NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz game 1: Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan get together, again

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Thumbnail image for Jackson_Bryant.jpgDid Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan even bother to look at the advanced scouting reports for this series?

These two coaches — running the exact same systems — have been going at it since the mid 1990s. There are no secrets here. No surprises, no new counters that have not been tried multiple times before. This is a well-known dance between coaches.

But Jackson keeps coming out on top, because he has had the better players. That likely does not change, either. The Lakers pose some matchup questions that the Jazz cannot answer, especially as banged up as they are along the front line.

These two teams last played a month ago and the Lakers blew the Jazz out of the water with a 20-2 first quarter run. The game was never really in serious doubt after that (although the Jazz made a couple runs of it against the sad Lakers bench.)

The Lakers defense made that run, for a couple reasons. One was they forced the Jazz to start their offense farther out on the floor than they normally like, to the point a couple early turnovers came because Jazz players just stepped out of bounds.

Jazz turnovers will be key– the Jazz run the crisp-passing flex offense, and they run it better than anyone, but it is an offense with a lot of interior passing. The Lakers bigs have long arms. They knock down some passes, and those tend to be quickly become transition points for the Lakers. Unlike in the last round against the youth Thunder, now the Lakers want to get out and run, they are the better transition team. If the Jazz cut the turnovers down, they cut out some easy offense for the Lakers.

One Utah matchup that always gave the Lakers trouble was Mehmet Okur — to get easy points against the Lakers need to pull their bigs away from the basket. You need a stretch four (I hate to type that, it’s becoming a cliché, but it rings true here). But Okur is out for this series with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and that is going to be trouble for the Jazz, because the Lakers bigs will have more freedom.

And the big matchup advantage for the Lakers in this matchup has long been inside. And it’s not just that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum — who will play through his knee injury, but look for Phil Jackson to try to get him rest — can score at will. It’s that they slow down one of the keys to the Jazz offense: Carlos Boozier.

Boozer averaged just 11.3 points in four games against the Lakers this year, on 39 percent shooting (thanks to Forum Blue & Gold for that). And he averaged less than 10 shots per game. The length of Pau Gasol really hampers Boozer in the post, and Gasol is long enough to challenge his jumpers out at 15 feet.

The Jazz may try to counter that with the return of Andrei Kirilenko, at some point. However, how much of an impact he can have remains to be seen.

Where the Jazz have the advantage is Deron Williams. He is as good a point guard as there is in the game, he can slash the lane, shoot the three, and averages 10.5 assists per game. He will utterly destroy Derek Fisher. Destroy.

This is where the lack of Okur hurts — the Lakers bigs will try to block off the paint and force Williams to pull up with the 12-footer. This season, Williams shot just 32.8 percent from 10 to 15 feet (via Hoopdata).

One other little matchup the Lakers can fall back on — Kobe Bryant vs. Anyone. Slowed by injury or not, Wesley Mathews is not stopping Kobe when it matters.

This is a matchup the Lakers should win — the matchup advantages all fall to them. But Deron Williams can win a couple games himself. Bynum is slowed and Kobe Bryant is banged up. And we know this — the Jazz are a good team that plays hard. They will not roll over. The Lakers will have to fight for this one. But they probably will, at least just enough to win.

Kobe Bryant’s 25 points not enough to upset Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have watched helplessly as Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has tormented them for the better part of the past two decades.

Bryant did so again in his final appearance in San Antonio, but the Spurs were able to enjoy this one.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a throwback performance by Bryant to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-102 on Saturday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“I thought it was great,” San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. “It was a great game, fans were into it. It felt a little bit like the old days in the playoffs, Spurs and the Lakers.”

Kawhi Leonard added 20 points and 13 rebounds to help the Spurs win their 28th straight home game to open the season. The Spurs’ 37th straight home victory dating back to last season was surprisingly difficult.

Bryant had 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter, going 3 for 6 on 3-pointers in guiding the Lakers to an 81-79 lead entering the fourth.

“I watched him growing up,” said Lakers guard and San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson, who finished with 21 points and four assists. “I watched him kill the Spurs.”

San Antonio has trailed for only two minutes in the fourth quarter at home this season, but the Lakers led for all but 23 seconds in the opening seven minutes of the period.

Bryant finished 9 for 28 from the field, but was 7 for 18 in a dynamic second half that electrified a pro-Bryant crowd.

“It’s like watching Michael (Jordan),” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was just watching. It was great. It was great. We made some mistakes. He took advantage of it. He’s fantastic.”

After rising to drain a 3-pointer with Leonard squarely in his face contesting the attempt, Bryant turned to an injured Tim Duncan on the bench and shrugged his shoulders.

“He was like, `No way,’ and I was like `Dude,’ ” Bryant said. “What could I do? I miss the easy ones and make some B.S. like that. I don’t even know what to tell you. It was Tim’s version of a yell, so it was a strong whisper.”

The Lakers trailed 101-99 lead after trading 3-pointers following Bryant’s improbable shot, but the Spurs’ were able to hold Los Angeles to just three points in the final 2 minutes.

“Missed defensive assignments,” said Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, who had 12 points. “They executed their offense to perfection. We were young and that’s an excuse I could give you.”

Bryant had a sore right shoulder, but he was not about to miss one last game against his fiercest rivals. He has faced the Spurs 90 times in the regular season and postseason, his most against any opponent.

TIP-INS

Lakers: The Spurs honored Bryant with a 3-minute video. The Spurs’ Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all paid tribute to Bryant’s competitiveness along with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Bryant walked over to the Spurs’ bench prior to tipoff and hugged Popovich, sharing a few words with San Antonio’s longtime coach.

Spurs: San Antonio’s 12-game lead in the Southwest is the largest ever since the division was formed in 2004-2005. … In addition to Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs were also without Matt Bonner. The reserve forward suffered a left calf strain Friday against Dallas, which was just his 20th game of the season. … Pop star Selena Gomez sat courtside, wearing a Tony Parker jersey.

 

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.