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Kawhi Leonard, Paul George rise to challenge as LA Clippers take Game 3 in Dallas

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Down 30-11 just minutes into Game 3 before the biggest and most hostile crowd they’ve faced all season, the LA Clippers responded Friday night with a performance that might have saved their season.

After head coach Ty Lue said they would show what they’re made of in a must-win game, the visiting Clippers overcame another monster night from Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic with perhaps the best combined effort they’ve received from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with all that was at stake.

Leonard and George combined to score 65 points in a 118-108 win over the Mavericks in front of a raucous 17,705 fans at American Airlines Center, cutting Dallas’ first-round series lead to 2-1.

“We’re down 2-1. We haven’t shown anything,” said George, who scored 22 of his 29 points in the first half. “We’re not the favorites [to win it all]. We’re not the defending champs. We haven’t shown anything.

“We have to continue to keep doing it. We’ve got to win this series, but it’s one game at a time. We’ve got to win Game 4 and send it back to L.A. Take home-court advantage. But off one win, we haven’t shown anything.”

Lue might disagree. The Clippers, a team that blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round last year against Denver, were staring at the possibility of falling behind 3-0 and what would almost certainly be yet another postseason failure.

With their season on the line, the Clippers opened Game 3 looking like they were heading straight toward the offseason. Despite inserting Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup in place of Patrick Beverley, the Clippers trailed 30-11 with 4 minutes, 38 seconds left as Doncic scored 11 points in the first quarter. The Mavericks’ star — who finished with 44 points, nine assists and nine rebounds — continued to torch the Clippers’ defense, especially on switches onto big man Ivica Zubac.

But the Clippers went to a small lineup, and their offense took off. They outscored the Mavericks 52-31 the rest of the first half, including a 20-4 run in the first quarter.

The Mavericks could not stop Leonard for the second straight game. After scoring 41 points in Game 2, Leonard made 11 of his first 12 shots before finishing with 36 points and eight rebounds. He made 13 of 17 shots in Game 3 and joined LaMarcus Aldridge as the only players with 35 points on 67% field goal shooting in consecutive playoff games in the shot-clock era (since 1955), according to data from ESPN Stats & Information.

With George carrying the Clippers in the first half and Leonard scoring from his spots, the duo halted the Clippers’ five-game losing streak in the postseason dating to last year.

“Those guys are killers,” said Marcus Morris, who broke out of his playoff shooting slump with 15 points after getting an encouraging phone call from his twin brother, Markieff, at halftime. “No matter what’s being said in the media and what’s being said in the outside world, them guys come in and work their ass off every single game.”

Entering Game 3, Lue said that everyone would see what the Clippers were made of with their backs up against the wall. Lue simplified the defense to help limit the breakdowns and communication issues. And even though the Clippers didn’t have Serge Ibaka (back), they played their best defense of the series by getting enough stops to win.

On Friday, the Clippers held Tim Hardaway Jr. to 12 points and 4-for-14 shooting. They also outscored the Mavericks 46-24 in the paint, which was a major point of emphasis for the Clippers.

“We felt like we weren’t playing our game to begin with to be down 0-2,” George said. “We felt like we weren’t playing our style, and I thought tonight we got to that. This is where we hang our hat on, playing on the defensive side, and we didn’t show any defense the first two games.”

Now they’re back in this series and have a chance to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2 in Game 4 on Sunday and take home-court advantage back to L.A.

“Obviously, backs against the wall,” point guard Rajon Rondo said of the Clippers showing veteran poise and their playoff experience. “Champions respond. We can’t crown ourselves too early, but understand to have that mindset that when things get wrong, we got to fight, and tonight we stuck to the fight, down 19. I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles in the playoffs.

“We haven’t done anything special though. We won one game, and we’ll watch the film tomorrow and see how we can come out better on Sunday and hopefully have the same type of outcome.”

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As expected, NBA’s play-in tournament will return at least one more season with same format

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The NBA’s play-in tournament is back for at least one more season.

As expected, the league’s board of governors gave approval Tuesday to the plan that would bring back the event in April 2022. The format will be the same as it was this past season: The teams that finish seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th in each conference will play to determine the No. 7 and No. 8 playoff seeds.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had said on multiple occasions in recent weeks that he expected the play-in to return. It was utilized this past season for the first time on an experimental basis.

In other board of governors news Tuesday:

SCHEDULE

The play-in tournament being back crystallizes the schedule for next season. It was already known that training camps would open Sept. 28 and the regular season on Oct. 19. With the play-in, that now means the regular season ends April 10, 2022.

The play-in tournament will be April 12-15, the playoffs will begin April 16, and the 2022 NBA Finals are scheduled to begin June 2 — back in their customary spot for the first time since 2019.

The latest possible date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be June 19, and the 2022 NBA Draft is slated for June 23.

Teams have been working under the assumption of that schedule for several weeks.

ROSTERS

Two-way players will receive half of the minimum salary next season, or roughly $463,000. They will be permitted to be active for 50 games next season.

Teams can have 15 players active for each game next season, with no more than 17 under contract.

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Perfect time to represent Nigeria for Utah Jazz’s Miye Oni

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Miye Oni‘s favourite Nigerian food is pounded yam with egusi soup served with oxtail.

That is as Nigerian a dish as you are likely to get, especially the oxtail part. It is a dish that can be found in classy restaurants and run-down bucks alike, and is a staple in most Nigerian homes.

Oni can understand the Yoruba language and while his “ese o” is spoken with an American accent, there is no doubt that he was raised in a Nigerian home with Nigerian values.

He cannot speak pidgin English, but having Burna Boy and Wizkid among his favorite musicians more than make up for that.

Oni, like most other children of first-generation Nigerian immigrants, has been a target of the Nigeria basketball federation as they seek to rebuild the program around NBA talent.

But things gained impetus with the appointment of Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown in 2019. His outreach, profile and willingness to scout, persuade and cajole has accelerated the process and convinced the likes of Oni, Jahlil Okafor and others to commit to the Nigeria national team.

But the Jazz guard tells ESPN it was more a question of when, not if, for him.

“It just wasn’t the right time,” he said. “Things didn’t work out then. But now is the perfect time and I’m ready to represent Nigeria in the Tokyo Olympics.”

And now that it has finally happened, he says pulling on that green and white strip was immensely important for his parents.

“They were really proud. It’s important to them. They always teach me about Nigerian culture and everything like that. So it’s been important to them and something I dreamed of and something that my whole family is excited for.”

Oni made his competitive debut for D’Tigers as they went down 67-84 in a bruising battle against Australia in their opening game of the Olympics. But disappointed as he was by the result, it was overshadowed by something bigger — the pride of representing the motherland.

“To me, it meant the world,” Oni said. “My mother was born there, the country my father has lived in. I’ve been there. It means a lot to me and my family, that we carry that pride everywhere we go.

“So just being able to represent this country, with all this rich history, and really try to make this country proud, means a lot to me.”

– The Undefeated: Precious Achiuwa has family at heart in Tokyo

Nigeria’s ambition going to Tokyo was to medal. Coach Brown has made that very clear and the players have bought into the goal. But losing against Australia, especially after two exhibition wins against the USA and Argentina, gave the team a reality check. They now have to push the reset button.

“Every game is going to be a war and a challenge. That is what we expected and that has not not changed,” Oni said.

“We just have to play our hardest and not really worry about our opponent, just worry about what we can control and play our hardest to execute where coach wants us to and put us in a good position to win every game.”

In those two exhibition wins, the team overpowered number one-ranked Team USA and followed that up with another smothering performance against number three-ranked Argentina. But the displays showed different sides of the offensive and defensive arsenal Brown has assembled.

“Just our athleticism overall. We are long, athletic, fast. As Nigerians that’s what our strength is always going to be.

“So we can get to the rim and defend. But I think once we come together as a group, and really start clicking, we can really be special.”

If they do succeed in getting on that podium, it will be a first for an African nation. But being first is not new to the Nigerian basketball team, especially in these last few years. They became the first African team to qualify for the Olympic Games from World Cup play, and also became the first African team to beat Team USA.

And with potentially more NBA class talent still to be added in the future, the prospects of Nigerian basketball are promising.

For Oni, all he wants to do is contribute to making history with D’Tigers.

“I always play hard and I always play the right way with the intensity, the effort, I’m always going to give my all and just trying to make the right plays every time I step on the court and do what our coach asks me to do, I feel like I could play a lot of different ways. So just whatever the team needs, and whatever coach asks me to do, I’ll do that and step up from my team.”

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Former President Barack Obama to join NBA Africa as strategic partner, minority owner, sources say

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Former President Barack Obama has joined NBA Africa as a strategic partner and minority owner, sources have told ESPN’s The Undefeated on Tuesday.

NBA Africa conducts the league’s business on that continent, including most notably the new Basketball Africa League (BAL). Obama plans to help the league’s social responsibility efforts, including programs and partnerships across the continent that support greater gender equality and economic inclusion. He will also have a minority equity stake in NBA Africa, which he intends to use to fund Obama Foundation youth and leadership programs across Africa.

“The NBA has always been a great ambassador for the United States — using the game to create deeper connections around the world, and in Africa, basketball has the power to promote opportunity, wellness, equality, and empowerment across the continent,” Obama said in a statement. “By investing in communities, promoting gender equality and cultivating the love of the game of basketball, I believe that NBA Africa can make a difference for so many of Africa’s young people.

“I’ve been impressed by the league’s commitment to Africa, including the leadership shown by so many African players who want to give back to their own countries and communities. That’s why I’m proud to join the team at NBA Africa and look forward to a partnership that benefits the youth of so many countries.”

The BAL was first announced during 2018 NBA All-Star weekend. After being delayed by the pandemic, the BAL held its inaugural season in May with 12 teams from 12 different African countries. There were expectations mentioned at that time that Obama would be involved at some point.

Obama, whose father is from Kenya, is a huge NBA fan who has partnered with several players on numerous projects, and he took part in festivities during 2019 NBA All-Star weekend in his hometown of Chicago.

The NBA says NBA Africa is focused on expanding the league’s presence “in priority African markets, deepening the league’s engagement with players and fans across the continent and continuing to grow Africa’s basketball ecosystem through programs like the Jr. NBA, Basketball Without Borders Africa and NBA Academy Africa.

“We are honored that President Obama has become a strategic partner in NBA Africa and will support our wide-ranging efforts to grow the game of basketball on the continent,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “In addition to his well-documented love for basketball, President Obama has a firm belief in Africa’s potential and the enormous growth opportunities that exist through sports. NBA Africa will benefit tremendously from his engagement.”

The NBA said strategic investors in NBA Africa also include a consortium led by Babatunde “Tunde” Folawiyo, Chairman and CEO of Yinka Folawiyo Group, and Helios Fairfax Partners Corporation, led by Co-CEO Tope Lawani. Additional investors include such former NBA players Junior Bridgeman, Luol Deng, Grant Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Dikembe Mutombo and Joakim Noah.

Since opening its African headquarters in Johannesburg in 2010, the NBA has increased its efforts on the continent for access to basketball and the NBA through social responsibility, grassroots and elite development, media distribution, corporate partnerships, NBA Africa Games and the launch of the BAL.

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