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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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Draymond Green feeling ‘lot of respect’ for NBA Finals players sticking to Tokyo commitment

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TOKYO — Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were scheduled to arrive in Japan on a private G6 jet around 11 p.m. Saturday, less than 24 hours before Team USA opens Olympic play against France in a vital game out of gate.

It’s a brutal travel day after an exhausting playoff stretch that will test their mental and physical stamina. It also won the extreme respect of their American teammates.

“I have a lot of respect for those guys for not only committing to do this but actually keeping their word,” Team USA forward Draymond Green said. “You’re talking about three true professionals, three extremely competitive guys that wouldn’t be on their way here if this didn’t mean something.”

As the American team got together to watch NBA Finals games during training camp in Las Vegas and after flying to Japan, they speculated about the possibility that one or more of the three might beg off after such an extreme turnaround. But all three repeatedly stood by their commitment. On Friday afternoon, Booker took a plane from Phoenix and Middleton and Holiday, less than a day after their championship parade, took one from Milwaukee.

They met up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, not as the competitors they were for the previous two weeks, but as teammates. After refueling, they got on the long-range plane for a nine-hour trip across the Pacific through the night.

“We could’ve very easily got to the last game … and Devin Booker saying, ‘Man, we lost, I’m pissed off, I’m out,’ or Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday saying, ‘We just won a championship, I want to celebrate and stay home with my family, I’m out,'” Green said. “It’s on us to make sure that we do our parts to make sure they’re rewarded with what they ultimately came here for, which is to help us to compete and win a gold medal.”

It is unclear how much coach Gregg Popovich can rely on the three to play, but he indicated his plan is to use them against the French, who project to be the toughest matchup the Americans will face in a pool-play round that also includes games against Iran and the Czech Republic.

“We obviously know they’re in shape. They’re tired. They just went through a roller coaster of emotion,” Team USA guard Zach LaVine said. “I think they’ll be ready to go, and we’ll see what happens. But as for the team, I think we need to be ready for everything. If they’re not ready to go, then we have to go out there and perform still.”

After finishing seventh at the World Cup in China in 2019, when France knocked them off the medal stand in the quarterfinals, and losing two exhibition games in Las Vegas, the reputation of the American team has taken some hits. But despite challenges with COVID-19 protocols, injuries and little time to bond, Team USA will have 12 healthy players and a formidable talent pool ready to try to reestablish dominance.

“As much as it sucks to lose, those two losses only helped us,” Green said. “They didn’t hurt us one bit. If anything, maybe you lost a little bit of the fear that we’ve had in people’s hearts for years. Which you go out and do what you’ve got to do and you can get that right back.”

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Cleveland Cavaliers extend qualifying offer to Jarrett Allen

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CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers extended a qualifying offer Friday to center Jarrett Allen, making him a restricted free agent.

The team had until Aug. 1 to make the offer to Allen, a 23-year-old acquired last season in a trade from Brooklyn and viewed as one of Cleveland’s core pieces.

The Cavs can now match any offer given by other teams to Allen, whose size and athleticism at both ends of the floor makes him enticing.

General manager Koby Altman has expressed his hope to keep Allen in Cleveland long-term.

Allen, who played college ball at Texas, came to the Cavs as part of the blockbuster trade in January that sent star James Harden to the Nets.

Allen’s arrival pushed veteran Andre Drummond to the bench and eventually led to the team buying out the two-time All-Star center’s contract.

Allen averaged 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds in 51 games — 40 starts — for Cleveland.

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Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday available for Team USA opener vs. France

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TOKYO — The trio of players making the unprecedented jump from the NBA Finals to the Olympics are all scheduled to be in Japan by Saturday.

The hope is for Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday to be available when Team USA opens play Sunday against France, according to coach Gregg Popovich.

After attending the Milwaukee Bucks‘ championship parade Thursday, Middleton and Holiday are scheduled to fly to Seattle on Friday. There, they will join Booker, whose Phoenix Suns they helped eliminate on Tuesday, and take a private plane to Tokyo.

The pivot from being opponents in the NBA playing for the highest stakes to teammates on the national team going for a gold medal has happened over the years but never this suddenly, making it one of the more awkward scenarios in Team USA’s already fascinating history of intersecting star players.

“I would say just understanding competition and that it’s never personal between who you’re going with, unless lines are crossed,” Booker said this week discussing going from foe to teammate with the Bucks’ players. “Those guys aren’t that type and I would never go that way with them, because there’s a high respect level for each other. Representing your country is a whole different dynamic than competing against each other in the NBA Finals, but I can always respect somebody that competes at the highest level.”

With the lengthy procedures for entry into Japan, it is unlikely the new arrivals will get much more than a light walk-through with the rest of Team USA, which has been in Japan since Tuesday. But with an expected tough test against the French, Popovich is planning on using his reinforcements immediately, even if he’s not sure how it will play out.

“I have no idea [how to use them]. I’m not trying to be glib. I’m trying to be transparent,” Popovich said. “Maybe they’ll be OK for the game [Sunday] and it’ll hit them two days later. Maybe we should play them in the first half and see what they’re like.”

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