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2021 NBA playoffs – LA Clippers’ postseason shortcomings return with Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic stealing the spotlight



LOS ANGELES — There are a lot of things different inside Staples Center, and all NBA arenas, this postseason. Cardboard fan cutouts and masks — including for the 7,000 fans allowed in for the LA Clippers113-103 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round playoff series.

But gone are the provocative “Streetlights over Spotlights” banners that caught the eye — and ire — of the Clippers’ crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, last season. It was a clever rebrand after the team signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George in the summer of 2019. But it also was easy to throw it back in their faces when the Lakers ended up winning the championship a year ago and the Clippers flopped in the playoffs.

No, the Clippers would not be talking or flexing this year until they proved themselves. But under the radar only works if you deliver when the spotlight is back on you — which did not happen Saturday. If anything, the Mavericks’ 22-year-old superstar, Luka Doncic, stole it from everyone, with 31 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, as Dallas led after every quarter and closed the game out on a 13-3 run to steal home-court advantage away from the fourth-seeded Clippers.

It was Doncic’s third career playoff triple-double. According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, Doncic’s 217 points through his first seven playoff games are the eighth most all time, behind legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

“He’s a very unique player for a 22-year-old,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of Doncic. “The level of poise that he has and his ability to slow down the game to see what’s going on. Even when the clock is at six or seven seconds, he’s still able to slow it down and hold that ball just long enough to get a teammate a great look.

“This is his time of year. He’s one of the smartest basketball players you will ever meet at any age at any level.”

The Clippers opted to throw a variety of defensive looks at Doncic, instead of having Leonard, a former Defensive Player of the Year, on him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Doncic didn’t take one shot with Leonard as his primary defender. Instead, LA had Leonard on Kristaps Porzingis, expecting the Mavs would force them to switch if Leonard started on Doncic.



Kristaps Porzingis gets the pass and throws down the monster baseline dunk.

That left the much-smaller, albeit gritty defender, Patrick Beverley, to start on Doncic, who promptly attacked Beverley in pick-and-rolls to draw out Clippers center Ivica Zubac.

Doncic feasted on that matchup, scoring 15 of his points on 6 of 9 shooting with Zubac as his defender. According to Second Spectrum, Dallas averaged 1.43 points per direct pick when Doncic was the ball-handler and Zubac was the screen defender (22 plays). They averaged just 0.88 points per direct pick (35 plays) against all other Clippers defenders.

“The game is so different, they’re going to pick who they want anyway,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We allowed breakdowns that we went over the last five games. We didn’t execute. We gotta be better in those areas. We can’t gift them points, they’re too good. Luka makes you pay every time you make a mistake.”

The Clippers eventually found some success when they started double-teaming Doncic, forcing four turnovers on the 14 plays they did so. But Dallas is used to teams blitzing their young point guard.

“I just have to adjust,” Doncic said. “When they don’t double, attack it. When they double, someone is going to be open.”

Dorian Finney-Smith (18 points on 4 of 5 shooting from 3) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (21 points on 5 of 9 shooting from 3) were the biggest beneficiaries of those looks. It also opened the door for Doncic to get Porzingis (14 points) more involved in the offense.

“Porzingis was very patient in this game,” Carlisle said. “He’s got a top-five defensive player in the world guarding him in Kawhi Leonard. They have that much respect for his abilities on the offensive end.”

Doncic scored just one point in the fourth quarter, with the Clippers essentially forcing the rest of the Mavs to beat them. And on this day, they did.

“When Luka gets going, I just try to stay ready,” Finney-Smith said. “Because I know they’re about to start trapping. That’s when he gets to finding people, slinging the ball across the court, finding guys when we’re open.

“I just know they’re going to send two guys at Luka. You’ve just got to be ready to shoot. Most times, at the end of games, people are trying to get the ball out of LD’s hands. I just know us four have got to be ready to shoot.”

Leonard finished with a team-high 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals. George rallied from a cold start to finish with 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

But for a team trying to undo it’s playoff failure from last year and live up to its championship expectations, dropping the first game of this playoff series wasn’t a great start.

“We are not looking at it as just because of who we have, we’re expecting to win,” George said. “We got the same pressure as every team that’s in this. It all comes down to who’s the last team standing and that’s just the pressure every team goes through. It’s no different than how we’re approaching this. We want to be the last team standing regardless of however many games it takes or how tough the road is.”

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Andre Drummond sees Philadelphia 76ers as ‘great fit’ despite previous drama with Joel Embiid



In the wake of Andre Drummond’s surprising decision to join the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency and become a backup to longtime rival Joel Embiid, the 27-year-old two-time All-Star said that “things change,” but he’d accepted the opportunity placed before him.

“In life, things change, and it’s nothing that is affecting me at all, or making me feel any type of way,” Drummond said in a video conference call in the wake of his signing becoming official Thursday. “That’s the role that’s been given to me. It’s something that I’ve accepted and I’m willing to do.

“If it’s in the best interest of the team to win, it has to get done.”

Drummond, who has led the NBA in rebounding four times and has made two All-Star teams and an All-NBA team in his career, was arguably the biggest name on the buyout market when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers last season. But the fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis proved cumbersome, and Drummond was eventually left on the bench as a healthy scratch for what turned out to be the final game of the Lakers’ season, Game 6 of their Western Conference first-round series with the Phoenix Suns.

When asked why he didn’t re-sign with the Lakers, after they had indicated during the season they would want to bring him back beyond last season, Drummond said the moves the Lakers had made removed that as a possibility.

“You know, times are changing, and they made different trades and changes to their team to where it didn’t make sense for me to go back there, so I took the next-best thing after that, which was to come to Philly,” Drummond said. “I think it’s a great fit for me.”

It certainly was a surprising fit — both because of Drummond’s résumé, having started all but one game he’s played in since his rookie year with the Detroit Pistons, and because of his long-standing back-and-forths with Embiid, who has trolled him incessantly. Embiid has several rivalries with big men around the league.

But Drummond said he didn’t take any of that personally, and that it wasn’t anything he had to put behind him in deciding to join Philadelphia this offseason.

“I think for me there was never any real beef,” Drummond said. “At the end of the day, it’s the game of basketball. It’s a heated game. We’re both competitive. The way we play is we, sometimes we talk. I don’t think it goes any further than that.

“I don’t think there’s any real beef, or malice towards each other. It’s part of the game. We’re on the same team now. It’s not something I’m thinking about or anything that’s really bothering me.”

Drummond also said the decision to play for the Sixers was heavily influenced by the presence of Doc Rivers, whom he’s known since he was in high school.

“I think for me, making the decision to come to Philly was based off Doc really having the faith in me to really help this team do something special. Whatever my role is, me coming off the bench in the prime of my career, it doesn’t really matter. I can still be effective coming off the bench and backing up Joel.

“I think it was a no-brainer. I’ve always wanted to play for Doc. When I got the chance to play for him, I took the chance.”

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France survives Luka Doncic triple-double, to face Team USA for gold medal



SAITAMA, Japan — Game on the line, chance for gold on the line, and Slovenia’s Klemen Prepelic thought he had a layup that would have given Slovenia the win.

France’s Nicolas Batum thought differently.

Batum reached over Prepelic to block the layup try with 2.4 seconds left, the final play in France’s 90-89 win over Slovenia in a men’s basketball semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday night — overcoming a historic night from Luka Doncic.

Doncic had the third triple-double in Olympic men’s history: 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists. But it wasn’t quite enough, and Slovenia fell to 17-1 all-time when Doncic is in the national team colors.

He may be good as gold one day, but not yet. France will play the United States on Saturday (11:30 a.m. local time in Japan, 10:30 p.m. ET Friday) to decide the gold medal at the Tokyo Games. France has been this far at an Olympics only once, losing to the Americans in the title game at the 2000 Sydney Games.

France has won the past two meetings with the U.S., first in the quarterfinals at the Basketball World Cup in 2019, then to open group play in Tokyo.

Nando de Colo had 25 points for France, Evan Fournier scored 23, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added 15 for the winners — now the last unbeaten team left in the men’s tournament at 5-0. Rudy Gobert had nine points, 16 rebounds and four blocks for France, and Batum blocked four shots, none bigger than the one at the end.

Mike Tobey scored 23 for Slovenia, which got 17 from Prepelic.

France trailed by eight in the first half then went up by 10 late in the third before needing to survive a wild fourth quarter. Slovenia tied the game twice in the final period, both times on baskets inside by Tobey, but never took the lead.

Luwawu-Cabarrot took a kickout pass from Gobert with 56.1 seconds left and made a wide-open 3-pointer to put France up 90-85. A free throw got Slovenia within four, then Fournier fouled out on an offensive foul while dribbling upcourt on the next France possession.

Slovenia had life.

Prepelic took a pass from Doncic on the ensuing possession and hit a 3-pointer to get Slovenia within one. Then it came down to the last shot, which Batum knocked away as Slovenia argued for a foul to no avail.

Doncic had flirted with triple-doubles twice already at these Olympics, finally getting this one on a rebound that set up the final Slovenia possession. The other triple-doubles in Olympic men’s play: Alexander Belov for the Soviet Union in 1976 and LeBron James for the U.S. in 2012.

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Julius Randle agrees to 4-year, $117 million extension with New York Knicks



New York Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle has agreed to a four-year, $117 million contract extension — elevating his deal’s total value to five years and $140 million, his agents Aaron Mintz and Steven Heumann of CAA Sports told ESPN.

The extension includes a player option on the final season in 2025-2026.

Randle had a remarkable, breakthrough season for the Knicks, earning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and second-team All-NBA honors on his way to leading the franchise back to the playoffs with a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Randle could’ve waited for his contract to expire next season and signed a new $200 million deal, but extending now off his current $19.8 million salary for 2021-2022 gives the Knicks financial flexibility to shape the roster and allows him to commit through his prime to a franchise and city he has come to adore — and has come to adore him.

Randle, 26, flourished under the NBA’s Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Randle helped return the Knicks to the postseason and became something of a New York basketball cult hero for playing such a significant role in the Knicks revitalization.

Randle arrived to the Knicks on a three-year free agent deal in 2018 after two seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans, and four with the Los Angeles Lakers. Randle was the No. 7 overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2014 NBA draft.

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