NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Rondo shut down in game one

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With 8:45 remaining in the very first quarter of game one, the Celtics looked to set up their half-court offense after Ron Artest made a jumper. The Celtics brought the ball up and gave it to Kevin Garnett on the wing, who swung a two-hand pass to Rajon Rondo on the other side of the perimeter. 
It was a simple pass early in the shot clock, the type of thing an offense does before they actually get down to the business of trying to put the ball in the basket. 99% of the time, that pass gets to Rondo without incident. That wasn’t the case with this pass. Before the ball got to Rondo, Kobe Bryant jumped into the passing lane and deflected the ball, forcing Rondo to jump in order to attempt to make the catch. 
Rondo failed to get a handle on the ball, tried desperately to save it, and ended up putting the ball directly into the hands of Ron Artest. Artest started a sloppy three-on-two break that ended in nothing but a missed layup, an offensive rebound, and a foul on the floor. In fact, the Lakers didn’t even get a basket on the ensuing possession. 
Nonetheless, a message had been sent. The Lakers were not going to give the Celtics anything free, even a pass out on the perimeter early in the shot clock. They were going to beat them to every loose ball, run at every opportunity, and keep the pressure on Rondo and the Celtics at all times. In short, they did to the Celtics in game one what Rondo did to the Cavaliers and Magic in the previous two rounds of the playoffs. 
As a player, Rajon Rondo gets his individual numbers by preying on the mistakes of his opponents. Every time one of his opponents fails to locate a loose ball or rebound, Rondo is there to grab it. Every time the other team doesn’t have enough players back on defense, Rondo is going to push the ball. Every time the Lakers help off of Rondo too much, he’s going to cut into the open space. When there’s a lazy pass, Rondo is going to snatch it and start streaking towards the hoop. 
As a team, the Celtics pulled off two consecutive playoff upsets because they were the ones controlling the chaos. They pushed the pace, they forced turnovers, they got the early leads, they made teams too nervous to trust their role players and loaded up on their superstars. They didn’t just beat teams; they made them miserable while they were doing it. 
On Thursday night, the Celtics got a taste of their own medicine. The Lakers played a high-energy, low-risk, mistake-free game, and they forced Rondo and the rest of the Celtics out of their comfort zone. Without a supply of mistakes to feed off of, Rondo was thrown to the Lakers’ half-court defense and left to starve. Rondo loves to grab long rebounds and start the break; the Lakers only missed six three-pointers all game, and 72 of their 102 points came on points in the paint or free throws. When the Celtics did get the ball in a possible transition situation, the Laker bigs sprinted back to seal off the paint. Thanks to all of those factors, the Celtics only managed five fast-break points in game one. 
With the Lakers failing to give Rondo any opportunities to run, he was forced to try and score points against the Lakers’ half-court defense. Things did not work out well for him. Rondo went 6-14 from the field, which isn’t good news for Celtics fans. The worse news is that Rondo went 6-14 while making three of his five shots from outside the paint. 
When Rondo tried to drive, the Lakers were waiting for him. His behind-the-back fakes drew no reaction. His reverses didn’t stop his layups from getting turned away. When he looked to drive and dish, the Lakers anticipated the pass. When he looked to go all the way to the basket, a Laker defender was there to draw the charge. Everyone knows Rondo has some very significant weaknesses; the Lakers were finally able to exploit them. 
For game two, the Celtics need to do a better job of stopping the Lakers from living in the paint and start forcing them into making some mistakes so Rondo can get the team running. In the half-court, Rondo has to find a way to get some points, whether it means getting more creative with his floaters in the paint or taking a deep breath and trying to draw contact. Rondo and the Celtics have a lot of adjustments to make before game two; if they have another performance like this, they’re going to need three straight wins in Boston to stay competitive in this series. 

Report: Lakers seeking second round pick for Nick Young

Los Angeles Lakers' Nick Young (0) celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in New York. The Lakers won 121-107. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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The buzz among Lakers fans on trade deadline day are the rumors about the Lakers going after Paul George. Those rumors place brand new team president Magic Johnson in an interesting spot because one of the first things he said upon being hired was that the team’s young core of players – Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson — were “untouchable.” Yet, to get George out of Indiana would take two or three of them plus picks and other players (and that may not be enough considering how reluctant Larry Bird is to move George at all).

A more realistic trade: Moving Nick Young for a second-round pick. Which the Lakers are trying to do, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Young has been solid for the Lakers this season averaging 13.8 points per game, shooting 41.3 percent from three, and having a PER of 15.1 — plus he has at least tried on defense at times. This may be the most efficient season of his career. He also has an affordable $5.7 million player option for next season.

A second round pick for him is fair. The question is, does anyone want to pay it?

Report: Knicks give impression they’d just give away Derrick Rose

New York Knicks' Derrick Rose reacts to an officials call during the second half of the NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 in New York. The Hawks defeated the Knicks 108-107. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Derrick Rose said he hoped going AWOL for a game wouldn’t prevent the Knicks from re-signing him.

But it seems they’re ready to move on before the trade deadline.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The sense I’ve gotten from talking to other teams who’ve talked to New York is they feel like the Knicks would almost give away Derrick Rose right now.

Rose is earning $21,323,252 this season. No team has enough cap room to absorb his salary. The more cap space a team has, the less that team must send out to acquire Rose. But the NBA’s salary-matching rules make it difficult for many teams to trade for Rose. It’s just too hard to aggregate that much salary without including a player more valuable than Rose or someone on a long-term contract who’d be a dealbreaker for New York.

At least Rose is on an expiring contract. If they can’t dump him now, the Knicks can always let him walk in the offseason.

That expiring deal also limits potential trade partners. Why trade for Rose if you can just sign him in this summer? Because you value what he’ll provide the rest of this season. Rose is limited, but he still scores effectively on drives.

He has been linked to the Timberwolves, which makes sense given his familiarity with Tom Thibodeau from the Bulls and Minnesota’s stubborn insistence on aiming for the playoffs this year. But Ricky Rubio is more valuable than Rose, and the Timberwolves also have Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones at point guard.

There’s no simple fit for him, which could keep him in New York for another few months.

If Rose’s value has sunk this low, he’s in for a rude awakening in free agency.

 

Three players most likely to be moved on Trade Deadline day

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There will be trades today. Unexpected moves.

Probably not the big names fans are hoping to see. The offers for Carmelo Anthony have been so poor that as much as Phil Jackson wants to move ‘Melo he can’t take those. Indiana isn’t eager to trade Paul George, same with Chicago and Jimmy Butler, and it’s going to take a very unlikely Godfather offer to get those deals done (such as Boston parting with one of their Brooklyn picks). Andre Drummond likely remains a Piston.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer on the big trades.

But here are three guys likely to be moved.

1) Jahlil Okafor, Philadephia 76ers. He’s been in more rumors than Khloe Kardashian the past few months. The latest rumors have the Chicago Bulls making a push to land him, but demanding the Sixers take Nikola Mirotic back in the deal. The Bulls don’t need Mirotic — a stretch four shooing 29 percent from three this season — with the emergence of Cristiano Felicio. Okafor would give Chicago more scoring inside. However, why exactly do the Sixers want Mirotic when they have Dario Saric? The Bulls are going to have to throw more in that deal.

Other teams have expressed interest in Okafor, including Indiana. The Sixers need to move people around up front, the only question is price. Because there is a glut of centers on the market — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, to name a few — the price has been driven down. There’s more supply than demand. Bryan Colangelo may decide to wait until this summer, but he’d prefer to just get this done.

2) P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns. He’s a physical, tough defender who can get you buckets on the other end, a lot of teams could use him. The Clippers had interest and offered a couple of second round picks, but the Suns wanted a first-rounder. The Knicks also had interest at one point, but they don’t have a first-rounder they can move until basically the second coming. Still, Tucker is on the market and I expect some veteran team will come in and try to scoop him up.

3) Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings. After owner Vivek Ranadive finally changed his mind, the Kings moved quickly to trade DeMarcus Cousins and put the team on a new path. A rebuilding path. One that doesn’t have a lot of roster spots for older players. That includes Darren Collison. He’s a solid point guard averaging 13.7 points per game this season, shooting 42 percent from three, and he knows how to run an offense. There’s a lot of teams that could use him, and the Kings can listen to multiple offers than take the best one. But there’s no reason to keep him around the rest of the season.

 

Report: Unless they trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, Celtics likely to keep main assets

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The Celtics have been linked in trade talks to the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Pacers’ Paul George, but that requires the other team to deal with Boston. Indications are neither Chicago nor Indiana is particularly amenable.

So, time for the Celtics to pick another star to target?

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

With less than 24 hours until the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline today, the Celtics were said to be still holding out hope that internal discussions within the Bulls and Pacers would lead to one or both making their best player available.

But short of that, the view from around the league is that the Celts are becoming more and more enamored with the idea of keeping their main assets and using the first-round draft pick they have coming from Brooklyn in June via a swap of positions. (They also have the Nets’ 2018 first-rounder unencumbered.)

Sources continued to say that, while there remains a chance things could change as the deadline draws nearer, Chicago and Indiana are more likely to retain Jimmy Butler and Paul George, respectively. Those All-Star talents have been the Celtics’ two main targets

This could just be the Celtics playing hardball — either through leaks to the media or through conversations with other teams that have trickled out. But Bulpett is well-connected, especially in Boston. This is more likely than most reports of this nature to be accurate, but it’s always difficult to break through the smokescreens this time of year.

The Nets’ upcoming first-rounder is extremely valuable, as they’ll likely finish with the NBA’s worst record. The Celtics could do far worse than keeping that pick.

But Boston’s top players — Isaiah Thomas (28) and Al Horford (30) — are already at ages where they can’t necessarily wait for a 2017 pick, even someone as talented as Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, to develop. It makes sense to cash in chips now.

Still, the Celtics’ deep pool of assets mean the window isn’t closing yet. There should be no desperation to make a win now trade.

If Boston keeps its main assets — mainly the Nets picks — past the trade deadline, we’ll just revisit all this again in the summer.