Three Things to Know: C.J. McCollum singlehandedly outscores Clippers in fourth

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LOS ANGELES — 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. Tonight we come from Staples Center.

1) C.J. McCollum singlehandedly outscores Clippers in fourth, Portland picks up a key road win. C.J. McCollum was all smiles Tuesday night.

For one thing, the Canton, Ohio, native was pumped his Cleveland Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. “We’ve waited a long time for this,” McCollum said.

Then there was his 35-point night against the Clippers. That started off slow — he missed his first seven shots and didn’t get his first bucket until there was 2.7 seconds left in the first half — but when it mattered McCollum was the difference. In the fourth quarter he scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting to take over the game, singlehandedly outscoring a Clippers team that had 20 points on 8-of-24 shooting.

“What was it like to watch?” the Clippers’ Lou Williams said of McCollum’s fourth. “It’s not a good time.”

“I don’t ever get gun shy,” McCollum said. “I’ve missed a lot of shots in my career, and percentage wise you’re going to miss more than you make, especially from three. You just have to stay confident, stay aggressive, and know who you are.”

Portland turned a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter into a 125-104 victory, outscoring the Clippers 40-20 in the final frame. In a tight West, games like this against other playoff teams matter. Portland is currently tied for the 4/5 seed with Oklahoma City, and 1.5 behind three-seed Houston. Those teams could land in any order by the time the playoffs start.

The same is true of the 6-7-8 seeds in the West — which includes the Clippers. Los Angeles sits as the six seed right now, but just one game separates them, San Antonio, and Utah for those final three spots. (Sacramento is four games out of the playoffs, they are not making up that ground late in the season.)

Despite the loss, there’s an energy and confidence in the Clippers locker room. They had three games in four nights against strong NBA teams — Boston, Oklahoma City, and now Portland — and they won two of them. But on the second night of a back-to-back, the Clippers’ legs started to get tired and that’s all the space McCollum needed

“You could tell, [Lou] Williams didn’t have the same energy tonight,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “Overall, none of us did. I thought it was a very winnable game until that stretch [in the fourth quarter].”

Both of these teams are going to be tough outs come the West playoffs. Portland has one of the league’s best backcourts with Damian Lillard and McCollum, they have size up front, they can defend, they have a good bench (most nights), and they have experience.

The Clippers have a real energy and physicality. Montrezl Harrell is a beast off the bench, Lou Williams is a scoring machine who attacks and draws fouls, Danilo Gallinari (who was rested Tuesday night) gets them buckets, and those three are surrounded by versatile role players. The Clippers may not win their first-round series, but whoever they face is going to come out beat up on the other side.

2) LeBron put on his own personal dunk contest in Chicago. The Lakers have not been entertaining to watch of late, but LeBron James decided to change that in Chicago Tuesday night. He had 36 points in his limited minutes, and he was putting on a dunking exhibition inside the United Center.

Earlier there was this.

Those two were just part of the highlights. This was the bounciest LeBron has looked since his injury.

3) NBA players, community applaud Jazz banning fan who crossed he line with Russell Westbrook. The NBA was buzzing Tuesday about what had happened Monday night, when Russell Westbrook had gotten into it with a Utah Jazz fan who had crossed the line with his comments.

Tuesday, after an investigation (where witnesses were interviewed and video watched), the Jazz banned the fan from the arena for life. Players around the league applauded the move, saying too often people who cross the clear-line boundary from heckling about the game to off-the-table personal matters don’t face punishment. Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha backed Westbrook, for one.

Donovan Mitchell backed his team and implored the fans to do better.

LeBron James applauded the Jazz.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers summed it up well.

“We forget that this is a human game sometimes, the players have to be human, and the fans have to be human,” Rivers said. “What I always tell our players is that human decency comes into play — be decent to the fans, in a human way, and they need to be that to you. And if they’re not, if [the player] can not react, that’d be great. But sometimes as a human it’s very difficult not to react. But either way you alert people. And I thought that’s what happened. They handled it well.”

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.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.

Rockets will not bring defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik back next season

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Before the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 112.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in the NBA.

After the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 105.3, second best in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Rockets had a 107.3 defensive rating despite six games against the Warriors.

There are multiple reasons for that change, but a key one: The Rockets backed up the Brinks truck and brought assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to help fix the problems.

Bzdelik will not be back with the team next season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Technically Bzdelik was fired, although that is not an accurate description of really what happened here. This was not because of poor job performance, it was a question of if he really wanted to be there, and the Rockets wanted someone all-in. Understandably. This is a Houston team still on the cusp of a title, just one that has run headlong into the Warriors dynasty in recent years. A dynasty that likely will look a lot different next year, opening the door in the West. The Rockets want to push through that door.

That said, replacing Bzdelik will not be easy.

It’s one of a number of challenging choices for the Rockets this summer.