Associated Press

Jamal Crawford’s hot stretch helps Clippers beat Celtics 116-102

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — For a few minutes, Jamal Crawford made the NBA look like nothing more than schoolyard basketball.

Crawford hit three 3-pointers in 70 seconds late in the third quarter, scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, and lifted the Los Angeles Clippers to a 116-102 victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday night.

“I think I’m at my best whenever I’m just not thinking,” Crawford said. “I’m just relaxed. I’m just playing, just hooping. It’s just basketball. I’ve done it my whole life. I’ve always said when you’re at your best in the NBA it feels like you’re like high school because your true game comes out.”

Blake Griffin scored 26 points and Chris Paul added 23, but it was Crawford’s electric display that shook up the Celtics.

“It’s hard to stop a guy, especially a guy like him,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “He’s known for that. He can get hot real quick. When he gets hot, gets going, it’s going to be a long night for you.”

Down by as many as 13 points and still trailing 71-64, the Clippers ran off the 11 unanswered points in the final 1:41 of the third quarter. Crawford’s three 3-pointers sparked the run, the last of which put Los Angeles up 75-71 with 31 seconds left.

“Obviously he made some tremendous shots, that’s what he does,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “And then we weren’t scoring on the other end. So obviously they kind of flipped the script there at the end of the third. You know from watching the NBA, 13 is nothing when you’ve got a team like that.”

Behind Crawford, the Clippers made 23 of 37 shots in the second half (62 percent).

Up 75-74 early in the fourth, the Clippers ran off a 24-8 spurt, taking a 99-82 lead on Austin Rivers‘ 3-pointer.

DeAndre Jordan added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Clippers, who won their second in a row and remained 1 1/2 games behind Utah in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference.

“I thought they outplayed us in the first half,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “They were more physical. And then I thought we turned that, and we became the more physical team in the second half.”

Isaiah Thomas scored 31 points and Smart added 21 for the Celtics, who had one of their worst shooting performances of the season, shooting just 41 percent from the field after being in the high 30s most of the game.

“I don’t think our shot selection has been great for a couple of games now, but I also think they really defended us well and took some things away,” said Stevens.

Boston has lost two in a row and five of its last eight games. The Celtics remained in the second place in the Eastern Conference, three games behind Cleveland.

TIP-INS

Celtics: With his 3-pointer with 4:24 left in the fourth quarter, Thomas eclipsed 8,000 points for his NBA career. … F Jonas Jerebko sat out the game with the flu.

Clippers: Jordan made his first free throw with 3:03 left in the second quarter, on his eighth attempt. … For 19-year vet Paul Pierce, who played his first 15 seasons in Boston and was the MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals, this was the final game against his former team. The Clippers ran a tribute video highlighting Pierce’s career midway through the first quarter, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation. Pierce plans to retire at the end of the season. He did not play in the game.

HOPEFUL ON HORFORD

Al Horford, who sat out Boston’s loss in Phoenix on Sunday, tested his sprained right elbow, sustained blocking a shot against the Lakers on Friday night, with a pregame shooting session.

“First time since (the injury),” Stevens said. “Feel like sooner rather than later he’ll be back, but I don’t want to put a specific timetable on him.”

ROAD WEARY

For the Clippers, Monday night’s game sat sandwiched between a pair of back-to-backs in the Central time zone. Fresh off games in Milwaukee and Chicago on Friday and Saturday night, the Clippers play road games against Minnesota and Memphis on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

“I would have loved to have just gone straight to Minnesota from Chicago,” Doc Rivers said. “That would have made a lot of sense.”

 

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.