NBA Playoffs: Artest, Fisher came up big when they needed to

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Artest_layup.jpgComing into this year’s playoffs, a lot of people would have pointed to Ron Artest and Derek Fisher as potential weaknesses for the Lakers. Both players are battle-tested veterans who bring hustle and toughness to the floor every time they play. However, Artest and Fisher are also a step or three slow for their positions at this point in their careers, and both struggled to make shots all season. (Artest shot 41.4% from the floor; Fisher shot an abysmal 38%.)

Artest’s struggles from the field and occasionally questionable decision-making were to be expected to some degree; even so, many fans questioned whether the Lakers would have been better off simply keeping Trevor Ariza in the off-season. Artest’s brand of defense was a welcome addition to the Lakers, but it often looked like he was throwing away possessions when the Lakers had the ball. Role players on a team like the Lakers are expected to abide by one cardinal rule — know your role. It seemed like Artest forgot that edict at times, and fans noticed. (Witness the Laker crowd audibly shouting “Nooooo!” at Artest whenever he’s lined up an early-in-the-clock three this postseason.) 
Fisher was much more widely derided than Artest, and for good reason. Fisher has always been more valuable than the numbers show, but Fisher’s numbers were truly horrific this season. Of the 67 qualifying point guards, Derek Fisher finished the regular season 63rd in PER. In fact, because of his low PER and how many minutes he played, Fisher ranked 324 out of 331 NBA players in Estimated Wins Added: Basically, the stat says that only six players cost their teams more wins than Derek Fisher cost the Lakers this season. Not something you generally read about the starting point guard on a team heading to the Finals. Fisher was bad enough during the regular season that many Lakers fans were openly begging for GM Mitch Kupchak to get Kirk Hinrich or Devin Harris at the trade deadline, even though both of them were struggling as well.
Amid all the calls for change in the roster or the rotation during the regular season, Phil Jackson and the Laker front office stood behind their oldest player and their newest acquisition, keeping both of them in the starting lineup throughout the regular season. After the last two games of the Western Conference Finals, it looks like Jackson and Co. put their faith in the right people. 
In game five of the Lakers-Suns series, Fisher was quietly spectacular; he tallied 22 points and six assists on 7-12 shooting from the field. Artest was terrible for the first 47:58 of the game, but more than made up for it with his spectacular game-winning put-back as time expired. 
That game-winner clearly gave Artest confidence for game six, because he did absolutely everything right on Saturday night. Artest played with aggression and hustle, beating the Suns to every loose ball and taking the ball right at the teeth of the Phoenix defense whenever they gave him a chance to do so. Artest’s infamously streaky outside shot made the trip to Phoenix as well; he went 4-7 from beyond the arc in game six, leading all players in made three-pointers. Count on Ron Artest to finally put it all together in front of a hostile crowd during the most important game of the season. 
For his part, Fisher wasn’t as effective as he was in game five, but he did what he needed to do in key moments to help the Lakers get the win. When the Suns made their big post-flagrant run in the fourth quarter, it was Fisher who made the key plays that got the Lakers back on track. Not only did Fisher make two big jumpers when the Lakers desperately needed to get some offense going, but he drew a key charge on Amar’e Stoudemire that took away some of Phoenix’s momentum. However old Derek Fisher gets, it seems like he can always be counted on to hit big shots and use his savvy to draw fouls on unsuspecting opponents. 
Before the playoffs, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest looked like two old, slow players whose lack of explosiveness and streaky outside shots were bogging the Laker offense down. After the conference finals, they look like two crafty veterans whose defensive intensity, toughness, and savvy allowed the Lakers to get into the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. I wonder what they’ll look like after the finals. 

Late turnovers, dubious foul call on DeMarcus Cousins sinks Kings vs. Bulls (VIDEO)

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The Sacramento Kings committed a costly turnover during a tie game with just 14 seconds to go to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Thankfully, they were gifted with a missed Dwyane Wade layup to give them another possession!

Well, they would have been if DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t called for one of the softest fouls you’re likely to see this NBA season.

That gave the Bulls a chance to convert two free throws — of which Wade hit one — and then an opportunity at the other end to tie or win.

Unfortunately, Cousins lost the ball on the next Sacramento possession, which sealed the game for Chicago, 102-99.

Cousins was not happy with the outcome of the game, thrashing a garbage can in the hallway of the United Center and giving some interesting quotes to reporters.

Everyone set your mobile notifications for tomorrow’s L2M report.

Marcus Morris tips in game-winner over brother Markieff as Pistons best Wizards (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Marcus Morris scored 25 points and tipped in the winning basket at the buzzer, leading the Detroit Pistons to a 113-112 victory over Washington on Saturday night for their third straight win.

Reggie Jackson had 19 points and eight assists, while Tobias Harris added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who let a 16-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter before Morris’ big bucket.

John Wall finished with 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and Markieff Morris added 19 points and nine rebounds for Washington, which had its four-game win streak snapped.

The Wizards took a 112-111 lead on Bradley Beal‘s two free throws with 1:13 left. Detroit had numerous chances to win on its final possession before Marcus Morris tipped in Harris’ missed runner with no time left.

The Pistons led 98-82 after three quarters, but the Wizards fought back, getting within six at 105-99 on Markieff Morris’ layup. The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes before Washington gained a 110-109 advantage on Morris’ dunk with 2:14 remaining.

Washington scored the first nine points of the game, but the Pistons took their first lead, 20-19, on Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer and led 30-26 after the first quarter.

Detroit took its biggest edge of the half, 41-30, on Reggie Bullock‘s 3-pointer. The Wizards got within three points on two occasions, but trailed 61-55 at the break.

The Pistons controlled the third quarter, building their lead to 16 points on Ish Smith‘s free throw to end the period.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Danuel House Jr. (right wrist fracture) and Ian Mahinmi (knee) did not play. … Washington played its third straight close game, beating New York 113-110 and Memphis 104-101 in their last two. … G Trey Burke played college basketball at Michigan. He finished Saturday with seven points off the bench.

Pistons: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (left rotator cuff strain) did not play. … Detroit capped its five game West Coast trip with a 102-97 win over the Lakers and beat Atlanta 118-95 in their first game back at the Palace. … Pistons F Marcus Morris and Washington F Markieff Morris are brothers and former teammates in Phoenix.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Monday at Charlotte.

Pistons: Host Sacramento on Monday.

Watch Nik Stauskas — yes, Nik Stauskas — posterize Thabo Sefolosha (VIDEO)

Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) of Canada, reacts after making a shot while being fouled as Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, of Switzerland, looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
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Nik Stauskas — sometimes better known as Sauce Castillo — is mostly known for shooting 3-pointers for the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s why, when he dunked all over Atlanta Hawks wing Thabo Sefolosha on Saturday, it was even more surprising.

The play happened late in the second quarter, and it really was all Kent Bazemore‘s fault. He tried to hack at Stauskas instead of using lock and trail defense at the 3-point line, leaving poor Sefolosha to unexpectedly help out down low.

Via Facebook:

Yeah, nothing you can do about that. Saucy.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

Via Twitter:

The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.