Author: Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets - Game Seven

Doc Rivers the GM’s lack of bench doomed Clippers. Can he fix it for next season?

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This season’s Los Angeles Clippers were slightly better than last season’s Los Angeles Clippers. It was baby steps. They were incrementally improved — but that was not near enough to live up to the lofty expectations.

The reason they fell short of those expectations was Doc Rivers.

Not the coach — he’s still elite on the bench — but rather Doc Rivers the GM let this team down.

The Clippers much-discussed — and dismissed by Rivers — lack of depth came back to bite them. After a grueling seven-game series against the Spurs, the Clippers wilted as the second round series went on against the Rockets. Los Angeles led Houston 3-1 but were flat and tired for Game 5. In Game 6 they wilted in the fourth quarter and blew a 19-point lead (there were a number of factors in that epic collapse, but fatigue was one of them). They fell behind early in Game 7 and didn’t have the role players stepping up nor energy to complete the comeback. The Clippers would make a push but could not sustain it. The fast pace of Game 7 — 106 possessions according to NBA.com — wore them down.

Throughout the series the Clippers players looked tired and after losing Game 7 they admitted they were exhausted.

That’s all on Rivers. This team’s lack of depth was key to their undoing.

Last summer Paul Pierce had interest in coming to the Clippers, but Doc Rivers spent the full mid-level exception on Spencer Hawes. Rivers’ other signings last summer were Jordan Farmar, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jared Cunningham and Ekpe Udoh. Farmar and Cunningham were waived. Douglas-Roberts was packaged with Reggie Bullock and a 2017 second-round pick to get Austin Rivers (who was terrible most of the regular season but improved to up-and-down in the playoffs).  Rivers signed guys like Dahntay Jones, Jordan Hamilton, and Lester Hudson, but none of them were going to help the bench in any meaningful way.

The Clippers had their starting five and had to hope the younger Rivers, Jamal Crawford (-22 in Game 7) or “Big Baby” Glen Davis would step up. That didn’t happen nearly enough, and an enormous burden fell on the starters.

If the Clippers are going to do anything more than take another baby step forward — one that is likely not enough again — next season they have to get a deeper bench. Well, first they have to make sure free agent DeAndre Jordan doesn’t bolt for Texas, but after that Rivers needs to add some actual bench help to this team.

But Rivers doesn’t have a lot of room to add quality players.

“Contractually, and I don’t think everybody gets that, it’s very difficult (to add players) when you have the contracts we have,” Rivers said after Game 7, referring to the huge contracts of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, plus one coming for Jordan. “Bringing J.J. (Redick) in here was great, but we’ve got to get this team more support. The problem is, with the contracts we’re hinged from, they’re probably doing to be minimum deals for the most part. There’s no big deals we’re going to make, most likely.”

Those large contracts certainly make it harder to put quality players around their stars, but other teams do it. The Rockets have max deals in James Harden and Dwight Howard, but added Trevor Ariza last summer, Josh Smith mid-season (he chose the Rockets over the Clippers and others), and have drafted and developed guys like Terrence Jones.

Rivers is not a cap guy, and maybe bringing in a cap guy he would listen to would help — giving Spencer Hawes the full mid-level put the Clippers under a hard cap that limited their flexibility through the season. The NBA salary cap and tax system is tax-code level complex and unless you want to delve in and understand every nuance, you need to have someone who does and who you listen to.

Steve Ballmer is not about to strip Rivers of his GM powers, but could he persuade Rivers to bring in a co-GM? Someone else that would have final say if there is a divide in the front office? While it’s hard to imagine Ballmer investing so much power in one person in his other businesses, I expect he’ll let Rivers continue to run the entire show for the Clippers. At least for another summer.

And when the Clippers return next summer, the core will look the same.

“I like our group…” Rivers said. “Teams that have stuck it out, on the long run, have done better than teams that blow it up. We’re really close, clearly. Maybe it’s a defensive guy, one more guy; I don’t now yet. Again, it sounds so easy, ‘why don’t you go get him?’ It’s not that easy, in terms of structure. Maybe we can do something, we will do something, but we’re not going to bring in another max guy.”

They don’t need to. But can they find and get the right role players who can turn that next baby step into the leap forward they need to challenge for an NBA title?

It’s all on Doc Rivers the GM to give Doc Rivers the coach the pieces he needs to win.

Mark Cuban admits he was wrong, congratulates Rockets

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
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“There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets. You know exactly what they’re gonna do. But James Harden is so good. That’s what analytics have begot. Right? Predictability. If you know what the percentages are, in the playoffs, you have time to counter them. Whether you’re good enough to do it is another question. Because they are very talented, and James Harden, I think, is the MVP. Because that’s not a very good team over there.”
—Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, before his team’s first-round series against Houston.

Mark Cuban wasn’t alone in dismissing the Rockets these playoffs.

Well, most people thought they would beat Cuban’s defenseless (literally) Dallas, but the only reason anyone thought they would beat the Clippers was Chris Paul’s injury.

Turns out, the Rockets are in the conference finals, having completely outplayed the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7. And Cuban wanted to give them and their GM Daryl Morey their due.

Classy move, Cuban.

But now that Cuban has said something nice about Houston, it has filled his once-a-decade quota. Probably won’t see another compliment for a while.

It’s been an impressive run by the Rockets, especially the last three games against the Clippers. They’ve earned their shot at the favorite Golden State Warriors.

Trevor Ariza sinks corner three dagger, ends Clippers season (VIDEO)

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets - Game Seven
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One play rarely sums up a game — or the last three games of a series — but this play does.

It’s the Rockets getting the ball into the paint and kicking it out to an open shooter. It’s the Rockets’ role players stepping up and hitting shots — Trevor Ariza was 6-of-12 from three in this game. It was the Clipper defender Jamal Crawford sagging into the paint and leaving his man wide open for a three for no reason.

It was the Rockets answering the bell once again — every time the Clippers made a run to get close in Game 7, the Rockets had an answer. This was the last one of the game, and it was the dagger in Houston’s 113-100 series-clinching, Game 7 win.

Rockets’ James Harden, role players step up while Clippers roll over — Houston wins Game 7

RocketsClippers
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Sunday, it was just more of the formula that had won Houston 56 games this season: James Harden playing at an MVP level, good defensive effort, and role players stepping up when called.

For the Clippers, it was the culmination of the biggest collapse in franchise history. Which in the case of the Clippers is saying something.

From the opening tip the Clippers turned the ball over, missed their threes, and got little from their role players — they were just sloppy. From the opening tip the Rockets played with the energy of desperation, but also efficiency — they knocked down their open looks, and they defended the paint well.

“For the most part we stayed in attack mode,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought James (Harden) was fantastic, 31 points, big free throws down the stretch. He got us going with some passes early.”

The result was a 113-100 Houston win in a Game 7 they led wire to wire.

Houston advances and will fly to the West Coast to face Golden State in the first game of the Western Conference Finals starting Tuesday night.

“I think finishing that first series, we kind of took this series slow in the beginning. It kind of bit us in the butt,” Harden said of the Rockets falling down 3-1 in the series before becoming only the ninth team in NBA history to come back from that and advance in seven. “But we fought back, we fought three really hard games and we came away with the win.”

“We got destroyed,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “The 50-50 game (toss up plays), turnovers to start the game… I love my team, and I love the fact they wanted to win so bad that I thought, in my opinion, we almost couldn’t win… they all wanted to win so bad they tried to do it all on their own.”

James Harden had 31 points on 20 shots to lead the Rockets. But he had help: Trevor Ariza was 6-of-12 from three and had 22 points, Dwight Howard had 16 points and 15 rebounds, even Pablo Prigioni was making key steals and plays off the bench.

Harden was doing it from the outset — he came out in playmaker mode. It helped that the Clippers were sloppy and had seven turnovers in the first quarter — one just trying to inbound the ball after a Rockets’ make — plus hit just 1-of-7 from three in the first frame. Call that a Clippers’ hangover from Game 6, call it Game 7 nerves, call it the few expletives Doc Rivers did during a timeout, the fact is it left the Clippers stepped into a hole they could not climb out of the rest of the game.

Mostly because the Rockets’ wouldn’t let them out.

Harden was rolling downhill — as Kevin McHale likes to describe it — and had 12 first-half points on nine shots. Also, the Rockets hit 6-of-12 from three to start the game, knocking down the open looks Harden was generating.

While the Clippers weren’t getting stops, it was the offensive end that was there bigger problem. The game had a fast pace, 53 possessions in the first half, and the Clippers only gave up 1.06 points per possession, not a bad number. Problem is they scored only 0.87 per possession — they were 4-of-14 from three in the first half, 7-of-25 for the game. Remove Blake Griffin and Chris Paul from the equation and the Clippers were 9-of-27 from the field in the first half and 19-of-49 for the game (38.8 percent).

The Rockets led 56-46 at the half, and the Clippers were lucky it was that close.

Los Angeles opened the second half 4-of-4 shooting, quickly cutting the lead to three. But as they had all game to that point, the Rockets had an answer — a driving dunk by Harden and a Josh Smith three and it was up to eight again. The Rockets went on a 25-11 after the game got within three. Rockets make run at the end of third quarter behind Pablo Prigioni, who had a couple steals from Griffin to make quick points, plus he hit a three and got to the line. It was 85-68 with one quarter left and the Rockets were in total control of the game.

Part of this was the Clippers lack of depth and fatigue — they looked physically tired and mentally tired as the game wore on. They expended a lot of energy on those comebacks, and that finally caught up to them when the Rockets made their big push at the end of the third. The Clippers gave it their all in desperation late in the fourth, but for three games now had looked flat when it mattered most.

Chris Paul had 26 points and 10 assists, Blake Griffin had 27 points.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey deserves credit here for the win, too. His moves to bring in depth like Trevor Ariza and Prigioni paid off on the big stage. Doc Rivers the GM’s biggest signing last summer, Spencer Hawes — Rivers wanted him more than Paul Pierce — barely even play in Game 7.

There are going to be a lot of questions about the Clippers as they head into the summer.

The Rockets’ summer hasn’t started yet — they live to play another day.

 

Officials from Montreal meet with Adam Silver, just to lay some groundwork

Montreal skyline at dusk and St Lawrence River
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There is not going to be an NBA team in Montreal in a couple years. The NBA is not expanding anytime soon — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that repeatedly — and there are no teams on the verge of moving (if the new arena effort in Milwaukee falls through, then a door cracks open).

Still, officials from Montreal wanted to lay some groundwork.

They met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to do just that, reports Le Journal de Montreal (with a hat tip for the link and translation to NBA Reddit).

The meeting took place last January at the NBA offices in New York. It was the former minister and senator Michael Fortier, a lawyer and banker, and Kevin Gilmore, executive vice president of the Montréal Canadiens and right-hand-man of Geoff Molson who found themselves in Mr. Silver’s office….

“I was a pretty good basketball player and I’m still a big fan. I started by helping with NBA exhibition games played in front of sellout crowds at the Bell Center. First one year, then a second. I noted that the clientele was different from the one that we saw at Canadiens matches. I told myself that Montréal, with its appeal, deserved more than two exhibition games,” explained Michael Fortier, yesterday before he left for Scotland….

“We are aware that this is only a first signal sent by the people of Montreal. But we also have to understand that you have to start somewhere. Mayor Denis Coderre is up to date with these first steps and he is encouraging us. The Montréal metropolitan area is a market of more than three million residents. I am convinced that Montréal can support a hockey team, a baseball team, and a basketball team without upsetting existing franchises,” added Mr. Fortier.

Again, there is nothing coming soon. And if a franchise does go up for sale and can be moved, expect the group out of Seattle that was close to bringing the Kings to the Pacific Northwest to be at the front of the line.

But there may be no more rabid fanbase in the NBA than in Toronto, and basketball is a growing sport in Canada — the last two No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft were Canadians. The idea that another major market north of the border could support an NBA team is a very reasonable one. And I like the idea of hearing the Canadian national anthem sung in French before an NBA game.

Montreal’s leaders were just laying some groundwork. It’s how you start a long process.