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

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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.”

Kevin Durant on relationship with Draymond Green: ‘Don’t ask me about that again’ (video)

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After their heated argument, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are on the same page in at least one regard: They won’t answer questions about each other.

At least Green explained himself before shutting down follow-up questions. Durant wouldn’t address it at all. He was terse.

Really healthy situation Golden State has going.

Of course, the Warriors also have a ridiculous amount of talent. That will help them win, feel good about themselves and get past this.

But until Golden State starts winning, this isn’t going away.

Three Things to Know: Warriors won’t escape Draymond Green-Kevin Durant questions by getting throttled by Rockets

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Warriors still have problems. Deep-seeded, dynasty-ruining problems? Not sure. But problems, nonetheless.

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant talked with each other. Green explained himself publicly. Durant wouldn’t address it in the slightest.

But a 107-86 loss to the Rockets leaves it difficult to feel good about the star forwards moving on productively from their heated argument.

This could be as simple as Stephen Curry being injured. Even before Green and Durant sparred, people were learning just how important the point guard is to Golden State.

And the Rockets are no easy out. They’re 3-1 since excising Carmelo Anthony, whom even Houston now acknowledges is done there, with three straight double-digit wins over Pacers, Nuggets and Warriors.

Still, it’ll be impossible to look beyond the Green-Durant dynamic until Golden State wins like it did before. In Green’s first game back from suspension, that didn’t come close to happening.

2) The Clippers are winning. That’s important beyond even underlying factors like how they’re playing.

L.A. has won three straight – beating the Bucks in overtime, Warriors in overtime and Spurs 116-111 last night. Against quality competition like that, racking up victories is crucial. Even if the Clippers stumble or have injury issues later, those three wins could be vital come playoff-seeding time.

At 9-5, the Clippers are tied for fourth in the Western Conference. But that’s just two games ahead of 12th. There’s no separation early in the West race, and there might not be margin for error all season.

Other teams will come around – like San Antonio. In a 1-5 stretch, the Spurs have been outscored by 61 without Rudy Gay and have outscored opponents by 24 with him. He was +14 in 25 minutes last night. As he gets healthier, San Antonio should improve.

But the Clippers don’t need to wait on anything. They’re deep and play hard. Lou Williams hits big shots. They’re ready to win right now.

3) The Nuggets avoided complete doom and gloom. After a 9-1 start, Denver had lost four straight. Jamal Murray violated team rules, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone pulled him from the starting lineup. But Denver still cruised to a feel-good 138-93 win over the Hawks.

Monte Morris started and played steadily. Murray was good off the bench. It probably didn’t matter much. The Nuggets likely would have beaten Atlanta with an injured Isaiah Thomas at point guard.

But Denver – especially star Nikola Jokic – still seems like a team that can get too down on itself when things aren’t going well. Momentum snowballs, even when it starts against the Hawks.

Draymond Green reportedly told Kevin Durant: ‘We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave’

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Draymond Green got into an argument with Kevin Durant so feisty, it caused a Warriors player to predict Durant will now leave Golden State in free agency next summer.

Just what did Green say?

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Green called Durant a “bitch” multiple times, sources said. In a summarized version, sources said Green shouted, “You’re a bitch and you know you’re a bitch.” The rhetoric, sources said, continued even when Kerr attempted to direct the team’s attention to his whiteboard.

Green blurted to Durant something along the lines of, “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave,” sources said.

Wow. That’s pretty darned harsh. And if Durant walked away say saying “That’s why I’m out“… wow.

This would explain why Green’s teammates supported his suspension. He clearly went too far, as even he expected a fine. But this was quite the way to carry on.

When Green and Durant bickered last year in a similar, though less heated, incident, it was claimed Green was using “reverse psychology” to motivate Durant. I was never convinced whether that was accurate or cooked up after the fact to cover for Green’s misbehavior. Will we hear a similar explanation this time?

Scottie Pippen says Durant-Draymond beef could derail Warriors championship hopes (VIDEO)

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Scottie Pippen is a six-time NBA champion, and has played with some of the biggest personalities to ever grace the league. Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, Rasheed Wallace, and Michael Jordan just to name a few. As such, Pippen has some relevant insight into the superstar battle royale that’s happening right now between members of the Golden State Warriors.

On ESPN’s “The Jump” on Thursday, Pippen compared the situation between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant to his time with the Chicago Bulls. In particular, Pippen pointed out that both he and Jordan had issues with Dennis Rodman when he arrived in Chicago from the San Antonio Spurs to start the 1995-96 season.

Pippen also levied a pretty heavy take that not many have leapt to just yet, saying he felt the divide between Durant and Green could destabilize the Warriors enough to cost them this year’s NBA championship.

Via ESPN:

I didn’t like Dennis Rodman. I didn’t like Dennis when he came to the team, Michael [Jordan] didn’t like him, but we existed on the basketball court because we respected what Dennis did on the court and we knew the value that he brought to the game for us. But in this situation, where you’re talking about your teammates, that’s out of character for players. As a team, we bond. We lock hands, and no one is allowed in that circle.

As a player, we knew that this was coming I mean for pretty much the whole 90s our championship run was built on what players wanted. We went against management [a] numerous amount of times. But when it came to play, and we got in between the lines, we played for each other, we played for the city of Chicago. And I think this is one of them situations the players gotta look beyond any situation. This is not one of those situations where they can look ahead. They have to work out their own internal affairs, and right now this could cost them a championship. If KD don’t feel comfortable playing with Draymond, who do you walk away from?

I’m not sure if I am ready to go that far just yet, just because the Warriors have so much firepower when everyone is healthy it’s not clear who would step up and dethrone them even if Durant and Green remain icy toward each other.

The NBA as a league is astute at marketing players individually and putting forth the stories about how well guys get along. It’s also adept at hiding which players actively hate each other, especially when those guys are on the same roster.

Green and Durant have spoken, and although we don’t know if they will ever be friendly again, at this point we have to just watch what happens between the two stars.

More important is the health of the Warriors, and we are seeing just how much they need Stephen Curry now that he is out with a hamstring injury. Golden State has already lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and played a tight game against the Atlanta Hawks at home at Oracle in Curry’s absence.