JaMychal Green

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Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrates his birthday by scoring 27, leading Bucks in rout Clippers

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their 14th straight victory, a 119-91 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.

Antetokounmpo, on his 25th birthday, made 11 of 20 shots and recorded his 21st double-double of the season.

“I was 25 once, but I wasn’t that good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after joking that he wanted to see Antetokounmpo’s birth certificate.

Antetokounmpo left the game with Milwaukee ahead by 36 with 8:56 to play. While he sat, the Milwaukee crowd started “happy birthday” chants for their star — and he loved it.

The Bucks led by as many as 41 and extended their longest winning streak since winning 16 consecutive games over two seasons in 1973.

Khris Middleton added 17 points and Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova each scored 13 off the bench for Milwaukee.

Rivers pulled all of his starters out of the game with the Bucks leading 101-67 with 9:25 remaining in the fourth quarter. The group exited to the chant of “Overrated! Overrated!” from the Milwaukee crowd.

Kawhi Leonard had 17 points and Paul George added 13 for the Clippers.

JaMychal Green missed his second straight game for Los Angeles after suffering a bruised tailbone last Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs.

 

Three Things to Know: Clippers depth, versatility too much for Lakers on opening night

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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.

1) Deep bench gives Doc Rivers options Frank Vogel just doesn’t have, and it shows in Clippers’ win. Less than four minutes into the season opener Tuesday night, the Clippers had already been down 11 points, and were having trouble generating good looks and knocking them down. The Lakers fans who made up half the crowd at the Clippers’ home opener were full-throated.

Coach Doc Rivers turned to players he trusts, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and his pick-and-roll partner Montrezl Harrell.

“Let’s get settled down and play some ball,” Williams said of his goal entering the game. “They made some shots and everything was overhyped because of the atmosphere and everything, but it was just an eight-point lead. So we just wanted to get a different lineup in, settle everyone down.”

Harrell got a couple of buckets rolling to the rim, the Clippers got a couple of stops, and the complexion of the game started to change. Eventually, the Clippers would go on to beat the Lakers 112-102 in the season opener, a game where the Clippers were in control most of the way from the second quarter on.

In control because the Clippers had depth and versatility Rivers could trust — the Clippers won the bench scoring battle 60-19. Rivers had multiple ball handlers and shot creators he could turn to. He had Williams and Harrell to settle things down and get some buckets in the first and fourth quarters (the latter after the Lakers made a 15-0 run to tie the game). He had JaMychal Green to come in off the bench and hit four threes. He had Moe Harkless who could come in and play good defense plus score 10 points. He had Patrick Beverley‘s toughness to lean on.

He had the versatility of Kawhi Leonard’s game. Leonard would hit seven shots in a row in the second quarter, and by the end had 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

Leonard, Williams, and Harrell were running actions where Williams would do a dribble hand-off to Leonard, who would then come around a screen by Harrell, and all of them could find a little space. It worked, and it could be so much better yet.

“I was frustrated tonight offensively,” Doc Rivers said after the game. “Because I saw so many things we didn’t see, yet. They shouldn’t have seen them but… you saw so many things with Lou and Kawhi and Trezl that they just didn’t see yet. So it will be great to grow together.”

All that, and the Clippers still don’t have Paul George back until next month.

The Lakers don’t have those options. 

Los Angeles tried to post up LeBron James and Anthony Davis a lot to take advantage of their size, plus run some of LeBron/Davis pick-and-roll (but not enough). As the game wore on, the Clippers started to defend those actions better — switching but having the big man (usually Harrell) stay back and dare LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender. He did neither well, and he seemed to want to force-feed Davis, which led to five LeBron turnovers. Plus, if Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee were on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing to attack inside. The Clippers clogged the paint, and LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night. Outside of Danny Green, no Laker could make the Clippers pay for how they chose to defend.

Laker coach Frank Vogel didn’t have another playmaking option that worked. (Rajon Rondo didn’t play in the opener, but teams are going to dare him to shoot jumpers, too.) LeBron is the guy with the ball in his hands for the Lakers, the primary and by far best shot creator on this team, and there aren’t other reliable options. Against most teams that may work, but against an aggressive and strong Clippers defense the Laker offense stalled out.

It’s just one game of 82, the start of a marathon of a season. The Lakers and Clippers are going to be different teams come the start of the playoffs next April. This game will be long forgotten. But it showed how the depth and versatility of the Clippers are going to make them hard to beat this season. And how the star-heavy Lakers are not built the same way.

2) Raptors’ championship rings are ginormous, but Pascal Siakam wears it well in Toronto win. Championship rings are supposed to be oversized and gaudy — the team just won a title, celebrate that and show it off. However, the Raptors took that to an almost comical degree with their design. The ring ceremony and banner raising in Toronto Tuesday struck the right notes and was emotional. But I couldn’t stop staring at the rings. They looked like brass knuckles as much as rings.

Oh, by the way, they played a game north of the border, too, and the theme of depth and versatility played out there as well.

Pascal Siakam just inked a four-year, $130 million max contract extension that had plenty of fans asking if he was worth that much. He looked every bit of it on opening night, both scoring 34 points and finding ways to impact the game when he didn’t have the ball. Exactly like one should expect a max player to do.

However, it was that Raptors’ depth that got them a win on the night. Siakam fouled out late in the fourth quarter, then it was Fred Van Vleet — who also had 34 points — that guided the Raptors to a critical win. He looked like the Van Vleet from the NBA finals, seemingly hitting every shot and making every right decision.

Toronto also got 22 from Kyle Lowry and 13 from Serge Ibaka.

With Zion Williamson out (at least 20 games, but more likely close to 30, think Christmas return), the Pelicans became a little less watchable. Just know this: they are still good. The Pelicans moved the ball well, got 22 points out of Brandon Ingram, 16 out of J.J. Redick, and some surprisingly good big man play from rookie Nicolo Melli. The Pelicans also tied a franchise record with 19 made threes. All that on a team where coach Alvin Gentry is clearly still trying to figure out his rotations.

3) The NBA’s China problem isn’t going away. As you walked up to Staples Center for the season opener between the Lakers and Clippers, two things jumped out at you. First, security was at a level usually reserved for the All-Star Game or NBA Finals (TNT’s outdoor stage by the arena tied into that).

Second, people approached you giving away “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts for free. When asked about it, I was told the goal was to hand out 13,000 of these for free. (Photo via Dave McMenamin on Twitter.)

I certainly saw some shirts worn inside Staples Center (as well as some of the Clippers giveaway shirts), but mostly this is Los Angeles so nobody wants to cover up the $400 T-shirt they conspicuously wore to the game. Still, people were taking them.

There was a group giving away shirts outside the arena in Toronto Tuesday night, too, although on the broadcast it appeared most fans seemed to go with the giveaway shirt on a banner raising night.

Nobody in China saw any of this because Chinese state media chose not to broadcast the opening night games. Plenty of people in America heard another discussion of it because Shaq, Charles Barkley and the Inside the NBA crew on TNT discussed it pregame.

With actual NBA games starting, league officials are hoping the situation with China will calm down. It likely will, for now. But it’s going to be simmering along on the back burner and at some point something will crank up the heat and it will boil over once again.

Lakers fans boo Kawhi Leonard, then he reminds fans why they wanted him in Clippers win

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LOS ANGELES — When Kawhi Leonard was introduced before the start of the Clippers’ first home game Tuesday night, boos rained down on him from the numerous Lakers fans in attendance still stung by the fact Leonard did not choose their team last July.

When Kawhi Leonard took the mic to address Clippers’ fans pregame, he was almost drowned out with boos — remember, this was a Clippers home game. The first time Leonard went to the free throw line, boos again filled Staples Center.

Less than three hours later, those Lakers fans had left in silence, reminded of what they missed out on in the two-time Finals MVP. Leonard walked off the court to cheers from the Clippers faithful.

Leonard was at the heart of what worked for Los Angeles all night. He sparked a Clippers run in the second quarter when he made seven straight shots, and eventually finished the night with 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting (plus six rebounds and five assists) and was the leader the Clippers hoped he would be as they took the season opener 112-102 from that team down the hall.

“He created the run for us,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Leonard’s performance. “That’s what he does, he talks with his game, and I think that’s the way it should be.”

While Leonard was the spark, it was the depth and versatility of the Clippers that was the biggest difference in this game — the Clippers won the bench scoring battle 60-19.

Rivers had options. The Lakers had raced out to a fast 13-2 lead thanks in large part to LeBron James’ playmaking and post ups. To change that, less than four minutes into the game, Rivers brought in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell — the smoothest pick-and-roll combo in the league — and they “calmed everything down,” to used Williams’ words. Harrell attacked the rim and quickly picked up a couple buckets. The Clippers picked up the pace and the Lakers struggled to keep up with it all game when that happened.

Later the Clippers went to the Williams/Leonard dribble handoff followed immediately by Harrell setting a pick for Leonard, a play that both worked and was still rough around the edges.

“You saw so many things with Lou and Kawhi and Trezl that they just didn’t see yet,” Rivers said. “So it will be great to grow together.”

All this helped the Clippers get back in the game. At the end of the night, Harrell had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, Williams had 21 points on 14 shots, and JaMychal Green had 12 points going 4-of-7 from three.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel didn’t have the same options, especially on a night LeBron and Anthony Davis struggled to hit shots. The pair was a combined 15-of-40 shooting and 1-of-7 from three. They scored two points and shot 1-of-6 combined in the fourth quarter. The Clippers were switching picks but laying back and daring LeBron to shoot, then packing the paint if he tried to drive. LeBron could not get past Harrell at points and create, but his options were limited. Still, it was the best play the Lakers had and they likely should have run it more because they don’t have other shot creators to turn to like Rivers did.

Danny Green did his part with 28 points and hitting 7-of-9 from three. He was the best Laker on the court.

The rest of the Lakers let their offensive struggles bleed onto the other end of the court.

“We let our offense dictate our defense,” LeBron said on a night he still had 18 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. “We have to be better at that… Down the stretch, we had some careless and costly turnovers when we were making a run. I know I had three of them that were very careless and [the Clippers] capitalized on them.”

What the Clippers showed in the opener was the same physical, lunch pail, come ready to go hard attitude that made them tough to play against last season. Now they just do that with Leonard on the roster, too — and with Paul George still to come (once he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, likely some time next month).

“What I saw in our team was just overall team toughness,” Rivers said. “They hit us with a punch to start but we just kept moving forward. We took it and kept playing. I thought our ball pressure changed the game for us.”

That pressure, and that depth, is going to win them a lot of games this season.

Clippers agree to one-year deal with veteran stretch four Patrick Patterson

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The Clippers know what they want to do at center: Ivica Zubac will start games and Montrezl Harrell will come off the bench behind him and be a force of nature.

With those two, the Clippers need guys at the four who can space the floor. JaMychal Green will start at the four and provide that spacing, with Moe Harkless can fill some of that role as well.

Veteran stretch four Patrick Patterson agreed to a buyout with the Thunder a couple of weeks ago to clear out his path to the Clippers. Now that deal is done, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That is a veteran minimum contract, as expected.

Paterson played a limited role for Oklahoma City off the bench last season as he continues to try and get right following knee surgery a couple of years ago. He played in 63 games and averaged 3.6 points per game when he got on the court. That said, he’s a solid veteran presence and he can shoot the three still, hitting 33.6 percent from deep last season.

The signing is a bit interesting because the Clippers could use a third center off the bench (Patterson played 13 percent of his minutes last season there but he’s not a five) and another, more traditional backup point guard (to play behind Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams). That said, Patterson is one of the better veterans still available and the Clippers want the floor spacing at the four.

Report: Patrick Patterson agrees to buyout with Thunder, signing with Clippers

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Two years ago, it appeared the Thunder got a steal by signing Patrick Patterson for the taxpayer mid-level exception. But Patterson’s knee surgery the same summer was a warning sign that should’ve been heeded. Patterson had a couple underwhelming seasons in Oklahoma City.

Now, both sides are moving on.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Thunder are $4,307,532 above the luxury-tax line. Patterson’s salary was $5,711,200.

I wonder whether he relinquished enough to get Oklahoma City out of the tax.

A buyout will provide at least some financial relief to the Thunder. They face the repeater tax and will almost certainly dodge it before its assessed the last day of the regular season.

Patterson will get a minimum salary from the Clippers ($2,331,593). Assume he gave up at least that much on his Oklahoma City buyout.

The Clippers have a few primarily small forwards who can play power forward – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Maurice Harkless. L.A. also has a couple bigs who can play either center or power forward – Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green.

Patterson will provide a different element as a bigger stretch power forward with defensive versatility. If the 30-year-old is healthy enough.