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Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Clippers make their best free agent pitch, beat Warriors

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Clippers make their best free agent pitch on court, beat Golden State Warriors to force Game 6. It’s hard not to root for these Clippers — they are passionate, feisty, believe in themselves, are not afraid of the big moment, they play hard every night, and they do not ever give up. Ever. They are the kind of underdogs fans can get behind. It’s just fun to watch, and it’s not just fans who are taking notice.

It is a team that plays with passion on the court and gets along off it. They have a popular player-friendly coach. They are young — the Clippers are starting two rookies this series — and energetic. They are the kind of team that looks to be just one piece away. The kind of team a major free agent (or two) would want to take a long look at.

Los Angeles best free agent pitch — to Kawhi Leonard, or Kevin Durant, or both — has come on the court in these playoffs.

Durant has gotten an up-close look at these Clippers. He scored a playoff career-high 45 in Game 5 at Oracle, but he didn’t get near enough help. The onslaught of threes from Golden State early was not enough to shake Los Angeles. The Clippers would not roll over and accept their fate (even after a late run gave the Warriors the lead inside three minutes left in the game). Los Angeles kept making plays, kept getting buckets — 33 points from Lou Williams who took over the game late, Danilo Gallinari broke out with 26 points, Montrezl Harrell owned the paint and dunked his way to 24 points — and would not go away.

The result was a 129-121 Clippers win in Game 5 that forces a Game 6 the Warriors did not want to be in on Friday night in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has won two games in Oracle Arena this series, and suddenly them forcing a Game 7 in the first round looks to be a real possibility. The last time the Warriors lost two games at Oracle in a playoff series? The 2016 NBA Finals to the Cavaliers.

The Warriors got caught looking ahead and brought their bad habits — a lack of caring on the defensive end in particular — from the regular season to the playoffs.

After the win on Easter Sunday to go up 3-1, Klay Thompson said: “We see our opponent, they’re up 3-0 [the Rockets]. So we don’t wanna give them any more rest days.”

“It’s their mistake for looking ahead. So that’s on them,” Williams said after the Clippers win Wednesday.

The Warriors made little secret this was the first-round matchup they wanted — because of the easier travel — but they have not respected their opponent and now have paid a severe price for that.

The was a time, years ago, when the Warriors played every night with the passion we see from the Clippers. Now Golden State just looks comfortable.

The Clippers looked hungry and played with desire.

If you were a free agent, which team would you want to join?

2) Houston Rockets win twice. Once to eliminate Utah, then again with Clippers win. The Houston Rockets believe they can beat the Warriors. As Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports noted on the PBT Podcast this week, they have the formula: Win a couple of games because of an onslaught of threes, have James Harden take over a game and be unstoppable, put themselves in position — as they did a year ago — and this time catch a couple breaks.

Breaks like getting more rest while the Warriors keep on playing.

While the Warriors forgot to defend at Oracle, the Rockets went home and took care of business, closing out a Jazz team that found itself the past couple of games and put up a real fight. Houston won Game 5 100-93 behind 26 points from James Harden, but more importantly another strong defensive performance.

The Rockets showed in this series why they are a threat to the Warriors, or anyone else. A defense that struggled to start the season is all the way back now and did a good job not letting Donovan Mitchell take over (although nobody can completely contain him). That defense also caught a break as the Jazz struggled from three in this game — 9-of-38 from behind the arc — and all series, even when they got open looks.

It’s more than the defense. Clint Capela is playing with energy in the paint. Chris Paul is playing closer to the guy we saw last season. The Rockets are moving the ball. Oh, and they have Harden.

The other thing they have is rest. It’s the first of a few breaks they will need to beat the Warriors in the next round.

3) Watch Montrezl Harrell owns the paint down the stretch. Harrell is going to be on a lot of Sixth Man of the Year ballots this season, because he and Lou Williams had great chemistry, because he brought great energy off the bench for the Clippers every night, and because he could just take over the paint down the stretch of games.

Watch him do that to the Warriors in Game 5 Wednesday. This is why the Clippers are just fun to watch.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.

Don’t write of Boston off yet despite 0-2 deficit to Miami

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — If there was a sliver of consolation for the Boston Celtics on Friday, it probably could have been found within the understanding that a 2-0 lead for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Celtics learned that two years ago against Cleveland.

And Milwaukee learned the same last season against Toronto.

Dropping the first two games of the East finals to the Heat, obviously, isn’t the ideal scenario for the Celtics. But they’ve had chances to win both games – and might be getting Gordon Hayward back Saturday night for Game 3, when they’ll have the opportunity to get right back into this series.

“I think this series is far from over,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

Those aren’t fighting words. The Heat agree with him.

“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t,” All-NBA pick and Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We can’t get excited that we’re up 2-0 because as good as it is to be 2-0, it could easily be 4-2 Boston. So, we’re going to come into the same way knowing that we’ve got to be better and stay humble about it.”

The Celtics were up by 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then were up by 17 in the first half of Game 2 and lost both games. Seeing a 17-point first-half lead get erased in the NBA is no big deal anymore; the wasted lead that truly bothered Boston was the five-point edge they had with 4:25 remaining. They got outscored 17-7 the rest of the way, and tempers flared in the Boston locker room after the game.

“We feel like we could have won,” Brown said. “Should have won, and we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it.”

The Heat got some great breaks in Game 2, plays like Kelly Olynyk banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to help finish off a 37-17 Miami run – and Butler getting a steal and then whipping the ball behind his back as he saved it from going out of bounds in the fourth, a play where not only did the Heat maintain possession of his heave but where he wound up getting a layup.

But the comeback had important tactical elements as well, such as Miami going to zone defense and stifling the Celtics with that scheme. If Boston gets Hayward – who hasn’t played in a month because of a bad ankle – back on Saturday, his shooting and passing ability will help when Miami tries the zone. Hayward was listed as questionable for Game 3 on the injury report that Boston submitted Friday to the league.

“This isn’t about zones or defenses and offenses and stuff like that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “This is, we just got to be better.”

Boston led Cleveland 2-0 in the 2018 East finals before losing in seven games; Milwaukee led Toronto 2-0 in the 2019 East finals before losing in six games. Momentum can change just that quickly in a series, and the Heat know that to be the case.

“You get to this level, in the conference finals, it’s not going to be easy for either team – and it wasn’t,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who got his 81st postseason win Thursday to tie K.C. Jones for eighth on the all-time list. “Both teams are laying it all on the line. That’s the way it should be.”

Some of what else to know going into Saturday:

THE DRAGON

Goran Dragic, Miami’s 34-year-old point guard, has led the Heat in scoring in each of the first two games, 29 points in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. “He’s a winner, man. That’s my guy,” Butler said. The only other player this season, age 34 or older, to have multiple 25-point games against Boston was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – in the East semifinals.

FROM 3

Brown and Marcus Smart are a combined 13 for 27 from 3-point range in the two games for Boston; Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are a combined 9 for 34. Tatum knows he has to be more aggressive, after not taking any shots in the final 4:56 of Game 2. “Not looking at we got to win four out of five … just win the next one,” Tatum said.

CELTICS DEFENSE

Even after giving up 223 points in the first two games of the East finals, Boston still leads these NBA playoffs in points allowed per game (101.8; Miami is second at 104.4), opponent field-goal percentage (.413) and opponent 3-point percentage (.317). But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, the Celtics are only 2-5 since. That matches Boston’s worst seven-game stretch from any point this season.

Watch Rajon Rondo hit ridiculous behind-the-backboard floater

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Everything was going right for the Lakers Friday night. They made it look too easy.

On their way to a 1-0 series lead, some may have tuned out before the shot of the game — a Rajon Rondo floater from the baseline, over the backboard and in.

Incredible. You can end a HORSE game with that shot.

Rondo had seven points on 3-of-7 shooting but also dished out nine assists. Maybe not vintage playoff Rondo, but he fit in with a Lakers team that dominated the Nuggets in Game 1.

Game 2 is Sunday evening.

Report: Mutual interest between Jazz, Derrick Favors in a reunion

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The Utah Jazz could use another big man on the roster who could play the four or the five. That is to say, someone who could play with or as a backup to Rudy Gobert. It’s not the team’s top offseason priority — defenders on the wing win that category — but it’s an area the Jazz would like to address.

How about a Derrick Favors reunion? After a season in New Orleans, would he return to Utah?

Yes. But that doesn’t make it likely, notes Tony Jones of The Athletic.

Here’s the deal. There is mutual interest. Favors would not mind a return to Utah, even if it means coming off the bench as Gobert’s primary backup. But, at this point, that’s all it is … interest. The Jazz have to decide whether Favors would be the right place to spend their most significant chunk of offseason money, especially considering finding a 3-and-D wing is of greater priority. Favors will have multiple suitors on the market, including his incumbent team, the New Orleans Pelicans.

Favors will have multiple offers, although maybe not at the money or number of years he hopes. It’s a tough time to be a center in the NBA looking for a payday. The Jazz have their mid-level exception but will need to use all of that to get the wing defender they need.

After that, Utah is going to be looking for a center on the cheap. Favors — who averaged 9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game playing quality basketball last season — is going to get decent offers. It’s hard to see how that matches up.

But stranger things have happened. This is going to be an upside-down NBA offseason anyway.