Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets Game 4: Three things to watch from Houston

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The questions remaining in the Western Conference Finals aren’t about what Golden State can do — we’ve seen that. They are the better team. There’s no doubt they can close out the series.

The questions are all for Houston. They have fought hard and lost two games, then been dominated in another. The Rockets are down 3-0 but at home for Game 4 Monday night with one more chance to show their resolve and answer some of the myriad of questions the Warriors pose for them.

With that, we’ll focus on Houston heading into Game 4: Here are three things to watch from the Rockets.

1) How much fight does Houston have left? After Game 4 against the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs, I was in the Rockets’ locker room and thought they looked defeated. Houston was down 3-1, and after a couple tough losses they looked like players in other playoff locker rooms I’ve seen, ones where the team came out the next game and rolled over to accept their fate. But that’s not these Rockets. Houston has been the most resilient team in the NBA this season. Injuries forced changing lineups all season and would have devastated a lot of teams, yet the Rockets kept on winning — 56 games, all the way to the two seed in the West. Against the Clippers, they battled back to take the series. The question here isn’t can Houston battle back to take this series from the Golden State — it can’t — but will it come out with that fight and spirit and take Game 4? I expect they will show that resolve.

2) Expect an aggressive, attacking James Harden — but will Dwight Howard join him? In Game 3 the Warriors switched up their defense on Harden. Instead of a steady diet of Klay Thompson, the primary defender became Harrison Barnes, with his length, and the physicality of Andre Iguodala mixed in with Thompson for stretches. It threw Harden off, he shot just 3-of-16 on his way to 17 points. Harden has not gotten to the line at his regular clip this series. He was fantastic in the first two games of the series but he did it mostly by hitting challenging shots — like step-back jumpers — in the midrange. That was not a formula for long-term success. With their season on the line in front of his home fans, expect Harden to be cooking — expect him to be aggressive, attack, make plays and draw fouls. He will not go quietly into that good night. Another question tied to this: Will Harden and Dwight Howard finally start to play well off each other. As Tom Haberstroh brilliantly pointed out at ESPN, The Rockets’ two best players still play next to each other not with each other. They have the potential to be a devastating force together, but will they finally start to take some advantage of that?

3) Will the Rockets finally defend Stephen Curry well? Through three games in this series, 34 of Stephen Curry’s 62 shots have been uncontested. That’s 54.8 percent of his looks (including 10 of 19 in Game 3). We’re talking about the best shooter in the game, the one guy on the Warriors you can’t lose track of, the guy you have to help on, and more than half of his shots are not contested (according to the NBA’s Sports VU camera data). While we can quibble with the numbers, the fact is Jason Terry and other Rockets defenders lose Curry off the ball far too often. The Rockets have struggled with Curry on the pick-and-roll, and when a big is switched onto him Curry feasts. When he beats the first line of defense — which he will do, he’s good — too often the help isn’t reading the play correctly. Curry is also a gifted passer, and even when the Rockets play him correctly one of the many shooters on the Warriors roster gets a little space and the ball seems to find him. That said, you still have to start slowing Golden State by slowing Curry. He’s is not going to be stopped, but a team can make his job difficult — Mike Conley did it for the Grizzlies, spending the series in Curry’s jersey. If the Rockets want to get some stops, it has to start with slowing Curry down. Maybe that means slowing the pace down a little, but the problem is that doesn’t play to the Rockets’ strengths.

Paul George’s 37 in home debut lead Clippers past Hawks 150-101 (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George scored 37 points in his Clippers home debut, Lou Williams added 25, and Los Angeles led all the way in routing the Atlanta Hawks 150-101 on Saturday night.

The anticipated first game with George and Kawhi Leonard in the lineup together didn’t happen when Leonard sat out with a left knee contusion.

But the Clippers didn’t need both of their new superstars on a night when George tied his career high with six 3-pointers and made all 11 of his free throws in the team’s biggest blowout of the young season.

George was clearly having fun in the fourth when he stole the ball, dribbled down and tossed it off the glass, setting up Montrezl Harrell for a two-handed dunk that ignited the crowd and pushed the Clippers’ lead to 36 points.

George sat down for good with 9:58 remaining in the game, having done all his damage playing 20 minutes.

Two nights after scoring 33 in his debut at New Orleans, George had it going from the start. He scored 15 of the Clippers’ first 22 points in a six-minute span. They led by 17 and shot 59 percent in the opening quarter.

George is the first player in franchise history to score 30-plus points in his first two games with the team.

The Hawks scored 11 straight points to close within four early in the second quarter, the closest they would come the rest of the game. The Clippers answered with an 18-6 run, fueled by George’s nine points, to go back up by 17 again.

George had 25 points at halftime when the Clippers led 74-62, shooting 52% and making all 16 of their free throws.

Leonard also sat out on Thursday when George made his Clippers debut in a loss to the Pelicans.

George missed the season’s first 11 games while completing rehab from offseason shoulder surgery.

“I would love them to play every game and be out there,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “We knew early on this would be a tough go.”

Trae Young had 20 points for the Hawks, who dropped their second in a row. They trailed by 52 points in the fourth.

The Clippers dominated in nearly every category, with their bench outscoring the Hawks’ reserves 81-35. Los Angeles made 17 3-pointers and hit 33 of 35 free throws.

 

Gregg Popovich gets ejected, Tim Duncan takes over coaching, Spurs still fall to Trail Blazers

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan was back in charge in San Antonio and the Spurs were flourishing under his leadership again.

Duncan was directing players on defensive assignments, encouraging them and providing needed leadership. But in the end, he couldn’t provide the same late-game heroics from the bench that he long did on the court.

CJ McCollum scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Spurs 121-116 on Saturday night to spoil Duncan’s first shot at coaching following Gregg Popovich’s ejection.

Duncan took over just 13 games into his first season as an assistant coach. Popovich was ejected after walking onto the court to berate official Jason Goldenberg over a non-call. Popovich calmly walked off the court following his first ejection of the season (you can see it in the video above).

On Twitter, this led to a debate as people tried to figure out who took over as coach. Assistant Coach Becky Hammon ran one time out, but it was Duncan — the assistant coach assigned to scout Portland on the staff — who was the main man. Duncan, Hammon and Will Hardy coached by committee, but it was Duncan calling the plays and screaming out instruction.

“It was cool,” Spurs guard Bryn Forbes said. “It didn’t really feel like a huge difference. I think he did a good job. He took control. He helped lead us to a big lead.”

Popovich was asked if he considered having Becky Hammon take over to make history as the first woman to lead an NBA team.

“I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 13 rebounds but the Spurs lost their fifth straight and fell to 5-8.

Damian Lillard added 22 points and Hassan Whiteside had 21 points for Portland (5-8), which rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a four-game skid in San Antonio.

“We’ve blown leads before, so we kind of know what to expect,” McCollum said. “Once you do it, you’ve got to stay grounded, focus on the little stuff.”

Before the game, Popovich said coaching could only go so far and it was up to each player to take responsibility for his own mistakes and performance during this losing streak. Popovich put that responsibility squarely on the Spurs when he was ejected early in the third quarter.

McCollum had 23 of his points in the first half.

Bryn Forbes added 17 points and DeRozan and Rudy Gay added 16 apiece.

 

Jamal Crawford finds it “baffling” no team has called to sign him yet

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Iman Shumpert got his call from the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony got his call from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jamal Crawford is still waiting for his call, and he’s confused why it hasn’t yet come. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com.

“I know I can play,” Crawford told NBA.com, “and I would think my reputation is still solid. It’s baffling to me…

“Physically, I feel better than I did last season,” he said. “I’m able to get my body together. My skill set is sharp. I feel that I’m good. My mindset is be patient and hopefully something good comes about it. I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

Like Anthony, Crawford needs the right role, but he can help teams.

He’s not young at age 39 but, in the right situation, he could help a team get buckets off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, and his defense is a bigger concern to front offices, but the man still averaged 7.9 points per game last season off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last season (including a 51-point game against Dallas). 

Some team is going to give Crawford a chance. Probably. Until then, he is staying ready, waiting for the phone to ring.

 

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks over not one but two Pacers (VIDEO)

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Once Giannis Antetokounmpo gets rolling downhill, good luck.

The Pacers found that out the hard way with not one but two players getting dunked on by the Greek Freak. On the same dunk.

Damn. That’s not fair.

It’s also not the only highlight play for Antetokounmpo on the night.

Milwaukee was up double digits on the Pacers early in the fourth quarter, and of course, Antetokounmpo was leading the way.