Associated Press

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

5 Comments

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.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

1 Comment

Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

AP
2 Comments

Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

Getty
7 Comments

The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

Getty Images
5 Comments

Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.