Having seen two opportunities to advance to their first conference finals slip away in eerily similar fashion, the Clippers have much to discuss before the seventh and final game against the Denver Nuggets. But at no point before Tuesday’s tipoff, coach Doc Rivers promised, would his team hear a soaring pregame speech.
“Rah-rah speeches are very overrated,” Rivers said Monday. “They last about three minutes and you come running out and you’re fired up and then three minutes later you’ve got to focus on playing basketball.”
Beginnings haven’t been the issue against Denver. It’s their finishes where the Clippers have searched in vain for a pick-me-up, a stop, a made shot and better focus — anything to stop rallies by the Nuggets to win Games 5 and 6 after trailing by 16 and 19 points, respectively.
“What I see the most is our pace offensively,” Rivers said. “Some of that is because they’re scoring, but some of that I thought was self-inflicted. And then defensively we have to be better.”
After making 34% of their shots in the second half of Game 5, the Clippers shot 26% after halftime in Sunday’s 111-98 defeat that tied the series. The Nuggets shot 61% in each second half.
The Nuggets’ comeback Sunday featured a running, one-footed three-pointer reminiscent of a trick-shot competition by center Nikola Jokic, one of the 16 three-pointers Denver made after halftime in the last two games.
In the same span the Clippers have generated close and open looks but struggled to score. They made just 12 of 31 shots in the paint and 12 of 29 uncontested shots.
After shooting 65% off of drives in three victories this series, the Clippers have shot 41% off drives in the last two games. Lou Williams, the backup Clippers guard lauded as a “walking bucket” by Denver coach Michael Malone, missed three layups Sunday. Kawhi Leonard wasn’t immune, either. Open three-pointers hit iron.
Despite so many opportunities for offensive rebounds, the Clippers have scored six second-chance points combined after halftime of their last two games.
“Just went cold,” Leonard said Sunday of an offense that led the postseason’s first round in scoring.
The Clippers can draw from Leonard’s calm and Game 7 experience — Rivers called it comforting “to know the moment won’t be too big” for the two-time NBA Finals most valuable player. Yet they are in this situation because, in critical moments during Games 5 and 6, they appeared unclearwhere to turn for answers.
Sunday marked only the 18th game the Clippers have played at full strength, a span that has featured more success than adversity as seen in their 14-4 record. That relative lack of experience facing push-back together has revealed itself against Denver.
The Nuggets responded with the confidence of a team that could write a survival handbook after pushing four consecutive playoff series to Game 7 and winning five consecutive elimination games.
“This game is mental too, man, and it’s easy to get lost,” Rivers said. “I thought a lot of that happened last night. We had just blown our lead, and I thought the stress of that, you could see that on our guys. They’re looking at the scoreboard too. They know they have an opportunity. They want to win worse than everybody. Like, they do. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to play perfectly.”
Denver hasn’t played perfectly but has stayed aggressive. It led to 16 and 19 free throws in the second halves of Games 5 and 6, respectively, to the Clippers’ 11 in each game.
That aggression helped foul out Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, a second-team all-league defender, in an uncharacteristic 18 minutes, and drew Paul George into foul trouble too.
“[Beverley] is better than that, and he knows that, and that obviously hurts our team and our rotations,” Rivers said. “We have a chance to go up big, but Pat and PG are in foul trouble, and it limits rotations, it limits what you can do.”
Malone isn’t putting a limit on his team. No team has won two series in the same postseason when trailing 3-1.
“This is going to sound really funny, but I almost feel like we’re the Bad News Bears and I’m Coach Buttermaker,” Malone said. “We’re a team that nobody really looks at and takes us seriously and our guys, I think, have taken that personally.”
Greif reported from Los Angeles.
Jaguars’ Cam Robinson tossed on stunningly weak ejection
Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson was ejected for making contact with an official in the third quarter of Thursday’s game with the Miami Dolphins.
Talk about a weak call.
Robinson is on the bottom of a pile after a strip-sack and fumble recovery by Kyle Van Noy of Miami. Check it out.
The NFL has dramatically pulled back on flags this season but … is still ejecting players for doing what Cam Robinson did (or didn’t) do there.
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) September 25, 2020
Here is the play that led to the action that caused the ejection.
Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Toronto Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round playoff series.
New York lost for the fourth time in five games and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.
Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason.
Blue Jays players embraced on the diamond at their temporary home of Sahlen Field in Buffalo after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it.
The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo while the Yankees host the Marlins.
New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.
New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto.
Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.
Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.
Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh, pitching around Clint Frazier’s leadoff single by setting down the next three, including pinch-hitter Aaron Judge. The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.
Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second, his eighth.
The Blue Jays extended their lead when Cavan Biggio and Bo BIchette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.
Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.
Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.
Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.
Yankees: Judge is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, manager Aaron Boone said.
New York infielder D.J. LeMaheiu went 1 for 5, dropping his MLB-best average to .355. A former NL batting champ seeing his first AL title, LeMahieu is well ahead of White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. The Chicago star went 0 for 4 in Thursday’s loss to Cleveland, dropping his average to .338.
Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.
Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.
Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Jamal Murray beats LeBron James for unreal lay-up
Jamal Murray’s onslaught in the 2020 NBA playoffs continued on Thursday with a lay-up that had to be seen — multiple times — to be believed.
Late in the second quarter of Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Murray caught the ball at the perimeter and started running downhill. A lurking LeBron James awaited Murray in the paint and seemed well-positioned to at least prevent the easy basket.
Murray responded with a much, much harder basket:
JAMAL MURRAY WENT MJ ON THIS LAYUP 🤯 pic.twitter.com/V3pkJv3VOB
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 25, 2020
The spin Murray puts on the ball to get it to kiss up and in is what really makes it. Murray would finish the first half with a team-high 16 points and 4 assists.
Reminiscient of Michael Jordan?
The highlight quickly drew comparisons to another incredible move nearly 30 years ago, when a young Michael Jordan reversed the prevailing narrative of his career at the time with a 33-point game in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals.
You may remember the call of Jordan’s brightest moment: “A spectacular move!”
This isn’t the first time Murray has heard his name in the same conversation as Jordan this postseason. For all we know, it might not be the last.
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