Hobbled Chris Paul, Clippers’ role players do just enough to dethrone Spurs in Game 7

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There is not going to be a better series these playoffs.

As they had for six games before, the Spurs and Clippers went back and forth in Game 7 Saturday night trading blows — there were 31 lead changes and 16 ties. Traditionally Game 7s see players get tight, shooting percentages drop, there are ugly turnovers. This game — while not flawless — was well played by both teams, with big shots and role players stepping up.

But nobody stepped up more than Chris Paul.

With 1:25 left in the first quarter he had to leave the game and went back to the Clippers locker room with what is officially a strained hamstring. But that was not going to keep him out of the game. CP3 had 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, plus had six assists as he continued to orchestrate the Clippers’ offense.

Then, with the game tied 109-109 and just 8.8 seconds remaining, Paul won the series.

The Spurs had one second to try and tie the game, but a time keeping screw-up tipped the play, and Matt Barnes knocked away an alley-oop attempt to Kawhi Leonard.

The Clippers won 111-109 and take the series 4-3. They advance to face the Houston Rockets starting Monday in Houston.

Paul is so bothered by the hamstring Doc Rivers said he’s not sure if CP3 can play in Game 1 of the next round.

“With two minutes left, Tim Duncan walks up to me and says ‘This is the first round?'” Rivers said. “I was thinking the same thing.”

What had been key for the Clippers all series was getting other guys to step up, not just Paul and Blake Griffin. They got that Saturday night. Matt Barnes had 17 points, a key offensive rebound late, then knocked away the alley-oop attempt on the final play of the game. He played his best game of the series.

Jamal Crawford was the other key. The Clippers had to play a stretch in the first half without Paul due to the injury, and then Blake Griffin sat with foul trouble, yet the Clippers stayed close in an excellent game because Crawford got hot. He had 12 of his 15 points in the first half when the Clippers needed them to stay close to the Spurs.

“Jamal was huge, Matt Barnes was huge for us tonight,” Rivers said. “I thought that (stretch with the bench in the first half) was the difference in the game, that stretch. They could have gotten away from us with our two key guys out of the game, and they didn’t.”

If this is Tim Duncan’s final game, the future first-ballot Hall of Fame went out on a vintage note. Ducan, whose contract is up and hasn’t announced if he plans to return at age 39, scored 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, plus had 11 rebounds. He was nothing short of brilliant.

Tony Parker added 20 points, and Danny Green finally broke out with 16 plus made a couple amazing defensive blocks.

This was a game with so many wild moments, but maybe the most ridiculous exchange came at the end of the third. First Austin Rivers tried to foul Manu Ginobili in the backcourt (the Clips had a foul to give) but Manu anticipated it and went into a shooting motion and got the call and three free throws. It was a by-the-book call but one where the refs rarely give it to the shooter. That left just a few seconds on the clock, CP3 brought the ball back up the floor and knocked down a ridiculous 28-foot, off-balance, banked-in three. It was the Clippers by one after three, 79-78.

It was like this all game.

The Spurs didn’t lose this game; the Clippers won it.

 

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.

Watch Pacers rookie Nembhard drop 31, outduel Curry, lead Pacers past Warriors

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SAN FRANCSICO — Rookie Andrew Nembhard outshined the Splash Brothers on their home court.

Nembhard scored a season-high 31 points and added 13 assists and eight rebounds to lead the undermanned Indiana Pacers to a 112-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.

A second-round draft pick, Nembhard made a key 3-pointer with 4:26 to go and another jumper less than two minutes later.

“He was masterful tonight … 31 and 13, those are high lottery numbers,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

Indiana played without starting point guard Tyrese Haliburton for a second straight game as he nurses soreness in his left groin.

Klay Thompson scored 28 points and made eight 3-pointers, moving up the NBA’s career 3-point list on the six-year anniversary of his 60-point masterpiece against the Pacers.

Thompson finished 9 of 23, but Stephen Curry was held to 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting. Jordan Poole scored 23 starting in place of Andrew Wiggins, who sat out with tightness of the adductor muscle in his right leg.

“No matter what we do, it’s going to be hard to guard these guys. We had some good fortune with them missing some shots they may normally make,” Carlisle said. “But our guys played with a lot of presence to start the game. We were switching a lot and everyone was tied together.”

Nembhard hit five 3s while Buddy Hield added 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists as Indiana snapped a three-game losing streak with just its second win in six games.

Nembhard and the Pacers hardly looked like a team playing the second game of a road back-to-back.

“He was hoopin’ and I think that starts in the first half for us,” Golden State’s Donte DiVincenzo said. “The guards have to get into it a little bit more.”

Golden State had its 10-game home winning streak snapped.

Curry went 1 of 7 in the first half, missing all four of his 3-point tries and was 2 for 10 from deep overall. Curry finally connected from long range with 5:13 left in the third after missing his first five.

The Pacers, missing six players with injuries or illness, jumped out to a 22-12 lead as Golden State started 5 for 17.

Thompson knocked down three straight 3-pointers – all from the right wing – to tie the game at 42 with 4:51 left in the second quarter before a Pacers timeout. Thompson also dished out an assist on Jonathan Kuminga‘s layup before his trio of 3s and nearly had another when Kuminga was fouled and made both free throws to cap a 20-2 run 3:40 before halftime.