NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 1: Kobe is hurt, Grant Hill is old. One will key a win tonight

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Thumbnail image for Kobe_layup.jpgThrough the years, the one constant in the Lakers/Suns battles is that the Suns never really stopped Kobe Bryant. Raja Bell did a respectable job, but those were the days Kobe had to keep gunning because his other options were pass to Smush Parker or pass to Kwame Brown. Better to shoot over the triple team.

Slowing Kobe will again be crucial for Phoenix — the Lakers are going to get points inside from Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. The Suns are going to struggle with that. But if the Lakers are getting points from the perimeter, efficient points from Kobe as well, the Suns are in a lot of trouble.

Good luck Grant Hill, the job is all yours.

Grant Hill has been the defensive specialist for the Suns. He made the Trail Blazers offense sputter when he was on Andre Miller (well, that and Brandon Roy being injured made their offense sputter). He slowed Manu Ginobili of the Spurs last series.

Grant Hill is 37 years old. We are required by law to mention that. Doesn’t mean anything except one thing — he’s not as quick as he was at 25. Hill now relies more on veteran savvy and his fantastic basketball IQ than just pure foot speed anymore.

He is not as quick as Kobe Bryant anymore. In a pure isolation clear out, Kobe should be able to blow past Hill.

That “should” could be a “would” if not for one thing — Kobe’s not healthy. He has not practiced with his team once in the week off between series. He had his knee drained of fluid. His ankle is still sore, his finger still hurts. Kobe is not the explosive Kobe of old.

Kobe now relies much more on his veteran savvy, his basketball IQ to get the shots he wants in the offense. To set up his teammates.

And that’s where Game 1 gets really interesting — if Kobe is explosive enough to get the 28 points a game he is averaging in the playoffs in an efficient manner on Hill, the Suns are in trouble. They have to commit resources inside, they can’t bring reinforcements away from the basket, too. All that would mean the Lakers are getting easy baskets.

There are a lot of other things to watch — can the Suns keep the pace up? Can the Lakers slow the game by pounding the Suns inside? Can Pau Gasol guard Amare Stoudemire? Can Stoudemire guard Gasol? Who would win a footrace between Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum at this point? Smart money on the last one is on the tortoise.

But as always, things circle back to Kobe. During the season, the Suns used Jason Richardson on Kobe, and he backed Richardson down in the post and beat him up pretty good. The Lakers won three of four. If Hill doesn’t change that equation, the Lakers will win four in this series pretty quickly.

Andrew Bogut comes up big for Warriors, who so often shun him to go small

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The Warriors’ Nuclear Lineup propelled them to the 2015 NBA championship. It has drawn praise from the President of the United States. It has been credited with revolutionizing basketball.

And it has marginalized Andrew Bogut.

Golden State has been at its best the last two years when benching Bogut for Andre Iguodala and shifting Draymond Green to center. That small-ball unit has defended well, pushed the pace and found quality shots.

But with the death lineup looking more vulnerable than ever – and, really, vulnerable at all for the first time – the Warriors turned to the starter who had sat and cheered his teammates in the biggest moments.

Bogut scored 15 points (his career playoff high) and grabbed 14 rebounds (his 2016 postseason high) in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the the Thunder.

The biggest number: Bogut’s 30 minutes.

He played just 17, 16, 12 and 11 minutes in the series’ first four games. Foul trouble contributed, but so did Golden State’s sloppiness – turnovers and quick shots – that turned games into track meets. At 7 feet and age 31, Bogut isn’t built to keep up. But the Warriors slowed the game just enough to let Bogut shine.

Protecting the paint has two major components:

1. Preventing shots at the rim. Even the worst finishing teams score at point-blank range more efficiently than the best mid-range teams do between the paint and 3-point arc.

2. Forcing misses at the rim when the opponent gets off a shot. Obviously.

Golden State improved tremendously in both areas tonight.

The Warriors allowed a series-low 18 attempts in the restricted area:

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And they held Oklahoma City to a series-low 44% shooting in the restricted area:

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Add it up, and that means the Thunder made just eight shots in the restricted area – a third as many as Game 3 and half as many as any other game:

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Bogut was central to the interior defense. Oklahoma City shot just 3-for-10 (30%) in the restricted area with him on the floor and 5-for-8 (63%) with him off.

“Bogues is our best defender,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, providing news to the voters who picked Golden State forward Draymond Green second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Green defended well tonight. But Bogut – who had two blocks and two steals – really drove the turnaround.

“It’s probably the key if you want to look for one thing – Bogues’ play leading to better defense,” Kerr said.

Add his quality finishing (7-for-9 from the field) and plus passing from the post (which generated two assists), and this was a real gem from Bogut – at a time the Warriors needed it most.

But can Bogut help them in Game 6 Saturday in Oklahoma City? He hasn’t played 30 minutes twice in three days in more than a year.

“I believe in Bogues,” Kerr said. “I think he can play that way in Game 6.”

Golden State will need him – or another way to defend the paint. Given the results of this series so far, including Green uncharacteristically struggling to protect the rim as the small-ball center, I’d turn to Bogut again.

Stephen Curry attacks rim, makes defensive plays, lifts Warriors to 120-111 win

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Stephen Curry wasn’t hitting threes like the video-game version of himself (the one we have come to expect), so he attacked the rim and made plays in the paint. The result was 31 points on 20 shots — and he set the tone for the Warriors all night.

Not just on offense, Curry had a key steal plus blocked a Kevin Durant shot late — highlighting an improved Warriors defense.

“I thought he looked like 91 percent,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr joked about Curry after the game (referencing the report Curry is just 70 percent healthy).

Curry played better than he had since Game 2 — so did Draymond Green, who had some offensive struggles but played the defense we know. The Warriors also got 27 points from Klay Thompson, and 15 points plus a lot great play in the paint from Andrew Bogut allowing the Warriors to stay with bigger lineups. Also, with Golden State attacking the rim, they got to the free throw line 34 times.

The result of all of it was a 120-111 Golden State win at home in Game 5, making the series 3-2.

Now the biggest test of the season comes for the Warriors — they will need to play better than this Saturday on the road in Oklahoma City to force a Game 7.

“We played with great energy, we played with great desperation, that’s the way you have to play in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “We were out of sorts the last two games, and we looked more like ourselves.”

The best way to describe Curry’s night was “good enough.” Credit to him attacking when his threes were not falling, look at his shot chart on the night.

Curry Game 5 shot chart

The Warriors also took the Thunder out of what had been successful for them the past couple games — OKC had just 15 fast break points (compared to 28 for the Warriors), the Warriors were +18 on points in the paint, and the Warriors outrebounded the Thunder on the night. The Warriors didn’t overthink thier defense on the Thunder in this one, they just did a better job of executing switches and, thanks to Bogut, taking away easy buckets inside.

Russell Westbrook and OKC struggled out of the gate — as a team, they shot 8-of-28 in the first quarter and at one point Westbrook missed 10 shots in a row. The Warriors were not hot with their typical shots — 2-of-10 from three — but they were getting to the rim and finishing better inside, which got them a lead in a game where Oracle Arena is rocking.

Steve Kerr did not dramatically change what had worked so well for Golden State all season, counting on his team to just be better — and it was, they outscored the Thunder small-ball lineup 20-15 in the first half (after being destroyed by it in the previous two games). The Thunder hung around in the second thanks to mid-range jumpers (5-of-7 in the second, plus 3-of-5 from three). But the Thunder did not get the same lift from their stars, Kevin Durant had 15 first half points on 15 shots, Westbrook had 13 on 14 shots (but still had six assists). Golden State led 58-50 at the half.

The Thunder opened the second half on a 9-2 run and things yo-yoed between tied and a small Warrior lead for much of the second half, until the Golden State’s bench pushed the lead into double digits again late in the third and early in the fourth. That lead held until the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder went on an 8-0 run fueled by some sloppy Warriors turnovers.

But the Warriors showed more poise than they have in the past few games, holding on for the win, making plays at the end when they needed to.

Now, can they do that and better on the road?

Draymond Green banks in shot from logo after whistle (video)

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors warms up prior to Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Draymond Green missed both his 3-pointers prior, but he made this.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, it didn’t count because it came after a whistle (that few heard over the loud Golden State fans).

Stephen Curry sunk a 3-pointer later in the possession. That one counted.

Report: Khloe Kardashian files for divorce from Lamar Odom

Khloe Kardashian Odom, Lamar Odom
AP Photo/Evan Agostini
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1. Khloe Kardashian filed for divorce from Lamar Odom.

2. With Odom facing health problems after a drug overdose, they rescinded the filing.

3. Odom reportedly continued drinking, frustrating Kardashian.

Associated Press:

Court records in Los Angeles show Kardashian filed for divorce Thursday, citing irreconcilable differences.