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.”

 

When a retired Michael Jordan showed up, dominated a Warriors practice

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It was the winter of 1995, major league baseball was on strike and Michael Jordan — at that time still a member of the Chicago White Sox organization — refused to be a scab and cross the picket lines.

“Mike was thinking about coming back (to the NBA), he was getting that itch again, it was a lockout in baseball, and he just wanted to play some basketball,” NBA legend Tim Hardaway told NBC Sports.

The Last Dance documentary covered how Jordan was secretly taking part in Bulls’ practices at that time. What it didn’t cover was the time Jordan flew out to California to see his friend, Rod Higgins (a Warriors assistant coach), and absolutely dominated a Warriors practice.

“It was kind of embarrassing for a guy to take that many months off then to come into our practice and dominate the way he did,” Hardaway said. “But of course, he’s MJ.”

Warriors players tell the story on The Sports Uncovered podcast, which launched today by NBC and takes a unique look at some of the most significant moments in sports. Like Jordan saying, “I’m back.” You can listen to the podcast below or download it at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your pods.

Jordan was always looking for a test, and the Warriors at the time provided one: Hardaway was one of the game’s great scorers (but was still coming off a torn ACL) and trash talkers, and Golden State had the game’s “it” up-and-coming player in Latrell Sprewell.

Hardaway takes the story from there.

“[Jordan] and [then Warriors assistant coach] Rod Higgins are really good friends, he just came to visit Rod and said, ‘Hey, Rod, you think [Don Nelson] would let me just come to practice and with y’all?’ And Rod asked him and coach was like, ‘s ***, why not, of course.’

“He just wanted to see where he was at, where his skills was at — and of course they was still there. The same skills, without much rust, that he left with. He was practicing with us, and I came up and was egging him on, ‘Let’s see what you got, s***, let’s see it.’ He said, ‘Alright, now, I’m still MJ.’ And I was like, ‘You had guys throwing balls at you, you been out two years, I heard you been shooting around but this here, this is the real deal now, you got to come and lace your s*** up.”

“It was him, Rony Seikaly, Chris Mullin, some other point guard, against me, Sprewell, some other guys, and man, we was playing for like two hours, and I wanted to go some more because he was bustin’ our a**. He wouldn’t let Sprewell dribble the ball at all — he kinda knew exactly what Sprewell could do, what he couldn’t do, his weaknesses and his strengths.

“It was like he never missed a beat, man. He was out there shooting fadeaways, dunking, playing defense, getting through screens, denying, jumping through passing lanes. It was a little rust, of course, but once he got going each game he got stronger and stronger, his timing got better, you could just tell. He was kinda tired at the end, but it was something to see.”

Hardaway, always the competitor, didn’t want to stop.

“I was kinda upset because I think his team took it more seriously than our team,” Hardaway said. “But he came in and put on a show in practice…

“He said ‘I can play all night, but you all have a game tomorrow and I don’t want to wear you out.’ I was not playing that much anyway so I wanted to get as much run as I can.”

Find out more about that legendary practice, and Jordan’s return, on The Sports Uncovered podcast.

 

NBA veteran Jason Terry takes job as assistant coach at Arizona

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Jason Terry played four years for the legendary Lute Olsen at Arizona, winning a national championship in 1997 and averaging 21.9 points a game his senior year. The Jet went on from there to play 19 years in the NBA, winning a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009, and he was part of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team.

Terry had moved into the front office side of the business and was serving as the assistant GM of the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G-League affiliate. Now, however, he is jumping back to his alma mater, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This is a smart hire by Arizona and head coach Sean Miller. High schoolers going to a major D-1 school all have NBA dreams and having a respected NBA veteran who can say “this is what it takes” on staff is a big plus. Besides, Terry was a smart player who knows the game and had a mentality suited to coaching.

For Terry, he’s back in a place he likes, he’s young (42) and has a world of options ahead of him.

Scott Foster says it’s going to be different officiating without fans in building

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The noise from 18,000 people can cover up a lot of sounds in an NBA arena. So when a back-bench assistant coach yells “bulls****” after a call he doesn’t like, the official never hears it and the game moves on.

Not when NBA games restart in fan-less facilities in Orlando in a couple of months. Without those fans, referees are going to get to hear that coach. And a whole lot more.

It’s going to be weird for referees in Orlando, just like for players, veteran official Scott Foster said recently on NBA TV.

I know I don’t want everything that we normally say to each other going out. But normally we’re all in a professional manner out there. But it is going to be different. There’s going to be some assistant coaches that we haven’t really heard from before sitting in the second row that we’ll be able to hear now, so there’s going to be some adjustment there. And then I think we’re going to need to really talk about and analyze what is OK for the public to hear and how we’re going to go about our business.

But it’s definitely going to be a different thing. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience for the referees, players, coaches, everybody who’s going to go through this.”

It is going to be unique. Everybody is going to hear everything, and that is going to be very different from most nights when coaches have to go to hand signals because it’s too loud just to call out a play. It’s going to lead to some awkward and tense moments.

Everyone is going to have to adjust to the new reality, and that includes the referees, too.

 

Report: NBA group stage could include 24 teams

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Bulls guard Zach LaVine
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The initial report on the NBA resuming with a group stage presented a 20-team scenario. There’d be four groups with five teams each – one from each tier of the current standings:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

Teams would play each other team in its group, and the top two finishers in each group would advance to an eight-team tournament (effectively the second round of the playoffs, though without conference splits).

But that format could apparently include four more teams.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

In brief, per several sources who have seen the league’s proposal: The NBA could take 20 (or 24) teams and divide them into groups

The simplest way to expand to 24 teams would be adding a sixth tier then forming four groups of six. That’d mean adding:

  • Tier 6: Suns, Wizards, Hornets, Bulls

Bleh.

The more games the NBA holds, the more money the league will make. But the more people involved, the more risk of someone contracting and spreading coronavirus. It’s a fine line, and the league has sought a middle ground.

Phoenix, Washington, Charlotte and Chicago strike me as too lousy to include. Those teams are well outside the normal playoff race, and there’s no good reason to believe they would’ve made a late push.

In this environment, they might have shot, though. Coronavirus increases variability. Players have had differing access to resources and differing motivation to train during the hiatus. Once play resumes, positive tests could be scattered randomly. Would anyone view the Suns, Wizards, Hornets or Bulls as deserving of a berth in the eight-team tournament? If one of those four teams qualified, that’d probably just show the setup was flawed.

The fairest way to set the playoffs is with 20 teams, depending on structure. Resuming with just 16 teams wouldn’t be that far behind. The highest financial upside comes with all 30 teams, but that seems infeasible.

Setting the line at 24 teams seems like the worst of most worlds – including four bad teams that wouldn’t generate much interest but would threaten to disrupt everything else.