Clippers come from 16 down in the 4th quarter to take Game 4 from Thunder

29 Comments

LOS ANGELES — The Thunder jumped on the Clippers early in Sunday’s Game 4 matchup, and were out to a lead of as many as 22 points before nine minutes of game time had elapsed. They withstood runs that had L.A. within four in the second quarter, and back within eight late in the third after the lead had ballooned up to 15 once again.

In the fourth, Oklahoma City appeared destined to cruise to victory, leading by 16 points with under nine minutes remaining, with no sign that the Clippers would be able to figure things out in time to rally and avoid a three games to one deficit that would have all but sealed their fate in the series.

But the home team’s desperation paid off. L.A. used some small lineups as a last-ditch effort, switched Chris Paul onto Kevin Durant defensively, and got an incredible performance on both ends of the floor from reserve Darren Collison to put together an improbable comeback, and steal a 101-99 victory that evened the series at two games apiece.

“That’s desperate coaching,” Doc Rivers said afterward. “Yesterday as a staff we said Durant was beating us with his dribble. If you put a guard on him, you could make him more of a post-up player.”

The strategy worked to perfection in terms of disrupting the Thunder’s fourth quarter offense, which became stagnant at the worst possible time. There was too much Russell Westbrook, who was 4-of-10 shooting in the period, and when Durant did get the ball, often times he was trying to post up the much smaller Paul at the elbow, which created disastrous results.

That decision allowed L.A. to swarm Durant with double teams, usually with the speedy Collison coming over to help create chaos. Durant turned it over three times in the fourth, and the Clippers had 12 fast break points over the final 12 minutes — a huge reason for their success. In fact, 12 of L.A.’s 14 fourth quarter field goals came right at the rim, and many of them were uncontested.

Durant was in no mood to credit Paul for the defensive job he did in the fourth after such a disappointing loss, but there was some truth to his words that went beyond the clearly bitter taste in his mouth.

When asked what changed in the fourth after he was able to score 30 points through the first three periods on mostly good looks, Durant said simply: “Nothing. I scored in the fourth.”

He did indeed — 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, to give him 40 for the game.

And when asked specifically to detail the challenge Paul presents defensively?

“He doesn’t,” Durant said matter-of-factly. “It’s not a one-on-one. When I catch the ball, they sent in a double team. When they sent the double team, they did a good job of crowding me and making me get rid of the ball. When it’s one on one, I got the advantage.”

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks had few answers postgame, saying only that he’d look at the film and make some adjustments, while commenting more than once on the game’s physicality. Rivers confirmed it’s not something the Clippers can do a lot of in the future and expect the same amount of success.

“Situational,” he said of matching up Paul on Durant defensively. “We do like it because of CP’s hands, he’s pretty strong. But I don’t like it because then you’re taking a lot out of CP. That’s not a matchup we are going to live with, I can tell you that.”

The part about not wearing down Paul is critical, because when things were at their darkest in this one, he’s the one who fought more than once to drag his team back. In the fourth, he scored six straight points to cut a lead that was then 12 to just six with 6:13 to play, before Collison took it from there offensively, scoring nine of his 12 points in the period from that point forward to continue the comeback, and help close the game out.

“Darren Collison was amazing today,” Paul said afterward. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship with somebody like I have with D.C. because we both push each other and motivate each other. Maybe because I was a rookie with him in New Orleans. You just got to love a guy like that who plays with so much heart and never gives up. Game ball goes to Darren Collison.”

Collison was huge down the stretch, but the Clippers wouldn’t have gotten to the point where they had a chance at the comeback if it wasn’t for Paul’s grit, on both ends of the floor, that was present in just about all of the 45 minutes on the court. He finished with 23 points and 10 assists, to go along with five rebounds and four steals, while turning the ball over just once.

The Clippers stole this game from their opponent, and they know it; the desperation on the part of Rivers, Paul and Collison on their home floor ended up being enough to pull this one out. It’s not a scenario that’s repeatable for L.A., especially against a Thunder team that’s proven capable of generating big leads against the Clippers, and holding them for extended stretches.

Now with the series tied heading back to Oklahoma City, Rivers knows his guys can’t afford to get off to another slow start, and will need to match the intensity of an angry Thunder team from the jump in order to have a shot.

“They’re seething right now,” Rivers said. “They had an opportunity to go up 3-1 and now it’s an even series. We were almost on the mat and we got off of it. We didn’t get pinned. We’re back up and now we’re all even.”

Report: Jazz confident they could have signed Kyle Lowry last year, but waited for Gordon Hayward instead

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Leave a comment

Entering 2017 free agency, rumors swirled Kyle Lowry would leave the Raptors. He ultimately re-signed with Toronto, but maybe that was only due to the timing of Gordon Hayward‘s decision to leave the Jazz for the Celtics.

Andy Larsen and Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune:

according to multiple Tribune sources, the Jazz spoke extensively to Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry’s representatives about bringing the All-Star point guard to Utah. After those discussions, the Jazz felt confident about their ability to land Lowry, but chose to pull out of any potential deal because signing Lowry would have required cap space earmarked for the Hayward

Lowry would have been huge for the Jazz, who instead traded for Ricky Rubio to start at point guard. Utah still won 48 games and a playoff series last season, but the team would have been even better off with Lowry.

Perhaps, Lowry wouldn’t have signed with the Jazz. Just because they felt confident means only so much. They might have misread his actual thoughts. At minimum, Lowry wasn’t willing to wait on Utah.

Lowry agreed to re-sign with Toronto on July 2. Hayward, after a twisting saga, announced his choice of Boston on July 4.

If Lowry were truly willing to commit to the Jazz, they erred by not accepting his pledge. Maybe that was a reasonable strategy, but it was still an error. Waiting on Hayward proved to be a mistake.

In Utah, many will blame Hayward for stringing along the Jazz. But he was a free agent with a right to decide on his own timeline. I believe he had legitimate desire to return to the Jazz. He just had greater desire to join the Celtics.

If the Jazz were completely on top of their game, they would have had a better read on Hayward’s decision and locked in Lowry rather than spending time recruiting Hayward. Again, maybe that would have been unreasonably difficult to know without hindsight. But that would have been the optimal way to proceed.

Draymond Green addresses argument with Kevin Durant: ‘I’m not going to change who I am’

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
7 Comments

Warriors forward Draymond Green knows the perceived significance of his argument with teammate Kevin Durant.

“I’ve read a lot about how, is this the end of the run? Or is it over? Or did I ruin it? Or did I force Kevin to leave?” Green said.

But don’t expect Green to bend amid those high stakes.

“I’m not going to change who I am,” Green said.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Green is correct: His emotional, stubborn, feisty style has led to more good than bad both for himself and Golden State. Reigning that in could have adverse effects.

But there’s still room for personal growth. Green can handle some situations, including this one, better without losing his edge. Every level of the organization agreed.

Blake Griffin calls out Raptors president Masai Ujiri while praising Dwane Casey

3 Comments

Dwane Casey reportedly holds a grudge toward Raptors president Masai Ujiri for firing him.

Casey got revenge last night, coaching the Pistons to a win at Toronto. Casey called two quality plays in the final seconds, the latter producing Reggie Bullock‘s game-winner.

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

A Toronto reporter asked Blake Griffin if it gives Pistons players a degree of confidence in their coach when he gives them those tools to win games.

“We know that. This isn’t like we just discovered this for the first time today,” he said. “We’ve put in plays like that all the time in practice. He demands execution and we executed. Maybe to Toronto fans – or certainly their GM, maybe – it was a surprise. But not to us.”

The win had to be gratifying for Casey. Having his star player take up his greater cause must even more satisfying.

Jazz have one of worst offensive showings ever, score 68 in 50-point loss to Mavericks

AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth
2 Comments

NBA scoring is exploding. Defenses are getting less leeway for physicality. Offenses are more efficient than ever. Pace is at its highest mark in decades.

Except for the Jazz last night.

Utah scored just 68 points in a 50-point loss to the Mavericks. And even that undersells the Jazz’s offensive woes. They played reasonably fast, getting 101 possessions. Their offensive rating – 67.3 – shows just how inept they truly were.

In all, Utah shot 42% on 2-pointers, 17% on 3-pointers and 63% on free throws and committed 22 turnovers.

The Jazz set several milestones for offensive futility:

  • Fewest points in a game (68) in nearly two years (68 by Hawks vs. Jazz on Nov. 25, 2016)
  • Lowest Basketball-Reference estimated offensive rating in a game (68.8) in more than three years (68.2 by Grizzlies vs. Warriors on Nov. 2, 2015)
  • Fewest points in a second half (22) in nearly five years (19 by Rockets vs. Thunder on Jan. 16, 2014)

Comparing across eras can be difficult, but here’s one measure: The Jazz scored 68 points in a season teams are averaging 110.4 points per game.

That output relative to average – -42.4 – is one of the lowest of all-time:

image