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Clippers irked by no-call that might have given them chance to win in OT



BOSTON — For a brief moment, Lou Williams and the LA Clippers thought they might be able to escape Boston with what they thought could have been a four-point play.

But after saying they saw one official count what they thought was a Williams 3-point shot with the foul with 23.6 seconds left in the first overtime Thursday night, the Clippers watched the officiating crew quickly rule that Williams was fouled by Gordon Hayward before the shot with the Boston Celtics holding a 127-124 lead. The Clippers would eventually force a second overtime before Boston went on to win, 141-133, at the TD Garden.

“I thought the one call was huge, the no four-point play,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t know what you have to do — that’s a shot. The officials are telling us that they had a foul to give so they were trying to foul. When you see the film, they clearly were not trying to foul. You can see Hayward bring his hands back up as the guy is going up. But you can anticipate that they’re going to commit a foul. … That was a big no-call.”

The Clippers (37-18) lost their second straight road game feeling that the home team got the big calls. Paul George was fined $35,000 earlier Thursday for saying he felt there was “home cooking” by officials in a 110-103 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. The Clippers were called for 19 personal fouls, eight more than the Sixers, that night in Philadelphia.

In Boston, the Clippers said they saw official Dedric Taylor not just signal a foul on Hayward after Williams’ shot but that Taylor also signaled that the shot counted with the foul.

“That’s a bad call, man,” said forward Montrezl Harrell, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds. “That’s not trying to say anything to get fined or anything like that, but we was in the huddle and we said they had a foul to give and if you get the ball in the shooting motion, go straight up, and that’s what Lou did. Tried to trap him at first and he started shooting the motion, [Hayward] stuck his hand out, that’s a four-point play, man, all day long.”

Rivers said: “I just didn’t like the fact that the guy on the call called it good. The guy that was right on the call called it good. The two other officials, Scott [Foster] from the other side comes running over. I think the guy on the call should have the say. It is what it is.

“The guy the closest [to the ball], you can see him, and he actually does the and-1 [signal].”

Williams had 35 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two blocks, including scoring 11 straight points in the fourth quarter at one point. However, he thought he could have had four more points.

“He said they had a foul to give, and I said duh, I know that, too,” Williams said of what he was told on the call. “That’s why I went into my shooting motion. Sometimes in this league you understand the rules and so you try to beat the rules. I think we’re taking away some of that in our game with anticipating the calls or anticipating the scenarios where they’re up three points and we know they’re going to take a foul.

“I’m watching Brad Stevens tell them that they have a foul to give, so once I saw that I looked over at everybody that I thought was going to shoot the ball and said, ‘Once you catch the ball, go into your shooting motion before they foul you,'” Williams added. “That’s a heads-up play. It wasn’t a swing-through, it wasn’t any of the things that they’ve banned, so I don’t understand why it wasn’t a good bucket.”

As Rivers told the media what he thought about the no-call, Hayward walked out of the Celtics locker room and Rivers joked that the Celtics’ guard knew he fouled Williams.

“It was close,” Hayward said to Rivers.

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How Zion Williamson has played in the NBA bubble and what it means for the Pelicans’ future



Zion Williamson‘s rookie season might have only five days left in it.

Even though they were 3.5 games back of the 8-seed in the West when the NBA season resumed last month, the New Orleans Pelicans were a popular choice to reach the postseason and set up a tantalizing first-round matchup between Williamson, this season’s No. 1 overall pick, and four-time MVP LeBron James. However, things haven’t gone as planned for the Pelicans and their young star, who saw his minutes limited in early campus action and has been an extreme liability on the defensive end.

With that in mind, we asked three of our experts to provide their insights into Williamson’s play in the bubble and what it means for the Pelicans’ future, both immediate and long term.

More: What to expect in Luka Doncic’s first NBA postseason

Zion in Orlando so far

Zion Williamson was supposed to be the main attraction inside Walt Disney World for the New Orleans Pelicans’ expected push toward a Western Conference playoff berth. On the opening night of NBA bubble action, the Pelicans were showcased on national television, as the bulk of their games have been.

And indeed, Williamson has been a hot topic — although not always for the reasons the Pelicans or the league hoped when the seeding games schedule was announced.

Williamson missed 13 days of basketball activity — July 16 to July 24 while out of the bubble for an excused absence and then another four days of quarantine. The Pelicans’ plan for him included limited minutes early — “short bursts” — and keeping him out of half of New Orleans’ only back-to-back in the bubble.

New Orleans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said every player on the team has a plan laid out, and Williamson’s was affected by missing the three scrimmage games. When he did return, Williamson looked somewhat sluggish.

In his first game, against the Utah Jazz, Williamson had 13 points in 15 minutes but didn’t record a rebound for the first time in his career. He struggled to find his footing in his second game, against the LA Clippers, scoring a career-low seven points in 14 minutes.

Williamson started to look like himself in his third game, against Memphis, when he had 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a victory. He continued his offensive surge with 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting in just under 22 minutes against the Sacramento Kings.

Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram said having Williamson back in the fold helps to ease things for the team on the offensive end.

“Well, we know what to expect when he’s in the lineup,” Ingram said on Aug. 3. “When he’s in the lineup he’s going to make an immediate impact. He’s gonna cause so much attention that we have to be shot-ready on the wing, or ready to make a cut or whatever, because he’s such a willing passer.”

Williamson had seven assists in his past two games, the most he’s had in a two-game span in his short career. His passing helps to unlock another level of the Pelicans’ offense, and the team’s offensive rating has been 110.7 when he’s been on the court the past two games.

The defensive end, where Williamson has yet to register a block or a steal, has been another story completely. — Andrew Lopez



Zion Williamson goes right at the defender and finishes through the contact for the and-1.

Zion’s defense dropping off

Williamson might be the brightest young star in the NBA, and coming into the bubble, it was clear that the 19-year-old phenom was good enough already to make the Pelicans a legit playoff contender. Want proof? No five-man lineup in the entire league had a better net rating than Williamson and his four starting teammates. None.

Before the season resumed, the Pelicans’ starting group had posted a bonkers net rating of plus-26.3 (points per 100 possessions), best of the 34 NBA lineups that shared at least 200 minutes of playing time.

The Pelicans’ starters looked terrific from the time Zion made his debut in January, especially on defense, allowing a ridiculously low 91.6 points per 100 possessions.

But in the bubble, as noted, it’s been a different story. In the relatively few minutes Williamson is playing, he looks slower and less engaged on defense, and the Pelicans are flailing whenever he’s in the game.

Here are the receipts:

  1. Before the bubble, with Zion on the floor, the Pelicans had a net rating of plus-10.4, which is outstanding. (That included lineups when Williamson was teamed with Pelicans reserves.) But when he was off the court, they had a net rating of minus-3.5.

  2. Now the whole deal has reversed itself. In the bubble, the Pelicans are struggling with Zion on the floor, with an atrocious minus-22.8 net rating. It gets stranger: When Zion is off the floor, the Pelicans have a net rating of plus-6.8.

The effect is especially obvious on defense. The biggest issue has been on the perimeter, where Williamson’s lack of awareness and inconsistent effort have been costly. Pels opponents are hitting 45% of their triples when Zion is in the game in Orlando, in part because Williamson has been an easy target on the edges.

Just look at these examples.

Again, the stats support what we can see. With Zion in the game in Orlando, New Orleans hasn’t stopped anyone, giving up an incredible 128.4 points per 100 possessions. But the Pelicans have been stingy when Zion is out, allowing 102.5 points per 100.

Williamson remains one of the best prospects this league has seen in years, of course. But to get his team to the playoffs this season, he needs to start playing better defense right away. — Kirk Goldsberry

How the Pelicans keep building around Zion

The Zion Williamson seven-year clock started last year when the New Orleans Pelicans agreed to trade Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers and selected Williamson with the first pick in the 2019 draft.

From the Lakers, they received Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and future draft picks, creating the foundation for success that never seemed to come together after the Pelicans drafted Davis in 2012.

Seven years is the amount of time between 2019 and when Williamson can leave as an unrestricted free agent, if he follows the usual path of signing an extension. For instance, LeBron James was drafted by Cleveland in 2003 and left for Miami in 2010. Likewise, Davis was in New Orleans for seven years, although under slightly different circumstances.

As we saw with both James and Davis, making the playoffs is not enough for some superstars. They want to go where they can team up and compete for championships. It’s the Pelicans’ job to make that happen in New Orleans.

This offseason will involve several key steps: The first step will be bringing back Ingram when he hits restricted free agency on Oct. 18. Whether they want to pay him the full max or not, the 22-year-old All-Star is very likely to get that kind of deal — presumably in New Orleans.

Step 2 will be to make a decision about the future of Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans could discuss an extension with him, or they could trade him a year or two before he hits free agency (Holiday has a player option in 2021). Aside from the young players on rookie contracts, the 30-year-old guard is the Pelicans’ best trade asset, and they shouldn’t risk letting him walk for nothing.

The third decision involves rookie extensions for Ball and Hart. If the Pelicans can sign both to team-friendly deals that provide salary cap flexibility for 2021-22 and future years, they should. If not, they can wait and let things play out for another year.

Fourth, they need to determine the value of their copious draft assets and how to deploy them. Including their own and two from the Lakers, the Pelicans have nine first-round draft picks (and a potential pick swap) in the next seven years — not to mention 10 second-round draft picks in the next four years.

How patient will they be? Will they decide to draft and develop most of those picks? Or will they combine some of them in a blockbuster trade or series of trades?

Remember that four-year rookie contracts are below market value and will allow the Pelicans to keep the payroll in check as their young stars get more expensive.

Of course, with the Pelicans already a playoff contender, they’ll be tempted to shop for the next disgruntled All-Star to ask out. Could that be a player like Bradley Beal or Victor Oladipo?

That would reverse the Pelicans’ role, putting them on the opposite side of the table from when Anthony Davis forced his way out of New Orleans.

Regardless, the Pelicans have a lot of good options and plenty at stake this offseason and the next few years as they try to keep Williamson healthy and happy. — Bobby Marks

More: All-Bubble team — picking the five top stars so far

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Coach Monty Williams proud of his ‘scrappy team,’ as Suns keep streaking during NBA restart



As the Phoenix Suns continue riding the momentum that comes with being the hottest team in basketball — the only remaining undefeated team in the NBA’s bubble after winning their fifth straight game over the Miami Heat on Saturday night — star point guard Devin Booker said he believes the franchise is finally heading in the right direction after years of futility and unfulfilled promise.

“I think this is just kind of a turning point for us,” Booker said after scoring 35 points and dishing out six assists in the 119-112 victory. “We had stretches in the season where we played very well, but as what happens to a young team throughout the season, you have your ups and downs. I think if we stay consistent and stick with our principles — the communication on defense, just getting more comfortable in these situations of games and meaningful games that matter for us.”

Most important for the Suns, their stunning surge has pulled them to just a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the ninth seed in the West and just two games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot with three seeding games left to play.

Suns coach Monty Williams had to chuckle when asked why his young team’s focus has been so good since the season restarted at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, last month.

“You’re really giving me a lot of credit, man,” Willams said. “I don’t really know. I could give you some coach-speak, but I don’t know. I just think we have a group that wanted to come here and prove to the world that they were worthy of being here. They heard a lot of the stuff being said. I think when people say stuff about you, you want to prove them wrong. If I had to guess that would be it, but this is who we are.

“We’ve been competitive all year; we’ve been a scrappy team. We play teams hard, we share the ball, we try to make the right plays. We’ve tried to stick to our DNA and not get outside of that.”

Many people around the league questioned the Suns’ inclusion when the NBA announced its 22-team restart. The Suns were 26-39 when the season was suspended on March 11 and appeared too far away to even have a chance at a playoff berth. But Booker’s scoring prowess coupled with a renewed cohesion and contributions up and down the roster from the young group has made the Suns the darlings of the league over the past two weeks.

For Booker, the winning has been even sweeter, given some of the criticism he’s dealt with over the past few years because of all the losing. Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green said on Friday’s edition of “Inside the NBA” that “it’s not good for [Booker’s] career” to stay in Phoenix.

“I feel like that’s important for this organization, for the fans that have stuck by us for this long and still do so,” Booker said when asked about Green’s comments. “Since I’ve been in Phoenix, we haven’t had the win success that we had, but the support’s been there. And this is what we owe to the fans, we owe to the organization. It’s been a long time for us and I think this bubble opportunity was big for us, and we’re taking advantage of it.”

One of the reasons the Suns pulled off the win on Saturday night was because of the dogged play of guard Jevon Carter. The West Virginia alum had 20 points — hitting six 3-pointers — while earning rave reviews from his teammates and coach.

“JC, he’s the bulldog of the team,” Williams said. “He had not shot the ball well the last few games and he remarked to one of the coaches that he was going to hit five or something like that. We didn’t know, but he’s a gamer.”

The Suns — who have now won five straight for the first time since December 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information research — head into a Monday showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder hopeful that they can continue their torrid play.

“A lot of guys grew up in these three or four months,” Suns point guard Ricky Rubio said. “It seems like a second season with all of them with the same coach, and it helps to see the growth with this team. We have more room to improve … but we have eight games, and we know we have to go 8-0.”

ESPN staff writer Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

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Luka Doncic’s 19 assists steal the show as Mavericks top Bucks



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With just over a minute to go in overtime Saturday night, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic took the ball from Kristaps Porzingis and began dribbling to the left side of the lane, with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo — the reigning NBA MVP and the presumptive winner of both that award and Defensive Player of the Year this season — watching him like a hawk.

Then, out of nowhere, Doncic — using his left (non-shooting) hand — suddenly slipped the ball between his legs and past Antetokounmpo, right into the hands of teammate Maxi Kleber, who caught the ball on the move and, all in one motion, leapt into the air and slammed the ball home — and got fouled on the play, to boot.

The play was the last of Doncic’s career-high 19 assists, to go along with 36 points, 14 rebounds and just two turnovers in 42 minutes, as the Mavericks beat the Bucks 136-132 in overtime inside the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.

“I clapped,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “I applauded. I thought it was phenomenal. The sign of a great player, a truly great player, is the ability to pull off something like that against a team like Milwaukee, that gives up virtually nothing in the paint.

“We’re seeing more things all the time. Luka is not only a great basketball player, he’s a great performer. I’d pay money to watch him play. I don’t say that about a lot of players, but he’s really special.”

Doncic certainly showed how special he both is, and could be, on this night, going toe-to-toe with Antetokounmpo — who was no slouch himself, finishing with 34 points and 13 rebounds in 33 minutes before fouling out in overtime — and coming out on top.

“It’s amazing,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s playing great basketball. He’s a great basketball player, makes his teammates better. Talented … really talented. One of the most talented guys I’ve ever played against.

“He’s making the whole team better, and he’s going to keep getting better. As long as he makes his team better, they’re going to be tough to beat.”

But all anyone could talk about afterward was The Pass.

“With Luka,” Kleber said, “you always have to expect to get a pass.”

“Unbelievable,” said Porzingis, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds before he also fouled out in overtime. “Not only the way the pass was, but also at the moment in the game. To make that pass and to have the — what’s a good word — to have the courage to do it?

“That’s just who Luka is.”

The only person who didn’t have much to say about it was Doncic himself.

“I don’t know why I did it,” Doncic said. “I just did it. I didn’t think about it.

“I saw it, and I didn’t think about it before right in the moment.”

That play was just one of many both spectacular and critical moments from Doncic throughout this game, including hitting a pair of free throws late in regulation to tie the game and knocking down a floater on the possession after Kleber’s dunk to salt the game away.

For Dallas to be able to close out a game like this, particularly against a team as good as the league-leading Bucks, was something Carlisle was thrilled about afterward — especially after the Mavericks had already blown fourth-quarter leads against the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns in their first two games inside the bubble.

“This is a game where the team showed great resiliency,” Carlisle said. “A lot of the demons of our past bubble games were staring us in the face.”

This time, though, the Mavericks succeeded where they had previously failed. And they did so because Doncic made sure to lead them there.

The Mavericks had the best offense in NBA history by offensive rating this season, and watching this game — against one of the best defenses in the league — it was easy to see why. Doncic carved the Bucks up throughout the game, spraying one pass after another out to shooters on the perimeter — particularly Dorian Finney-Smith, who was assisted on all six of his 3-pointers in the game by Doncic.

Doncic’s performance earned him his 17th triple-double of the season — the most in the NBA — and assured that he would not be caught in that category. That will make him the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in triple-doubles, surpassing Magic Johnson — who was a couple of months older when he led the NBA with six triple-doubles in 1980-81, also his second NBA season.

“As a guard with the ball in his hands as much as it is, there’s nobody that jumps to my mind,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, when asked whom Doncic reminds him of at this age. “I mean, Tim Duncan as a second-year player was pretty amazing. Tim Duncan as a first-year player, but they’re built very differently. So there’s been some great players come into our league and done special things in their first year or two, but with the ball in his hands, the way it is, to do the things he does is very impressive.”

Both Doncic and the Mavericks are far from finished products. He won’t turn 22 until 2021 — the same year Dallas will hope to strike it rich in free agency and lure another star, with a list of candidates led by Antetokounmpo, to come play alongside Doncic and Porzingis. But Doncic is good enough now that the Mavericks will make the playoffs in his second season in the league — something players such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant were unable to do.

Nights like this one — and plays like the pass Doncic made to Kleber — are examples of why that’s the case.

“He knows where everybody is, not only on offense, but defense, and that’s the sign of a savant-type guy,” Carlisle said. “I’ve played with Larry Bird. He could see everything like that. I had the privilege of coaching Jason Kidd. He could see everything like that. Luka is in that same mold.”

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