It wasn’t pretty, but Clippers rout Rockets again to take commanding 3-1 series lead

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LOS ANGELES — This game was ugly.

Not only because of the parade to the free throw line in the first half — the Clippers shot 44 free throws in the first 24 minutes, DeAndre Jordan had 28 of them — but also because by the fourth quarter the Clippers were just clowning the Rockets. Well, maybe Clippers fans didn’t find that hard to watch.

Houston has struggled all series to get stops against Los Angeles. On Sunday night only one defensive strategy worked for the Rockets — foul Jordan intentionally. They did that 14 times in the first half, making the game about as entertaining as a video of a clock ticking.

“Well, we got Dwight (Howard) in foul trouble, got in foul trouble right away…” Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said, referring to Howard picking up two fouls in the first 3:40 of the game. “We were just trying to see if we could muck up the game a little bit. We didn’t. We came back in, and we kind of had to play small, so we thought maybe we could just get them out of a rhythm a little bit.”

It seemed to throw the Rockets off their rhythm more. But at least that defensive strategy sort of worked — those 14 possessions the Rockets outscored the Clippers 11-10 (according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN).

The problem is when the Rockets stopped doing that in the second quarter the Clippers instantly went on a 9-0 run because they continued to get stops, get out and run, and then tear up Rockets poor transition defense. Then the Clippers came out in the second half and opened it on a 21-4 run, to push their lead north of 20 points —  Jordan pitched in and took his frustrations out on the rim with dunks. The Clippers grabbed 8 offensive rebounds (on 12 missed shots), scored 43 points, and had 103 points total after three quarters.

The game was all but over. So is the series. The Clippers won Game 4 128-95, and now lead the series 3-1.

It is clear the Clippers are the superior team. The Rockets do not have the defense to hang — and Patrick Beverley was not going to solve this problem, nor was Donatas Motiejūnas or K.J. McDaniels (all out injured). On Sunday night 55.7 percent of the Clippers shots were uncontested, according to the NBA’s player tracking data. The Clippers had the best offense in the NBA in the regular season and, even with a hobbled Chris Paul, the Rockets have no answers to slow it. Outside of fouling. Jordan hit 14 free throws (on 34 attempts) on his way to 26 points.

“I think both teams lost their rhythm for a while, so that’s the problem with it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of the second quarter fouling spree. “Especially if you’re then or us, teams that run, teams that like motion. It turns it into a half-court game, and, you know it allows us to set our defense.”

“Yeah, we’re not really moving,” the Rockets’ James Harden said (he had 21 points and got to the free throw line 10 times). “We’re not really moving on the offensive end. We’re pretty much stagnant, so it makes it easier for them to kind of load up and play their normal defense.”

That defense was good enough in the decisive third quarter to hold the Rockets to 33.3 percent shooting — and then the Clippers ran off the misses. They ran to the run and they ran to the arc. The Clippers put up 43 points in the third quarter with J.J. Redick leading the way with 15 points and hitting 4-of-4 from three.

The fourth quarter was simply a party for Clippers fans, who are about to see their team reach the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The only thing those fans enjoyed more than the alley-oop dunks in the second half was seeing Dwight Howard get ejected for throwing the ball at the referee’s feet after picking up his sixth foul.

While the Rockets have struggled to slow the Clippers, Los Angeles has found ways to reign in Houston. Put simply, James Harden is the only real shot creator off the dribble and the Clippers have done a good job of not letting him get to the line — on every drive they put their arms straight up and seem to give a little ground. The goal is not to get the call, although Harden thinks the refs are just missing the calls.

“I’ve got a couple scratches on my arms to show you,” Harden said when asked about the Clippers’ defense.

The Rockets players said all the right things about needing to be more focused at home, to bring a better effort in the third quarter, and a host of other cliches.

But unless they find some defense back in Houston, by Wednesday they could be making tee times.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.