Associated Press

With Blake Griffin out Chris Paul dominates fourth quarter, leads Clippers to 115-111 win

2 Comments

In the first half it seemed everything went wrong for the Clippers.

First, Gordon Hayward went off for a Utah playoff record 21 points in the quarter on 7-of-8 shooting (he would finish the night with 40). Then late in the first half Blake Griffin suffered a bruised big toe — may well be a turf-toe injury — and he had to leave the game. Los Angeles was down 13 after one quarter and nine at the half, but more than that it was hard to see a path back to the win.

Then Chris Paul took over — he was the embodiment of the point god. CP3 had 24 second half points, he was attacking the paint or dishing to DeAndre Jordan rolling down the lane, and more than all that he completely controlled the flow of the contest.

He sparked a 15-0 Clipper run in the fourth — when the Jazz went scoreless for more than six minutes — to get Los Angeles a lead they would hold on to for a 115-111 road win.

The Clippers are now up 2-1 in the series with Game 4 in Utah Sunday.

“We can deal with adversity,” Paul said in a televised interview about what this game showed. “That’s one of our biggest hurdles, things that we’re trying to overcome.”

Playoff injuries have ended so many Clipper playoff runs in recent years, including last season when Paul and Griffin were injured in the first round allowing the Trail Blazers to advance. Griffin suffered his injury with just under four minutes to go in the second quarter, he had stolen the ball from Hayward and pushed it up himself, finishing a layup past Rodney Hood. After Griffin landed, he instantly started limping.

The X-rays on Griffin’s toe injury were negative, but there is no timetable yet for his return.

The injury set up the brilliance of Paul.

“The primary thing is the game becomes about Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said about the adjustments after Griffin’s injury. “He’s arguably the best person doing that in the league, in terms of manufacturing the whole court. So that puts a lot of stress on the defense.”

Paul came out in the second half and attacked the paint more aggressively — something he can do with Rudy Gobert still out injured for Utah — and he was 5-of-6 shooting inside eight feet of the rim in that stretch. His drive started to force defenders to him, and then he would find a rolling DeAndre Jordan for the lob, or he would kick out to an open shooter. Paul was covered by Ingles to start most of the night but worked hard to get Derrick Favors switched on to him, then attacked.

It all worked. Plus the Clippers stepped up their defensive pressure, and that threw the Jazz off balance. Hayward went cold (1-of-4 in the fourth) and Utah started leaning heavily on Joe Johnson to create shots for himself and others (he was 3-of-6 in the fourth), but the balance was gone from the Utah offense.

Even when they got good looks, they just missed them during that fourth-quarter stretch where Utah’s offense fell apart. That ended up being the ball game.

Behind a couple buckets from Johnson late Utah kept it close, but the Clippers hit enough free throws that the Jazz were forced into desperation shots and passes — both of which Hayward missed badly in the final minute.

Until Gobert returns, the Clippers have a formula that works with the CP3/Jordan pick and roll, with them getting into the paint. Los Angeles had a ridiculous offensive rating of 125.4 in this game, against one of the best defenses in the league.

It falls to Utah to slow down the Clippers a little (easier said than done). The Jazz have to get shots, then get some shots — particularly threes — to fall late. The ball is in Quin Snyder’s court to make some adjustments so Utah can even this series on Sunday. And if one of those adjustments is not “Gobert is back” he’s going to need to get creative, and get some role players to step up.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

Leave a comment

CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

Leave a comment

The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

Leave a comment

The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.