Poised Thunder exploit Clippers defense down stretch, take 2-1 series lead

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LOS ANGELES — This was playoff basketball at its most intense (certainly the most intense we’ve seen this second round, anyway). The Clippers and Thunder were battling and it was emotional, chippy, loud, and foul filled. It was a roller coaster.

It didn’t have much defense, but it was fun.

Through that storm the Thunder kept their heads about them. It’s a cliche to say the most poised team wins a close game, but it’s a cliche for a reason.

While the Clippers got frustrated with each other and chirped at officials in the fourth —all of which seemed to impact their defensive rotations and offensive shot selection, their minds elsewhere — the Thunder kept executing. OKC kept trusting players like Caron Butler to make plays (he nailed three threes in the fourth), kept trusting they would win going small, and they played with the confidence they would make the big shots when they needed to. The Clippers were the team pressing, the team still learning to win on this big a stage.

Oklahoma City won the fourth quarter 32-22 and with that become the first team to trail the Clippers after three quarters and come back to win this season, 118-112.

With the win the Thunder take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference semi-finals. Game 4 is Sunday at Staples Center and it is all but a must win for the Clippers.

When asked about the late game poise Kevin Durant talked about the journey and said this year they are way ahead of where they were in years past.

“Just from experience,” Durant said. “You grow from experience. Having been here before, it’s helped us all out. Reggie (Jackson) when Russell (Westbrook) was out, Serge playing in big games, Russell playing in big games, myself. All the way down the line.”

The other thing the Thunder were able to do is play through the physicality better.

As Doc Rivers had said pregame he wanted his team to do, the Clippers came out attacking the rim — they were not going to settle for jumpers. That’s good basketball. But with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins hanging back, the Thunder are long and physical in the paint — and that physicality threw the Clippers off. The Clippers hit just 4-of-12 at the rim to start the game and finished 24-of-47 in the paint (51 percent).

“We didn’t finish a lot at the basket,” Rivers said. “I think they hurt us…. we’re getting to the basket. That’s what you want to do. We missed a lot of shots at the rim, wide open threes.”

Meanwhile the Thunder offense showed balance — when it’s more than just Kevin Durant (36 points) and Russell Westbrook (23 points and 13 assists, 8 rebounds) it means trouble for whomever is in the other jerseys. Friday night Serge Ibaka had 20, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler each had 14 (Butler nailing threes in the fourth quarter to make the Clippers pay for not matching OKC’s small lineup). As a team the Thunder had an offensive rating of 123.8 and a true shooting percentage of 64.6 percent.

“Listen they played well today. They really did,” Rivers said. “I thought offensively we played good, but defensively we didn’t”

“Early I thought we allowed too many easy baskets, you know, dunks, layups” Blake Griffin said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job on the boards.”

After what has been a lackluster start to the second round of the playoffs with a lot of blowouts — and a slog of a first game Friday night between Indiana and Washington — the Clippers and Thunder put on a show. It was entertaining. It was a back and forth game with both teams surviving the run of the other — the lead never got more than 8 either way util the final minute.

The Clippers had their chances. This game was 102-101 Thunder with Chris Paul at the free throw line and five minutes left. But then CP3 missed the free throw, and then Serge Ibaka scored the next four points and quickely the Thunder seemed comfortable again. Then the Clipper made another push and it was 108-107 with two minutes left Thunder when Westbrook it a three, then on the next trip down Durant hit a ridiculous turn-around, 18-foot fade-away three over the wrong shoulder. That was the dagger.

The Clippers got 34 points out of Griffin, 21 points and 16 assists from Chris Paul, and 20 points from Jamal Crawford off the bench.

But they couldn’t just outscore the other team — that other team that has two elite scorers. The Clippers were not the defensive team they know they need to be to contend.

“We’ve been a team that regardless of how we plead the first three quarts, the first part of the fourth quarter, we relied on stops down the stretch,” Paul said. “Tonight we didn’t do that.”

They have until Sunday to figure out how to get those stops or they will be free to set golf tee times very soon.

Watch LeBron James give game-worn shoes to emotional Grizzlies equipment manager

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Brian’e Miller is an assistant equipment manager for the Memphis Grizzlies. A longtime LeBron James fan, Miller wears The King’s signature shoes during each workday, a particularly fun pastime when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town as they did on Saturday night.

James and Co. took care of the Grizzlies, 111-88, but the shoe habits of the 23-year-old Miller were not lost on LeBron. During the game, video was captured from the stands of James giving Miller his game-worn shoes. Miller, naturally emotional about the interaction, gave James a hug and could be seen pushing back tears.

It was touching to see.

Via Twitter:

Miller told the Commercial Appeal that she had been a fan of LeBron for years.

“It’s emotional because so many years I’ve been idolizing him,” said Miller. “He has so many fans. That’s the thing. I’m not a fan just when LeBron comes. I’m a fan when he’s not looking, so it was just really cool to see him appreciate me.”

One of the things that has let the NBA become the league of LeBron is just how accessible he’s seemed over his tenure. While some players don’t have the personality or the temperament to be a global star, James has that “it” quality, particularly after his first championship with the Miami Heat.

That’s why when video was captured of James giving his game-worn shoes to Miller on Saturday, it felt wholly in-character.

James was asked about the interaction after the game, and he responded by saying that he had noticed Miller’s dedication to his shoe line for a while.

Via Twitter:

It’s easy to feel cynical when it comes to sports, especially in the face of the overcommercialisation of pro athletes. Hell, this story is about giving and receiving shoes. But the connection Miller felt to James, and that he decided to respond and recognize that is a human thing more than anything. Good for him.

Matthew Dellavedova receives standing ovation in return to Cleveland (VIDEO)

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CLEVELAND (AP) Matthew Dellavedova‘s return to his first NBA home is off to a good start before playing in a game.

Dellavedova, dressed in street clothes, was greeted by security guards and arena employees, and received a standing ovation from the crowd when he returned to Cleveland on Saturday night.

“I appreciate the love from everyone,” he said. “It makes me feel very welcome.”

 

Cleveland acquired Dellavedova in a three-team trade Friday with the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. He began his career with the Cavaliers in 2014 and was a key member of the 2016 title team before he signed with the Bucks later that summer.

Dellavedova watched Saturday night’s game against the Wizards from the bench. The Cavaliers showed a video of him playing in the Finals from the championship season, which led to a long ovation from the crowd.

Known to Cleveland fans as “Delly,” Dellavedova became an instant hit with Quicken Loans Arena crowds, who immediately liked his gritty style of play. The trade received positive reaction from fans on social media.

“It makes me feel great,” he said. “My time here was really special and I loved every minute of it. It makes me excited to get back out there and play for everyone in this city because it’s a special place.”

Dellavedova could play Monday when Cleveland is in Milwaukee, where he learned of the trade.

“Obviously you don’t expect to pick and move, but it’s the NBA so it could always happen,” he said. “If it was going to be anywhere I’m definitely glad it’s here where I’m comfortable with familiar faces and a lot of friends. ”

The 28-year-old Dellavedova averaged 1.7 points and 2.4 assists in 12 games with Milwaukee.

Cleveland is 5-20 and rebuilding following LeBron James‘ departure last summer. The Cavaliers also received forward John Henson and 2021 first- and second-round picks from Milwaukee, and a 2022 second-rounder from Washington.

Henson also arrived in town Saturday and quickly learned how popular Dellavedova is, calling his teammate a “folk hero” in Cleveland.

“I’ll just be in Delly’s shadow,” Henson said. “Don’t forget about me.”

Cavaliers coach Larry Drew believes Dellavedova will help the development of rookie point guard Collin Sexton.

“It will be really, really good for Collin,” Drew said. “Delly is one of those guys when you watch him play, he doesn’t woo you the way he plays, he just gets the job done.”

The Cavs sent guard George Hill and a 2021 second-round selection to the Bucks, and forward Sam Dekker to the Wizards. Milwaukee also got forward Jason Smith from Washington.

For more AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chris Paul politely tries to get reporter off the court before game starts (VIDEO)

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Dallas Mavericks’ sideline reporter Dana Larson was where she felt she was supposed to be: On the sidelines.

However, with the game about start, Chris Paul was trying — politely — to urge her to step off the court.

The best part of this video may be what’s happening in the background.

First, watch DeAndre Jordan doing a pirouette for some reason as he steps onto the court.

Then at the end, there’s James Harden, bouncing back-and-forth like a boxer waiting in the corner for the bell to ring. Or a jogger at the corner waiting for the light to turn so he can keep running.

If you thought the pregame for Dallas vs. Houston was fun, you should check out the final three minutes of the game.

John Wall tries to play through bone spur in heel, scores career low 1 point in loss

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Just when you thought “maybe these Wizards are turning the corner,” having won three straight and going up against the lowly Cavaliers next…

Then John Wall scored one point on 0-of-5 shooting, moved gingerly around the court, got torched by rookie Collin Sexton, and Cleveland easily handled Washington 116-101. After the game Wall explained that he is injured with a bone spur in his heel and probably shouldn’t have played.

The Wizards are now 11-15 on the season and would be out of the playoffs if they started today (but because the bottom of the East is so sad, they are only a game out of the eight seed).

Is Wall going to miss some time with this bone spur? One would think so, but players never want to sit and Wall would not concede he needs time off.