Clippers dominate the glass, dominate the Grizzlies in Game 1 victory

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LOS ANGELES — The Grizzlies finished the regular season second in the league in rebounding differential, but you wouldn’t know it sorting through the wreckage of their 112-91 loss to the Clippers to open the playoffs on Saturday.

It’s normally Memphis who bullies opponents on the glass and gets plenty of second chance opportunities, but in Game 1 the boards were completely dominated by Los Angeles.

The Clippers outrebounded the Grizzlies 47-23 in total, and 14-4 on the offensive end of the floor which translated into a 25-5 advantage in second chance points.

“Very surprised,” Lionel Hollins said about the rebounding disparity afterward. “But I’ve been saying it when we’ve played them before, they’ve gotten more rebounds than they should. Their wing people come in and get offensive rebounds. … But what’s more surprising is that our two big people had six between them, and no offensive rebounds.”

“Just one of those games,” Vinny Del Negro said. “Obviously it was a big focal point as always, and we were just fortunate the ball bounced our way a little bit. I thought our guards got in there, if you look at the numbers, and did a good job off the bench for us. But it’s everybody. It’s team rebounding. [Blake Griffin] and [DeAndre Jordan] maybe don’t get as many rebounds, but their job is to take those other guys off and our guards did a good job of getting those long rebounds.”

The rebounds were a big part of the story, but there were other components that were worrisome for the Grizzlies.

A slow start didn’t help, where Memphis shot just 38.1 percent from the field in the first quarter while allowing the Clippers to shoot 55.6 percent. Foul trouble was an issue, as both Mike Conley and Zach Randolph were saddled with two fouls apiece before the opening frame was through.

The Grizzlies got a boost off the bench from Jerryd Bayless, who helped bring his team back in both the second and third periods where he scored 14 of his 19 points in 16 minutes off the bench during that span.

But the Clippers’ bench was fantastic, with L.A.’s reserves finishing the game with as many rebounds (23) as the entire Grizzlies team. Chris Paul knows that’s been his team’s identity all season long, so when asked about the production his team got from the bench unit, he wasn’t exactly surprised.

“Yeah, we’re used to that,” he said.

Eric Bledsoe’s night was particularly special, as he poured in 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting, to go along with six big rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. For the record, Bledsoe is listed at 6’1″, and had as many rebounds as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol did combined, and the Grizzlies’ two bigs logged a total of 65 minutes between them.

“Bled is that blur,” Paul said of his teammate’s strong performance. “He runs probably faster than me and Chauncey put together. Me and Chauncey are a little more crafty and different things like that, and I think it gave us versatility. They didn’t know who to guard. I think it was something different and it worked for us.”

Memphis didn’t get blown out until the very end, and continued to battle back every time the Clippers stretched their lead. The Grizzlies pulled to within one with just over 10 minutes remaining, but that’s when the wheels fell off, and the Clippers responded with a 15-2 run over the next five-plus minutes to put the game out of reach.

Hollins tried to explain the run that decided the game.

“The whole game was about mental mistakes and not all-out effort all night long and we didn’t play that well, but we were right there,” he said. “We made a mistake, we gave up a three, we came right back and fouled somebody, and now they’re up seven, and then it keeps steamrolling. We tried to call timeout, tried to get some different personnel in there, and it got out of hand.”

Those are the types of droughts that Memphis absolutely can’t afford against this Clippers team.

The good news from the Grizzlies’ perspective is that they were right there in the fourth, despite the rebounding woes and the Clippers’ bench production. They’ll need to get their effort and execution in blocking out the Clippers’ guards and wings together for Game 2, which should be doable based on their successful statistics in that category over the course of the 82-game season.

Both Gasol and Conley said the exact same thing during their separate postgame interviews when summing up this game’s biggest problem, and how it ultimately affected the end result.

“If we can win the rebound battle, we have a chance to win,” they said.

In Game 1, that was much easier said than done.

Take 2: Collin Sexton to wear Kyrie Irving’s jersey number with Cavaliers

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Collin Sexton endeared himself to the Cavaliers with his competitive streak, speed and attitude long before they picked him in the NBA draft.

His jersey number showed them something else: He’s fearless.

Sexton made quite a first impression by deciding to take No. 2, his college number but also the one previously worn in Cleveland by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. After showing off his jersey at a news conference Friday, Sexton said he doesn’t feel pressure to live up to Irving’s high standards.

“Not at all,” he said. “Coming in, I’m going to set goals for myself and then as well there’s going to be team goals set. But I feel like I’m not going to have to live up to anybody’s shoes, but I’m going to come in and learn and be the best player I can be on the court as well as off the court.”

Some Cleveland fans feel No. 2 should be retired. After all, Irving made the biggest shot in franchise history in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals before asking to be traded last summer to escape the daunting shadow cast by LeBron James.

Maybe one day No. 2 will hang in the rafters. For now, it belongs to Sexton.

With an eye toward rebuilding – and maybe persuading James to re-sign this summer – the Cavs selected Sexton, the lightning-quick Alabama point guard, on Thursday night with the No. 8 overall pick. As a freshman, the 19-year-old Sexton carried the Crimson Tide to the NCAA Tournament, for a brief time giving the school’s rabid football fans a late-winter diversion before coach Nick Saban blew his whistle in spring practice.

The Cavs believe Sexton, who earned his “Young Bull” nickname in high school for his charge-ahead playing style, can help them finally offset the loss of Irving. Without him, Cleveland lacked a dependable second-scoring option for James; the club spent the entire season with a virtual revolving door at the position as coach Tyronn Lue started eight point guards.

Irving’s absence was never felt more than in the Finals as the Golden State Warriors only had to concentrate on James. The Cavs didn’t have another player capable of breaking down their defense.

Sexton gives Cleveland a new weapon.

He’s in good hands. At Alabama, Sexton played for former NBA guard Avery Johnson, and he’s being passed to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, a 14-year pro looking forward to developing the youngster.

“I’ve watched him play,” Lue said. “I understand who he is as a player and as a person, talked to his parents a lot throughout the course of his college selection, so I know them very well. I’m just excited, man. To be able to have a young talent that I can help mold and build and make better and teach him what suit to wear, what shoes to wear with a suit, how to tie a tie, when you go to dinner, things like that that Bryan Shaw and Robert Horry and Ron Harper and those guys taught me, so I’m very excited about that.”

Sexton wowed the Cavs during his personal workout, which came one day after Cleveland was swept by the Warriors. He attended Game 4, and as he witnessed James, Kevin Durant and others competing at the highest level the game offers, Sexton could imagine one day being part of the action.

“Like the seats were shaking,” he said. “Fans were screaming. Just I feel like I’ll be ready to play in something like that when it’s my time.”

Sexton smiled throughout his introductory news conference, which came following a nearly sleepless night in New York. And while he came across as easygoing and affable, there’s a darker side to Sexton.

On the floor, he’s ferocious.

“When you get between those lines, there’s no friends,” he said. “When you get between those lines it’s us against them, and we’re trying to win. It’s like a switch that cuts on. It’s go time when you get on the court.”

Celtics’ draftee Robert Williams overslept introductory conference call

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For a guy who slid way down the draft board due to serious concerns about his motor and work ethic, this is not the start Robert Williams wanted with the Celtics.

The Texas A&M center was selected 27th by Boston, but he chose not to go to New York for the draft itself and stayed home in Louisiana to watch it with family. They apparently had a good time, because his introductory conference call with the media started an hour late on Friday, and Williams admitted he overslept.

From Chris Forsberg at ESPN:

“Right after the draft, I actually ran to my aunt’s house and went to sleep because I was so tired from everything,” Williams said Friday afternoon in a call that took place an hour later than originally scheduled. “When I woke up, my sister woke me up, she said, ‘You have a conference call.'”

Williams later noted that it was, “a good night’s sleep after a busy two days.”

The Celtics blamed this on a miscommunication and the one-hour time difference between Boston and Louisiana. They let it slide.

Williams could be the steal of the draft. Could be — if those he can prove all those concerns about his motor and effort level to be false.

Williams has the skills to be an elite NBA defender, and despite his up-and-down efforts in college he was a defensive and rebounding force. His NBA game is going to be as a rim and paint protector on one end and a rim runner finishing alley-oops on the other. Think DeAndre Jordan style of big. The difference: thanks to a lot of work by Jordan (and some smart coaching by Doc Rivers to restore his confidence) Jordan fulfilled his potential. Can Boston get that out of Williams? Will Williams himself to work?

If they do, this is a steal for the Celtics.

If not, well, missing on the No. 27 pick in the draft is not going to set back their contender arc.

Cavaliers GM on LeBron James: ‘We want to respect his space’ during contract decision

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — With one deadline looming on his future in Cleveland, LeBron James has been in contact with the Cavaliers through his representatives.

Following the NBA draft on Thursday night, Cavs general manager Koby Altman said he has had positive discussions with the three-time champion’s group. James has until June 29 to tell the team if he will pick up his $35.6 million option for next season or become a free agent.

“We continue to have good dialogue with his management team,” Altman said. “I think LeBron has more than earned the right to approach his contracts the way he does. He’s done that before, so this is nothing new for us. We want to respect his space during this process and I continue to have really good dialogue with his management team as he goes through that process.

“That’s probably all I can say at this point regarding him, but we don’t take him for granted. We love him, this city loves him. He means the world to us and this franchise.”

James led the Cavs to their fourth straight NBA Finals this season, carrying a team that endured injuries and a roster overhaul at the trading deadline. Cleveland was swept by the Golden State Warriors, and following Game 4 the 33-year-old said he would weight family concerns and his desire to win more titles into his decision.

James has signed several short-term contracts since returning to the Cavs in 2014 after spending four seasons with Miami. After the Cavs won the championship in 2016, James signed a two-year contract with an option for this season.

The Cavs can offer him a five-year, $209 million deal this time. It’s possible James could choose to sign a one-year deal again with a player option and go through the free-agency dance again next summer.

To look more appealing to James, the Cavs need to upgrade their roster and they took a significant step by selecting Alabama point guard Collin Sexton with the No. 8 overall pick. Sexton averaged 19.2 points as a freshman and he addresses the club’s biggest need – a playmaker to fill the void left when the Cavs traded All-Star Kyrie Irving last summer.

Altman hopes Sexton’s arrival will make the Cavs more attractive to James.

The 19-year-old lacks professional experience, but Altman pointed out that James dealt with that issue this season.

“He went through it this year a little bit with some of our young guys, especially in the playoffs,” Altman said. “What’s amazing, he talks about this all the time – the best teacher is experience. And our young guys got some really good experience this year. And while it wasn’t consistent throughout the playoffs, each guy had their moments. And we went through two Game 7s and got to a Finals, and that experience is a huge teacher for those guys.

“So that experience is amazing for them and their confidence level as they approach next year. And then Collin, we got to get there with experience as well. But like he (James) says, experience is the best teacher, and we gave those guys a great experience over 30 games and into the playoffs and into the Finals, and what does that mean for us moving forward, I think it’s all really positive.”

Report: Lakers tell LiAngelo Ball he will not be invited to Summer League team

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LiAngelo Ball was never going to get drafted Thursday night. He simply is not that good (something I heard from every scout I talked to that saw him play).

He did get invited to work out for some teams before the draft (including the Warriors and Lakers). Impress there and the next step is an invite to play on a Summer League team. I don’t know if the middle Ball son impressed enough in workouts to earn an invite, but I do know he had an extra hurdle to climb — and a big one to most teams — because organizations do not want to deal with LaVar Ball and that circus.

That includes the Lakers, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

It will be interesting to see if another team is willing to give LiAngelo Ball a roster spot in Las Vegas. I would be shocked if a G-League team or two does not make him an offer for next season — for them, the marketing and publicity would be worth the hassle. How well he plays is secondary.

If a player is as talented and has the potential of Lonzo Ball, teams will put up with a lot. The Lakers organization has its frustrations with LaVar (to put it kindly), but they like Lonzo and what he could become (the team just played better with him on the court last season). Yes, Lonzo has trade value, too, but they’re not opposed to keeping him, depending upon how this summer shakes out. They can ignore the dad for him.

LiAngelo simply isn’t the level of talent where teams will tolerate the circus around him.

The big question for me is LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers, who was considered a top prospect for colleges a couple of years ago (and had committed to UCLA). How has being pulled out of his high school and playing low-level European competition in exhibitions in Lithuania impacted his standing? Something to watch over the next few years.

Just know LaVar Ball is never giving up the dream.