Rockets come from 19 down late in third to beat Clippers 119-107, force Game 7

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This is the greatest collapse in Clipper history. Which is saying something.

It’s also one of the greatest and most improbable comebacks in Rocket history.

When Chris Paul made a driving, twisting layup with 2:35 left in the third quarter, the Clippers went ahead 89-70. Los Angeles was in total control and on its way to its first-ever Conference Finals.

But from that point on the Clippers shot 5-of-27 (18.5 percent) including missing 14 shots in a row near the end of the game. They missed layups and open threes, shots they want and normally hit. Meanwhile the Rockets — using an unlikely lineup without James Harden — were 8-of-13 from three alone in that stretch, and outscored the Clippers 49-18 to close out the game. Corey Brewer had 15 points, and Josh Smith had 14 in the fourth quarter and was the defacto point guard, both guys hitting shots the Clippers would normally just let them take — but they found the bottom of the net.

The Clippers went into their prevent defense while the Rockets played with the desperation of a team that did not want its season to end.

The result was a furious comeback and a 119-107 Rockets win that forces a Game 7 Sunday in Houston.

“We never stopped believing,” Dwight Howard said after his 20 point, 21 rebound performance, where he played the entire second half. “Our faith was tested all night, as it has been all series, but we kept it together.”

“We were trying to run the clock out, and we stopped playing, and they kept playing,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Once it got to eight you can just feel it…

“We missed wide open threes, layups, dunks. With each miss I felt the pressure mounted.”

Down 19 Kevin McHale went to a more defensive lineup, with Smith and Brewer on the court, with Dwight Howard in the paint, while Harden got rest. It wasn’t meant to be a long-term rotation, but it worked. Surprisingly, that lineup put up points — 40 in the fourth quarter — and won the game.

“They outplayed in every sense of the word down the stretch,” said Blake Griffin, who had 28 points on the night. “We took our foot off the gas, stopped defending, a lot of things.”

“We gave this one away, there’s no doubt about that,” Rivers said. “But it’s still 3-3, there’s still a Game 7.”

The question is can he get his Clipper charges mentally up for that game after a painful let down on Thursday night.

The game started well for Los Angeles. The Clippers started out on an 8-2 run, their defense was the key as they were getting stops. But they could not pull away from the Rockets, and then in the second quarter Houston stuck right with LA. They put up points, James Harden did a good job of attacking before the defense was fully set, and he was getting to the line. It was 64-62 Clippers at the half, in 24 minutes that didn’t see a lot of defense.

But the third quarter was all Clippers.

The Rockets shot 25 percent overall and were 1-of-8 from three in the quarter. James Harden shot 1-of-7. The Clippers played their best defense of the game and were getting stops then running off them. Meanwhile, Chris Paul had a dozen points, and the Clippers pulled away and led by as many as 19.

Then the fourth quarter happened.

And the Rockets season stays alive.

The end of the game was a perfect storm of the Clippers getting tight and missing makeable shots, while the Rockets hit shots they don’t normally hit — if Josh Smith wants to take a step-back three you let him. But of course on this night he drained it. Meanwhile Griffin — the best player so far in all the playoffs — missed three layups in a row at one point, one of them blocked by Howard.

This gives the Rockets a lot of momentum heading home, but the Clippers are already Game 7 tested these playoffs.

Things are going to be very interesting Sunday in Houston.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.