NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Boston manages to slow down Kobe

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Kobe swarmed.jpgComing into Sunday night’s game, Kobe Bryant had scored 30 or more points in 11 of his last 12 games. He had not shot 40 percent or lower from the field since April 22nd. He didn’t just defeat the Jazz and the Suns; he completely demoralized them with tough shot after tough shot. In the twelve games between his thirteen-point performance against the Thunder and the start of the NBA finals, Kobe looked nothing short of unstoppable.

The Celtics were hoping that their vaunted defense would be able to take Kobe out of his comfort zone in a way that Utah and Phoenix couldn’t, but Kobe sliced through their rotations with ease en route to a 30-point game one performance. After game one, it looked like Kobe’s campaign of destruction was going to keep right on rolling until he was holding the Bill Russell trophy for the second time in as many years.
But something changed in game two. It wasn’t that Kobe stopped looking like Kobe; he still knocked down the shot almost every time he got a decent look at one, made some beautiful passes when the Celtics threw multiple defenders at him, managed to bother Ray Allen when he switched onto him late in the second quarter, and made one of the best plays of the playoffs when he stole the inbounds pass and hit a contested three at the end of the first half. Kobe missed a few shots he’s more than capable of making, but for the most part Kobe looked like Kobe. The only thing that changed in game two was that the Celtics defense looked like the Celtics defense. 
In game one, Ray Allen found himself on the wrong side of the line that separates physical play from rampant fouling. In game two, he made the necessary adjustment, and managed to bother Kobe all night long while only being whistled for three fouls. Instead, it was Kobe who found himself on the wrong side of the rulebook; Bryant committed five fouls in game two, and was limited to 34 minutes of play because of foul trouble. 
When Kobe caught the ball, Allen was right there to contest him. When Kobe tried to make a move, Allen was there to bump him just enough to throw him off his balance. When Kobe rose up to shoot, Allen made sure that Kobe’s momentum was carrying him away from the hoop, and that there was a hand in his face. Like Shane Battier in last year’s playoffs, Allen seems to be able to occasionally make Kobe uncomfortable on the perimeter without having to take crazy gambles or trying to be overly physical. 
Of course, it wasn’t just Allen who kept Kobe from going off in game two. When Kobe caught the ball in the mid-to-high post area, there were at least three or four pairs of Celtic eyes trained on him. When he tried to post up on the wings, the Celtics frustrated him by bringing fast, aggressive double-teams from the top. When he turned into the paint, there was a Celtic in position and waiting for him. By keeping Bryant in front of them at all times and cutting off Kobe’s passing lanes, the Celtics were able to turn the Laker offense into Kobe vs. The World.
After the game, Phil Jackson had this to say about how Boston limited Kobe’s ability to get where he wanted to go with the ball:  “Well, they got on him and made him go left all the time. There were not letting him come back to his right hand, shoving him to the left then going to help when he started to push the ball. That changed things up for him. He still figured it out pretty well toward the end but couldn’t complete it.” Bryant is as good as any player in basketball at driving to his off-hand, but even Kobe can’t take apart a defense like Boston’s without being able to drive to his strong side. 
When Tony Allen guarded Kobe, he used his athleticism and length to keep Bryant from catching it where he wanted to catch it, then played wildly aggressive defense on him to force him to drive into the help. When Rondo guarded Kobe, he used his superhuman length and quickness to go straight at the ball, and was able to make a couple of key defensive plays by doing so. It takes an entire team to (try) and defend Kobe Bryant effectively; on Sunday night, every Celtic was up to the challenge.
When the Celtics played LeBron James and the Cavaliers, their strategy was to wall off the paint, cut off LeBron’s drive-and-kick opportunities, and force James to beat them by shooting from the perimeter or playing off the ball. When the Celtics faced the Magic, they chose not to over-help on Dwight Howard, instead staying at home on Orlando’s shooters and making them run the offense through Howard. Both strategies worked perfectly, and that’s just another reason why Tom Thibodeau now has an NBA head coaching job
Against Bryant, the most complete offensive player in the game, Boston’s strategy seems to be this: if you want to defend Kobe Bryant effectively, you have to be the aggressor. It doesn’t matter how fundamentally solid your defense is, or how well you contest Bryant’s looks — if you let Kobe operate on his own terms, he will find a way to absolutely destroy you. It can be from three, from midrange, in the paint. Left hand, right hand, busted right hand. In the post, off the dribble, catch-and-shoot. If you let Kobe pick the game, he wins. Boston made Kobe react instead of giving him that luxury, and it helped them get the series split in Los Angeles. 
The battle between Bryant and the Celtic defense is very, very far from over. Kobe will come out guns blazing in game three, and could easily hang 30 or 40 on the same defense that gave him trouble in game two. There’s no way to stop a player like Bryant; the best you can do his hope to slow him down. On Sunday night, that’s exactly what Boston was able to do. 

Goran Dragic’s teeth went through his lip last night (video)

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Goran Dragic has a habit of losing teeth, but not usually through his lip.

Cringe.

Report: Jeremy Lin indicates he’ll opt out, says he wants to re-sign with Hornets

Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin reacts after scoring against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte won  97-84. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
AP Photo/Nell Redmond
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Jeremy Lin said the Hornets “came out of nowhere” to sign him last summer.

His salary shows it.

With the market for Lin depressed following a dismal season with the Lakers, Charlotte snagged Lin for just the bi-annual exception. At least Lin – who bounced back with a solid year – got a player option for next season, when he’s due to make just $2,235,255.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Lin indicated he plans to opt out of his contract

Lin, who can opt out of next season on his contract, says he’d very much like to re-sign with the franchise this summer.

“I would love to,” Lin said Monday. “I don’t like moving every year, I don’t like packing and unpacking boxes. So we’ll see. But I’m definitely interested in coming back.”

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my six years” in the NBA, Lin said. “Being around a great group of guys and a coaching staff that really cares. I’ve learned so much about the game of basketball, particularly at the defensive end.”

The Hornets face a summer of tough choices after relying on so many players with expiring contracts.

Let’s say Charlotte renounces Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez and Tyler Hansbrough and waives Aaron Harrison, whose salary is unguaranteed. The Hornets might not drop those low-cost players, but if it makes the difference between retaining a rotation player or not, they probably would. So, for these purposes, they’re out.

Counting cap holds for Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee, Charlotte would project to have just more than $12 million in cap space. The Hornets could spend that money then exceed the cap to re-sign Batum and Lee, whose 2016-17 are likely to top their cap holds ($19,687,961 for Batum, $10,782,500 for Lee).

But that leaves just about $12 million to re-sign Lin, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson.

Charlotte has Lin’s Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), but because his cap would match the match the Non-Bird Exception ($2,682,306), that doesn’t matter here. It also doesn’t matter because Lin will command far more than that. So, cap space will be needed to re-sign him.

Ditto Williams and effectively Jefferson. The Hornets could pay Williams $12.25 million next season with the Early Bird Exception, but that likely won’t be enough to keep him. Charlotte has Jefferson’s full Bird Rights, but his 2016-17 salary is likely to fall short of his cap hold ($20,250,000). So, re-signing him or renouncing him creates more room than keeping his hold on the books.

With the salary cap projected to reach $92 million, giving most teams max cap space, $12 million might allow the Hornets to keep one of Lin, Williams or Jefferson. Maybe. Lin and Williams could probably get more elsewhere, and Jefferson would have an outside chance.

Now, Charlotte would clear more room if Batum and/or Lee walk. But the Hornets have called Batum their top priority, and he sounds like he wants to re-sign. Lee has also proven valuable, and I’d be surprised if there’s not also a major effort to retain him.

Charlotte could clear extra room by trading Spencer Hawes ($6,348,759) and/or Jeremy Lamb ($6,511,628), two players whose salaries will look decent in the new cap environment. But that still might not open enough space to keep two of Lin/Williams/Jefferson if Batum and Lee stay.

Williams, a starter, would probably be the top priority. But he could also probably draw the largest offers elsewhere, so he might price himself out of the Hornets’ range.

Lin holds more value than Jefferson, even as Kemba Walker‘s backup. Jefferson has ceded the starting center spot to Cody Zeller, and Jefferson’s low-post style might not fit Charlotte anymore.

But Lin might have also priced himself out of the Hornets’ range. It’s a thin free-agent class at point guard, and teams that strike out on Mike Conley (and maybe Rajon Rondo) could extend a huge offer to Lin.

He clearly likes it in Charlotte. The question might become: How much of a discount would he take to stay?

Byron Scott says he wants to coach again, should have played his veterans even more

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott watches the action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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Deposed Lakers’ coach Byron Scott did a media tour on Thursday — radio interviews up and down the dial, plus speaking to some members of the Los Angeles media.

It was a tour d’ force of all the things that had Lakers’ fans shaking their heads all season long. Take this quote given to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“If I knew this was coming, I would have played Lou [Williams], Brandon [Bass] and guys like that a whole lot more,” Scott said, referring to his veterans in an interview with this newspaper. “They gave me the best chance to win.”

He didn’t know his job was in danger? That would make one.

Scott was asked to do two contradictory things as Lakers coach: Put Kobe Bryant in the spotlight his final couple seasons while also developing the Lakers’ young talent. That was never going to lead to many wins — and Lakers’ brass understood that.

However, if your team is one of the two worst defensive teams in the league in consecutive years, that’s also not all about the roster. That’s about not getting buy-in from the players and effort to play whatever system he put in place. These Lakers teams didn’t hustle for Scott.

Scott admitted he was old school, but told Rich Eisen on the Rich Eisen Show (hat tip Eye on Basketball) that so is Gregg Popovich, and he’s doing just fine. Which shows a lack of understanding of the nuance with which Popovich works. Unlike the coach with a touch for praise at the right time in San Antonio, Scott’s old-school, tough-love ways turned off the young Lakers — it wasn’t just having them come off the bench, it was what was seen by the young players as a lack of communication as to why. A lack of coaching them up.

But Scott took credit on ESPN’s “The Jump” for the improved play and development of D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle last season. He said he needed to rein in Russell’s ego and get him to be professional, and he said his plan “worked.” Whether Russell’s development happened because of or in spite of Scott depends on who you ask, but the young potential star’s relationship with his coach was not good. That’s one thing Luke Walton was brought in to change.

Scott said multiple times over the course of the day he wants to coach again. His last two jobs — Cleveland post LeBron and with the Lakers — were about developing young talent and none of those five teams finished better than 12 games under .500. I’d say that would damage future job prospects, but this is the NBA so who knows. He may get another chance in a few years.

Erik Spoelstra starts to lose it on Luol Deng inbounds attempt (VIDEO)

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There were just 20.7 seconds left in overtime and the Miami Heat were down six — they needed a quick bucket.

Luol Deng was inbounding the ball near halfcourt and was looking for a way to get the ball deep down by the basket for a quick bucket — he seemed willing to take a risk rather than make the safe play to a wide open Josh Richardson in the backcourt.

After a couple of seconds of watching this, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra almost loses it on Deng, and the pass goes to Richardson. Enjoy the video.

Toronto hung on and won the game, evening the series at 1-1 headed back to Miami.