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Morning shootaround — April 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Terry gurantees win in Game 5 | Thomas says he’ll play in Game 6 | Raptors deliver in big moment | Control of series shifts to Portland

No. 1: Terry guarantees Rockets will win Game 5 — Houston Rockets veteran guard Jason Terry is never short on confidence (this is the player, after all, who had the Larry O’Brien tattooed on his bicep the offseason before his Dallas Mavericks won the 2010-11 NBA title). So it is not exactly a surprise that even after the Rockets were blown out in Game 4, Terry sees his team winning Game 5 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and forcing a Game 6, writes Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com:

During the team’s media session at Oracle Arena, Rockets center Dwight Howard wondered aloud if former teammate Chandler Parsons was a prophet. And then Jason Terry, the oldest player on the team, guaranteed a victory in Game 5.

Welcome to the world of the Rockets, who are faced with an elimination game on Wednesday night when they must defeat the Warriors, who will be without reigning MVP Stephen Curry for the remainder of the series.

Will they win?

“I’m guaranteeing it,” said the 38-year-old Terry. “If I don’t, then what? It’s a loss, right. I guarantee victory — that’s what it’s going to take. I believe in my group. I know we can get a win here and send this thing back to Houston.”

“I’m saying right here in front of everybody, I’m getting a tattoo of a Rockets trophy if we pull this thing out,” he said smiling. “You [heard] it here first.”

There were few smiles from Howard. If anything he was shooting down speculation of what he might do this summer. Howard is expected to become a free agent once the season ends and old buddy Parsons said he wants the two to play together with the Dallas Mavericks.

“I think he can still dominate the game,” Parsons said from Dallas. “I think he can still be a great player in this league. And I think he’s going to leave Houston. So why not come here?”

Howard, standing just outside the tunnel following Tuesday’s practice, didn’t seem happy discussing future plans.

“Is he a prophet?” Howard said stoically. “My focus is this basketball game. It doesn’t matter what nobody on the outside says, we are friends, we are close, but none of that stuff matters right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish, and who cares what anybody else says?”

This has been a nondescript postseason for Howard. He’s averaging a career-low 14.5 points per game and despite leading the league in postseason rebounding the previous two seasons, he’s averaging 12.3 boards a game. In his career Howard averages 11.6 shots per game, but in four postseason games this year, he’s at 8.8.

His frustration with not getting touches is apparent and when you add Parsons’ comments regarding his future, it appears Howard has some issues on his mind.

“I don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “It’s he said, she said. My job is to focus on being great [Wednesday] and helping this team win, not what anybody else has to say. Chandler is a close friend, but it’s not about what he thinks or what he wants right now. It’s about this team and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

***

No. 2:  Thomas vows to play in Game 6 — The Boston Celtics and their star, Isaiah Thomas, had a disastrous finish to Game 5 of their series against the Atlanta Hawks. After Boston held Atlanta to 19 points midway through the second quarter, the Hawks caught fire and dropped 70 points on the Celtics over the next 1 1/2 quarters. The end result was a 110-83 loss for Boston that also saw Thomas — who finished with seven points on 3-for-12 shooting — exit the game with a sprained ankle. But don’t expect Thomas to sit out Game 6, writes Mark Murphy of Boston Herald:

Isaiah Thomas has no doubt where he’ll be when it’s time for the tipoff of Game 6 tomorrow night — on the floor.

The Celtics guard turned his left ankle early in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ 110-83 loss to Atlanta last night and left for the locker room.

“I’m playing no matter what. I’m not going to sit out,” said Thomas, who had seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. “I just tweaked it. I tweaked it in Game 4 as well in the fourth quarter, so I just tweaked it again. And it hurt right when it happened, but I came back here and I’ll be all right.

“For the most part, the swelling is all right, I don’t swell that much,” said the Celtics guard. “Hopefully it doesn’t get any worse by tomorrow, which it probably will. I’ll just get treatment all day tomorrow and then before the game on Thursday.”

***

No. 3: Raptors — at last — deliver in big moment — Bring up the 2014 and/or 2015 playoffs around Toronto fans and they will know what your next point is — how their team failed to capitalize on opportunities or just plain didn’t show up on the postseason stage. The same was looking true for the Raptors in last night’s Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers as Toronto was facing a 13-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. Then, things changed and Toronto gave its long-suffering fans a reason to believe anew, writes Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

For so long you sat there and thought, how many times can the Raptors come up small in a big moment? How many times can they find ways to fail? How many times can the hardcore fans of this team drive to Indianapolis, or congregate in the late-spring cold outside the Air Canada Centre, or just watch this team on a damned television, and have their hearts broken?

And then at the end everyone was on their feet and the Raptors went running up the tunnel hooting and hollering and they led this first-round series with the Indiana Pacers 3-2, somehow. It was like a bank heist, in front of nearly 20,000 people.

 …

For three quarters they fit together like two puzzles mixed together, and their best player had a lump the size of half a golf ball on his troubled shooting elbow. Their defence allowed Indiana’s stone-and-iron offence to run up 61 points in the first half, and 90 points through three quarters, and Paul George plus their three-point shooting was tearing the Raptors apart. DeMar DeRozan, finally himself, was helping to keep them in it. But with 49 seconds left in the third Toronto was down 15, and had not held a lead since Game 3. You could see an elimination game forming on the horizon.

“I swear to you, I sat on the bench and I said to myself from the beginning of the game, I don’t know how, I know we’re going to come up with this win. I don’t know how, but I know somehow we’re going to get back into this game,” said Toronto’s Bismack Biyombo, who had 10 points and 16 rebounds in 24 minutes, and who played the entire fourth quarter. “It was just a little gap where we were looking to find the energy, how can you push the other players to be on the same page as you? It was a dunk we were looking for, or three points, or one stop, and obviously we got all those things at the beginning of the fourth quarter. And that set the tone for the rest.”

As Biyombo sat there, talking with Cory Joseph about how Toronto needed energy, the big questions were coalescing. This is the biggest week in franchise history since May of 2001, which ended with Vince Carter’s graduation. The idea of this group, from coaches to players, was on the line. Fifty-six wins won’t do much good if you honk it in the playoffs, over and over. Eventually, people need a reason to believe.

“I thought we were going to go down with the guys who were swinging,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

They tied the game on Powell stealing a pass in cold blood and nearly missing the dunk at the other end. DeRozan and Joseph grabbed back the lead. By the time Indiana’s Solomon Hill released a three-pointer a fraction of a second after the buzzer sounded — Raptor rookie Norman Powell was supposed to foul George but didn’t — Toronto had played the last 12:49 on a mind-blowing 27-9 run. Asked what he was thinking as Hill let the ball go a few fractions of a second too late, DeMarre Carroll said, “Paul Pierce’s shot from (Game 6 between Atlanta and Washington) last year when we watched it. He shot it so slow, it was one of those things, that’s why we have replay. Thank God we have replay.”

It always comes back to Paul Pierce, somehow. You want It? The Raptors found It. What the hell, how the hell. The Raptors have had to play so badly to lose to the Pacers in this series, but in this game they grabbed the damned thing back. Afterwards general manager Masai Ujiri was leaning against a wall, and Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard walked by, pulling a suitcase. They shook hands. “Masai, hell of a game.” “Hell of a game,” Ujiri replied.

Everywhere people shook their heads, wondering what had happened. The Raptors were dying. The Raptors lived.

***

No. 4: Series’ momentum shifts to Blazers — Yesterday is a day many, many Los Angeles Clippers fans won’t soon forget. Not only did they find out what they already knew (that Chris Paul would miss a few weeks with a broken hand), but got even worse news on top of it. Star forward Blake Griffin, who missed months with a quad injury, not only re-aggravated the injury in a Game 4 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. He aggravated it so much that he’ll miss the rest of the playoffs, too. As our Scott Howard-Cooper writes, those two changes shift the power balance in this first-round series decidedly to Portland:

Just when the news couldn’t get any worse for the Clippers, it did.

They went from giving Blake Griffin a chance to face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday in Los Angeles, with coach Doc Rivers saying late Monday night that Griffin was 50-50 for Game 5, to learning Tuesday the leg injury that cost him 41 games in the regular season will now sideline him the rest of the playoffs.

Griffin, who partially tore a tendon in the left leg on Christmas and did not play again until April 3, aggravated the injury in the third quarter Monday in Portland. He felt a tweak, went to the locker room and returned to play 1:38 of the fourth period, but was not moving well. Rivers took him out, but there was no indication in the gloom of the loss to the Blazers joined by Griffin and Chris Paul going out that Griffin’s 2015-16 was over.

That was in addition to the news the Clippers did expect — Paul is scheduled to be out at least four weeks because of the fractured right hand suffered in the same third quarter of Game 4 in Portland, an injury that required surgery Tuesday. The only other change was putting a timeline on the recovery they realized the night before would continue long into the playoffs, without any sign of hope to match the optimism for a Griffin return before too many games had passed.

Under that calendar, with Paul scheduled to be re-evaluated in four to six weeks, the Clippers would have to at least be deep into the Western Conference finals, and maybe have already won the third round and waiting for the Finals to begin, for him to have any chance of playing again this season. That, of course, is a much greater longshot than they ever could have imagined prior to tipoff Monday.

It’s suddenly a best-of-three, with two games at Staples Center but the momentum in the hands of the upstart Blazers and the Clippers clearly rocked by developments Monday as they sifted through options for an overhauled lineup for Game 5. The game notes they posted Tuesday included new additions Austin Rivers at guard and Jeff Green at forward, along with J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and DeAndre Jordan, although those could be placeholder names. The Clips can make any change before tipoff and coach Doc Rivers indicated after Game 4 he needed to find more scoring in the first group to replace Paul for sure and maybe Griffin as well. Now that both are officially out, Doc Rivers could debate personnel options for many hours.

“Listen,” he said, “I’ve said it all year, I don’t dwell on it much. My job as a coach is to figure out a way of getting us up and ready for Game 5. There’s nobody, probably in the league, that’s going to replace Chris Paul so there’s nobody clearly on our team that’s going to do it. As a group, everybody pitches in.”

 …

Decisions are looming, before Game 5 on Wednesday and after the season, with implications everywhere. The Clippers are surrounded by problems, including the Trail Blazers as an opponent doing more than feasting on a carcass — because the news got worse when that didn’t seem possible.

“Obviously, people are going to write us off,” said Jamal Crawford, who would be a possibility for a move into the opening lineup to add scoring, on Monday. “But what are you going to do? Are you going to fight or run? For us, we’re going back home and we’re ready to take care of business.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Looking back at some other playoff fortune-changing injuries in recent NBA history … Maybe the L.A. Clippers should just break the team up and start over … Dario Saric says he wants to come play for the Philadelphia 76ers next season, but there may be 10 million reasons for him not to do so … Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas wants his teammates to step up more in Game 6 … ICYMI, the Sacramento Kings unveiled some new logos (and they’re paying for fans to get a tattoo of it, too) … Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeanie Buss reportedly did not know the team was firing Byron Scott … 

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