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Stephen Curry claims second scoring title as Warriors clinch No. 8 seed

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SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is the NBA’s scoring king for the 2020-21 season.

An 11-foot floater late in the first quarter of Sunday’s 113-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies gave Curry enough points to clinch the scoring title over Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal.

After Beal scored 25 points in Sunday’s 115-110 win over the Charlotte Hornets to finish with a season average of 31.3 points per game, Curry needed only three points to take the scoring crown, which he accomplished with a pair of field goals, including the clincher with 3:24 to play in the first.

The former MVP left little doubt by game’s end. Curry attempted a career-high 36 shots, including a career-high 22 3-pointers, en route to a 46-point game. He ends the season with 11 40-point games, just one shy of Michael Jordan’s record for the most by any player in his 12th season or later.

The Warriors clinched the eighth seed in the Western Conference with the win, setting them up for a Wednesday road game against either the Los Angeles Lakers or Portland Trail Blazers, pending Sunday night’s results.

Curry, who has already won two MVP awards during his illustrious 12-year career and was showered with “MVP” chants during Sunday’s game, has played arguably his best regular season during this condensed, coronavirus-shortened campaign. He averaged 37.3 points per game during 15 April contests — a stretch that left even his teammates and coaches in awe.

“We’ve just been really scrappy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before Sunday’s game. “We’ve been playing some small lineups, but we’ve had phenomenal seasons from both Steph and Draymond [Green] that have given us our foundation.”

Curry ends this season averaging 32 points per game. His previous career best of 30.1 points per game came in 2015-16, when he also became the first unanimous MVP in league history and won his other scoring title.

At 33, Curry becomes the oldest scoring champion since Jordan led the league with 28.7 points per game in 1997-98 at age 35. Curry also joins Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with multiple scoring titles, MVPs and championships, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

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Donovan Mitchell takes over, scores 45 to spark Utah Jazz rally in Game 1

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Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell didn’t feel well at halftime of Tuesday’s Game 1 against the visiting LA Clippers. He was a bit under the weather, feeling nauseated and a little light-headed. And he really felt sick about his performance in the first half.

“Yeah, I was definitely feeling it a little bit, but sometimes you’ve just got to dig deep into a different place,” Mitchell said after the Jazz rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit for a 112-109 win at Vivint Arena in this Western Conference second-round series. “I was getting my ass kicked individually in the first half on both ends of the floor. I wasn’t making the right reads. Luke [Kennard] hit a bunch of shots on me, Reggie [Jackson] hit a bunch of shots on me, and there were situations where I was being lazy and letting that fatigue kind of get to me.

“So I came into halftime and just said, ‘Look, I’m just going to have to find a way.'”

Mitchell made good on that vow with a spectacular second half, scoring 32 of his game-high 45 points. He scored on the Utah’s first four possessions of the third quarter — sandwiching a pair of step-back 3-pointers with a floater and a driving layup — and remained a dominant force attacking off the dribble the rest of the game.

“We knew that in the second half Donovan was going to come out aggressive and he did,” said Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, including a win-sealing swat of Marcus Morris Sr.‘s corner 3 attempt with seconds remaining. “Obviously, he gave us a great lift, and he did a great job not settling for the jump shots but attacking them and putting pressure on them — finishing at the rim, drawing fouls, or kicking out for the shooters. When we play that way, I think that’s when we become really, really hard to guard.”

By taking over the game for the top-seeded Jazz, the 24-year-old Mitchell continued building his reputation as one of the NBA’s premier playoff performers. He ranks sixth in NBA history in career playoff scoring average (minimum 25 games) at 28.1 points per game and tied Karl Malone’s franchise record with his fourth 40-point playoff performance.

It was the third time Mitchell has scored at least 45 points in the playoffs, and he has played in only 28 career postseason games. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain had more such performances in their first 30 postseason games.

It also marked the third time that Mitchell has scored 30 or more points in a half during a playoff game, matching Allen Iverson for the most in the NBA over the last 25 years.

In this case, Mitchell heated up after a poor shooting first half, when he was 5-of-14 from the floor and the Jazz shot just 32.1%, missing 20 consecutive shots during one stretch. Mitchell finished 16-of-30 from the floor, including 6-of-15 from 3-point range.

“He’s not afraid to fail,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’ll take the next shot. We want him to take open looks. If he misses a few of them, you know, they’re good shots. Keep taking them and keep attacking. That’s who he is.”

Mitchell carried an even heavier offensive burden than usual, handling much of the point guard responsibilities with fellow All-Star Mike Conley Jr. sidelined for the series opener due to a mild right hamstring strain. Mitchell said he got a feel for how the Clippers wanted to defend him during the first half, allowing him to be more aggressive in the second half.

“I didn’t do a lot of things right for my team in the first half and it really kind of ate at me,” said Mitchell, who also had five assists in the win. “It still does. I put my team in a certain position, and I feel like that it was on me to come out there and set the tone on both ends of the floor.”

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LA Clippers’ Paul George welcomes fan taunts, vows more ‘decisive’ play in Game 2

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SALT LAKE CITY — As Paul George stood at the line with 10 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in Tuesday night’s Game 1, Utah Jazz fans serenaded him with chants of “Playoff P!”

And with 1:37 left, the taunt of choice, and the loudest of the night, was an “overrated” chant that 18,007 fans echoed throughout a packed Vivint Arena. Jazz fans have been going at George since he played for Oklahoma City when the Thunder faced the Jazz in the playoffs in 2018.

George says he welcomes the taunts.

“I like it,” George said. “That part doesn’t get to me. It’s all respect. I’ve had good games here and I’ve had bad games here.”

He added: “That’s part of this game, to be honest. Crowd’s going to be involved. You want that. As an opposing player, you kind of want that.”

The All-Star guard missed 12 of his first 14 shots to the delight of Jazz fans but nearly helped the Clippers force overtime before dropping Game 1, 112-109, at Vivint Arena.

Despite shooting 4-for-17 overall, George scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to go with 10 rebounds for the game. George scored seven points in the last three minutes, including a 3-pointer with 38.4 seconds left that helped cut a nine-point Jazz lead to three. But Marcus Morris Sr. couldn’t get a 3 off over Rudy Gobert at the end to send it to overtime.

Afterward, George said he knew what he did wrong and what to do in Game 2.

“Fact of the matter is, I didn’t shoot the ball well,” George said. “I thought I was indecisive on my approach. But I will be a little bit better on taking the shots that I want.”

George said the Jazz wanted the Clippers to take mid-range shots with Gobert roaming the paint but that he “can do a better job of setting those up.”

“The big fella is really good at just clogging the paint up and just sitting at the rim,” George said of Gobert, who had 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. “And a lot of plays I was just forcing myself trying to get to the basket where he’s there waiting for me. So I think just being decisive on approach of setting up, getting the shots that I want while he’s in those coverages.”

George stayed aggressive, going to the line 10 times. That’s where he heard it from Jazz fans. But he plans on continuing to play physical.

“It’s playoff basketball,” George said when asked about matching Utah’s physical play. “The physicality just has to be allowed on both ends, and I’ll leave it at that.”

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid ‘focused on winning,’ goes for 40 in Game 2 win

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PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid‘s night started with a loss and ended with a win in perhaps his most impressive playoff performance to date.

The Philadelphia 76ers‘ 118-102 Game 2 victory over Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday began shortly after the NBA announced Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic won league MVP honors, with Embiid finishing second. Jokic soundly defeated Embiid, with 971 voting points to Embiid’s 586.

That didn’t stop the raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd, itching for a win after the Hawks took the series opener Sunday, from showering Embiid with “MVP! MVP!” chants all night long as he put up a career playoff high 40 points, along with 13 rebounds to tie the series at 1-1.

“It’s disappointing because as a player, you work hard for moments like this,” said Embiid, who in April said there was “no doubt” he should win the award. “But then again, it’s out of my control. There’s nothing I can do about it. You just got to come out every year and just be ready and do my job.

“But I’m focused on the playoffs, I’m focused on winning the championship. Like I’ve been saying all season, we got a good chance. So I’m not worried about those awards and stuff. If and when I’m holding that [Larry O’Brien] Trophy, anything else won’t matter.”

Jokic was the first center to win the award since 2000 when Shaquille O’Neal earned it for the Los Angeles Lakers. Embiid is trying to be the first player to lead the Sixers to a title since 1983 when another center, Moses Malone, helped Philadelphia sweep the Lakers out of the Finals, coming through on his “Fo’, fo’ and fo'” declaration.

And he’s trying to do it without two healthy knees. Embiid was listed as questionable leading up to tipoff, as he’s still recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee that he suffered in the first round against Washington.

“No excuses,” said Tobias Harris when asked about Embiid’s mindset. “He understands that. This is the playoffs. The way the NBA season was, I don’t think anybody is 100%. So, when he steps on the floor, he has that attitude and that mentality that it’s, ‘win.’

“As a whole group, we all have that tonight, but tonight, you just saw the dominance of him as a player.”

Harris also said Embiid’s defense was instrumental in keeping Trae Young in check in Philadelphia’s pick-and-roll coverages. The Hawks guard finished with 21 points on 6-for-16 shooting, 11 assists and four turnovers after controlling Game 1 with 35 points and 10 dimes.

“I’m trying to do the best I can, limited movement and all. I’m trying to be a better presence around the rim. Obviously not being 100% doesn’t help, but tonight I just wanted to be big,” Embiid said. “It’s tough because if I come up, they throw the lob. If I stay back, it goes with that floater.”

Beyond his 7-foot, 280-pound frame taking up Young’s room to roam, Embiid — known for his clever comebacks — tried to outwit the Hawks’ offense.

“Playing a game, you can call that, of cat and mouse,” he said. “Faking and going back. Just trying to keep them guessing.”

Embiid also had a pretty good hunch of his own before the game when he approached Sixers backup guard Shake Milton, who had just 17 total points in the postseason on 4-for-19 shooting coming into Tuesday.

“For some reason, I felt like he was going to be needed, so I told him before the game to get ready,” Embiid said.

Milton would go on to score 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting — even outscoring Young 14-10 in the second half — to help Philly break it open. He also helped erase the damage done by the Hawks’ bench in the first half when Atlanta’s reserves, led by Kevin Huerter (20 points on 8-for-10 shooting), outscored the Sixers’ subs 32-0.

“I love all these guys,” Embiid said. “[Milton is] one of them and I believe in all of them because I want to win it all, and I’m going to need them to do so. So I’m extremely happy for him.”

Embiid’s coach, Doc Rivers, was happy for the big man, knowing the look of an MVP performance when he sees one.

“It was awesome,” Rivers said. “I remember being on the other side of the night that David Robinson got the MVP and we had to play [Hakeem] Olajuwon. I was on that Spur team.”

Robinson received the trophy at center court before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals back in 1995. Then Olajuwon put up 41 points and 16 rebounds and the Rockets won by 10.

“That didn’t go well for us,” Rivers said. “Tonight, you felt like that was Joel. He was that magnificent.”

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