NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Slowing Kobe Bryant

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Thumbnail image for Kobe_Ganett1.jpgAgainst Orlando, the Celtics were willing to let Dwight Howard score. They single-covered Howard so perimeter defenders could stay home on the Magic’s shooters. They thought (correctly, it turns out) that Dwight Howard could not beat them alone, even if he went off for a big night.

Try that with Kobe Bryant and he will beat you.

Boston knows that, and they don’t mess around with Kobe. History has shown that the way the Celtics defend Bryant is almost the opposite of what they did to Howard — they try to force the ball out of Bryant’s hands and make some other Laker beat them.

Against L.A., Boston goes to an overload defense — they bring the help man over to the strong side early to give Ray Allen help (also look for Tony Allen to get a lot of Kobe time, he may be their best defender on him). What Boston does is not unlike the Kurt Rambis-designed defense the Lakers rode to a tile last year. Boston’s version is more complex and more active, but the principles are the same.

With that setup, there is always help nearby with Bryant, forcing him to go through a couple of men to get off his shot and keeping him out of the paint. The Celtics defense is based around keeping the other team out of the paint.

The Celtics are also very quick to double Bryant, and they bring the double from a variety of places so he is not getting a consistent look. The double also will come if a Lakers big comes out and sets a high screen for Bryant — the Celtics will trap Kobe coming off the screen.

Whatever Boston does, Kobe is still going to get his points — he is playing the best basketball of his career right now. The Lakers offense was very fluid against an admittedly overmatched Phoenix defense, and Bryant came through shooting 52.2 percent for the series. He buried the Suns with the impossible at the end of Game 6. Whatever Boston does he is still going to get and hit some crazy shots.

If the Celtics goal is to take the ball out of Bryant’s hands, other Lakers are going to have to step up and win games. The Lakers will need quick ball reversals; they will need to make the Celtics pay for their double teams and overloading the strong side. The Lakers do that better now than they did two years ago, but they are inconsistent.

In the end, Bryant (and Pau Gasol’s) creativity will be key. There are not a lot of secrets with what the Lakers do on offense or who the Celtics plan to do on defense. These teams know each other from two years ago and their strategies have not changed. By the third game, it will be execution and the ability to freelance that will get points, because the opposing team will anticipate the next pass or offensive option.

And when it comes to creativity in getting points, nobody is playing better than Kobe Bryant right now. Stopping him will not be easy, because even when you think you do he still hits the shot. Just ask the Suns.

But for the Celtics, beating the Lakers starts with slowing Bryant.

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.