Ayton slams home win for Suns, who have commanding 2-0 lead against Clippers


Paul George — who had found his legs in the fourth quarter and put the Clippers ahead 14 seconds before — opened the door when he missed two critical free throws with 8.2 seconds left that would have put the Clippers up three.

Deandre Ayton slammed through that door for the Suns.

That dunk — no, it is not goaltending, it’s a live ball on an inbound pass and can be played over the rim — was the dramatic game-winner and handed the Suns a 104-103 Game 2 victory, and with it a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Game 3 is Thursday night in Los Angeles.

The Clippers kept their heads up after the game.

“They got 2 at home. It’s not a series until someone loses at home,” Reggie Jackson said.

The Clippers have earned that confidence. In the first two rounds, the Clippers went down 0-2 in their series to the Mavericks and Jazz, only to settle on the lineups that worked and came back to win both series and advance.

Good luck doing that against the Suns. This was a blown opportunity for the Clippers, one they may well regret.

Phoenix has much more versatility in their lineups than the teams the Clippers played before, they are incredibly well coached, they are young and athletic…

And they are going to get Chris Paul back this series. Reports are the Suns are optimistic he can play in Game 3 on Thursday.

So much of what went into Ayton’s dunk to win the game is why the Suns are up 2-0 in this series and on the cusp of heading to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

First was the brilliant play design by coach Monty Williams, who has pushed the right buttons all playoffs long. Williams knew the obscure rule that you can play a ball over the rim on an inbounds pass — watch the reaction of George and the Clippers players, they didn’t know it — and used it to his advantage.

Then Williams put the right players in the right spots to execute the play.

First was the steady veteran presence of Jae Crowder inbounding the ball. Not only did he throw a perfect lob, watch his veteran cool after the play — he barely reacts.

Then there was the screen by Devin Booker on Ivica Zubac to create some space. The Clippers had played smart, physical defense on Booker all game long, and he finished with 20 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Booker even did his Steve Nash impression suffering a potentially broken nose on one play, a collision of heads Patrick Beverley that led to a lot of blood and three stitches for Booker (Beverley had to leave the game as well but also returned). Booker returned, and when it mattered most he put his body on the line to make a play that will not show up in the box score but was critical.

Finally, there was the bouncy Ayton with the finish for the Suns, which was perfect. He ended the night with 24 points on 12-of-15 shooting, plus he had 14 rebounds.

With one of the Suns stars at home and the other facing a focused Clipper defense, other Suns stepped up. Cameron Payne had 29, Ayton 24, and Cameron Johnson had 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting.

Tyronn Lue made some smart adjustments for the Clippers. Starting Zubac gave the Clippers better size against Ayton, and while Patrick Beverley wasn’t scoring he was pesky and impacting the game. Luke Kennard gave the Clippers 10 points, all in the fourth quarter.

Paul George finished with 26, scoring 10 in the fourth quarter, including a string of buckets to put the Clippers ahead. But when given a chance to nearly shut the door on the Suns in the final seconds, he missed two free throws.

Down the stretch, the Clippers missed Kawhi Leonard on both ends of the court. He remains out with a sprained right knee, and while the Clippers are making game-to-game announcements about his availability, nobody expects him to return this series from what is reportedly an ACL sprain.

In the end, these Suns have executed better and right now look more talented than the Clippers. And Phoenix gets Chris Paul back. The Clippers are at their best with their backs against the wall, but even this may be too much.

Report: Draymond Green facing potential discipline after fight with Jordan Poole


Warriors practice got heated on Wednesday and Draymond Green reportedly escalated some chest bumping with Jordan Poole and punches were thrown. The team is now considering internal disciple, according to The Athletic.

When a heated interaction with guard Jordan Poole escalated, Green forcefully struck Poole and needed to be separated swiftly, sources said. Green and Poole came chest-to-chest, with both players pushing and shoving each other prior to Green’s escalation of the physical altercation, those sources said.

The two players had been jawing at each other when it escalated and Green punched Poole, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There aren’t details of the incident beyond that description (at least so far), although several reporters have confirmed the was a fight and the two had to be broken up. Poole was seen getting up shots after practice when the media was allowed in and reportedly was joking with teammates.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports Tweeted out what feels like the Draymond Green camp spin on the incident.

Warriors elder statesman Andre Iguodala Tweeted out this on the situation, wanting to keep it all in the family, and adding that “it broke my heart… but it fixed my vision.”

There is a history of tension between Green and Poole, including a public flare-up between the duo early last season, but the two talked after and smoothed things over. At least for a while.

What punishment Green will face from the team remains to be seen.

Poole is on the verge of an extension to his rookie contract, one where Tylyer Herro just set the market.

Green had hoped for an extension from the Warriors this offseason but there were limited discussions between the parties. Green can opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent.

Wizards’ Kispert likely to miss start of season due to sprained ankle


The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.

Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.

The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.

Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.