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

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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.

Marc Gasol completes historic double, Spain wins World Cup

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BEIJING (AP) — Marc Gasol looked to the sky as confetti fell, some sticking to his massive shoulders, and then cradled and kissed the giant golden chalice that goes to the World Cup champions.

He’s getting good at hoisting trophies.

Gasol got to bask in a championship celebration for the second time in three months — and this time, he did it for his country. Tournament MVP Ricky Rubio scored 20 points, Sergio Llull added 15 and Spain won the World Cup for the second time by topping Argentina 95-75 on Sunday.

“We weren’t the most talented team,” Rubio said. “We weren’t the bigger team. Put anything you want, but we were the team with the biggest heart and we showed it tonight and we showed it during the whole tournament.”

Gasol scored 14 for the winners, who never trailed and added this crown to the one it claimed in 2006. And for him, 2019 will go down as a year the likes of which few others have enjoyed.

The Toronto Raptors center becomes the second player to win an NBA title and a FIBA world gold medal in the same year, joining Lamar Odom — who did it for the Los Angeles Lakers and USA Basketball in 2010. Gasol also became the 19th to win either an NBA or WNBA crown along with a gold medal, either of the Olympic or World Cup variety, in the same year.

The first 18 all did it for the U.S.

This time, Vamos España!

“NBA champion and a World Cup champion as well,” Gasol said. “What can I say? How does it sound to you? I feel very fortunate to be in this position and be able to play this game and help these guys be part of history of Spanish basketball.”

Llull and Rudy Fernandez — the team captain, the one who initially got to accept the Naismith Trophy — went to cut down the nets shortly after the final buzzer. Gasol carried the game ball to the gold-medal ceremony, and Spanish fans wept in the stands during the national anthem.

Gabriel Deck scored 24 points for Argentina (8-1), which got off to a slow start and played uphill the rest of the way. Luis Scola was held to eight points, shooting 1 for 10 from the floor.

“We’re sad right now. We’re very sad,” Scola said. “But I feel confident, in hours, we’ll be able to look back and be very proud. They just played better than us. They were better. They deserved to win. They were the better team in the game and the tournament.”

Spain led 43-31 at intermission, after putting together a 14-2 run to open the game and a 17-1 run later in the half.

“This is basketball,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “If you play better than the other team, you win the game. And Spain was the best team today.”

Scola, even at 39 years old still Argentina’s best player throughout the tournament, didn’t get on the scoresheet until he made a pair of free throws with 2:57 left in the third quarter. But they only cut the Spain lead to 19, and by then the Argentinian fans who stood, sang and chanted for much of the game were relatively quiet.

The day belonged to Spain.

And the year belongs to Gasol.

“It’s unbelievable,” Gasol said.

Watch highlights from France taking bronze at World Cup, beating Australia 67-59

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Just as they did five years ago at the last World Cup, France has come away with the bronze medal.

The French came from 15 down at one point to beat Australia 67-59 and win the third-place game at the FIBA World Cup in China. Former Spur Nando De Colo led the way for France with 19 points, Orlando’s Evan Fournier added 16 but on a rough shooting night (5-of–17), and Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum added nine points and six assists. You can see the game’s highlights above.

After the game, Fournier was talkative, including slamming the travel and schedule of this World Cup, spread all across China.

Utah was led by 17 points from Utah’s Joe Ingles and 15 from San Antonio’s Patty Mills.

Michael Jordan sells portion of Hornets to two new partners

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan is adding two partners to the Charlotte Hornets’ ownership group, selling them each a portion of the NBA franchise.

Gabe Plotkin, founder and chief investment officer of Melvin Capital, and Daniel Sundheim, founder and chief investment officer of D1 Capital, have joined the Hornets as partners, pending NBA approval.

Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, will remain the majority owner.

Jordan said in a statement released by the team Saturday that he’ll continue to be the man making decisions about the direction of the Hornets.

“I’m excited to welcome Gabe and Dan as my partners in Hornets Sports & Entertainment,” Jordan said. “While I will continue to run the Charlotte Hornets, make all decisions related to the team and organization, and remain the team’s NBA Governor, Gabe and Dan’s investment in the franchise is invaluable, as we continue to modernize, add new technology and strive to compete with the best in the NBA. Both Gabe and Dan are industry standard-setters and proven leaders, with a belief in philanthropy and a passion for the game of basketball. They share my commitment to Charlotte and the Carolinas, and I look forward to working with and learning from them.”

Marc Gasol goes for history when Spain meets Argentina in World Cup final

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BEIJING (AP) — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving.

Those are the only five players to win an NBA title and a gold medal in the same year, whether it was in FIBA or Olympic competition, with Pippen doing it twice.

It is an exclusive club – one that Marc Gasol is on the cusp of joining.

A mere three months after helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA Finals, Gasol has led Spain to the gold medal game at the World Cup. It’ll be Spain against Argentina on Sunday, with both nations looking for their second title. Spain won the world championship in 2006 when Gasol was a 21-year-old backup, and Argentina won the inaugural tournament in 1950.

“I’m so deep in the rabbit hole right now that I don’t get to see much light,” Gasol said. “You’re so focused on your opponent, your next rival, recovering, doing whatever’s necessary to win games that you don’t look at the big picture. It’s been great. I’m very fortunate.

“I knew that committing to the national team this summer would not be easy physically. But it’s so worth it, and not just because we’re in the final game.”

He simply willed Spain into the final game.

Gasol scored 33 points – his career-high for any of the 18 FIBA-sanctioned or Olympic tournaments he’s played over the last 18 years – in Spain’s double-overtime win against Australia in the semifinals. He gave up his NBA offseason to be part of this team, a group that failed to medal at the last World Cup in Spain five years ago, and knows he might not have too many more years left on the international stage.

“It’s the responsibility of passing along that commitment, that loyalty to the team,” said Gasol, who still remembers the thrill of getting invitation letters from the Spanish federation to be part of youth teams when he was 11 or 12. “Those values that we were taught so many years with the older players, now it’s our turn to pass on the legacy to the next generation. And that’s not talent, that’s just commitment.”

Argentina has one of those passing-legacy-on players, too.

Luis Scola, 39 years old, was part of the team that won gold for Argentina at the 2004 Athens Olympics – and he’s been the best player for his team at the World Cup. He scored 28 points in the semifinal win over France, and on a team that has flashy guards who aren’t afraid to throw behind-the-back passes in any situation Scola has been the steadying force in the biggest moments.

“I’m only 27,” France center Rudy Gobert said as he lauded Scola after the semifinal matchup. “Maybe when I’m 39, I’ll know the secrets that Scola knows.”

Here’s some of what to know going into Sunday’s final:

DOUBLING UP

Pippen’s double-gold years came in 1992 and 1996 with Chicago. Jordan’s was in 1992 with the Bulls, James’ was in 2012 with Miami and Irving’s was in 2016 with Cleveland – all of those being Olympic years. Odom played on the U.S. world championships team in 2010, after his Los Angeles Lakers won that year’s NBA Finals.

OTHER DOUBLES

There have been 14 U.S. women who won a WNBA title along with a World Cup or Olympic gold medal in the same year, led by Sue Bird – who did it three times (2004 Olympics, 2010 world championship, 2018 World Cup).

UNBEATENS

Spain and Argentina are the only unbeaten teams left in the World Cup, each 7-0 so far. This is the fourth time that the gold medal will be decided in a game between unbeaten teams. The others: U.S. over Turkey (both 8-0 entering) in 2010, Spain over Greece (both 8-0) in 2006, and Argentina over the U.S. (both 5-0) at the first world championship in 1950.