Klay Thompson, American offense just enough to keep USA undefeated, beat France 100-97

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Coming into the final game of group play Sunday, Klay Thompson was shooting 18 percent from three, and for two games the American offense had been too much one-on-one isolation.

Against France, those things improved. Klay Thompson had 30 points and knocked down 7-of-13 threes. The USA moved the ball better in the half court, highlighted by Kyrie Irving‘s 12 assists (he also had 10 points).

However, the USA’s unimpressive defense did not improve — and now they head to the one-and-done medal round where that problem could finally bite them.

It did not on Sunday, as the USA surrendered most of a 16-point third quarter lead but held on for a 100-97 win against a French team that did not play Tony Parker due to a toe injury (and they wanted to rest him before the quarterfinals).

The USA finishes group play 5-0 and on top of Group A. They will face the fourth place team in Group B — which likely will be one of Spain, Croatia, or Brazil — on Wednesday.

The USA has had stretches where they impressed, but they have not put away solid teams, allowing them to hang around and have a chance. The Americans need to figure out how to change that.

“Not to take breaks on the defensive end,” Thompson said would be the key in a postgame televised interview. “We’re playing a lot of great pick-and-roll teams, and we’re just missing coverages and not trusting each other enough. But we’ll get there. I mean, this game felt a lot closer than it had to be but a win’s a win.

“I’ll tell you what, we’ll improve. I guarantee it.”

The USA will need to, they could well face this French team again in the semi-finals. The French didn’t play Parker and ran a fair amount of zone defense — like they were holding some tricks back for a potential future meeting.

Teams with guards that don’t melt under pressure defense have given the USA trouble. Even with Parker out, France’s Thomas Hurtel fit that bill.  

The USA’s offense much better at the start, hitting 11-of-16 from the floor and picking up 10 assists on those 11 buckets in the first quarter on their way to 30 points. However, they were ahead just 30-24 after one quarter because they were not getting stops.

The USA pushed the lead out to double digits thanks to a reserves lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and DeAndre Jordan — that group outscored the French reserves 17-6 late in the first early into the second, putting the USA up 36-26.

The USA offense was good enough to hold onto a 55-46 at the half. In the third quarter, France missed shots (not really thanks to USA defense) and that led to transition chances for the Americans — including some Thompson threes. The USA pushed the lead up to 16 at one point and led 81-69 after three.

However, in the fourth, when the USA started 0-of-3 from the floor, the French cut the lead down to within one possession. France won the fourth 28-19. However, Irving took on more responsibilities, the USA made enough offensive plays, and they held on for the win (the final margin of three is a little deceiving as the French hit a three at the buzzer). 

From here on out Olympic basketball enters a one-and-done tournament format — lose and you go home. While the Americans have yet to lose in Rio, their defense and overall level of play have given other teams hope. If the USA can’t find more defensive focus by Wednesday, the Americans gold medal streak could come to an end next week in Brazil.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.

Lillard poised to pass Drexler as Trail Blazers all-time leading scorer

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
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Damian Lillard could have done what a lot of NBA stars have done — what a lot of them told him to do while recruiting him — and has chosen to stay in Portland. He wants to be remembered as the greatest Trail Blazer ever.

One good way to do that: Become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after, Lillard will do just that, passing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and his 18,040 points (Lillard is 531 back).

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports spoke to Lillard about when he knew the record was within reach, during Trail Blazers training camp in Santa Barbara, California (go Gauchos!). It was when Lillard got to 10,000 points.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I got 10,000 already?’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports he recalled at the time. “It was my sixth season in the league. That’s when I started thinking, if I could be consistent, I could score into the high 20,000-point range. As a scorer, 20,000 points is always looked at as a special mark. From that moment, I knew it was possible, but it’s also when I first researched Clyde Drexler’s [scoring] record with the team.”

Drexler is good with being passed by Lillard.

“You and I know records are made to be broken, but I can’t think of a better player or person to break the record than Dame,” Drexler told Yahoo Sports. “He exemplifies being a team player and going about his business in a professional way. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him. When he comes close to getting the record, and if our schedules align, I would love to be there to help out in any way I can. That’s a nice milestone to achieve. I am looking forward to him accomplishing that.”

Lillard is on a lot of front office people’s watch list this season, as in “how long before he is unhappy and asks for a trade?” The thing is, Lillard has been on that list for years and he keeps choosing Portland — he isn’t looking to leave. Of course, the $120 million extension and a retooling of the roster around him helped with that decision, but Lillard always had other options if he wanted them (and at times it felt like he would take them).

The Trail Blazers brought in Jerami Grant, re-signed Anfrenee Simons, and will put them with a solid core of others such as (a finally healthy) Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and others. It’s a good roster, the question is how good in a deep West?

There are a lot of questions about how this season shakes out in Portland, but the one seeming sure thing is Lillard becoming the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. And that seems fitting.