Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets - Game Two

Down 13 Rockets finally play with desperation, come back to beat Clippers, even series 1-1

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The Houston Rockets were staring the end of their playoff run in the face. It’s only Game 2, but the Rockets had lost Game 1 and were down 13 points at home to a Los Angeles Clippers team that had their all-world point guard Chris Paul still in street clothes.

The Rockets finally started to play with some desperation in the second half — they defended better, forced turnovers and held the Clippers to 36.6 percent shooting after the half. They finally kept Blake Griffin in check with 8 points on 2-of-9 shooting in the second half (after he destroyed them in the first half). Houston turned those missed Clippers shots into transition or early offense options the other way. And James Harden finally found his stroke, scoring 20 points in the second half.

All of that — combined with 64 Rockets free throw attempts on the night in what was not a pretty game at times — led to a 109-101 Houston win. The victory ties the series at 1-1 heading to Los Angeles for Game 3 Friday.

That is a game Chris Paul likely plays in, coach Doc Rivers held him out again on Wednesday to help his strained right hamstring recover. The Clippers can feel good that they beat the Rockets in one game and hung with them in another when they were without the quarterback of their offense and best closer.

However, McHale and the Rockets figured out some things that worked, too, For example, a lot of the Rockets’ second half success came in part when they went small, at times using Trevor Ariza to front Griffin in the post.

“That group really was getting the defense turned up, we were getting stops, then we were able to get out and run a little bit. We just got more energy from that group,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said after the game.

Everything started out well for the Rockets Wednesday night. DeAndre Jordan picked up two fouls in the first three minutes, the second one when Dwight Howard pushed Jordan in the back and into the driving player. Doesn’t matter. Jordan goes out, and Glen Davis comes in and Howard could do whatever he wanted. Rockets were +13 the rest of the quarter when Jordan went to the bench. Part of that was bad offense from Los Angeles, too much dribbling, which led to contested shots. The Rockets ran off misses and led by 11 at the end of first quarter.

Then in the second quarter everything changed. Jordan came back in, and when the Clips went on a 12-0 run they lead by three. The Rockets were overplaying the guys on the wings and getting burned, their transition defense was terrible. Plus, the Rockets were 1-of-13 from three.

Meanwhile, the Clippers were 16-of-21 shooting in the second quarter, putting up 41 points in the frame and were up 65-56 at the half. Griffin had 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting up to that point.

Griffin would go on to finish with 34 points, and he’s been the best player in the series. It wasn’t enough.

Early in the third quarter Harden picks up fourth foul, and was sent to the bench. That’s when the Clippers pushed the lead up to 13.

With that the Rockets finally started to defend with some energy and smart play, they went small, and they went on a 14-4 run to cut the lead to three.

“We got out of rhythm offensively, that’s when the game changed for us,” Rivers said. “I thought it was the first game we didn’t trust each other. We got stuck trying to get the ball to Blake so much we forgot there were other guys on the other side of the floor. The ball never changed sides of the floor. That hurt us.”

The rhythm of the game was also thrown off by a lot of fouling — both intentional and because guys were getting inside. The game started just to get choppy and at times sloppy.

But it worked for Houston which went on a 15-2 run across the third and fourth quarters to take 93-88 lead, running off Clipper missed shots and taking advantage of scrambling Clipper transition defense. Clipper floor spacing led to some ugly possessions and poor shots; the Rockets took full advantage of that in transition.

The other key was the Rockets going small and fronting Blake in the post. The Clippers response to this seemed to be to stand around and watch. The Clippers didn’t cut, the ball didn’t move. It allowed the Rockets to stretch the lead out to 10. Griffin had just eight points in the second half on 2-of-9 shooting. Jamal Crawford had 19 points on the night but needed 22 shots to get there,

In a parade to the free throw line during the fourth the Rockets played good enough defense to hold on and get the win.

James Harden also took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his 32 points on the night (on just 17 shots). Dwight Howard had a fantastic game as well, scoring 24 points and had 16 rebounds. Ariza said seven of his 15 in the fourth quarter.

Report: Cavaliers have “legitimate fear” Kevin Love leaves as free agent. Should they really?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Three
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Kevin Love has denied he is leaving. Repeatedly.

Yet whether driven by the hopes of and dreams of other franchises and front offices, or whether Kevin Love’s agent and people are sending out hints, the “Love is going to leave the Cavaliers this summer” rumors will not die.

The latest one comes once again from Adrain Wojnarowski, speaking on the Dan Patrick Show.

“I think all year long he has looked longingly at free agency and the possibility of what else is out there. What the Cavaliers had really hoped for is that if he had played in the postseason, and had success, and had some big moments, and all of a sudden people start to look at Kevin Love differently — “he had a great Game 6 against the Bulls and got us to the conference finals” — and people started to see him as a winning player and a big moment guy, he hasn’t had those opportunities in the past, maybe he’d feel differently about that role he had there. But none of that is going to happen now, he’s out, and he won’t experience any of that. And the only big decision he’s going to be making is based on a regular season where he hasn’t embraced loved that role like Chris Bosh….

“He’s going to look at free agency, I think he’s going to look at other teams. He can always opt in and go into free agency next summer where there’s even a bigger pool of money. But there’s a legitimate fear within the Cavs that he will just walk.”

Here are my thoughts:

• I think Love will stay, at least for one more season. The logic goes that if Love leaves it’s because he doesn’t like the sacrifices he had to make to his game, and he wants to be in the spotlight. He wants to be the focal point of a franchise not the third option. The rumor has been if he leaves he winds up a Laker. If Love leaves the contender Cavs for the Lakers — a team that would be lucky to make the playoffs even with him in the West — the national narrative will be about Love not caring about winning, about him being selfish, and about how he wasn’t tough enough to stay with a contender. Fair or not, that’s how it will be spun everywhere outside Los Angeles. If Love gives it a couple seasons and then leaves, it’s much easier for him to say “I tried but this just wasn’t a fit.”

• Love may stay by opting in for the final year of his deal (he probably could survive on $16.7 million). Or if he opts out he signs a deal where he has a player option in one or two more years. He will reassess then. Love may well stay a Cavalier beyond that time, but he is going to get paid max money under the new television deal cap, and he’d be a fool not to try and get that extra cash.

• Wojnarowski is as connected as any NBA reporter out there, and if he says something, you have to give it some credence. That said, nobody leaks anything this time of year (to Wojnarowski or anyone else) without a motive. And it’s not hard to imagine motives here that may not always be tied to what Love is thinking.

• Cavaliers management (and fans) should be fearful he leaves — it would be very difficult to replace him of anyone near the same quality. Yes, I know LaMarcus Aldridge’s name comes up, but signing an outright free agent to a max deal while keeping LeBron paid (he can opt out), keeping J.R. Smith, keeping Timofey Mozgov, and re-signing restricted free agent Tristan Thompson (and the list of people to pay is longer) is very financially tricky. Unless you can sell Love on a sign-and-trade to Portland (and good luck with that).

• Late in the season and into the playoffs, Love started to find more of a comfort zone with the Cavaliers. He and LeBron are never going to be tight like LeBron and Wade were, but LeBron did stick up for him. He may not be as eager to bolt as people in other markets want to believe.

• Cavaliers fans gave him a standing ovation in Game 2 when he was shown on the big screen during a timeout. That’s from the Joni Mitchel “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” file.

This is going to be a very interesting summer in Cleveland no matter what Love decides.

Inside the NBA’s Ernie Johnson gives his Emmy to Stuart Scott’s family

2015 Sports Emmy Awards
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Ernie Johnson is the best.

The best host of a sports show on television. You try to keep the conversation flowing with Charles Barkley around. That’s why he won a Sports Emmy on Wednesday night, as the host of a must-watch NBA show.

He’s also one of the best human beings you’ll ever meet — a cancer survivor who has adopted four children with his wife.

That’s why he gave his Emmy to the family of Stuart Scott, the ESPN anchor who died of cancer this year. It was vintage Johnson, classy and handled in the perfect way.

This ended up stealing the show.

PBT Extra: Mike Conley changes series, but Warriors will start to hit shots again

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
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Mike Conley was brilliant. The Grizzlies defense was brilliant — they contested 21 of the Warriors 26 threes. Memphis is going home with a tied series, 1-1. Game 2 went as well for them as they might have hoped.

But I tell Jenna Corrado in this latest PBT Extra to expect the Warriors to bounce back.

Golden State was 7-of-23 on uncontested looks in Game 2, they were rushing and pressing because of the Grizzlies defense. Don’t expect that to happen again. Expect Draymond Green to stay on the court longer, expect Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry to hit more shots, and expect the Warriors we saw during the regular season to return.

Report: Pelicans’ front office people meet with Joe Dumars

Joe Dumars
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UPDATE 8:52 pm: The Pelicans have issued a statement denying that Dumars is about to get an official position with the franchise.

”With so many questions surrounding the end of the successful Pelicans season and now JoeDumars in particular, no job offer or position has been discussed with Joe regarding the Pelicans. He is very close to our organization and our ownership and he has our utmost respect,” team spokesman Greg Bensel said in a released statement.

No reports have said Dumars is near a deal with the team, but it still remains something to watch.

4:48 pm: Most likely next year’s Pelicans’ roster is going to look similar to this year’s. There are a couple potential free agents —Omer Asik is the biggest one — but the Pelicans want to bring the key guys back, then use the mid-level exception to add a veteran. Most of the growth will be internal, and with some system changes.

But there may be changes at the top.

People up the ladder at the Pelicans front office have been meeting with Joe Dumars, possibly for some supervisory role, reports John Reid a the Times-Picayune.

An NBA source said New Orleans Pelicans front-office officials, including vice president/basketball operations Mickey Loomis, met former Detroit Pistons player and executive Joe Dumars at several Saints road games during the 2014 season. The meetings were held to gauge Dumars’ opinion of the Pelicans.

Dumars, a Louisiana native, has close ties to Pelicans officials and is a longtime friend of Loomis and Saints coach Sean Payton.

The Pelicans could be looking to hire Dumars to run the team’s basketball operations department,according to a WDSU report Wednesday. 

The one thing we do know is nothing is imminent, according to multiple reports.

Pelicans GM Dell Demps’ contract expires in one more year, he is considered a lame duck around the league.

There had been rumors that both Demps and coach Monty Williams had been given a “playoffs or else” mandate by management — and the Pelicans made that happen by beating the Spurs on the final night of the season. Still, should one game make a difference? Either you think this team is on the right track, or you think it could be doing better in roster building and using the talent on hand — squeaking into the playoffs by the slimmest of margins shouldn’t change that perception. If you’re going to make changes, that one win shouldn’t alter the path.

The question is, will Dumars be the one deciding the path? Should he be?

Early on as the GM in Detroit Dumars made some fantastic moves — picking up Rasheed Wallace in the middle of the 2004 season and building a very good Pistons team of that era — but by the end the Pistons were a mess under him. He signed Josh Smith to a massive deal, one Stan Van Gundy convinced ownership to eat just to get Smith off the roster and out of town.