they never relinquished. Tim Duncan was brilliant with 21 points and 13 rebounds, including four straight points in the fourth when it looked like Dallas would make a little run. Tony Parker added 23 points. They are still the Spurs and they still execute.

Trail Blazers 116, Clippers 112 (OT): Tonight it was the Clippers turn — the Blazers have done this to teams all season at home. They looked beaten, down three with eight seconds to go after a Chris Paul baseline jumper. But then a clever play freed up Nicolas Batum and he nailed the three, and we were headed to overtime. LaMarcus Aldridge had a big night — he had barely eaten for four days after having his wisdom teeth pulled, yet he went out and dropped 32. Chris Paul had 34. In the end we had another thrilling Trail Blazers game, and once again they found a way to win.

The Extra Pass: The nightmare that is LeBron James; plus Monday’s recaps

Utah Jazz v Miami Heat


You know those nightmares where you can’t run away fast enough? The ones where your legs turn to mush and the baddy behind you keeps gaining ground?

That’s a recurring nightmare for lots of people, but it’s a recurring reality for Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was on the sidelines with the San Antonio Spurs for Game 6 of last year’s finals, or alternatively, on the wrong side of NBA history.

We remember the final dagger from Ray Allen in that game, naturally, but very quietly, it was a three-pointer from LeBron James that cut the lead prior to that. If James doesn’t get that to fall, it’s a whole different story.

Of course, James has a habit of doing this sort of thing, and it happened one more time against Budenholzer and “Spurs East”.

The Hawks had played about as well as you could ask, building a seven-point lead with about 1:30 to play. That probably would have been safe against most teams, especially with all the good free throw shooters on Atlanta’s roster.

Problem is, Miami isn’t just good when they’re playing from behind — they’re the best.

In the last five minutes of games where Miami is tied or behind this season, they’ve posted an offensive rating of 131.5. That’s tops in the league.

That’s in large part due to LeBron’s willingness to let it fly when facing a deficit. James attempts a surprising low amount of threes per game (2.9 this year) for hitting above 40 percent over the last two seasons, but his hesitancy is gone in the clutch.

Per 36 minutes in the clutch (Last 5 min <= 5 points), James is attempting a whopping 13.2 threes, and still making 37.5 percent of those attempts.

A lot of players have "extra gears" in that they run maybe a little faster, or jump a tiny bit higher. But for LeBron? He just begs his opponent to come outside the arc and guard him. The three-pointer is the back pocket shot for LeBron right now — he's saving for when he really needs it.

The Heat needed it Monday. A three-pointer from LeBron shrank the lead from seven to four, then another three from LeBron came with 23 seconds lead to cut the lead to one. A thunderous dunk ]brought the lead back down to one again after two made free throws.

Ultimately it was Allen who saved the day again with three clutch free throws to tie the game and push it to overtime, but the Heat wouldn't have been there without LeBron keeping the door ajar, once again.

—DJ Foster



Pacers 103, Nets 86: This was the first game for the Nets since losing Brook Lopez for the season with a foot fracture, and it went about as well as you might expect against one of the league’s elite teams. Indiana got bug games offensively out of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, and defended well enough to hold Brooklyn to just 58 points through the game;s first three quarters. Deron Williams had just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, and he’s going to need to be much more aggressive in looking for his own shot on most nights for his team to have a chance. Paul Pierce finished 0-for-7 in 15 minutes off the bench, before being ejected in the third following a takedown of George Hill on the break. — Brett Pollakoff

Heat 122, Hawks 121 (OT): Dwyane Wade sat out his seventh game of the season due to soreness in his knees, and Miami trailed by seven points with just over a minute and a half remaining in regulation. Then came the comeback, which included two threes and a dunk from LeBron James, followed by Ray Allen sinking three free throws with eight seconds left to force the extra session. It was the Heat reserves who came through in overtime, however, with Michael Beasley and Chris Andersen sealing the win at the free throw line, while the Hawks finished scoreless over the game’s final 1:21. With Wade out, LeBron did the heavy lifting, and finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and six assists in just under 46 minutes of action. — BP

Spurs 112, Raptors 99: Toronto has been playing well since making the trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings, and came into this one having won four of its last five. But after winning in Oklahoma City on Sunday, following that up with a win against another team at the top of the standings on the road was too much to ask. The Raptors hung in for most of the night, however, and San Antonio closed the game with a 12-4 run over the game’s final 2:18 to seal it. — BP

Grizzlies 104, Jazz 94: Memphis got a big game from Zach Randolph and a strong performance out of its bench to win its second straight following a five-game losing streak. Randolph finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and the Grizzlies shot 55 percent from three-point distance and committed just six turnovers — all of which were factors that helped the team build a lead of as many as 16 points before the game was through. — BP

Knicks 103, Magic 98: Carmelo Anthony left this game in the third with an ankle injury, but the bulk of the damage for the Knicks was done in the first half. New York took a 24-point lead into the break behind 17 points from Anthony, 14 from J.R. Smith and a much better game inside from Tyson Chandler than he showed in Saturday’s brutal loss to Memphis. Orlando got back into it in the third, but a rough fourth quarter offensively from both teams allowed the Knicks to come away with the much-needed victory. — BP

Pistons 115, Cavaliers 92: Cleveland was without Dion Waiters for the third straight game due to a wrist injury, and had trouble scoring against the front line of the Pistons. Detroit has two dominant big men in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and Andrew Bynum couldn’t get much of anything done against them inside. Bynum finished 0-for-11 from the field with zero points in almost 23 minutes of action. On the Pistons side, Brandon Jennings had 21 points on 11 shots, to go along with 13 assists, and Josh Smith led all scorers with 25 points. — BP

Bobcats 111, Bucks 110 (OT): Khris Middleton hit a shot from 21 feet at the overtime buzzer that would have been enough to send the game to its second extra session, if only he were a foot or so further back. Milwaukee trailed by three, and ran a good play to get Middleton a catch-and-shoot open look as time expired. But his foot was clearly on the line, so it goes in the books as a tough loss for the Bucks. Brandon Knight finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists in the losing effort, while Al Jefferson (26 points, nine rebounds) and Kemba Walker (25 points, 10 assists) did the damage for Charlotte. — BP

Mavericks 111, Rockets 104: James Harden missed this game with a sprained ankle, and despite an above average 29-point, 15-rebound performance from Dwight Howard playing over 40 minutes, the Rockets didn’t have enough to match the guard play of the Mavericks without him. Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis combined for 33 points and 10 assists, and Dirk Nowitzki poured in 31 points to lead all scorers. Dallas put this one away in the third by outscoring Houston 36-21 in the period; the contest was never in doubt the rest of the way. — BP

Warriors 89, Nuggets 81: Another game, another slow Denver start — Golden State was up 24-9 this time. Then as is their pattern the Nuggets spend the next couple quarters chipping away at the lead, with Timofey Mozgov’s 14 points and Ty Lawson’s 16 leading the way. Then in the fourth quarter the Nuggets came undone, shooting just 29 percent. On the other side Klay Thompson awoke from his slump for eight points in the fourth quarter. The big offensive force was David Lee with 28. Denver has now gone 3-7 in their last 10. —Kurt Helin

Suns 117, Lakers 90: Two teams heading in opposite directions, so this ended pretty much as you expected. The Suns led from the start and got 22 off the bench from Gerald Green, plus 19 from Marcus Morris. For the Lakers, they were lackluster, had another terrible third quarter and Pau Gasol was 4-of-12 in his 20 minutes (but Nick Young did have 19). —KH

Pelicans 113, Kings 100: Tyreke Evans returned to Sacramento and dropped 25 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds on his former teammates. Evans was doing the heavy lifting for the Pelicans to stay in what was a sloppy game for three quarters, while DeMarcus Cousins did the same for the Kings (24 points, 14 rebounds). New Orleans broke it open in the fourth quarter with a 16-3 run and ended up with a 39-point fourth quarter sparked by Evans and Anthony Davis (21 points). This snapped a four-game losing streak for the Pelicans. By the way, Rudy Gay was 2-of-12 with six turnovers. Rough night. —KH

The Extra Pass: The Spurs’ Hammer set; plus Tuesday’s recaps

San Antonio Spurs head coach Popovich talks to Duncan during the third quarter of play against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of their NBA Finals basketball series in San Antonio


The Signature Series takes a look at a play that’s largely unique to one team. Here’s San Antonio’s “Hammer” set.

The San Antonio Spurs don’t get enough credit for keeping up with the times. Although the end result is often the same as it has always been – Tim Duncan facing up and banking a shot home, Tony Parker shooting floaters in the lane, Manu Ginobili doing Manu Ginobili things – the means of transportation has changed over the years.

San Antonio once walked the ball up the floor, but for the last three seasons, they’ve been a top-10 team in the league in pace.

During that time, San Antonio has relied more on quick-hitting plays in the halfcourt than elaborate sets. Rarely will you see Duncan holding the ball and surveying for long periods of time like he used to. San Antonio got slower, but now they move quicker.

A prime example of how the Spurs have blended their patented half court execution and need for speed is the “Hammer” set they’ve used with great success.

Although there are a few different variations of it, here’s a good look at the basic set by Dan Murphy at FastModel Sports:

source:  source:

The Spurs are masters of movement and misdirection, and the initial action here on the left is nothing much more than that. The real purpose of this set is simple: create an open corner three-point attempt for a shooter.

The Spurs have been able to do just that with frightening regularity. San Antonio was third in the NBA in corner threes last year, and Danny Green was second in the entire league in made shots from that area.

Check out how clean some of these three-point looks deviating from the different Hammer sets are:

As you can see above, all it takes is for a defender to turn their head or help in the paint on the baseline drive. If that happens, they’re getting caught with a flare screen and giving up one of the most desired shots in basketball to a deadly shooter.

There are more physical teams in the league. There are teams that jump higher. But if you want to try and find an offense that’s more mentally taxing on their opponents than San Antonio’s? Good luck.

-D.J. Foster




Trail Blazers 119, Cavaliers 116: Teams keep exposing the weaknesses of this Blazers team — the Cavaliers used their size up front with Andrew Bynum (13) first half points — and it doesn’t matter. Cleveland put up 116 points on the Blazers defense and lost. Portland used a 22-7 run in the fourth quarter take what looked like a lead that would let them coast in for a win. Cleveland had other ideas — Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters (each who finished with 25 points) sparked a comeback to tie the game, 116-116 with just 7.1 seconds. But that’s Damian Lillard time. He had 36 and his second straight game winner.

Bobcats 95, Kings 87: The Bobcats had no defensive answer for DeMarcus Cousins, who finished with 30 points (on 13 shots), 17 boards, 6 assists and 3 steals. Charlotte had plenty of answers for everyone else — the rest of the Kings roster shot 31.3 percent on the night. Charlotte’s reserves came in and started to take control of the game late in the first quarter and while Sacramento made runs the rest of the night the scrappy Bobcats had answers. Kemba Walker had 24 points and Gerald Henderson 20 to lead Charlotte.

Lakers 96, Grizzlies 92: That’s the Pau Gasol Lakers fans have wanted to see. Not so coincidentally, that’s the Lakers getting the ball to Pau Gasol in the half court where he wanted it. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter the Lakers went to Pau Gasol over and over isolated 15 feet out Zach Randolph. And it worked. Gasol had 7 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter helping spark the Lakers win. Kobe Bryant had his best game since his return as well and had 21, helping the Lakers fought off each Grizzlies run. Meanwhile Memphis really missed Mike Conley (bruised thigh) as they had no threat from three and no good shot creation. Combine that with the lack of Marc Gasol and these Grizzlies are a shell of themselves.

Thunder 105, Nuggets 93: Not sure what to say about this one other than the better team won. Pretty easily. Denver is a good team and they got some good performances — J.J. Hickson had 20 points, Nate Robinson made a run in the fourth to make the game interesting — but OKC is simply playing much better ball right now. Which is why they have won 7 straight. Kevin Durant had 30 and just tore apart the Nuggets switching defense on the pick and roll.

Warriors 104, Pelicans 93: Look at the box score and you see Stephen Curry with 28 points, or David Lee with 21 points and 17 boards, and you’ll miss how much the return of Andre Iguodala meant to the Warriors. He had just two points but with him back in the lineup the Warriors moved the ball better on offense, while on the other end of the court held the Pelicans to 37.5 percent shooting. It was an easy win, and the Warriors needed that. Ryan Anderson had 21 for New Orleans.