LOS ANGELES — Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.
1) Paul George is making all the plays, Clippers win sixth in a row
There was a moment, with three minutes left in the game and the Clippers up four on a surging Heat team, when Los Angeles needed a bucket. They put the ball in the hands of Paul George who drove the lane, drew in the defense, then kicked out to an open Eric Bledsoe… who missed.
George grabbed the offensive board, dribbled out to the corner, and drained a contested three. Then he got back on defense and in the next Heat possession put his body in front of an attacking Bam Adebayo and drew the charge.
All season long, George has been making plays when his team needs it. Thursday night, with 1:13 left and the Clippers still up by just four, Adebayo was headed to the rim for a dunk to make it a one-possession game, and George shut him down with a block.
“I do it because it’s the right play to make,” George said matter-of-factly about his late-game heroics.
George has played at an All-NBA, fringe MVP level to start the season, and Thursday night he finished with 27 points and five assists as his Clippers held on to beat the Heat 112-109. The Clippers have won six in a row and are now 7-4.
A lot is on George’s plate. With Kawhi Leonard out (likely for the season), George has taken on more of the offense — he has the highest usage rate of his career — and with that his efficiency has dipped a little of late. Still, he’s making the plays he has to make.
Around George, the Clippers have built an entertaining, high IQ, switchable and energized team that clearly enjoys paying with each other. After a slow start to the season, Eric Bledsoe came alive in the second half Thursday and finished with 21 on 9-of-16 shooting (his second straight strong game). Bledsoe appears to be getting comfortable, and coach Tyronn Lue can tell.
“When we can get him to say two words we know he’s getting comfortable,” Lue joked about the naturally quiet Bledsoe.
Reggie Jackson added 22 and played downhill against the Heat.
A key stretch multiple Clippers talked about came in the third quarter. George was tired and coach Tyronn Lue said he had to take him out for rest at the 6:26 mark, with the Clippers up two. George didn’t return until there were :45 seconds left in the quarter — and the Clippers were up seven. That hasn’t always been the case this season, with the Clippers 5.3 points per 100 better when George is on the court.
The Clippers are a good and versatile defensive team (second-best defensive rating in the NBA coming into Thursday), and they know how to play. They look a little better each game. If Leonard can come back late in the season, they become very good.
But for now it’s the Paul George show, and he is thriving.
2) Four ejections for non-fight scuffle? Welcome to Jazz vs. Pacers basketball
This was never a fight — and Rudy Gobert knows it.
Gobert started the incident and was one of four players ejected late in the fourth quarter of the Pacers’ win over the Jazz Thursday. He was joined by Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz, and Myles Turner of the Pacers.
It began when Turner blocked a Gobert shot at the rim. As Gobert went to the ground, he grabbed the shorts of Turner and pulled him down to the ground as well. No call. So when they started to run back up court, Turner took matters into his own hands and gave Gobert a shoulder. Gobert turned around and wrapped up Turner, and they stayed that way until security/coaches arrived to break them up and everyone could look tough again.
After a video review, both Gobert and Turner were given technicals and ejected for participating in an altercation. Joe Ingles was ejected for making contact with a referee, although the officials said postgame that appeared to be unintentional. Donovan Mitchell was ejected for “escalating the situation.”
It will be interesting to see how the league comes down on this: Is it fines for everyone, or could Gobert get a game suspension for starting everything by pulling Turner down?
All of this distracted from Mitchell highlighting the story of Izzy Tichenor, a 10-year-old Black and autistic girl living just outside Salt Lake City in Davis. He committed suicide after being bullied at school. At the same time, officials and teachers ignored the situation (Davis was taken to task by the U.S. Justice Department for ignoring racial harassment in its schools).
3) Could Klay Thompson be playing for Warriors on Christmas Day?
The Golden State Warriors are the biggest surprise and the hottest team of the early season, off to a 10-1 start with the best net rating in the league by a couple of points. Stephen Curry has played like an MVP, but the real secrets have been the league-best defense and putting veterans and shooters around Curry who understand how to take advantage of the space he creates.
Imagine what that could look like with Klay Thompson back in the rotation.
We could see that as soon as Christmas, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on ESPN’s NBA Countdown Wednesday (hat tip Real GM).
“I’m told if he continues on his current course right now in rehab, that a target date for his return will be set probably within the next couple weeks. And it could be… there’s optimism it could be as soon as December 20, December 23.”
There had been optimism for a Christmas return before the season, but sources at the time pushed back on that and suggested January was more likely.
If it were up to Thompson, he’d be playing 35 minutes starting tomorrow. This is the classic case of a team needing to protect the player from himself — Thompson hasn’t played since the June 2019 Finals and is coming off the combination of a torn ACL and a torn Achilles. The Warriors’ priority needs to be making sure he doesn’t re-injure himself by doing too much too soon. Whenever Thompson does return, expect a minutes limit.
But the league needs Klay back on the court.
Highlight of the Night: Fred VanVleet‘s tribute to Sam Cassell
Fred VanVleet was having some fun.
His Raptors were up by one with :25 seconds remaining when VanVleet caught the kick-out pass from OG Anunoby and drained a dagger corner three to essentially beat the 76ers.
Then he celebrated with the “big balls” dance.
That celebration is associated with NBA legend Sam Cassell — now an assistant coach for the 76ers.
By the way, VanVleet will get fined for that. The league is no fan of that dance.
Last night’s scores:
Toronto 115, Philadelphia 109
Pacers 111, Jazz 100
LA Clippers 112, Miami 109