NBA Playoffs: Bryant takes over with passing down the stretch

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We all know who Kobe Bryant is — one of the most successful, dynamic, creative, and audacious scorers to have ever played in the NBA. Kobe’s passing has always been very good, but he’s generally preferred to take over games with his scoring throughout his career. 
Yet in crunch-time on Thursday night, while passing virtuoso Steve Nash kept the Suns in the game by making tough shot after tough shot, Kobe was the one making pinpoint passes and trusting his teammates to make big finishes. 
Kobe wasn’t as red-hot from the field in game five as he was in game four, but he made enough tough shots in the first 7/8ths of the game to give the Lakers a 88-83 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game. From that point on, Kobe did most of his damage by picking apart the Phoenix zone with passes that led to layups and wide-open jumpers rather than trying to win the game by himself with contested jumper after contested jumper.
Kobe’s playmaking takeover stared when Bryant found Pau Gasol for a layup with 6:16 left to play. After that, Kobe drew the defense and found Derek Fisher, his longtime backcourt partner and big-shot specialist, in the corner for an open three that put the Lakers up eight. After answering a Steve Nash mid-range jumper with one of his own, Kobe flared up on the weak side to draw the defense away from the corner, where Fisher went to make another catch-and-shoot jumper. 
As Nash kept dribbling around the perimeter and making shot after shot, Kobe remained content to set up his teammates with beautiful passes, finding Pau with a pass in the lane that led to two free throws and Lamar Odom in the “blind spot” of the zone for a layup. With 20 seconds left, Bryant made a beautiful pass to set Gasol up with a dunk opportunity that should have put the game away, but Gasol’s dunk bounced off the rim, allowing the Suns to tie the game with a third-chance three. 
With three seconds left, Kobe forced a game-winner attempt and missed badly, but Ron Artest was there to clean it up and give the Lakers the win, making up for Gasol’s gaffe less than a minute earlier. Just goes to show that trusting your teammates can pay off in all sorts of ways that you can’t expect. 
Kobe couldn’t miss from the field for much of game four, but the Suns were able to take him out of the game late by aggressively doubling Bryant in the fourth. Since the Lakers’ offense had been four guys standing around and watching Kobe up to that point, they had no idea how to attack the zone when the Suns took the ball out of Kobe’s hands. 
In game five, Kobe and Co. made the necessary adjustment. When the Suns forced the ball out of Kobe’s hands, his teammates knew where the weak spots in the zone would be, and Kobe knew where and when to find them when they flashed open. With the Staples crowd and their years of playoff experience giving the Laker role players confidence, they were able to step up and put the game away when the Suns tried to throw double and triple teams at Kobe on the perimeter. 
I could talk about how Kobe willing to set up his teammates in such a big game is an example of how he’s matured over the years, but I’ve never quite believed in the new/old Kobe thing. The defense was giving Kobe passing lanes rather than easy shots, and Kobe has players around him who he can trust to make big plays late in the game rather than the terrible supporting cast he had in his early post-Shaq years. If the Suns go man-to-man late in game six and his teammates are struggling to make shots, I would wager that Kobe would take that game over with his scoring. 
Forget the new Kobe. Forget the old Kobe. Forget looking at each of Kobe’s big playoff performances like a window into his psyche. If you get caught up in all that stuff, you might miss the player who’s been doing the same, mostly amazing thing for a number of years now: the most complete player in basketball, and maybe the most complete player ever, doing whatever he can to try and get his team as many wins as possible, especially when it matters most. 

Mavericks sign Ben Bentil to fill spot following roster shuffle

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Ben Bentil #0 of the Providence Friars passes in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 85-66.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) The Dallas Mavericks have signed rookie forward Ben Bentil to a 10-day contract to fill one of the two spots from a roster shake-up that came at the trading deadline.

The addition of Bentil on Sunday puts the Ghana native in position to make his NBA debut. The former Providence player was drafted in the second round by Boston but was waived during the preseason.

Bentil has played in the NBA Development League and in China since the Celtics let him go. He played 13 games in two stints with Fort Wayne in the D-League, interrupted by an 11-game stint with Xinjiang in China.

The Mavericks had two roster spots after sending Andrew Bogut and Justin Anderson to Philadelphia in a deal for Nerlens Noel and waiving guard Deron Williams.

Giannis Antetokounmpo earns technical after scuffle with Marquese Chriss (VIDEO)

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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Giannis Antetokounmpo and Marquese Chriss got into a bit of a scuffle on Sunday, with the Milwaukee Bucks star earning a technical foul for his role in the hubbub.

It happened midway through the first quarter in Milwaukee after Antetokounmpo blocked Chriss on defense, then charged down the floor on the fastbreak.

Antetokounmpo drew the foul on Chriss, who was bumping with the Milwaukee wing with his arms up and his elbow parallel to the floor.

Chriss’ right elbow was above Antetokounmpo’s head, and there appeared to be incidental contact between the two players.

That, and a bump on the floor from Chriss’ leg sent Antetokounmpo off as the two ended up against the stanchion with Antetokounmpo pushing at Chriss.

After review, Chriss was assessed the foul and Antetokounmpo was given a technical.

Rudy Gobert fined $25,000 for making contact with official during Jazz-Bucks

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert shouts after a foul by a teammate during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Kings won 94-93. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has been fined $25,000 for making contact with an official during the third quarter of Friday’s game between the Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The incident occured with 5:19 left in the third after a drive to the bucket by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks star was driving past Jazz wing Joe Johnson, who fouled Antetokounmpo as he went up with a shot over Gobert in the paint.

A foul was whistled on Johnson, but it appeared that Gobert thought the call was initially on him despite his up-and-down contest.

That sent Gobert flying after the official, where he made slight contact, earning him an immediate technical foul.

Video of the incident was released by the NBA and can be viewed here.

Vlade Divac on DeMarcus Cousins trade: “If I’m wrong I’ll step down”

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Vlade Divac of Serbia watches during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Vlade Divac has started the clock on his own success or failure as an NBA GM with the Sacramento Kings. Speaking with the Sacramento Bee this week in a long Q & A, Divac said that if the DeMarcus Cousins trade hasn’t put the Kings in a better position in two years he will step down.

The trade that sent Cousins and teammate Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans returned Buddy Hield, a first round pick with protections, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and a second round pick.

Via the Sacramento Bee:

Q: Well, the pressure is on you now. It’s pretty clear that Divac, not Ranadive, is making the personnel decisions. Some people still can’t believe Ranadive actually stepped aside and allowed you to trade his favorite player.

A: That’s my job, and I take responsibility. And I totally understand why some fans would be upset. They supported DeMarcus, and I like DeMarcus a lot. But I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years. I want to hear again from these same people in two years. If I’m right, great. If I’m wrong, I’ll step down. But if I go down, I’m going down my way.

Divac also mentioned that he approached Cousins’ management team about anger therapy, and again harped on the move as being the right thing for the “culture” he wants to build in Sacramento.

The clock is ticking.