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.

Devin Booker to play in Suns’ opener Wednesday

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Devin Booker — the Suns’ newly minted max contract player — had been working hard to recover from off-season hand surgery in time for the opening of the season (the original timeline after surgery had him missing the first week or two of the season).

Looks like he made it, according to coach Igor Kokoskov, via Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic.

Booker is young, 21, and hopefully he just healed quickly. There is no reason to rush Booker back here, the Suns need to approach this season with a long-term view, not thinking win now.

This is going to be an interesting young Suns team with Booker, rookie Deandre Ayton, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Mikal Bridges, and now with some veteran voices in Trevor Ariza and the newly added Jamal Crawford in the locker room. This team is not playoff bound in the West, but nightly they will be improved and not a pushover.

Portland, NBA community react to passing of Paul Allen

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For 30 years, Paul Allen has owned the Portland Trail Blazers. In that time the team made the NBA Finals a couple of times, was a model of consistency making the playoffs 23 times, and providing a city unforgettable memories filled with some of the biggest personalities and best players in the game.

Allen passed away Monday, losing his battle to cancer. He was just 65 years old.

It has led to an outpouring from the entire NBA community, especially around Portland.

“Paul Allen was the ultimate trail blazer – in business, philanthropy and in sports,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “As one of the longest-tenured owners in the NBA, Paul brought a sense of discovery and vision to every league matter large and small.  He was generous with his time on committee work, and his expertise helped lay the foundation for the league’s growth internationally and our embrace of new technologies.  He was a valued voice who challenged assumptions and conventional wisdom and one we will deeply miss as we start a new season without him.  Our condolences go to his family, friends and the entire Trail Blazers organization.”

Russell Westbrook listed as out for season opener vs. Warriors

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No Russell Westbrook. No Andre Roberson. Maybe no Steven Adams.

This is not what the NBA had in mind when they sent Oklahoma City to Golden State for the second game of the NBA’s opening night doubleheader on national television. But, that’s the reality due to injury.

Westbrook had arthroscopic surgery on right knee back on Sept. 12 and it was expected to be re-evaluated around the start of the season. However, with the marathon of the NBA season about to start no way the Thunder were never going to rush him back, national television and the Warriors or not. While it’s less than ideal, getting it dealt with and missing training camp and a few games is better than to risk something worse during the season (or miss a month of the season in a Western Conference where there is little margin for error because of the depth of quality teams).

The Thunder called it “maintenance,” but this is Westbrook’s fourth surgery on that knee, although it’s the first in more than four years. His issues with this knee date back to the 2013 playoffs when Patrick Beverley crashed into it and tore the meniscus.

Westbrook is about to turn 30, has some heavy-usage miles on that body, and just signed a five-year, $205 million contract extension.

Alvin Gentry: Pelicans wouldn’t trade Anthony Davis for anyone – ‘not even Beyonce’

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Pelicans star Anthony Davis said he’s the best player in the NBA.

His coach, Alvin Gentry, agreed then expanded.

Gentry:

If you don’t want to call him the best player, I call him the most valuable. Because if you can trade him for anybody, then he is the most valuable guy. Not that we would ever consider that. Don’t you guys take some kind of spin and put it on top. There is no one in the league that we would trade him for. There is no one out of the league. Not even Beyonce. If we wouldn’t trade him for her, then he’s probably untouchable.

I’d trade Davis for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s also in the MVP race, even younger and locked up an extra season.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden are better, older and locked up for longer than Davis. I’d probably trade Davis for LeBron or Curry, though not Harden.

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum are worse, younger but also locked up for longer than Davis. I probably wouldn’t trade Davis for any of them, though the additional team control makes it worth considering.

Really, Davis is already at the point – as few as two years from unrestricted free agency – trade speculation hits high gear. The possibility of him leaving New Orleans high and dry in 2020 is too great to ignore.

As far as Davis for Beyonce… I guess it depends on your priorities.