The other Clipper keys: DeAndre Jordan and Baron Davis

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Blake Griffin is a walking highlight factory. And not just for his dunks anymore, people are figuring out he can play the game.

Eric Gordon has become the outside to Griffin’s inside for the Clippers. He’s the guy knocking down key threes — just like he did for Team USA when they were winning the gold at the FIBA World Championships. He is big time.

They are the face of the Clippers resurgence and return to relevance. They are the national media darlings.

But two other Clippers deserve to be mentioned as a central of what is going on — center DeAndre Jordan and guard Baron Davis. Without them, Gordon and Griffin would be the stars of a team still losing nightly, not winning 10 of 14.

For the first half of last season, center Chris Kaman was the guy the Clippers ran their offense through (and he rode that to the All-Star Game). Jordan was his amazingly athletic but wildly inconsistent backup.

With Kaman out this season due to a severely sprained ankle, Jordan has been thrust into the starting lineup — and he has developed into a defensive force. After the Clippers beat the Heat recently, Miami coach Eric Spoelstra as well as several players continually used Jordan’s name next to Griffin’s, saying the Clippers had the most athletic front line in the league and it was hard to deal with. Phil Jackson singled Jordan out as the reason the Clippers were playing so well when those two teams met last Sunday.

The Clippers players have seen the growth in Jordan also, as they told the Los Angeles Times.

“Oh man, [Jordan] is the reason why we’ve been such a hot team,” Davis said. “A lot of the things he’s able to do on the defensive end allows us to be a great defensive team. That 41%, our field-goal percentage, that credit goes to him. He’s our anchor.

“For a young guy, 22 years old, to be able to be back there and anchor that defense, it is amazing to see his growth and his progress. Just that confidence we have in him.”

Davis himself is the other key.

Everybody has known Davis can flat out ball. Everyone remembers when he led the Golden State Warriors to a first-round upset of the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. Everyone remembers the streaks of brilliance through his career.

But those streaks have been surrounded by much longer stretches of disappointment, particularly in recent years. Questions of motivation and conditioning — which has led to a long string of injuries — had turned Davis into a non-factor in Los Angeles. One that owner Donald Sterling loved to taunt from the front row.

Those things have changed. Right now, Davis passes the eyeball test — when talking to him with other media after a recent Clippers game my initial thought was I couldn’t remember the last time he looked this thin. He is fit right now as he worked out while down with an injury earlier in the year (he also said he started getting in shape for the season earlier than his traditional August start date, realizing his body is getting older).

And he is motivated. Credit the energy Griffin and Gordon bring to the team, credit Davis’ maturity, credit Zeus, it doesn’t matter. The fact is Davis is motivated and giving the Clippers fantastic point guard play. Gone are the pull-up three pointers with 18 seconds left on the clock and the pounding out the clock dribbling with nothing happening. Right now he is driving into the lane, creating, setting up teammates.

In his last 10 games Davis is averaging 14.6 points on 45.7 percent shooting, plus 8.4 dimes per game. He is again a guy that must be accounted for in game planning. He is again disruptive, and that is opening up lanes for Griffin to dunk.

The next months will be the real test for the Clippers — their friendly schedule (they have not left California in nearly a month) will end when they have to head out on the road for 11 straight on the annual Grammys road trip. Teams are not looking past them any more — if for no other reason than they don’t want to end up in a Griffin SportsCenter highlight.

But those teams better watch out for Jordan and Davis, too. They are helping drive this train.

PBT Extra: NBA Mock Draft Top 10

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DeAndre Ayton is going to go No. 1 in the upcoming NBA Draft. After that, things get interesting: Will the Kings take European sensation Luka Doncic, or are they tempted by the scoring potential of Marvin Bagley III. Where does Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson fit into all of this?

Recently, myself and College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster sat down and did an NBA Mock Draft. This is our Top 10.

We have Ayton going first to Phoenix. Yes, the new Suns’ coach Igor Kokoskov is the Serbian national team coach and knows Doncic well, but Ayton is more likely to be a franchise-changing player, and no GM can afford to leave that kind of player on the table.

We have the Kings’ taking Doncic second, although that is no guarantee. The Kings need help everywhere but the guard spots, and Doncic as a playmaking three makes sense, but then so would Bagley as a big who can score (the bigs the Kings have drafted have not panned out as hoped). That has us sending Bagley to the Hawks at three, but Jackson and Mohamed Bamba could be in play.

Check out the video above to see our mock draft Top 10.

You can see the entire first round picks here.

And if you really want to nerd out on the draft, Dauster and I did a two-hour, two-part podcast where we made these mock draft picks. Check them out.

Al Horford had to tell Aron Baynes to take the ball to the basket (VIDEO)

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Boston’s Aron Baynes has seen his minutes increase the past couple of games of the Eastern Conference Finals as Brad Stevens tries to match up better with Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson.

Baynes is a solid big man who can step out and hit a three, but he’s not exactly blessed with the offensive gene — he’s no natural scorer. Sometimes it’s not even clear he knows where the basket is.

Such as on this fourth quarter play from Monday night, where Al Horford has to point Baynes to the rim and tell him to go there.

It worked. This time.

Baynes, Horford and the Celtics made things interesting in the second half, but could not overcome their early deficits and lost Game 4 to the Cavaliers 111-102, tying the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.

Fast start, LeBron James enough for Cavaliers to hold on to win, even series

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For the first time in 11 days, we had an NBA playoff game that finished with a single-digit margin. Barely.

It didn’t look like it would be early — Boston missed lay-ups and dunks all through the first quarter, LeBron James was being LeBron James, and the Cavaliers had a 16 point first quarter lead. It was 15 at the half.

But these Celtics would not go quietly.

Boston started to find it’s offensive groove — hunting Kevin Love incessantly — but in the end couldn’t get enough stops because, well, LeBron James. He finished with 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting, his sixth 40-point game of these playoffs. He got wherever he wanted on the floor all night, carving up the top-ranked regular season defense of the Celtics like a surgeon. No other Cavalier had more than 14 points (Kyle Korver), but the supporting cast played enough defensive and made hustle plays to hang on.

@realtristan13 with the swat and @kingjames with the finish!

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Cleveland got the win, 111-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

What Celtics fans can feel good about is their team’s resilience and grit. Down big for the second-straight game on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought back from as much as 19 down earlier in the game to get it to single digits and make the fans in Quicken Loan Arena nervous in the fourth quarter. That is something the team can carry over to Game 5, as they can some defensive tweaks that shut down opportunities for Korver and the rest of the supporing cast.

What should bother Celtics fans was another night where they struggled to generate offense in the face of more intense defensive pressure.

That came from the opening tip, with the Celtics missing a few layups and a couple of Jaylen Brown dunk attempts — all of which allowed the Cavs to get early offenses and mismatches going the other way. Those missed shots fueled a 10-0 Cavaliers run that had Cleveland up 19-10 early. The Celtics shot 3-of-10 at the rim in the first quarter, shot 26 percent overall, and trailed 34-18 after one.

The second quarter saw the Celtics start to find their offense — they scored 35 points on 50 percent shooting — but they only gained one point on the Cavaliers lead because Boston couldn’t get stops. LeBron had 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half to pace a Cleveland team that shot 61.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-11 threes. That’s why the Cavs were up 68-53 at the half.

The Celtics energy was better than Game 2, but in the first half they looked like a young team, one that made a lot of mistakes.

In the second half, the Celtics started to figure things out — they started making the extra pass, they got stops for stretches, they looked more like a young team finding their footing on a big stage on the road. They finished the night with 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier had 16 points and 11 assists.

They just couldn’t completely close the gap because they couldn’t get consistent stops — the Cavaliers shot 60 percent as a team for the game, and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 59.6. Cleveland mercilessly hunted Rozier on switches — forcing him on to LeBron or Kevin Love then attacking — and the Cavs got enough from their role players. Tristan Thompson did what he needed to bringing energy in the paint and some defense, plus he had 13 points. Korver was diving on the floor for loose balls. Larry Nance Jr. had his second good game in a row. George Hill had 13 points.

And whenever the Cavaliers needed a play, they had LeBron to turn to. He set another NBA record on Monday night, most playoff field goals made for a career.

LeBron is what needs to worry Boston most of all. The Celtics will be better at home in Game 5 — they have not lost in TD Garden all postseason — but if this thing goes seven, it’s a dangerous thing when the other team has the best player on the planet.

LeBron James passes Kareem to become all-time leader in playoff made field goals

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LeBron James is already the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, having passed Michael Jordan last postseason.

However, LeBron racked up his buckets in the era of the three-point shot (as did Jordan, to a lesser extent), so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the all-time leader in field goals made in the postseason. A lot of them beautiful skyhooks that still give Celtics fans nightmares.

Monday night, LeBron made history passing Abdul-Jabar for the top spot in NBA playoff made field goals.

Just add that to the already insane resume.