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The Sports Report: Clippers lose Kawhi Leonard, but win game

Paul George flexes his muscles after scoring against the Utah Jazz during the first half of Game 5.
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: As the decibels rose, his team’s margin for error shrank and a season reached a tipping point, Patrick Beverley waved his arms over his head Wednesday night, encouraging a crowd that had expected a blowout but was witnessing something very different to get even louder.

As Paul George took free throws to push the Clippers’ lead to seven, with three minutes to play inside Vivint Arena, Beverley smiled and waved, asking for more.

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Consider his position: It was hard for the noise to get any louder than what the Clippers had already heard Wednesday, long before tipoff of Game 5. In the hours after All-Star Kawhi Leonard was ruled out for Game 5 of this second-round series because of a strained right knee that could sideline him the rest of this series, if not beyond depending on the injury’s still-unknown severity, gambling odds tilted toward the Jazz. A sports-talk radio host in Los Angeles described himself as thankful that order had seemingly been restored -- a twisted end to a promising Clippers season. If Phoenix, awaiting the winner of this matchup in the Western Conference Finals, had fired up film of the Jazz, it might have been understandable.

Paul George flexes his muscles after scoring during the first half of Game 5.
(Associated Press)

Leonard, the all-NBA force who had averaged more than 30 points in this postseason, has been that valuable for the Clippers. But removing him from the lineup did not remove the unshakeable confidence this roster forged through short-handed February nights and a first-round comeback in Dallas. Only seconds after George’s free throws, his teammate Terance Mann drove the baseline against 7-foot Rudy Gobert, a three-time defensive player of the year, and dunked over his outreached arm. Now it was the Clippers’ time to make the noise -- Mann flexing his biceps as backup forward Patrick Patterson yelled in his face.

“That was incredible,” guard Reggie Jackson said.

This 119-111 Clippers win, to stake a 3-2 lead entering Game 6 Friday in Los Angeles, was as loud as any postseason statement the franchise has made in its recent history. Without Leonard, Paul George led the Clippers in points (37), rebounds (16) and assists (5) to push the franchise one victory away from their first conference final berth and push back against criticism about his postseason effectiveness that has dogged him for nine months.

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NBA

LeBron James knew.
(Associated Press)

Dan Woike on the NBA: It was a painful reckoning for the NBA as it approached the finish line Wednesday of its second pandemic season, the shadows from Brooklyn star Kevin Durant’s giant performance Tuesday night quickly undone in a series of league-altering news.

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Two players perhaps out for the playoffs. Two coaches out of a job. A GM gone.

Team medical personnel around the NBA are quick to point to the league’s compressed schedule and postseason — decisions driven by a desire to play as many games as possible to satisfy the league’s broadcast partners while ensuring that the money faucet doesn’t get turned all the way off.

It’s impossible to know if this is bad luck or if it’s the result of a tighter schedule in an effort to wrap up the playoffs before the Summer Olympics and to get the NBA back on a normal schedule next season. But the inference is being made — this isn’t coincidence.

LeBron James, a critic of the NBA’s shortened offseason and the league’s decision to hold an All-Star game, didn’t pass on the chance to tell everyone involved — the NBA and the players’ union — “told you so.”

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“They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season. I knew exactly what would happen. I only wanted to protect the well being of the players which ultimately is the PRODUCT & BENEFIT of OUR GAME! These injuries isn’t just “PART OF THE GAME. It’s the lack of PURE RIM REST rest before starting back up. 8, possibly 9 ALL-STARS has missed Playoff games (most in league history),” he wrote in a series of tweets. “This is the best of the year for our league and fans but missing a ton of our fav players. It’s insane. If there’s one person that know about the body and how it works all year round it’s ME! I speak for the health of all our players and I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year. Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now.”

James then tweeted: “And I know all about the business side (factors too) so don’t even try me! I get it.”

That stat James is referencing is per Elias Sports, with eight different All-Stars having missed at least one game in the NBA playoffs — Leonard joining Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown, Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Paul will make it nine.

“Injury rates were virtually the same this season as they were during the 2019-20 season while starter-level and All-Star players missed games due to injury at similar rates as the last three seasons,” NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said in a statement. “While injuries are an unfortunate reality of our game, we recognize the enormous sacrifices NBA players and teams have made to play through this pandemic.”

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Suns star Chris Paul out indefinitely after entering NBA coronavirus protocols

Hornets’ LaMelo Ball selected NBA’s rookie of the year

DODGERS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Dodgers: While the Dodgers have weathered injuries to middle-of-the-order sluggers Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Max Muncy, winning three straight and seven of eight games before Wednesday, their diminished offense was no match for Philadelphia Phillies ace Zack Wheeler on Wednesday night.

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Wheeler out-dueled Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, giving up five hits in six shutout innings, striking out six and walking four, to lead the Phillies to a 2-0 victory before a crowd of 52,157 in Chavez Ravine, handing the Dodgers their first shutout loss in 68 games this season.

Hard-throwing Philadelphia left-hander Jose Alvarado struck out the side in the seventh and retired the side in order with one strikeout in the eighth. Hector Neris threw a scoreless ninth despite hitting two batters, getting Austin Barnes to bounce into a double play and Mookie Betts to fly to center to end the game.

Kershaw navigated heavy traffic for most of the night but was able to limit the Phillies to two earned runs and eight hits, striking out nine and walking one in a 110-pitch performance that dropped the left-hander to 8-6 with a 3.36 ERA in 15 starts.

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Trevor Bauer credits and criticizes MLB for its plans to police ‘sticky stuff’

Fernandomania @ 40

In the newest episode of our docuseries, “Fernandomania @ 40": When the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, owner Walter O’ Malley prided himself on team rosters that reflected the community. When he moved west in 1958, that proved a tougher task – until Fernando Valenzuela’s arrival. With the frenzy surrounding of Fernandomania in 1981, the complexion of a predominantly white fanbase transformed into something that looked a lot more like Los Angeles itself.

You can watch the newest episode by clicking here. Newsletter subscribers have exclusive access until 8 a.m. Think of it as attending a movie premiere without the glitz, red carpet, spotlights, celebrities, paparazzi and glamor.

ANGELS

Jack Harris on the Angels: Joe Maddon’s big gamble on Wednesday afternoon seemed sensible.

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Though the Angels were leading by two going into the sixth inning, starter Griffin Canning was showing signs of vulnerability after allowing runs in each of the previous two frames.

With left-handed Oakland Athletics infielder Matt Olson due up, left-handed reliever Tony Watson was summoned from the bullpen even with Canning at only 69 pitches.

“I really felt at that point in the game, it was the right thing to do based on our bullpen and their lineup,” Maddon said, explaining his preference to have a rested relief corps take over instead of letting Canning face the heart of the A’s lineup for a third time.

“Those are the kind of things that you plan out before,” Maddon said. “When they go according to plan, they’re beautiful. When they don’t, it’s difficult.”

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What happened on Wednesday devolved into an all-out disaster.

The A’s scored six runs in the sixth inning to blow past the Angels in an eventual 8-4 win at RingCentral Coliseum, overcoming an early four-run deficit to complete a three-game sweep that dropped the Angels to 33-35.

CHARGERS

Justin Herbert
Justin Herbert
(Associated Press)

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: Quarterback Justin Herbert said Wednesday that he’d been vaccinated.

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Over the next several weeks, the Chargers would love to have more teammates join him.

The Chargers are among the NFL’s least-vaccinated teams, said a source familiar with the information but not authorized to speak about it publicly. The situation could affect preparations for the 2021 season.

The NFL and its players association have agreed on updated coronavirus protocols that mandate stricter guidelines for unvaccinated players when training camps open next month. The Chargers are expected to report July 27.

Among the restrictions — which will be waived for vaccinated individuals — are more testing, the continued wearing of masks and quarantine periods.

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Herbert characterized the number of players on the team who were vaccinated as “a small group of guys.”

“I thought, ‘If it’s available … and [would] help me in the long run,’ I think it’s better for everyone,” he said. “But it’s up to everyone. It’s their opinion. I think it’s a tough situation, regardless.”

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Drew Brees visits Chargers camp, endorses Joe Lombardi-Justin Herbert partnership

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OLYMPICS

Katie Ledecky competes at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials on Wednesday.
(Associated Press)

Nathan Fenno on swimming: The crowd inside the CHI Health Center in Omaha roared, bells clanged, and the public address announcer boomed over the commotion.

“Katie Ledecky is doing what Katie Ledecky does,” he bellowed. “Do not let it pass over you.”

Ledecky makes the extraordinary look routine, so much so that announcers feel obligated to remind spectators that what they’re witnessing isn’t normal. The five-time Olympic gold medalist who threatens world records each time she dives into the pool added to her legend Wednesday night during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

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About an hour after winning the 200-meter freestyle, Ledecky returned to the pool to capture the 1,500 freestyle and complete the grueling double.

“It ranks up there,” the 24-year-old said.

The words, as usual, were understated. The result wasn’t.

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The winning was expected for the U.S. women’s national team. The harder part for coach Vlatko Andonovski may be trimming the roster to the final 18 players for the Olympics.

Christen Press scored late in the first half, Lynn Williams added a goal in the final moments and the U.S. wrapped its Summer Series with a 2-0 victory over Nigeria on Wednesday night at Austin, Texas, in the last match before setting the Tokyo lineup.

And after three shutout victories, Andonovski likes the depth and talent available to choose from on the world’s No. 1 squad, no matter who gets the final call.

“The confidence level going to the Olympics is higher than it was before. I feel good where we are at. In terms of making final decisions, I feel pretty good,” Andonovski said.

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SPARKS

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Sparks: Maybe she was born with it, maybe it was developed by going from undrafted free agent to WNBA All-Star. Either way, there’s no doubting Erica Wheeler has the clutch gene.

The Sparks guard scored 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter of an 85-80 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center and added a season-high 10 assists for her first double-double.

“This is only the beginning for [her],” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said. “She’s really committed to figuring out how to run a team, how to do what she did tonight. … It’s not an easy job. But this is really literally only the beginning of what Erica’s capable of doing.”

HORSE RACING

John Cherwa on horse racing: A long-held rumor in Southern California horse racing circles is that Santa Anita will be sold off and turned into a much more lucrative real estate project. So, it was understandable that tensions rose dramatically after a Bloomberg news report on Tuesday said that the Stronach Group plans to sell some of its assets.

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Aidan Butler, chef operating officer for TSG’s racing division, unequivocally answered the question about Santa Anita’s immediate future.

“The tracks are not for sale,” Butler told The Times on Wednesday.

“It’s super frustrating that this narrative of selling keeps coming up. It’s nothing but pure speculation.”

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE/RESULTS

SECOND ROUND
All times Pacific

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Utah vs. No. 4 Clippers
Utah 112, Clippers 109
Utah 117, Clippers 111
Clippers 132, Utah 106
Clippers 118, Utah 104
Clippers 119, Utah 111
Friday: at Clippers, 7 p.m., ESPN
*Sunday: at Utah, TBD, TBD

No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets
Phoenix 122, Denver 105
Phoenix 123, Denver 98
Phoenix 116, Denver 102
Phoenix 125, Denver 118

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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No. 1 Philadelphia vs. No. 5 Atlanta
Atlanta 128, Philadelphia 124
Philadelphia 118, Atlanta 102
Philadelphia 127, Atlanta 111
Atlanta 103, Philadelphia 100
Atlanta 109, Philadelphia 106
Friday: at Atlanta, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
*Sunday: at Philadelphia, TBD, TBD

No. 2 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks
Brooklyn 115, Milwaukee 107
Brooklyn 125, Milwaukee 86
Milwaukee 86, Brooklyn 83
Milwaukee 107, Brooklyn 96
Brooklyn 114, Milwaukee 108
Today: at Milwaukee, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
*Saturday: at Brooklyn, TBD, TNT

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE/RESULTS

STANLEY CUP SEMIFINALS
All times Pacific

No. 1 Vegas vs. No. 4 Montreal

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Vegas 4, Montreal 1
Montreal 3, Vegas 2
Friday: at Montreal, 5 p.m., USA
Sunday: at Montreal, 5 p.m.: NBCSN
Tuesday: at Vegas, 6 p.m., NBCSN
*Thursday, June 24: at Montreal, 5 p.m., USA
*Saturday, June 26: at Vegas, 5 p.m., NBCSN

No. 2 Tampa Bay vs. No. 3 New York Islanders

New York 2, Tampa Bay 1
Tampa Bay 4, New York 2
Today: at New York, 5 p.m., USA
Saturday: at New York, 5 p.m., USA
Monday: at Tampa Bay, 5 p.m., NBCSN
*Wednesday: at New York, 5 p.m., NBCSN
*Friday, June 25: at Tampa Bay, 5 p.m., NBCSN

*-if necessary

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THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1954 — Rocky Marciano scores a 15-round unanimous decision over Ezzard Charles at New York to retain the world heavyweight title.

1961 — Gene Littler shoots a 68 in the final round to edge Doug Sanders and Bob Goalby in the U.S. Open.

1962 — Jack Nicklaus beats Arnold Palmer by three strokes in a playoff to win the U.S. Open.

1962 — Brazil beats Czechoslovakia 3-1 in Santiago, Chile to win its second straight FIFA World Cup title. Czechoslovakia scored first on a goal by Josef Masopust at 15 minutes. Two minutes later Amarildo tied the game. In the second half, Zito and Vavá scored goals to give Brazil the victory.

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1973 — Johnny Miller shoots a 63 in the final round to win the U.S. Open by one stroke over John Schlee at Oakmont, Pa. Miller’s 8-under 63 is the first ever carded in a major championship.

1976 — The 18-team NBA absorbs four of the six remaining ABA teams: the New York Nets, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets.

1979 — Hale Irwin wins the U.S. Open by two strokes over Gary Player and Jerry Pate.

1989 — The Quebec Nordiques select Swedish center Mats Sundin with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft. He’s the first European player to be taken with the first pick.

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1990 — Fifty-year-old Harry Gant becomes the oldest driver to win a NASCAR race as he posts a 2.4-second victory over Rusty Wallace in the Miller 500 at Pocono International Raceway.

1991 — Payne Stewart escapes with a two-stroke victory over Scott Simpson in the highest-scoring U.S. Open playoff in 64 years.

1995 — Claude Lemieux snaps a tie at 3:17 of the third period as the New Jersey Devils open the Stanley Cup finals with a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The victory, the ninth on the road, breaks the NHL playoff record for road wins.

2007 — Angel Cabrera holds off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk by a stroke to capture the U.S. Open. Cabrera shoots a 1-under-par 69 in the final round at brutal Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.

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2007 — Kate Ziegler breaks swimming’s oldest world record, shattering the 1,500-meter freestyle mark by 9 1/2 seconds at the TYR Meet of Champions Mission Viejo, Calif. Ziegler wins the 30-lap race in 15:42.54, easily erasing Janet Evans’ 1988 mark of 15:52.10 set in Orlando, Fla. At the time, Evans was the first woman to break 16 minutes.

2008 — The Boston Celtics win their 17th NBA title with a stunning 131-92 blowout over the Lakers in Game 6. Kevin Garnett scores 26 points with 14 rebounds, Ray Allen scores 26 and Paul Pierce, the finals MVP, adds 17.

2010 — The Lakers beat Boston for the first time in a Game 7 to repeat as NBA champions. The Lakers win their 16th NBA championship, dramatically rallying from a fourth-quarter 13-point deficit to beat the Celtics 83-79.

2011 — Rory McIlroy becomes the first player in the 111-year history of the U.S. Open to reach 13-under par, and despite a double bogey into the water on the final hole, his 5-under 66 is enough set the 36-hole scoring record at 131.

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2012 — Webb Simpson wins the U.S. Open outlasting former U.S. Open champions Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.

2018 — Brooks Koepka wins a second consecutive U.S. Open, the first player to do so since Curtis Strange in 1989.

And finally

The Lakers win the 2009-10 NBA title. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.

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