Montrezl Harrell

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Doc Rivers as Clippers look to free agency: ‘This is the start of something great here’

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers overcame low expectations and a roster without any current or former All-Stars to win 48 games, make the playoffs and push the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games.

Now they’re ready to go shopping. A blockbuster list of free agents comes on the market this summer.

The Clippers have depth and a cohesive bunch of players who fight to the finish – comeback wins of 31 points in Game 2 against Golden State, 28 points at Boston, 25 points at Detroit and 20 points at Charlotte – and that should help catch the eye of big-name talent.

They went 48-34, extending a franchise record with their eighth consecutive winning season. Their 13-2 mark was the NBA’s best in March.

“We did more than most thought we could,” coach Doc Rivers said. “This is the start of something great here.”

After missing out last year, they returned to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. As an eighth seed, they lost in 4-2 in the first round to Golden State, but not before their Game 2 comeback – the biggest in NBA playoff history.

“That’s a beautiful basketball team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve got a bright future.”

Some things to watch:

IMPACT ROOKIES: Two of the team’s three rookie guards made a big impact. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started 73 of 82 games at the point, averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists during the regular season. He scored a Clippers rookie playoff record 25 points against the Warriors. Landry Shamet joined the team in February in a trade from Philadelphia, where he played his first 54 games. He finished fourth all-time in 3-pointers made (167) by a rookie during the season, when he shot 42 percent. Jerome Robinson showed promise while struggling to find minutes in a crowded backcourt, dealing with a nagging foot injury and going back and forth to the G League. The trio’s presence could help make the Clippers an attractive free-agent destination, knowing their youngsters can make plays in big games and have huge upside. “They were complete pros,” Lou Williams said. “They took every challenge that we had for them, on the road, in practice.”

GETTING A STEAL: C Ivica Zubac came over from the Lakers in a steal of a deal at the trade deadline in February. The 7-foot-1 center started 12 of 33 games for his new team, averaging 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. He had a playoff career-high of 18 points and 15 rebounds against Golden State. Zubac and Montrezl Harrell formed one of the best center combinations in the league. Zubac, a third-year pro, can become a restricted free agent after the season.

OFF THE BENCH: Harrell and Williams, a candidate for his third Sixth Man of the Year award, proved a lethal combo off the bench. They notched the highest combined scoring average of any reserve duo in NBA history at 36.9 points. Williams led the league in bench scoring at 20.1 points (also tops on the team) while becoming the No. 1 bench scorer in league history. Harrell was fourth at 16.8.

FRONT OFFICE: The Clippers have a solid front-office to pursue free agents. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank presides over general manager Michael Winger, assistant GMs Mark Hughes and Trent Redden, and consultant Jerry West. Winger is so committed to seeing the franchise build a long-term contender that he took himself out of contention for Minnesota’s basketball ops job. Under Frank, the team traded its highest-scoring players each of the last two seasons (Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris) for multiple draft picks and other players while freeing up room under the salary cap to offer maximum deals to free agents this summer. Coach Doc Rivers is locked in for what’s to come, having said in March he’s working out a long-term contract extension.

Unstoppable Kevin Durant drops 50 on Clippers, propels Warriors to second round

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LOS ANGELES — “I’m Kevin Durant. You know who I am. Y’all know who I am.”

The Clippers knew exactly who Durant was before this series started. Everyone did. That’s a very different thing than stopping him.

“I promise we tried…” Lou Williams said after Durant dropped 50 on the Clippers and ended their playoff run. “We tried everything. We tried everything.”

Just two nights before, on Wednesday, Durant set a personal new career playoff high scoring 45 points. It wasn’t enough, the Warriors lost.

Friday night he upped his game, scoring 38 points in the first half and 50 for the game.

That was enough. The Warriors won 129-110, taking the series 4-2.

The Warriors will start their second-round showdown with a well-rested Rockets team Sunday in the Bay Area.

“That was one of the great performances I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’ve seen some good ones. I’ve been around some decent players,” said Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr, who was teammates with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and coaches Stephen Curry. “So he just carried us these last couple of games of the series. He’s the ultimate weapon because there’s no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot.”

It was more than Durant that propelled the Warriors Friday night. The focused Warriors showed up, for one. For most of the night Klay Thompson was a defensive beast, and as a team Golden State did a much better job on Lou Williams, trapping and being physical with him, pressuring him into a 3-of-20 night. Part of that was Williams missing shots he made the rest of the series, but for the Clippers they have to live and die with Williams. He’s been too good all season and deserved the standing ovation he got when taken out of the game.

“I was locked in from the jump,” Thompson said of his defensive effort. “I was just trying to play with intensity and make it tougher on whoever was in front of m. I thought I played well tonight.”

The Warriors also made an adjustment with Draymond Green setting very high picks for Stephen Curry, and the Clippers trapped Curry to get the ball out of his hands. However, the result was Curry finding a rolling Green to create a 4-on-3, making Green the playmaker, and he had 10 assists on the night, throwing lob after lob in the former home of Lob City. Green had a triple-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, too.

There was also cause for concern for the Warriors: Both Curry and Thompson tweaked their ankles.

“I’m sore, and I will be for the next few hours, but I anticipate going fully on Sunday,” said Thompson, who was limping noticeably after the game.

“It’s fine,” Curry said of his ankle, adding he will be ready to go on Sunday.

Curry tweaked his ankle chasing Landry Shamet across the lane halfway through the first quarter. He stayed in the game and drained a three on the next play, but later went to the locker room to have it worked on. He returned to the game but didn’t move the same after that.

Those injuries are exactly why the Warriors needed to take care of business in Game 5 on Wednesday. They didn’t. Now there is less than a 48-hour turnaround before they play at 12:30 Sunday, and both backcourt starters could be slowed a little.

That said, the Warriors, in general, were not concerned about the short turnaround.

“In the NBA, we’re pretty used to this schedule. We play a game, a day off, another game. We pretty much do that all year,” Durant said.

“We know [the Rockets] well. We kind of know what they’re going to do,” Kerr said. “They don’t make you think too much about what they’re going to do. They let you know. They’re going to come after you and pick-and-roll. We played them three times in the playoffs the last four years.”

The Warriors all were filled with praise for a Clippers team that won over a lot of fans — both in Los Angles and around the country — with their passionate, gritty style of play. The Clippers unleashed the beast in Montrezl Harrell, got a healthy Danilo Gallinari playing his best most of the season, got another Sixth Man of the Year season out of Lou Williams, and had Patrick Beverley’s feisty heart. And that on a team that started two rookies in this series and showed promise for the future.

“I love their team. I just love how they compete, how they fight and play for each other,” Kerr said. “That’s a beautiful basketball team. They made us work for everything. So they’ve got a bright future.”

The Clippers future could take a big step this summer, they are linked to Kawhi Leonard among other top free agents.

The Warriors future is Sunday. The question is, did the Clippers sharpen a team that was bored and grew dull during the regular season, better preparing them for the Rockets? Or, did they wear down Golden State and soften them up for Houston?

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Veteran Spurs shoot way to Game 7

Associated Press
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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) Pressure? What pressure? Veteran Spurs step up, shoot San Antonio into Game 7 vs. Denver. It’s why San Antonio was a trendy upset pick in the first round against Denver: Experience. Guys they could trust in the clutch who would step up and make plays, and a coach in Gregg Popovich who would put them in positions to do just that.

Backs against the wall in Game 6, the Spurs experience mattered.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, changing his strategy to attack more by facing up on Nikola Jokic. DeMar DeRozan added 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting. Rudy Gay came off the bench for 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The veterans took advantage of a soft Nuggets defense and just destroyed them from the midrange — look at this shot chart.

The end result was a 120-103 San Antonio win on their home court. It forces Game 7 Saturday in Denver.

The other key to this win was the San Antonio defense, and the strategy behind it. Jokic and Jamal Murray had success with a two-man game (a lot of pick-and-rolls) and the Spurs lived with that, not helping off shooters to defend the actions. The result was Jokic had a career-high (and Nuggets franchise playoff high) 43 points, doing that in 30 shots. He was a beast on the night.

However, Jokic and Murray combined to take 51 percent of Denver’s shots, up from 34.6 percent and 40.5 percent in the previous two wins — the ball movement and transition buckets that characterize the Nuggets offense were missing. Denver was taken out of its flow.

In Game 7, can that Spurs defense again take the Nuggets out of rhythm, or will the Nuggets role players feel more comfortable and shoot better than 25 percent (6-of-24) from three? It’s one game, anything can happen, and usually one unexpected player ends up being the star.

It’s good we have at least one game seven in the first round.

2) RIP John Havlicek, a basketball legend and true Celtic. John Havlicek left a heck of a legacy on the court — eight NBA titles (8-0 in the Finals), 11-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Defensive team, 13-time All-Star, Hall of Famer, probably the greatest sixth man the game has ever seen.

What matters more is his legacy off the court, where former teammates and everyone who interacted with the man praised him.

Hondo passed away Thursday at the age of 79. The love that poured in for him was genuine, and the thoughts about his game secondary.

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history. A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players. We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

3) Houston will be in Bay Area before Warriors/Clippers Game 6 ends. There is another Game 6 on Friday night, the feisty Los Angeles Clippers — and their pick-and-roll combination of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell — will try to force a Game 7 against the championship favorites, the Golden State Warriors.

The Houston Rockets aren’t buying the Clippers’ chances.

Friday the Rockets are flying up to the Bay Area to get comfortable and rested before the series with the Warriors — before Game 6 is even. Tim MacMahon of ESPN first reported this.

It’s more about the league’s scheduling than the Clippers. If the Warriors win Friday (Golden State is a 10-point favorite), then the Rockets/Warriors series starts on Sunday. Steve Kerr can thank the Television Gods that run NBA playoff scheduling that gives his team just one day off to prepare for the Rockets.

The Rockets, wisely, want to be ready for the most likely outcome, which means a game on Sunday.

The Warriors admitted they were complacent in Game 5 at home, expecting to win and defending like they thought a win was their birthright. One would think blowing a 31-point lead at home earlier in the series would have taught the Warriors a lesson about underestimating the Clippers — this team is hard not to like, with its energy, passion, and Williams getting buckets — but the Warriors racked up a lot of bad habits during the regular season and they have not been that easy to shake through five games.

The Clippers have been surprising teams and spoiling plans all season long. They may do it to the Rockets, but Houston wants to be prepared for what we all know is coming — the defacto Western Conference Finals. Which probably start Sunday.

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

Associated Press
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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.

Clippers stun Warriors by forcing rare Game 6

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The Warriors feel inevitable.

So, when the Clippers let a 15-point second-half lead dwindle away in the final minutes, the game and series appeared over.

Instead, Lou Williams responded with a personal 8-0 – including a four-point play – run that sparked L.A. to a 129-121 Game 5 win Wednesday. The last two teams to lose a home Game 5 while leading a series 3-1:

  • 2019 Warriors vs. Clippers
  • 2016 Warriors vs. Cavaliers

Golden State will try to avoid any more comparisons to those 2016 NBA Finals in Game 6 Friday. The Warriors have won both their games in L.A. in this series, but have dropped two in Oakland – more home losses than they had the previous two postseasons combined.

The Rockets took care of business earlier in the night, but Golden State didn’t clinch its place in the anticipated rematch. The Clippers just aren’t making it easy.

“It’s a little mix of arrogance and just hard work,” said Williams, who scored 33 points and dished 10 assists. “We have a lot of young guys. We have a lot of veterans, guys that want to prove their names. We were wrote off early on in the year, people saying we weren’t a good team. We take all of those things. We digest it, and we try to make as much as we can out of it. So, it’s shown in this series.”

These Clippers have such an awesome identity.

They easily could have cherished their 31-point comeback in Game 2 as their moment of the series. But they kept fighting.

Patrick Beverley (17 points, 14 rebounds and four assists) was everywhere. Montrezl Harrell (24 points on 11-of-14 shooting with a clutch block) controlled the paint. Danilo Gallinari (26 points) got rolling after a couple off games.

L.A. has already won more games (two) than anyone except Houston (which won three in last year’s Western conference finals) in a series against the Warriors since they added Kevin Durant.

Durant scored 45 tonight, but Golden State turned up its defensive intensity too late.

“Build from this game? This game sucked. We lost,” Klay Thompson said. “Let’s go win Friday. Let’s win big. Let’s freaking win by 30 like we’re capable of.”