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About Last Night: Blazers still trying, now winning

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The Blazers’ early-round frustrations are well documented, and due at least — in part — to unlucky draws. Portland’s 2016 and 2017 postseason runs both ended at the hands of the Warriors, understandable losses to all but the most stubborn.

One such fan reprimanded CJ McCollum in 2018, when the Blazers guard defended himself and his team on Twitter by reminding his followers of Golden State’s overwhelming talent. Twitter user Jennifer Williams promptly told McCollum, “Win a playoff game, then talk.”

If McCollum was angered by the mandate, he didn’t show it. Instead he simply reassured her, tweeting, “I’m trying, Jennifer.”

Those three words of honesty became a viral sensation, one that wasn’t forgotten by ESPN’s Royce Young following Portland’s Game 1 victory over Oklahoma City on Sunday. Young asked McCollum if he had anything to say to Jennifer following the win, to which the Blazers’ guard responded with heartfelt laughter.

As video of the exchange went viral, Jennifer made sure to take credit for “inspiring” McCollum and the Blazers in their postseason opener.

McCollum, who scored 24 points in the victory, is still enjoying the exchange with the maximum amount of good grace.

 

The Greek god

The free-throw line is hallowed ground to NBA dunkers. Giannis Antetokounmpo joins the immortal athletes that have made that line their own personal springboard.

Not since Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler have we seen such an absurd long-jump defiance of gravity. The play punctuated Milwaukee’s 35-point Game 1 win over Detroit, the Bucks’ largest postseason win since 1971.

 

Third-quarter drought

If all you knew about the Celtics’ 84-74 Game 1 victory over the Pacers is the final score, you wouldn’t realize it essentially was a blowout. Indiana’s performance in the third quarter of the physical, low-scoring affair erased the Pacers’ hopes of stealing a game in Boston. 

With the Pacers up 45-38 at halftime, they managed only eight points in the third quarter.

 

The Celtics go a 13-0 run in the second half.

Boston scored 26 and cruised the rest of the way in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. How bad was the third and the early fourth? Well, Pacers starters had scored only one point in the second half until well into the fourth quarter. The Pacers didn’t make a single 3-pointer in the third.

The eight-point quarter marked a postseason franchise low for Indiana. But it’s not a NBA-record low. The New Jersey Nets scored six points in a quarter against Cleveland on May 16, 2007. And several others teams have managed only seven or eight in a quarter since then. 

The 74-point total is the lowest of the season for the Pacers, who shot 33.3 percent — also a season low.

 

Sunday’s Game 1 turned when the Pacers seemingly lost focus in the third quarter.

 

James, James, James!

I mean, if you’re not gonna ask Chris Paul a question, why ask him to come up to the podium at all? Clearly, that’s what Paul thought before leaving Harden to his adoring reporters following Houston’s Game 1 win over Utah.

 

Playoff hustle

The Pacers’ Thaddeus Young ran half court for a chase-down block on the Celtics’ Al Horford, who had received a long outlet pass in transition in the second quarter.

 

Hug for high tops

James Harden’s offer was simple: I give you these autographed shoes, you give me a hug.

The little girl complied. Moment made.

 

Another Curry Brothers’ chapter

For the first time, both Stephen Curry and brother Seth are both in the playoffs. This is piling up the travel miles for their parents.

 



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Report: Chris Paul wants out of Houston

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The Houston Rockets have major decisions to make this offseason, especially if the latest reports from Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports are true. 

According to Goodwill, the dynamic between Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul has become “unsalvageable” after a difficult season in Houston.

The relationship has reportedly reached the point where Paul demanded a trade and Harden issued a “him or me” ultimatum after the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Here’s more from Goodwill on the reported problems in Houston:

The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.

Harden hasn’t returned Paul’s repeated attempts at communicating this offseason, sources said, after a year in which the pair repeatedly got under each other’s skin with petty acts in practices and games.

[…]

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Paul’s injury-related absences and grating personality have annoyed Harden, sources said.

[…]

Harden’s ball-dominant style and unwillingness to give others like Paul space to operate have grated on Paul, leading to the nine-time All-Star issuing his trade demand to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey after the season.

Sources said Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni about the offense bogging down after Harden would ask to come into the game to join the second unit, with Paul heading to the bench.

“It can’t be fixed,” another league source told Yahoo Sports about the Harden-Paul partnership.

If the Rockets do decide to trade Paul, they may have a difficult time finding a trade partner. The 34-year old guard reportedly is due to make $38.5 million, $41.3 million and $44.2 million over the next three seasons, which would be a lot of salary for another team to absorb in a trade. 

Paul — who missed 24 regular season games due to injury — finished the 2018-19 season with averages of 15.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals.



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Lawyer: Deputy in clash with Ujiri has concussion

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP)  — A deputy suffered a concussion and is on medical leave after an altercation with the president of the Toronto Raptors as he tried to join his team on the court to celebrate their NBA championship, a lawyer said Tuesday.

The 20-year-veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office also has a serious jaw injury and is considering filing a lawsuit against Raptors President Masai Ujiri, attorney David Mastagni said.

“The officer is off work, disabled and wants to go back to work,” Mastagni said. The name of the deputy has not been released.

The clash between the deputy and Ujiri happened as the deputy checked court-access credentials after the game Thursday in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.

Authorities say Ujiri tried to walk past the deputy but the deputy stopped him because he didn’t see Ujiri’s on-court credentials.

Ujiri pushed the deputy, who pushed him back before Ujiri “made a second, more significant shove and during that shove his arm struck our deputy in the side of the head,” sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said. He said Ujiri also shouted obscenities.

Several bystanders intervened and Ujiri got onto the court without displaying any credentials, Kelly said.

Investigators were questioning witnesses and the office hopes to file a report to prosecutors this week recommending a misdemeanor battery charge against Ujiri, Kelly said.

They are also reviewing footage from body cameras worn by the deputy along with footage from the arena surveillance system and cellphones.

The office does not plan to release the deputy’s body camera footage to the public during the investigation, Kelly said.

Kelly confirmed the officer is on medical leave.

The Raptors said last week the team was cooperating with the investigation and gathering information on its own. It had no further comment Tuesday.

Warriors fan Greg Wiener, who witnessed the altercation, said last week the incident began when the deputy put his hand on Ujiri’s chest and pushed him. Ujiri shoved him back before bystanders intervened, Wiener said.

He also said then that there was no conversation between the deputy and Ujiri. But on Tuesday, he said he remembered the officer shouting, “No one gets on the court without credentials.”

Wiener said he recalled the detail “after thinking about it all weekend.”

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Study: NBA, WNBA earn high grades in diversity hiring

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)  —  A diversity report shows the NBA still leads men’s professional sports leagues in racial and gender hiring practices.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Tuesday indicated almost identical scores from last year. The grade for racial hiring was an A-plus with an unchanged 98.7 score. The grade for gender hiring was a B, but slid slightly to 80.9.

The overall grade was an A at 89.8. That was better than Major League Soccer’s B-plus, the NFL with a B and Major League Baseball with a B-minus. The NHL doesn’t participate in the study.

The only professional league with a higher grade from the past year was the WNBA, with an overall A-plus and 97.6 score.

Richard Lapchick, the TIDES director and lead report author, said the NBA has “always had a leadership position” regarding diversity initiatives. The study’s release comes less than a week after the Cleveland Cavaliers hired California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb from the college level as an assistant coach, making her the seventh woman serving as an assistant coach or player development staffer.

“We always look forward to this report in particular because we know we’re going to see encouraging things,” Lapchick said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The study examined the racial and gender breakdowns in numerous areas, such as players, coaches, trainers, front-office staffers at the team level and positions at the NBA headquarters. It reviewed data from the 2018-19 season.

The report was particularly good for the NBA league office. It earned an A-plus for racial hiring with 37.6% of professional staff positions filled by people of color, the highest percentage recorded in the study. Women made up 39.7% of those positions for a gender grade of B-plus.

Those were both better than scores for the team level, where people of color made up 31.6% of team management positions (still an A-plus) and women filled 30.9% of those positions for a gender grade of a C.

The league also had 10 head coaches of color among the 30 franchises to start the season and earned an A-plus for its initiatives to promote diversity. Lapchick pointed to an emphasis starting under former commissioner David Stern in the 1980s.

“The NBA is the only league that didn’t have to enact a Rooney rule,” said Lapchick, referring to the NFL’s rule requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a head coach.

“They’ve just been hiring the best candidates and bringing in a diverse pool of candidates since David took over. And then he pushed that to the team level, where they don’t have control but they do have a lot of influence.”

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