Monday NBA grades: Tyreke Evans has found the beat in New Orleans

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while watching the Mad Men season 7 trailer…. 

source:   Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans. When the roster was full and they asked him to come off the bench earlier this season, Evans struggled to find a comfort level with the Pelicans. It wasn’t pretty But with the roster thinned by injury and him moved into a starting role he has looked good. Against the Nets he had a ridiculous line of 33 points on 19 shots, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Yes, he also turned the ball over 7 times, but we’ll forgive that. What the Pelicans learned over this long season is that Evans is better in the starting role for them than Eric Gordon.

source:   LeBron James, Miami Heat. At this point in the season this is the LeBron James Miami needs just about every night. Especially on nights like this web the Dwyane Wade is on the knee maintenance program. The normal “pass first and let the game come to me” LeBron start was gone as he had 15 first half shots. He finished the night with 32 points on 23 shots. LeBron had a couple late turnovers (one of them an offensive foul trying to drive on Damian Lillard) but made up for it with this.

source:   Indiana Pacers offense. Yes, the Chicago Bulls defense is very good (and with the win Chicago moves into a virtual tie for the three seed). However, if you fancy yourself a contender who wants to play grinding, defensive basketball then you have to score in the half court. Indiana cannot. Paul George was 8-of-22 and played without purpose. Roy Hibbert was 0-of-5 and just took up space. David West was 4-of-12 shooting. Lance Stephenson was 3-of-9 and didn’t record one assists. The only good thing in the Pacers future is that they also will get the first round of the playoffs to figure out what is wrong.

source:  Austin Daye, San Antonio Spurs. Nobody saw this breakout coming — he had 22 points and 6 boards, he was knocking down open looks, he played within himself, and it is the second game in a row he has looked good. In Toronto this season Daye was 0-of-8 from three, in San Antonio he is 8-of-12. So, to recap, the Spurs picked up another guy no other team knew what to do with and have him looking good in their system. Shocking. Daye will probably have a big playoff game or two.

source:  Philadelphia 76ers. Ugh. That’s 25 straight losses. The NBA record is 26 and they can equal it Thursday night against the Rockets. They pretty much will. And then Sixers fans will rejoice as they are all on board with the tanking.

source:  Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons. This is what everyone hoped the future would look like in Detroit (in the pre Josh Smith era). Drummond was a beast inside on offense and finished with 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting plus had 14 boards. Monroe finished inside, knocked down midrange jumpers and ended the night with 18 points and 11 boards. When those two are paired there are defensive issues, but there is potential.

Will Chris Paul play in Game 7?

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The way Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were shooting it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Game 6, but the Houston Rockets missed Chris Paul. They missed his steadying influence on offense, and maybe more importantly they missed his defense — Curry was directing the offense, creating space with his handles then finding people cutting off the ball and draining threes. Paul may have been able to help keep Curry in relative check.

Which all leads to this big question: Will Paul suit up and play in Game 7?

Doesn’t sound like it.

I would describe the mood of sources I spoke to on this issues as pessimistic on CP3’s chances of play.

If Paul can at all go, he will. Three years ago Paul played through a hamstring injury to lead the Clippers past the Spurs, he’ll want to do it again.

This is different. For one thing, Paul is older now, his body will not bounce back the same way. Also, there are risks in playing him — if he is at all limited with his movement the Warriors will target him with Curry and Klay Thompson, try to get CP3 moving laterally and exploiting him. If he’s not right, Mike D’Antoni needs to have him on a short leash.

But if he can go, D’Antoni will let him try.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.