Morning shootaround — April 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers falter down stretch in Game 5| Report: Thunder, Donovan open talks | Harden focused on bigger goals | Report: Lakers willing to add Rondo for low price | Lillard’s speech inspires Blazers

No. 1: Clippers freeze up down stretch of Game 5 — Save for a Game 3 blowout in San Antonio, the Spurs-Clippers series has lived up to its billing as the best one of the first round. Each game has been a nail-biter and last night’s Game 5 was no different. Los Angeles had a solid shot at claiming a 3-2 lead, but some late blunders and bad plays late in the game puts them on the flip side of that status, writes Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

Yeah, it happened again. With the pressure on the precocious Clippers, they wilted again. Needing one big play, they again responded with a botched play, and now they are down to their last chance to make it all better.

In a pivotal playoff game against the NBA’s championship measuring stick known as the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, the Clippers again crumbled under the weight of every critic’s charge and skeptic’s claim, falling apart in the fourth quarter of a 111-107 loss in Game 5 of the first round, falling behind three games to two.

The play that everyone will be talking about will be DeAndre Jordan‘s goal-tending on a potential game-winning runner by Blake Griffin with 4.9 seconds remaining, especially since it was clearly goaltending and Griffin’s shot appeared destined to roll through the rim without any help.

“At this point, it ain’t about the stats,” said Chris Paul, who vainly tried to do it all during the quarter with nine points. “We have to execute better and play better down the stretch.”

It didn’t help that by that fourth quarter, a Clippers bench that helped them win Game 4 had been ineffective or ignored.

While five Spurs reserves played at least 11 minutes, only two Clippers reserves played that much, and Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined to make five of 19 shots. Overall, the Spurs bench outscored the Clippers bench, 48-17.

For the second time in five games in this series, the Clippers were punching bags in the final rounds, although this has happened to Spurs opponents before. In fact, this traditionally most pivotal of games has long been the Spurs’ most favorite game. The Spurs are now 24-8 in Game 5s since their first championship in 1999. They have won six straight Game 5s over last two seasons and were 15-1 in Game 5s during their five championship years.

“They’re not going to panic, they’re not going to go away, you’re not going to knock them, you’re going to have to win by a decision,” Clippers Coach Doc Rives said of the Spurs. “Our guys have to embrace that.”

 


VIDEO: The Clippers discuss their Game 5 defeat

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No. 2: Report: Thunder, Donovan begin talks — If you missed it Monday, our David Aldridge pointed out in his Morning Tip how the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves an important crossroad. After they fired coach Scott Brooks at season’s end and, given the injuries stars Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook dealt with in 2014-15, OKC can’t afford to make a mistake on who it picks next to lead its group. The process of finding the next coach appears to be underway, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com, as the Thunder have begun talks with University of Florida coach Billy Donovan:

The Oklahoma City Thunder have formally commenced discussions about their vacant coaching job with Florida coach Billy Donovan, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that Donovan and Thunder general manager Sam Presti have opened a dialogue about the position, which became available a week ago after the dismissal of Scott Brooks.

Within NBA coaching circles, Donovan is widely regarded as the clear favorite to succeed Brooks, who made one trip to the NBA Finals and two other trips to the Western Conference finals in his seven seasons as Thunder coach.

Donovan is the first known candidate to talk with the Thunder about the job. It was not immediately clear how many other candidates, if any, Presti plans to sit down with.

Donovan and his family are very entrenched in the university community after his nearly two decades as the coach in Gainesville. Leaving those ties and the college basketball kingdom Donovan has built there, for faraway Oklahoma City, is believed to be the biggest hurdle that could prevent the Thunder from ultimately hiring Donovan, who resisted serious interest this time last year from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves despite his well-known ambitions for coaching in the NBA someday.

Despite his lack of NBA coaching experience, Donovan is said to appeal to Presti as a candidate because of their similarly meticulous approaches to the job. Presti speaks often of the Thunder’s culture and making every move with that culture in mind. With two of his former assistants already there and a relationship with Presti already established, Donovan would appear to be the best available fit for that culture after former Thunder guard and current Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie withdrew last week from consideration.

Donovan recently agreed to a one-year contract extension to stay with the Gators through the 2020 season, but the contract contains a buyout for a mere $500,000 if an NBA opportunity arises. The extension is not regarded as an impediment to Donovan’s pursuit of NBA jobs.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, one of Donovan’s most trusted confidantes thanks to their long history together as both coach/player and coach/assistant coach, recently confirmed in an interview with ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” ‎that Donovan ‎”has an urge to coach in the NBA — a strong desire to coach in the NBA — and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics.”

Donovan agreed to take the Orlando Magic’s coaching job in 2007 and then backed out almost immediately to stay at Florida.

UPDATE, 12:25 p.m.: Looks like things are moving forward on a potential offer to Donovan from the Thunder

UPDATE, 2:17 p.m.: ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Donovan is seriously considering leaving the Gators for OKC:

Billy Donovan is leaning strongly toward taking the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching job, according to sources in both the pro and college game.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Donovan has left little doubt he’s seriously interested in the prospect of making the move now to the NBA to succeed Scott Brooks, who was ousted by the Thunder one week ago after a trip to the NBA Finals and two other trips to the Western Conference finals in his seven seasons as Thunder coach.

One source close to the situation went so far as to tell ESPN.com that “the job is Donovan’s to lose” at this point. Another source said Wednesday that the rising expectation in Gainesville is that Donovan “is as good as gone.”

Neither Donovan nor Thunder general manager Sam Presti could immediately be reached for comment, with sources saying Donovan has essentially stepped out of public view this week as he enters the final deliberation stages about whether or not to accept the position.

Donovan recently rehired Anthony Grant, a former Florida assistant and Alabama head coach, but a number of sources said Donovan could easily take him with him to the NBA.

Sources said Donovan had been recruiting for 2015-16 and beyond the past few weeks while deciding on what to do next. Florida lost two early-entrants to the NBA draft in Chris Walker and Michael Frazier II. Also, Eli Carter announced that he would seek a transfer and play immediately after graduating next month.

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No. 3: Rockets take important next step — Ideally, the Houston Rockets would have liked to have swept the Dallas Mavericks in their first-round series. Still, last night’s 103-94 win in Game 5 clinched the series for Houston and moves it into the West semis for the first time since 2009. As our Fran Blinebury reports from the scene of Game 5, Rockets star James Harden isn’t impressed with that little feat and, instead, has bigger goals in mind:

For the Rockets franchise, it may well have been a night to do double, triple and quadruple backflips over winning just their second playoff series of any kind since 1997 and their first since 2009.

Just don’t expect Harden to get upside down in jubilation for getting off the ground floor.

He didn’t come for the history. He came to make his own.

Harden got himself out of Oklahoma City to be this player, the one who takes the ball in his hands and the situation and the game and the team onto his shoulders.

It was never just a breakdown in contract negotiations at the end with Thunder general manager Sam Presti. The truth is that the Thunder were always willing to go to the wall financially to keep their Big Three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden together. But after three seasons and one trip to The Finals, Harden wanted more and nothing the Thunder could do was going to keep him in that yoke.

He wanted games like this one, an atmosphere where the tension and the pressure is palpable.

Harden has been a relentless, driving force from opening night this season in part because he’s in the prime of his career and just getting better and better. But he’s also driven by the last two playoff series, his first with the Rockets, where he played poorly, couldn’t make buckets when they were needed and couldn’t get his team out of the first round.

“I don’t ever want to feel that way again,” he told himself.

We have a lot of versatility in the locker room. In order for us to get where we want to go, we’ve got to play some defense. We really showed in this game that we can play some really good defense and be locked in. Whether we play San Antonio or the Clippers, both are elite offensive teams and we got to be ready to lock down.

“We got a lot of guys in this locker room that are hungry and want to do whatever it takes to win. When you get a group like that, you’ve got a lot of guys that want to sacrifice.”

When you get a lead dog like that, a lot of guys will want to follow.


VIDEO: James Harden dominates Game 5 to power Houston to the West semis

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No. 4: Report: Lakers willing to add Rondo for a low price — The relationship between the Dallas Mavericks and their point guard, Rajon Rondo, is over just like the Mavs’ playoff run ended last night. Now that a Texas return is out, expect the talk of Rondo landing in Los Angeles along one of his longtime fans, Kobe Bryant, to pick up. There’s some truth to all that hubbub, but in terms of what the Lakers are willing to pay for Rondo, the price may shock some. Kevin Ding of BleacherReport.com has more:

If you’ve arrived at the completely logical party, hosted by the estimable Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, that Rajon Rondo shall not be welcome on your team under any circumstances at any price tag, it’s probably for the best.

Lakers co-owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak, however, are not there.

So there remains a distinct possibility in today’s pace-and-space NBAthat the Los Angeles Lakers will be the torchbearers for the old school and sign the pass-first (nay, pass-only) Rondo to a free-agent contract this summer.

But what should be made clear, according to team sources, is that Buss is not the believer he was earlier in the season when it comes to Rondo, and Kupchak is toting enough healthy skepticism that he sees Rondo as value only at a certain low price.

What can be said is that as much as Rondo’s sobering stint in Dallas might have given Buss and Kupchak pause, they aren’t completely turned off the way so many in NBA circles are.

Rondo’s overall quickness isn’t what it was before the 2013 torn ACL, and the once-heralded defensive resolve has slipped, too. Beyond that, defense at the point guard position in the NBA isn’t as critical as many think given how defensive schemes often funnel drivers toward rim-protecting big men, who are the greater defensive priority on the roster.

The critics who identify such slippage in Rondo’s game aren’t even the toughest ones: It’s a fair assessment that Rondo, a four-time All-Star, was flat-out overrated in his prime—winning the 2008 NBA championship with three great, hungry veterans in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

So as much as a club such as the Lakers might be intrigued by the prospect of getting a Rondo intent on reclaiming his name and his game, probably at a discounted price, there remains the question:

If Rondo just isn’t that good, what can he even bounce back into?

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No. 5: Lillard’s speech lights fire under Blazers — The Portland Trail Blazers have their work cut out for them: one more loss and their playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, as well as their playoff run, is over. They staved off elimination with a Game 4 win thanks to an inspired late-game performance from Damian Lillard, who had struggled throughout the series. As Joe Freeman of The Oregonian writes, Lillard’s in-game speech on Monday may have helped Portland believe it can do the impossible:

For the better part of 40 minutes, however, it didn’t seem like that would happen. When Jeff Green hit a ridiculous pull-up three-pointer with 8:48 left, the Grizzlies took an 80-70 lead and a Blazers loss seemed inevitable. They were trapped in a horrendous shooting slump, having made just 5 of 25 shots in the second half, and Memphis was gritting and grinding its way to a sweep, even though point guard Mike Conley was resting in Memphis recovering from Monday surgery for a facial fracture.

But right about this time, the momentum changed. Right about this time, Lillard delivered an impassioned talk during a huddle on the Blazers’ bench, lighting a fire under his teammates.

“He was like, ‘We won’t lose this game,'” Nicolas Batum said. “He started everything.”

Lillard has delivered plenty of passionate pep talks in his three years in the NBA, but this was different.

“I’ve never seen him like that,” Batum said. “Not like that. Not with so much passion. There was blood in his eyes.”

LaMarcus Aldridge (6 of 22) and Batum (3 of 13) struggled from the field, so Lillard took it upon himself to take over late. After his passionate fourth-quarter pep talk, Lillard responded by scoring 12 points and making three of the Blazers’ final six field goals over the final 8:08 of the game. Lillard, who was in the middle of a funk over the first three games of the series, finished with a playoff-high 32 points and seven assists — and one game-changing emotional plea.

“He’s been criticized the first three games, people … say, ‘Where is Dame?'” Batum said. “He showed everybody, ‘(I’m) right here. Don’t worry about it. I’m good.’ I’m very proud of him because he showed who he is.”

And what Lillard proved to be Monday night was part series-saver, part leader. It turns out, his fourth-quarter speech to his teammates molded nicely with Batum’s new mantra. The Blazers aren’t looking to shock the world like last season. They’re just looking to stay alive.

“The big thing we’ve been talking about is having heart and playing with pride and just not being swept,” Lillard said. “People always say, ‘Nobody’s ever done it, coming back from 0-3.’ And we didn’t want to focus on that. We wanted to focus on today and doing everything we had to do to give ourselves a chance to keep playing.

“So in the huddles, I wanted to just do my best job of keep reminding the team that, ‘Hey, this is it. We have to stay locked in, keep playing with energy, keep pushing the ball,’ just the things that we might not even recognize we’re doing. Just kind of bring it to light consistently, so we don’t forget what’s giving us a chance in the game tonight.”


VIDEO: Portland keeps its season alive with an inspired performance in Game 4

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Houston Rockets had a bit of an off-color tweet during last night’s Game 5 clincher vs. Dallas … Digging deep into the stats from Game 5 of Rockets-MavsGame 4 of Grizzlies-Blazers and Game 5 of Clippers-Spurs … For the record, Kelly Olynyk says it wasn’t his intention to hurt Kevin Love … Speaking of the Celtics, they’ve built a solid foundation upon which to build next seasonCarmelo Anthony made an impassioned plea on behalf of his home city, Baltimore … One unnamed NBA GM thinks Brook Lopez should be able to get whatever he wants out of the Brooklyn Nets this summer … Paul Pierce gave Deron Williams a big pat on the back of sorts for his play in Game 4 of the Nets-Hawks series …

ICYMI of the Night: Dallas’ playoff run is over, but Al-Farouq Aminu gets props this morning for this power flush ...  


VIDEO: Al-Farouq Aminu steals the pass and goes coast to coast with authority

 

3 Comments

  1. Indiana'sownLarryBird says:

    Lakers, Lakers, go after Aldridge, or Gasol, get one of them in the post and go get Kevin Love to stretch the floor and add more rebounding, and get some bench players. Then next year when the TV deal kicks in go get Durant. Get a point guard who ca shoot, not Rondo.

  2. Indiana'sownLarryBird says:

    The Rockets take a important step?? LOL, the second round come on, they played the Mavs, they will lose to the Spurs. if they made Finals, or the WCF and beat the Spurs then they have made a important step, but first round against a horrible Mavs team, no!!!

  3. harriethehawk says:

    The Portland Trailblazers are toast.