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Paul George sets tone with bounce-back effort as LA Clippers rout Utah Jazz in needed Game 3 win

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George used a cross-over dribble to move to his left before drilling a rainbow step-back 3-pointer over Royce O’Neale and letting out a scream.

After hearing Jazz fans chant “overrated” at him for two games in Utah, an aggressive George had his best game of the playoffs, scoring 20 of his 31 points in the first half to set a much-needed tone for the LA Clippers on Saturday night. Kawhi Leonard then scored 24 of his 34 points in the second half to help the Clippers rout the Utah Jazz, 132-106, and get their first win of this Western Conference semifinal series.

George’s first 30-point game since April 23 came when the Clippers needed it to keep their title hopes alive. The Clippers now can even the series at 2-2 with a win Monday night in Game 4.

George found his rhythm and got hot, burying 6 of 10 3-pointers, four coming in the first half while playing with even more confidence on his home floor. After he hit the step-back 3 over O’Neale, George buried a 32-foot 3 and held his follow-through pose with confidence as the Clippers opened a 57-41 lead with 2:54 remaining in the first half. The Jazz never got any closer than eight in the third quarter.

“Oh, we’re a different team,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said of when George has his offense going early. “We know that. It’s been like that all season long. He’s been great. You know, he had one bad game, whatever, but people going to have bad games.”

George scored 20 points in Game 1 but Utah fans badgered him whenever they could as he shot 4-for-17 in Game 1. In Game 2, George scored 27 points and shot 8-for-18, but Jazz fans love taunting him dating back to when George was with Oklahoma City and the Thunder played Utah in the 2018 playoffs. George also has seen his fair share of Joe Ingles defending him, as the two have had their back-and-forth.

When asked what his relationship is with Ingles, George said, “I don’t care about him. Next question.”

For the Clippers, there is no question how good they can be when George and Leonard shift their games to another level like they did on Saturday. Not only did they combine to make 26 of 48 shots but they also took the challenge of slowing down Donovan Mitchell.

While Mitchell finished with 30 points before tweaking his sore right ankle, he was held scoreless for the first 16 minutes and 26 seconds of the game. After contesting 71% of his field goal attempts in the first two Jazz wins, the Clippers contested all but one of Mitchell’s 24 shots in Game 3, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“We just made an emphasis that he’s not going to beat us tonight,” George said of Mitchell, who played just four minutes and 55 seconds in the fourth quarter to rest his ankle with the game out of hand. “We’re going to force everybody else to play and we’re just not going to let him walk into shots tonight and get the looks that he wanted early tonight.”

Lue challenged his team to defend Mitchell better 1-on-1 but the Clippers also sent some doubles at the Jazz’ scorer, who scored 45 and 37 points in Games 1 and 2.

Mitchell did not score when defended by George on two shots and scored four of his points when guarded by Leonard.

After losing the first two games of first round at Staples Center against Dallas before winning the next two on the road to even the series, the Clippers will try to rebound from their second straight 0-2 deficit at home. No team in NBA playoff history has ever successfully overcome a 2-0 deficit and win multiple times in the same postseason.

They’ll take the momentum of their most decisive win of the playoffs and Leonard and George playing one of their best games together into a critical Game 4. The Clippers improved to 5-0 in the regular season and playoffs when their two All-Stars score 30 points or more each in a game together.

“With our two guys, we know that they are two of the best in the league,” Lue said. “I don’t go to Mastro’s [restaurant] to order the ketchup. I go to order the steak. And tonight, our guys were steak. That’s what we need.”

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Betting bullets – Odds take big swing in Milwaukee Bucks’s favor after taking three straight from Phoenix Suns

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After the home team won and covered each of the first four NBA Finals games, the Milwaukee Bucks won as four-point road underdogs in Game 5. The Bucks can now capture their first title in 50 years on Tuesday, when they host Game 6 as five-point favorites.

Following three straight wins, the Bucks are now -400 at Caesars William Hill. Those are the same odds for Giannis Antetokounmpo to be named Finals MVP. Jerry West is the lone player ever to be named Finals MVP on a losing team, which occurred when the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games in 1969.

Holding a 2-0 series lead, Phoenix was a -475 favorite to capture the franchise’s first championship. Additionally, Chris Paul was an odds-on -160 favorite to win the Finals MVP award.

Paul is now a +900 long shot to win Finals MVP. Devin Booker (+500) is the Suns player with the shortest odds. Phoenix is now +320 to win the championship, which would require a road upset and home win in consecutive games.


Betting bullets

• Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill has a prop bet on whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go 17-0 during the regular season. Yes is +2,500 and no is -7,500.

• The two college football teams that have attracted the most interest at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill are Auburn and Arizona State. Bettors were fading the Tigers and backing the Sun Devils. The price to bet the under on Auburn 7 has gone from +125 to -105. The price to bet the over on Arizona State 8.5 has gone from -110 to -125.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we were off on some of these win totals,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill U.S., said in a company release. “Usually there’s a pretty good formula for these: You’ve got 12 games, they went 10-2 last year, they’ve got this many starters returning, you look at their schedule — and you can pretty much make a number. But there’s not much to base off from last year, and so many more kids are coming back with the extra COVID year.”

• Odds to win the national championship via SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas:

Alabama +200
Clemson +450
Ohio State +500
Oklahoma +500
Georgia +1,000
Iowa State +3,000
Texas A&M +3,000
Texas +3,000
LSU +4,000
Notre Dame +5,000
USC +6,000
Penn State +6,000
Wisconsin +6,000
Florida +6,000
Oregon +6,000
North Carolina +8,000
Michigan +8,000

• Two Wimbledon matches are under investigation after irregular betting patterns were flagged by bookmakers, the International Tennis Integrity Agency said last week. The ITIA did not identify the matches in question and told ESPN that it was unable to provide any additional details while the investigation is ongoing.

“Unusual betting patterns can occur for many reasons other than match fixing,” a spokesperson for the ITIA said in an email to ESPN. “For example, incorrect odds-setting; well-informed betting; player fitness, fatigue or form; playing conditions and personal circumstances.”

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NBA free agents – Team-by-team lists for 2021 and 2022

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Who are the NBA free agents to watch in 2021 and 2022? The 2020 free-agent class featured less star power than normal, as the league blitzed through a condensed transaction period featuring the draft and free agency in the same week.

The 2021 class has thinned out after Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and Paul George signed long-term extensions, but it still features big names such as Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.

Here’s our team-by-team look at all the players who can and will hit free agency over the next two seasons.

Key: Restricted = restricted free agent; player = player option; team = team option; ETO = early termination option

MORE: 2021 NBA offseason preview


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U.S. men’s basketball team gains momentum with win over Spain in final game before Tokyo Olympics

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LAS VEGAS — Team USA built some needed momentum for the Olympics with a quality win over current world champion Spain 83-76 Sunday night in its final exhibition game before heading to Tokyo.

After falling behind by as many as nine points in the first half, Team USA showed off its shooting muscle in a second half and started to resemble the type of squad coach Gregg Popovich envisioned when picking the roster.

Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Zach LaVine combined for nine 3-pointers, and Keldon Johnson — who was promoted to the senior team on Friday after Kevin Love‘s departure — immediately showed how fresh and young legs can make a difference.

Johnson, who plays for Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs, scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and was a team-best +18 as his aggression in running the floor and within the offense stood out. The large crowd at Mandalay Bay rewarded Johnson with an ovation after he checked out in the fourth.

LaVine, who like Johnson has the advantage of having more rest because his Chicago Bulls missed the playoffs, also showed great energy as he has through the last two weeks in Vegas. Though he sometimes has drawn Popovich’s ire with defensive lapses, his athleticism is needed and it showed with two more power dunks on his way to 13 points.

The Americans are dealing with an array of challenges from losing Bradley Beal and preparation time because of COVID-19, to fatigue from the compacted season that has affected their conditioning to a lack of depth as three core players are playing in the Finals.

It’s left them not looking like any national team of the modern era and it has shown this last week in Vegas, where they went 2-2 and rarely looked like the overwhelming gold medal favorites they have been installed as.

They don’t have the personnel or the manpower to play the up-tempo attack that former coach Mike Krzyzewski made a trademark in winning the past three golds at least not until re-enforcements arrive. Their pace at times is downright slow, leaving them to rely on players unfamiliar with each other to react and read in the halfcourt.

But they do have firepower as Durant ended with 14 points and Lillard added 19, those two have carried the team’s offense.

Spain was led by Ricky Rubio‘s 23 points.

The Americans open Olympic pool play Sunday against France in Saitama, outside Tokyo. Depending on when the Finals end and travel schedules, they could play that game with just nine players.

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