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NBA Three Things to Know: Sun sets on Earl Watson in Phoenix

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. This is what you missed on Sunday while wondering if oyster vending machines are a good idea. (They’re not.)

1) Eric Bledsoe Tweets he wants out, hours later it’s Earl Watson who is out, fired as Suns coach. The Suns are a bad team, one that lacked offensive cohesion and defensive effort. Phoenix was blown out by 48 points by the Trail Blazers in their first game, the worst opening night loss in NBA history. It was an ugly start to the season. How could things possibly get worse from there?

Well, how about the Suns get blown out by 42 points in the third game of the season, have their best player Tweet he “doesn’t want to be here” then turn around and fire the coach? That’s what happened, and Earl Watson is out in Phoenix.

Watson was 33-85 as the Suns head coach, but that record isn’t a fair way to judge him — Suns management made him sit Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler to tank at the end of last season, much to Watson’s frustration. This is a young team this season that is not going to be good no matter who coached it. But Watson’s Suns didn’t seem to have a strong offensive identity, didn’t play hard on defense, and there were doubts about his ability to develop young talent. Watson took over as an interim coach after the Suns fired Jeff Hornacek, then he went an unimpressive 9-24 in that role. However, he preached love and togetherness at a time the franchise needed it, and the players loved him, so despite the record management decided to give him a shot as a guy who could develop talent. Watson and GM Ryan McDonough were notoriously rarely on the same page, but Robert Sarver is not the kind of owner who will pay a couple of coaches at once, and the players loved Watson, so he stayed. Then, Eric Bledsoe tweeted this.

I’m not saying the two things are directly related, but if Watson was losing the players, he had little left.

The only question about this move is “why did they wait three games into the season?” Why not make their move over the summer, allowing a new coach to have a training camp to change the tenor of the team? Former Raptor coach (and Canadian national team coach) Jay Triano gets the job in the short term.

The Suns are a young, developing team but with some good pieces already in place — Devin Booker, Josh Jackson — and some guys who need to be brought along (Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss). They need a strong developmental head coach, someone who can install a mindset and get the young guys playing hard. The Suns are going to lose a lot of games this season, and end up with a high draft pick, they are building for the future. They need their process, and they need a coach who can lead it.

2) Carmelo Anthony drains game-winning three… wait, no it’s Andrew Wiggins who drains game-winner for Timberwolves. For a couple of games (this one and the previous one against the Jazz) the Thunder have struggled with their offensive rhythm. Or, more accurately, they just missed shots. Through three quarters the Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony trio was 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) and 3-of-10 from three.

But after the Thunder second unit made it a game again, Westbrook found his groove late — he took over the offense, attacking, and going 6-of-9 in the fourth. Then came the big finish. Karl-Anthony Towns — who was a beast again with 27 points and 12 boards (but needs to take fewer threes if he keeps missing like this) — put the Timberwolves up two. With 8.9 seconds left Westbrook drove, drew two defenders, then shared the rock, found Anthony… and just watch for yourself.

Underrated on that last play: Towns set a massive screen to free up Wiggins and get him that look. Wiggins did not call bank, but as Paul Pierce said last season he did call game.

3) Clippers’ Milos Teodosic out indefinitely. The NBA just got a little less fun to watch. The Clippers brought the passing wizard over from Serbia as a 30-year-old rookie, and he was dishing.

Unfortunately, Teodosic is out indefinitely with a plantar fascia injury. The concern with the Clippers this season was not the talent but the health of a team leaning on Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, and others with long injury histories. Hopefully for Los Angeles, the Teodosic injury is not the start of a trend.

Andre Iguodala sits fourth quarter with “lower leg soreness,” to get MRI Sunday

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DaMarcus Cousins. Kevin Durant.

Now you might be able to add Andre Iguodala to the list of injured Warriors. He only played 18 minutes in Game 3 Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. Asked about that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr listed a hockey injury — lower leg soreness — and said an MRI was coming.

If he has to miss time, that would be another blow to the Warriors. Up 3-0 on Portland, Golden State can close this series out without him, but the Warriors are going to need Iguodala and Durant — and, ideally, Cousins — against the Bucks or Raptors in the NBA Finals starting on May 30.

Iguodala made friends and influenced people when he went back to the locker room late in the first quarter, deciding to flip off the hallway camera on his way.

We will see if the League has anything to say about that or lets it slide.

 

Jordan Bell spectacularly missed dunk, but Warriors reaction was perfect

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Golden State was starting to make its comeback, cutting the lead to eight midway through the third quarter when Draymond Green found Jordan Bell for the breakaway dunk and…

Ouch.

What was impressive though was the Warriors reaction. First, Steve Kerr didn’t take him out. Didn’t bench him, instead left him in and with that showed confidence.

Then there was Draymond Green, who was on ESPN’s Mic’d Up, and was heard encouraging Bell.

Then there was assistant coach Mike Brown, who tried to get Bell out of the moment, in a great story relayed by Ethan Straus of The Athletic.

“So Jordan played against my son Elijah,” Brown explained. “My oldest son played at Mater Dei High School in Orange County and Jordan played at Long Beach [Poly]. So they had a lot of games back in the day. So I went up to him and he thought I was serious, because we took the time out. He’s about to walk out of the huddle and I walk up to him and say, ‘Jordan, listen, don’t worry about the dunk. I saw about three or four of them back in the Long Beach days and you bounced back.’ He fell out laughing. He said, ‘Ah, MB, I didn’t do that back then!’ I said, ‘Yea you did! It’s all good, though!’”

It worked. Bell never lost confidence, never stopped playing the way he plays, and soon enough there was this.

With Portland going smaller and counting on their offense more, Bell is going to have a larger role in that matchup. This is exactly how you build up the confidence of a player so he will come through for you in those moments.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.