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.

Knicks reportedly had players-only meeting before David Fizdale was fired

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New York had lost eight in a row, blowing big leads in a couple of those games. The last two games the Knicks were listless — a 44-point crushing by the Sixers, then a 37-point thrashing by the Nuggets — and looked like a team that had given up.

Friday morning, team veterans — led by Marcus Morris — called a players-only meeting before practice to talk about the need for the players to not roll over and play harder. Particularly with coach David Fizdale’s job on the line. That meeting was reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Fizdale then ran the team practice.

One meeting and one practice was not going to stop the inevitable, Fizdale was fired later on Friday. The Knicks have made that official and assistant coach Mike Miller will take over as the interim head coach.

Sometimes there is a boost of energy teams get from a coaching change, but in the case of the Knicks it may well be a dead cat bounce. That is unless the veterans really do take charge and start pushing this roster.

While Fizdale certainly deserves blame for the lack of identity on offense and defense from the Knicks, I’m not a believer that an NBA coach is fully responsible for his team’s motivation. These are professionals getting paid millions of dollars, it shouldn’t take a rah-rah speech from a guy in a tie to get them focused and ready to do their job. It’s on the players. Motivation is always part of a coach’s job, and with a young team keeping the players on task certainly is part of the coach’s responsibility, but at the NBA level a coach should have to worry less about firing his guys up on a nightly basis.

Knicks make it official: David Fizdale fired, assistant Mike Miller promoted to head coach

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UPDATE: The Knicks have made all the reporting official.

As had been expected, David Fizdale is out as the Knicks head coach after an ugly 4-18 start to the season. This was a case where Fizdale was given an “Island of Misfit Toys” roster to work with that was never going to be good, but he also didn’t do much with it. New York had no identity on either side of the ball. The Knicks have lost eight straight, the last two by at least 37 points, and the team was simply lackadaisical in its effort recently.

Who will coach the Knicks next season depends on the answer to another question: Are team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry safe, or are they on their way out, too?

In the short term, New York promoted Mike Miller into the big chair, and bring up Keith Bogans from the G-League coaching staff to round out the roster, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Miller spent four years as the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, the franchise’s G-League affiliate, and was the G-League Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He was eventually promoted to the Knicks bench.

Don’t expect a major shake-up in the Knicks’ offensive and defensive systems, or with the rotations, at least in the short term. There just are not a lot of practice days built into the NBA schedule to allow a mid-season replacement to overhaul everything. Plus, with this roster, there’s only so much a human being can do.

 

As was expected, Stephen Curry reportedly has second wrist surgery to remove pins

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This was both expected and right on schedule.

Stephen Curry said almost a month ago that he was going to need a second surgery to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure back on Nov. 1. Curry suffered a fractured hand back on Oct. 30 when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him, and in the first surgery pins were inserted to stabilize the bone through the healing process.

That second surgery has taken place, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This has been confirmed by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Curry has said he fully expects to play this season, although it wouldn’t be until the end of what is a lost cause campaign for Golden State. For now, Curry is focused on recovery.

“[Managing the]swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly,” Curry said last time he spoke to the media.

Without Curry or Klay Thompson yet this season (plus, of course, Kevin Durant on crutches in Brooklyn), and D'Angelo Russell missing a chunk of time as well due to injury, the Warriors have struggled to a 4-19 record with a bottom-five offense and defense.

The hope for the Warriors is to get Curry and Thompson back by next summer and working out, they get a high draft pick, make a couple other moves around the edges, get Draymond Green healthy, and this team is a threat again. This season it’s more like the Warriors are taking a season off to find themselves and travel the world.

Report: Knicks fire David Fizdale

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The Knicks started 2-8.

Then, it got worse.

Knicks owner James Dolan ordered president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to address the media after a loss. Mills and Perry spoke before coach David Fizdale, a break in decorum that ignited speculation about Fizdale getting fired.

Then, it got worse.

New York lost six straight.

Then, it got worse.

After a 44-point loss to the Bucks, Fizdale said the Knicks entered the game not believing they even could win. They followed that with a 37-point home loss to the Nuggets yesterday that Fizdale called “sickening.”

Finally, with New York 4-18 and on an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks are making a major change.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This was inevitable. Mills wanted Fizdale gone and knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics.

The season was already a lost cause, and it’s likely to remain a mess. Keith Smart, who previously coached the Warriors and Kings, was the only other member of the staff with NBA non-interim head-coaching experience.

The big question: Will Mills and Perry survive?

They gave Fizdale a lacking roster and outsized expectations. Nearly any coach would have been doomed to fail in this situation.

To be fair, Fizdale provided no evidence he deserved to be an exception. The Knicks lacked identity under his guidance, and development of younger players was uneven.

But the problems go way above Fizdale, starting with Dolan.

At least we’ll always have this Fizdale quote comparing the Knicks to slipping in ice, dog poop and pee.