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NBA Sunday: Chris Paul’s Quiet Motivation

With the past two playoff runs ending in heartbreak, Chris Paul and the Clippers want to rewrite their obituary.

Moke Hamilton

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Everything matters—every step, every turnover, every play and every point.

Chris Paul has known this since the beginning. And on this day, he treated a fateful possession in Game 4 of the 2016 playoffs in Portland in much the same manner. The attitude and motivation are what enabled a routine, meaningless play to have a tremendous impact on the way his career’s narrative, if it all ended now, would be written.

With a packed house of opposing fans, Paul sprinted up the floor, ball in hand. He took a dribble with his right hand, but feeling an unfamiliar pain, alternated dribbles with his left until—as usual—he found J.J. Redick for an in-stride jumper.

Just a few moments prior, with about seven minutes remaining in the second quarter of a six-point game, Paul refused to give up on Gerald Henderson’s drive to the basket. As Henderson slowed for his two-step and gather, Paul—en route to successfully stripping the ball—suffered a broken third metacarpal in his right hand.

For the Clippers, their season ended right then and there.

But of course, a new one has begun. And for Paul and his Los Angeles Clippers, their collective pursuit of greatness, glory and, yes, sweet redemption, continues.

* * * * * *

In the same manner that the cat can be skinned in more than one way, different people can view the exact same scenario and come away with different interpretations.

For a great many, the Clippers are nothing more than a band of losers, led by Paul.

In most arguments, as attorneys are trained to do, certain facts—the ones that help one’s case—are highlighted. Those that don’t are ignored.

Case in point: Paul has never played in a conference finals and has zero championship rings to show for what has been one of the most impressive point guard careers we have ever seen. He was the leader of a Clippers team that was desperate to prove its mettle but—in squandering a 3-1 series lead to the Houston Rockets in the 2015 playoffs—failed embarrassingly, in flaming and dramatic fashion.

Up 3-1, at home, the Clippers famously led James Harden and his Rockets by 19 points late in the third quarter of a close-out Game 5. Yet somehow, for the next 13 quarters of that series, the Rockets badly outplayed team CP3 and pulled off a miraculous upset.

While it is true that Paul has had a few playoff moments wherein he has fallen short, most superstar players have. Nobody—not Kobe Bryant, not Tim Duncan and not LeBron James—has an unblemished record in that regard. The most that the contemporary superstar can hope for is an opportunity to write over the shortcoming.

After being obliterated by the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, what would Bryant’s legacy have been had Ron Artest not nailed the biggest three-pointer of his life to help the Lakers defeat the Celtics in 2010?

Similarly, what would LeBron James’ legacy have been had Ray Allen not hit the biggest three-pointer of his life in the waning moments of Game 6 in 2013?

What would his legacy have been had Draymond Green not lost his cool? Or if Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut all had been 100 percent healthy?

Of course, these questions are all rhetorical. There may be thousands of permutations and “what if” questions that can be asked, but only one reality. And the reality is this: to whom much is given, much is required.

Of Paul, we required exactly what we required of James and, before him, Bryant. Like Paul, they each had their fair amount of shortcomings but in each instance, they were able to exorcise the demons that haunted them and their legacies.

At this point, that’s what Paul is playing for.

* * * * * *

DeAndre Jordan learned that although Christmas only comes once per year, sometimes, it does come early. In December 2011, with Blake Griffin and Caron Butler by his side, he learned that the Clippers had acquired Chris Paul from New Orleans.

The duo was so ecstatic, that it took quite a few moments for Jordan to even realize that at least a few of his former teammates would be given up in the deal. Griffin, excited to have Paul joining the club, famously declared the Clippers to be “Lob City.”

Since then, everything has been different. To Paul, much had been given. Accordingly, much has been required. So with the Clippers on his back and with a bevy of basketball talents at his disposal, the critics and the basketball-watching public only cared about what Paul’s acquisition will yield.

Almost isn’t good enough. That’s why, despite winning 56 games with the 2007-08 Pelicans and putting the Spurs on the ropes by taking a 3-2 series lead in the second-round battle, nary a soul remembers that year for Paul. The public only recalls that Paul failed to win the Most Valuable Player Award that went to Kobe Bryant and that his team couldn’t ultimately put the Spurs away.

The critics won’t rightfully criticize Blake Griffin for not watching old tape of the likes of Larry Johnson and Charles Barkley and learning how to effectively use a pivot foot, balance, patience and his hips to create easy, back-to-the-basket scoring opportunities in the paint. They also won’t acknowledge what most people know to be true—that the Clippers would be nothing more than a marginal playoff team without the dynamic point guard. They also won’t acknowledge that he has almost single-handedly transformed two franchises from being mere afterthoughts in the NBA’s hierarchy to ones that had legitimate expectations and hopes for competing for championships.

No, Paul may not be a championship-winner, but he certainly is a contender-maker, and not many NBA players can say that for themselves.

Unfortunately, in our winner-take-all sports culture, we have been taught to undervalue and downplay that.

* * * * * *

With sweaty palms and a racing heart, Kawhi Leonard stepped to the free-throw. Merely 19 seconds away from cradling the Larry O’Brien trophy, here in Miami, Leonard saw his basketball life flash before his very eyes. A two-point lead separated his Spurs from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. In all likelihood, had Leonard hit his two free-throws, the game and championship would have been clinched.

The normally unflappable Leonard stepped to the line and with a deep sigh and a glossy eyed gaze, missed the first of his two free-throws. Although he made the second, that missed point was the difference between Ray Allen’s fateful three-pointer tying the game or Miami still trailing by a point.

The rest, again, is history.

To a man, the ensuing season, the Spurs admitted that their summers were long. Leonard himself admitted that the missed free-throw kept him up at night while Danny Green said that he still thinks about that Game 6.

Only today, nobody talks about it. Nobody talks about Leonard’s failure just like nobody talks about Kobe quitting on the Lakers in his infamous Game 7 performance against the Phoenix Suns back in 2006 or LeBron laying an egg the size of Dan Gilbert’s wallet in Game 5 against the Boston Celtics back in 2010.

Nobody talks about the shortcomings of those Spurs just like nobody talks about the 12 years that Kevin Garnett spent in Minnesota. His Timberwolves were eliminated in the first round seven consecutive years and managed to advance to the conference finals only once.

Finally, after 13 years, in Boston, Garnett was able to win it all. Along the way, just like Paul, he faced a tremendous amount of criticism. There were many that wondered whether he was truly great, as the farce that the public is routinely sold is that great players, somehow, single-handedly, can “will” their teams to victory.

Nobody talks about the failures because history is written by the victor, and a few moments of glorious triumph can wipe away a lifetime of futile shortcomings. Just ask the Chicago Cubs.

From Kevin Garnett to Kobe Bryant and from LeBron James to Kawhi Leonard, we routinely see great players rewriting the obituaries of their shortcomings.

Titles can help erase the painful memories. Or, at the very least, make them more bearable.

So if you look around at Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers and wonder what’s been motivating them, look no further than that. The wise man knows that tomorrow will bring forth another opportunity. But the wisest man knows something far greater—sometimes, in life, one victory can erase all of the painful memories of failures past.

When Paul walked off the court at Portland’s Moda Center, he was visibly shaken. His eyes welling with water, he took the long, slow, painful walk to the locker room. With a broken spirit and heavy heart, he carried his team’s championship aspirations with him.

Collectively, as the Clippers have begun the season looking like the best team in the Western Conference, with their pain and tremendous shortcoming as their pen, they are attempting to rewrite their narrative.

And if what has transpired over the course of the team’s first weeks of the young season are indicative of what is to transpire in the future, for Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, their story may be far from over.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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