James Harden, Rockets attack paint, beat Clippers to force Game 6

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The Clippers looked like they wanted a break. They have played every other day since April 22 — while other teams have had some healthy rests during the playoffs — and Los Angeles was counting on some time off. All they had to do was close out their series against the Rockets Tuesday, and they would have almost a week off to rest Chris Paul’s hamstring.

Instead, the Clippers started their vacation early, playing like a team that expected their opponent to roll over.

Meanwhile, the Rockets came out and played with desperation and passion. From the start, the Rockets were pounding the ball inside and defending with energy. James Harden was playing like an MVP candidate again.

“We attacked,” Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said after the game. “We finally, we got to the basket, we got our points in the paint, we tried to attack. We finally played more like we tried to play throughout the year. We finally played downhill.”

The result was a 124-103 Houston win. That makes the series 3-2 Clippers, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 6 Thursday night.

The changes the Clippers need to make are less about Xs and Os and more about attitude, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

“They just played harder, they were more focused,” Rivers said. “They played like they were the desperate team, we didn’t play very desperate tonight. So give them credit. I thought they took us out of all our stuff offensively.”

Harden was central to Houston’s attack, putting up 26 points (on 9-of-20 shooting), 11 rebounds, and 10 assists — a playoff triple-double. The Clippers tried to force the ball out of his hands, but he made the right read and hit passes to open guys all night.

All the Rockets were moving the ball and getting it inside, they shot 24-of-30 at the rim on the night and had 32 made shots in the paint on 68 percent shooting. They did a good job of getting the ball inside via the pass, not just dribble penetration. They also got DeAndre Jordan in early foul trouble, which helped open up the paint.

“We’re better when we play inside out, when we play downhill and attack,” McHale said. “We’re one of the better teams in the league at points in the paint and we just weren’t doing it.”

The Rockets came out as you’d expect from a team facing elimination, with the best energy and offense we had seen all series. Josh Smith was moved into the starting lineup in an effort to improve ball movement, and it worked. That said Clippers started 4-of-18 shooting and still were hanging around. The Rockets did a good job of getting the ball inside, they had 20 points in the paint in the first quarter, and Houston closed the quarter on 12-4 run. It was 27-22 Rockets after one.

In the second quarter the Clippers made their run and tied the game up at one point, and you started to wonder if this would turn out like the last couple games. However, the Rockets went on a 9-0 run to take a comfortable lead again before the half. The Rockets grabbed half of their missed shots as an offensive rebounds in the first half, and with the attacking style the Rockets were up 63-48.

This time around the Clippers were the team that could not get stops. Part of that was Jordan getting in foul trouble. With no Jordan to check him, Howard had 20 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

Houston had a much more balanced attack — Trevor Ariza had 22 points, Corey Brewer added 15. It seemed everyone was making plays.

Meanwhile, the Clippers were the two man show. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combined for 52 points on 56.8 percent shooting. The rest of the Clippers shot 31.8 percent. Part of that was good defense, part of that was Los Angeles just missing shots.

The Rockets played their best game of the series. The question is can they do it on the road in Game 6. Or will we see a more focused Clipper team looking to end the series and get a little rest.

Rumor: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul stated intent to join Mavericks until Howard backed out

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Mavericks went from winning the 2011 NBA championship to missing the playoffs within two years.

Somewhat by choice.

Of course, they wanted to remain competitive. But they were willing to accept a lower floor to maintain financial flexibility. They let key players – most notably Tyson Chandler – leave in order to chase bigger stars.

Dallas was repeatedly linked to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, who could’ve become free agents in 2012 but opted in. They finally hit the market in 2013, but once again spurned the Mavericks. Paul re-signed with the Clippers, and Howard left the Lakers for the Rockets.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

I really think that they, Chris and Dwight, basically wink, wink said they were going to Dallas, from what I’ve heard, and that Dwight backed out.

Word on the street. But we hear a lot of stories. That’s one story I’ve heard.

This is the peril of making arrangements in underground free agency. They’re unbinding. That was especially true with Howard, who waffled through the Dwightmare with the Magic. The Mavericks might have proceeded in the smartest way, but it backfired. Dallas is only now re-emerging upward with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

This also creates a fun “what if?” How good would Dallas have been? Paul remained elite, but Howard and Dirk Nowitzki were slipping. Where would the Clippers have gone with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but without Paul? Would they still have held the credibility required to lure Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer? Where would Houston have turned without Howard as the star to pair with James Harden?

Serge Ibaka says he nearly goaltended Kawhi Leonard’s iconic shot: ‘I would’ve retired’

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Kawhi Leonard hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history – a buzzer-beater that bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced in during Game 7 of last year’s second-round Raptors-76ers series and propelled Toronto toward an eventual title.

Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, via Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

“I didn’t think it was going in. I was under the basket trying to go for the offensive rebound. The ball was bouncing and one time I was so close to going [for it]. Thank God I didn’t because it could have been goaltending. That would’ve been bad. I would’ve retired. If that had happened I would have retired.”

In hindsight, that would’ve been catastrophic. It would have been been bad at the time, too – but only so bad.

The Bucks, Toronto’s opponent in the Eastern Conference finals, looked better than the Raptors. The Western Conference-winning Warriors were widely viewed as invincible. Few would have thought Ibaka’s goaltend would’ve cost Toronto a championship.

Thankfully for him and the Raptors, we now know better.

Chris Paul refutes report that Michele Roberts is no longer leading union

Michele Roberts, Chris Paul and Luol Deng
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
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Michele Roberts got a new four-year term as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association in 2018.

Yet, Peter Vecsey tweeted:

The NBPA responded with a statement on behalf of Chris Paul:

NBPA President Chris Paul’s response to the false information tweeted earlier this evening regarding NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts:

“Michele Roberts has been and continues to be our fearless leader. The Twitter post that is circulating suggesting Michele is no longer the NBPA Executive Director is untrue. A Search Firm has been hired to advise on union hiring and succession planning, which has not yet begun. In the meantime, the Executive Committee is proud to report that Michele remains the NBPA Executive Director, is very much “in power,” and continues to enjoy the support of our members!”

Roberts led the union through Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations in 2016. She appears active in running the union now.

Controversially, Roberts rejected cap smoothing when the new national TV deals sent revenue soaring. That adversely affected many union members, though benefited others.

Roberts and Paul have also sometimes prioritized stars, to the dismay of the rank-and-file.

But the overall health of the union appears strong, and Roberts and Paul remain in charge.

‘Off the Dribble’ names All-Sneakerhead team (video)

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On the latest episode of “Off the Dribble,” Jacque Slade named his All-Sneakerhead team. Spoiler alert: The NBA’s shoe king – Rockets forward P.J. Tucker – made it.

Watch to see who else earned a spot.