Down 13 Rockets finally play with desperation, come back to beat Clippers, even series 1-1

6 Comments

The Houston Rockets were staring the end of their playoff run in the face. It’s only Game 2, but the Rockets had lost Game 1 and were down 13 points at home to a Los Angeles Clippers team that had their all-world point guard Chris Paul still in street clothes.

The Rockets finally started to play with some desperation in the second half — they defended better, forced turnovers and held the Clippers to 36.6 percent shooting after the half. They finally kept Blake Griffin in check with 8 points on 2-of-9 shooting in the second half (after he destroyed them in the first half). Houston turned those missed Clippers shots into transition or early offense options the other way. And James Harden finally found his stroke, scoring 20 points in the second half.

All of that — combined with 64 Rockets free throw attempts on the night in what was not a pretty game at times — led to a 109-101 Houston win. The victory ties the series at 1-1 heading to Los Angeles for Game 3 Friday.

That is a game Chris Paul likely plays in, coach Doc Rivers held him out again on Wednesday to help his strained right hamstring recover. The Clippers can feel good that they beat the Rockets in one game and hung with them in another when they were without the quarterback of their offense and best closer.

However, McHale and the Rockets figured out some things that worked, too, For example, a lot of the Rockets’ second half success came in part when they went small, at times using Trevor Ariza to front Griffin in the post.

“That group really was getting the defense turned up, we were getting stops, then we were able to get out and run a little bit. We just got more energy from that group,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said after the game.

Everything started out well for the Rockets Wednesday night. DeAndre Jordan picked up two fouls in the first three minutes, the second one when Dwight Howard pushed Jordan in the back and into the driving player. Doesn’t matter. Jordan goes out, and Glen Davis comes in and Howard could do whatever he wanted. Rockets were +13 the rest of the quarter when Jordan went to the bench. Part of that was bad offense from Los Angeles, too much dribbling, which led to contested shots. The Rockets ran off misses and led by 11 at the end of first quarter.

Then in the second quarter everything changed. Jordan came back in, and when the Clips went on a 12-0 run they lead by three. The Rockets were overplaying the guys on the wings and getting burned, their transition defense was terrible. Plus, the Rockets were 1-of-13 from three.

Meanwhile, the Clippers were 16-of-21 shooting in the second quarter, putting up 41 points in the frame and were up 65-56 at the half. Griffin had 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting up to that point.

Griffin would go on to finish with 34 points, and he’s been the best player in the series. It wasn’t enough.

Early in the third quarter Harden picks up fourth foul, and was sent to the bench. That’s when the Clippers pushed the lead up to 13.

With that the Rockets finally started to defend with some energy and smart play, they went small, and they went on a 14-4 run to cut the lead to three.

“We got out of rhythm offensively, that’s when the game changed for us,” Rivers said. “I thought it was the first game we didn’t trust each other. We got stuck trying to get the ball to Blake so much we forgot there were other guys on the other side of the floor. The ball never changed sides of the floor. That hurt us.”

The rhythm of the game was also thrown off by a lot of fouling — both intentional and because guys were getting inside. The game started just to get choppy and at times sloppy.

But it worked for Houston which went on a 15-2 run across the third and fourth quarters to take 93-88 lead, running off Clipper missed shots and taking advantage of scrambling Clipper transition defense. Clipper floor spacing led to some ugly possessions and poor shots; the Rockets took full advantage of that in transition.

The other key was the Rockets going small and fronting Blake in the post. The Clippers response to this seemed to be to stand around and watch. The Clippers didn’t cut, the ball didn’t move. It allowed the Rockets to stretch the lead out to 10. Griffin had just eight points in the second half on 2-of-9 shooting. Jamal Crawford had 19 points on the night but needed 22 shots to get there,

In a parade to the free throw line during the fourth the Rockets played good enough defense to hold on and get the win.

James Harden also took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his 32 points on the night (on just 17 shots). Dwight Howard had a fantastic game as well, scoring 24 points and had 16 rebounds. Ariza said seven of his 15 in the fourth quarter.

J.R. Smith caught on video beating up man who allegedly vandalized his truck

J.R. Smith
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sunday was a day of mostly peaceful protests in Los Angeles in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last week. However, some bad actors used the protests as camouflage to loot and vandalize businesses and property near the protests.

One of those people allegedly broke the window of former NBA player J.R. Smith’s truck — and Smith ran him down and beat him up for it. Video of the beating emerged first on TMZ. (Warning, NSFW language.)

Smith quickly posted a video on his Instagram story trying to get out in front of this, saying the guy broke his truck window in a residential street — and Smith was having none of it.

“I just want you all to know right now, before you all see this s*** somewhere else. One of these little motherf****** white boys didn’t know where he was going and broke my f****** window in my truck. Broke my s***. This was a residential area. No stores over here. None of that s***. Broke my window, I chased him down and whooped his ass.

“So when the footage comes out and you all see it, I chased him down and whooped his ass. He broke my window. This ain’t no hate crime. I ain’t got no problem with nobody and nobody got no problem with me. There’s a problem with the motherf****** system, that’s it. The motherf***** broke my window and I whooped his ass. He didn’t know who window he broke and he got his ass whooped.”

It’s unknown at this time if any other legal action will come out of this, the police and prosecutors have a lot on their plates right now.

Smith was out of the NBA this season, despite getting a couple of workouts with teams.

George Floyd’s death brings back painful memories for Rockets’ Thabo Sefolosha

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Thabo Sefolosha knows what it’s like to be a black man, on the ground, being beaten by police officers.

Such was the scenario when George Floyd died in Minneapolis last week.

And five years ago, Sefolosha found himself in a similarly frightening place.

“I was just horrified by what I saw,” Sefolosha said. “That could have been me.”

Time has not healed all wounds for Sefolosha, the NBA veteran who said he was attacked by a group of New York Police Department officers in April 2015 while they were arresting him outside a nightclub in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood. The leg that was broken in the fracas is fine now. The emotional pain roared back last week when he saw video of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air in the final moments of his life as a white police officer — subsequently charged with murder — pressed a knee on his neck.

Sefolosha has seen the video. He hasn’t watched much news since. His experience with police in New York has left him with a deep distrust of law enforcement, the pangs of angst flooding back even when he walks into NBA arenas and sees uniformed officers. And the latest example of police brutality left him even more upset.

“People talk about a few rotten apples,” Sefolosha said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But you know, in my experience and from what we’re seeing, I think it’s deeper than that as a culture that’s deeply rooted in it, to be honest. That’s just my honest opinion. I think it’s really … part of a culture where it’s deeper than just a few bad apples.”

The four officers who were involved in the incident where Floyd died were fired; the one who knelt on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Massive protests have broken out in several cities in recent days, the country torn again over a black man dying at the hands of police.

Sefolosha — a black man of Swiss descent who plays for the Houston Rockets — considered but decided against joining protests in Atlanta, where he is waiting for the resumption of the NBA season that was shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m mad, for sure,” Sefolosha said. “That’s for sure. I mean, it’s 2020. Nobody should have to go through this in this time, especially after black people have given up so much for America. Black people have given up so much and done so much for this country. It’s hurtful to see it this way.”

Sefolosha’s perspective changed forever on April 8, 2015. Chris Copeland, an NBA player at the time, was among three people stabbed outside the club where Sefolosha was that night; police arrived and ordered everyone to leave the area. Sefolosha says he complied but began getting harassed by officers anyway.

Before long, he was on the ground.

Sefolosha’s leg was broken and some ligaments were torn in the fracas, and he was arrested on several charges that a jury needed about 45 minutes to determine were unfounded. He wound up suing for $50 million, alleging his civil rights were violated, settled for $4 million and gave much of that money to a public defenders’ organization working in marginalized communities.

“It changed me a lot, toward the way I see law enforcement in this country,” Sefolosha said. “And also toward the way I see the whole justice system. I went to court and I had to do all of this to prove my innocence. It really got me deep into the system and I’m really skeptical of the whole system.”

NBA players have used their platforms often in recent years to protest racial inequality. Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after police used a stun gun on him and arrested him over a parking incident in 2018. On Saturday, Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics were among those taking part in Atlanta protests.

“You see what happened in Minnesota where three human beings with a badge are watching another human being killing somebody,” said Sefolosha, who has played in the NBA since 2006 and intends to return to Switzerland when he retires. “And instead of saying, ‘OK, this is my duty as a human being,’ the duty was more toward not interfering with the other officer and saying, ‘We are clan, we stick together no matter what.’ It should be the other way around.”

The NBA is closing in on finalizing a plan to resume the season in July at the Disney complex near Orlando, Florida. Sefolosha and the Rockets figure to be contenders for a championship when play resumes.

For obvious reasons, Sefolosha’s mind isn’t there yet.

“I’ll be happy to be with my teammates and reunited with basketball in general,” Sefolosha said. “But you know, we’re human beings, and the fight has been going on for too long and the same protests have been going on for too long. I think it’s definitely time for change and that should be a priority for all of us.”

Michael Jordan releases statement: “I am deeply saddened, truly pained, and plain angry”

FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michael Jordan has been famously apolitical through his playing career and after, rarely commenting on social issues. While the “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment has always stuck to him, as Roland Lazenby points out in his biography “Michael Jordan: The Life,” Jordan’s “keep your head down and don’t draw attention” political outlook was passed down as a family demeanor used to survive in rural North Carolina.

However, in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer, and the eruptions of protests nationwide, Jordan felt compelled to speak and released this statement.

Jordan’s voice is a powerful one and carries a lot of weight, as do his actions.

How he uses that voice, and the actions he takes going forward, will be watched and can hold a lot of sway.

 

On this date in NBA history: J.R. Smith forgot the score

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There comes a point in almost every NBA playoff series when one team knows it’s beat. That team threw its best punch and the other team took it and won anyway. While no NBA team would never go into the postgame press conference and say “we’re beat,” it shows up in their tone and body language.

In the 2018 NBA Finals, that moment came after Game 1.

Two years ago today, May 31, the Cavaliers went to Golden State and were on the verge of stealing Game 1 on the road. LeBron James had targeted Stephen Curry on switches to keep the Cavaliers ahead, LeBron thought he drew a charge on Kevin Durant but it was overturned on review and called a block, and a back-and-forth end of the game saw the Warriors go up one when Curry drew and and-1 foul on Kevin Love with 23.5 seconds left.

Of course, the Cavs put the ball in LeBron’s hands out top, the Cavaliers got the switch and had Curry trying to guard LeBron, when LeBron threw a bullet pass to a cutting George Hill. Klay Thompson hooked Hill, and Hill went to the ground. The foul was called and Hill went to the free-throw line.  He hit the first and tied the game 107-107.

Then came the moment.

“He thought we were up one,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, although Smith was selling at the time he was trying to bring the ball out to get a better shot. The Warriors players thought he was trying to get the ball to LeBron, maybe.

Game 1 went to overtime, where the Warriors dominated (17-7) and got the win. After the game, you could feel it around the Cavaliers — this was their chance and they missed it. The series ended in a Golden State sweep.

It’s a legendary moment of the NBA Finals, even if it’s one Smith and Cavaliers fans would like to forget.