While Celtics focus on James Harden, Russell Westbrook scores 41 in Rockets win

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BOSTON — The Boston Celtics managed to shut down the NBA’s leading scorer for most of the second half and overtime.

Just one problem.

“We had a lot of attention on James Harden.” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said, “and we forgot about the other MVP over there.”

Russell Westbrook scored 41 points and Harden had 21, including a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left in overtime to give the Houston Rockets a 111-110 victory on Saturday night.

Boston rallied from a four-point deficit in the final 20 seconds of regulation and sent the game to overtime on Brown’s 3-pointer at the buzzer after an intentionally missed free throw. The Celtics scored the first basket of the extra period and led 110-109 but did not score in the final 2:49 of the game, missing their last six shots.

Harden, who averages almost 35 points, was held to nine points on 3-for-12 shooting over the final 29 minutes, going scoreless for all of the fourth quarter. Westbrook also had eight rebounds and five assists, scoring 18 in the second half and three more in overtime.

“This is his first year as a Rocket. It’s going to take some time and he’s finally there,” Harden said. “You can have the confidence but not the ability. But he has both and that’s what makes him so special.”

Robert Covington added 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who have won six straight and 10 of their last 12 while beating Boston five times in a row.

Jayson Tatum had 32 points and 13 rebounds, Marcus Smart scored 26 points and Brown had 22 for the Celtics. Daniel Theis had 15 rebounds for Boston, the last in the final seconds of overtime to set up a short baseline jumper that was released after the buzzer before harmlessly swishing through the net.

The Celtics had won 14 of their previous 17 games and could have moved into a tie with Toronto atop the Atlantic Division with a win.

“I thought the right team won,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they were better than us — not by much, but at least by one.”

Boston led by as many as 17 in the first half, but the Rockets scored 13 straight points near the beginning of the second to take their first lead of the game 66-64. Boston missed nine straight shots into the fourth quarter and still trailed 102-98 after Westbrook hit one of two free throws with 19 seconds left.

Smart leaned in for a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game, but Westbrook got away on the fast break and Theis reached out to grab him; they had to go to a replay to determine that it wasn’t a clear path foul. The Houston guard hit both free throws to make it 104-101 with 8.1 seconds left in regulation.

The Rockets sent Tatum to the line, where he missed the first free throw. He intentionally banged the second off the front of the rim, Smart deflected the ball and Brown grabbed it at the top of the key before hitting the tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, tied 104-all.

“It’s something we practice, if we need to miss a free throw, try to make a play,” Tatum said. “JB was in the right spot at the right time and he knocked down a big shot to give us a chance.”

Lou Williams admits “I probably could have made a better quality decision”

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Lou Williams is far from the first man to regret a trip to a strip club — or to be put in a kind of “time out” for it.

Williams was out of quarantine and back on the court for the Clippers Tuesday and afterward owned up to the mistake of swinging by the Magic City strip club in Atlanta to pick up some food while he was out.

“Well, in hindsight, I think as far as the public safety issue goes, I probably could have made a better quality decision. I was a little naive in that aspect,” Williams said after Devin Booker ripped L.A.’s heart out. “I went somewhere after a viewing of somebody I considered a mentor, somebody I looked up to, first black man I seen with legal money in my life.

“The funeral home was a couple blocks away from one of my favorite restaurants. It’s been documented how much I talk about this place, how much I eat there. I just did something that was routine for me. I frequent that place at that time of day, 5:30, 6:00 in the afternoon. At the time I thought I was making a responsible decision.

“After looking back on it, with everything going on in the world, the pandemic, maybe it wasn’t the best quality decision. I chalk it up that that, take my L and keep moving.”

Williams had been granted permission to leave the NBA’s restart bubble in Orlando to attend the memorial in Atlanta. But he detoured by the Magic City strip club in Atlanta for some grub — the club does sell “LouWill lemon pepper BBQ wings” although a worker at the club said she gave Williams a dance while he was there. However, the league’s concern was not the food or what goes on in the club, it’s the other people in a confined indoor space who were not following the same safety protocols Williams was supposed to be observing. That’s what got him a 10-day quarantine. Thanks a lot, rapper Jack Harlow.

What did Williams do for 10 days?

“I was able to finish a couple of books. I did some crossword puzzles,” he said. “I had 10 minutes to pack up my room, so I was able to get out my studio stuff. I stayed engaged on Zoom with the practices. Had 30 minutes to work out every day.”

Williams, on a minutes restriction, had 7 points on 3-of-8 shooting on Tuesday. His bench pick-and-roll partner, Montrezl Harrell, is still outside the bubble after the death of his grandmother. The Clippers will need both of them at full strength once the playoffs roll around.

Report: No second bubble, scrimmages or practices for other eight NBA teams

Bulls guard Coby White vs. Hawks
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The on-again, off-again idea of a second bubble? The on-again, off-again idea of the eight NBA teams not continuing at Disney World even scrimmaging or practicing?

It’s all looking unlikely.

Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

There is growing belief among the NBA’s eight franchises not in Orlando that a second bubble site being built for minicamps and intrasquad scrimmages will not happen, sources tell The Athletic. There is pessimism about in-market minicamps for group workouts happening as well.

“There’s nothing happening,” one GM told The Athletic after a Tuesday call between the eight GMs and league officials. “It’s a shame. It’s a huge detriment to these eight franchises that were left behind.”

I’m so sick of some of these eight teams whining. They’re not playing because they weren’t good enough to qualify for the resumption. Deal with it. Every year, some teams get eliminated before others. This is different in degree, not kind.

Besides, are these eight teams watching the high level of play in the bubble? After a long layoff, teams look energetic and fresh. Long offseasons could give the eight eliminated teams an advantage next season.

Playing basketball safely amid the coronavirus pandemic is costly – both in terms of operational expenses and lifestyle sacrifices for participants. It’s worthwhile for the continuing 22 teams because the revenue being produced by the resumption.

That wouldn’t necessarily be the case for the other eight teams. Maybe there’s value in fulfilling local TV contracts, but the remaining games are a poor product. Scrimmages and practices would be even less marketable. Impending free agents especially have little reason to care about continuing.

I understand why many of the eight teams want to do something. But it’s probably just not worth it.

Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. out for season with torn left meniscus

Jaren Jackson torn meniscus
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Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 22 points and was the best Grizzlies player against the Pelicans on Monday night, showing off his athleticism and touch from three.

He also tore the meniscus in his left knee during the game, the Grizzlies announced Tuesday.

Even with the short offseason, Jackson should be ready to play at the start of next season.

This is a serious blow to the Grizzlies, who are 0-3 in the bubble and now just lost their best player through those three games. He has been the best source of offense for the Grizzlies in the bubble, feasting on defenders who cannot match his speed.

Jackson, a 6’11” big out of Michigan State, averaged 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game this season, shooting 39.4% from three. He’s still developing, but he looks like a classic modern big — can protect the rim, can post up or make plays from the elbow, and can shoot the three — who is developing a strong chemistry with Ja Morant. They could be the cornerstones of the Grizzlies’ future.

First, Jackson has to get healthy.

Watch Devin Booker drain turnaround game-winner to beat Clippers

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Devin Booker is a serious problem.

The Suns All-Star guard scored his 34th and 35th points of the night on a turnaround game-winner at the buzzer= over Paul George — who defended him well. He called game.

Ivica Zubac opened the door for Booker to win it. The Suns had the ball with 31 seconds to go and the Clippers — Kawhi Leonard in particular — defended it well, forcing Ricky Rubio into a difficult, high-arcing shot he missed. Zubac did a good job grabbing the rebound, but then he hurried the outlet pass and Mikal Bridges tipped it, Deandre Ayton grabbed it, and the Suns got to reset and take one more shot.

Devin Booker took the final shot, a game-winner. That man is a problem.

The bubble Suns are now 3-0.