NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 3: If Boston wins tonight, history would giggle with delight at their chances

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At some point, playoff game descriptors seem to get a bit ridiculous. There’s the crucial Game 1, the decisive Game 3, the tide-turning Game 5, and sometimes a winner-take-all Game 7. Our apparent affinity for odd numbers aside, it’s all a way of disguising one ever-important fact: every playoff game is essential. Game 7s may hold all the drama, but in truth they’re no more pivotal than a lowly Game 2, in which one team secured a victory in order to lock down a Game 7 in the first place.

Then again, sometimes the records of past NBA finals provide us with some interesting perspective on the dynamics of a series. How do teams typically respond after losing at home? How are they impacted by the 2-3-2 format that’s exclusive to the finals? A look back can provide us with an interesting tidbit or an overwhelming trend, even if each series has a unique personality of its own.

Here’s something to consider, from Art Garcia of NBA.com:

On 10 occasions over the last 25 years we’ve seen the series tied 1-1, with the last being the Pistons-Lakers in 2004. The team that began with the home-court has gone on to win seven. The only three teams to claim the championship after splitting on the road are the Lakers (1985), Bulls (1998) and Pistons (2004).

Oh, that Detroit team happened to beat the Lakers 4-1. Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson remember it well.

Boston’s best chance for joining that club is winning Game 3 and taking at least two of the three at TD Garden. (Obvious alert: Win all three and parade plans winding through Copley Square are set.) Road dogs have gone up 2-1 four times in the 2-3-2 format and have gone on to win each time. The same hold true for 3-1 leads, and they’re 5-1 when up 3-2.

Before we go any further: sample size, sample size, sample size. If only four road teams (for the first two games, mind you) have gone up 2-1 once returning to their home court, that doesn’t exactly give us the proper foundations to make predictions based on the outcome of a singular game. However, the fact that they’ve only defended their home court successfully in Game 3 four times in the history of the 2-3-2? It says something. Not everything, but something.

Of course, even that trend is more representative of lopsided finals series (think Lakers vs. Nets early in the decade, or Spurs vs. Cavs in 2007) than one as evenly matched as this. Their proximity in greatness puts these Lakers and these Celtics to buck every trend in the book when it comes to anticipated results. After all, the underdogs in this series just bested the two best teams of the regular season (both in terms of record and efficiency differential) in the last two rounds, and took Game 2 on L.A.’s home court.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are as formidable as match-ups get, and actually have the personnel and talent needed to find and exploit the weaknesses of Boston’s defense. Game 2 seems indicative of how the rest of this series should play out: hard-fought, competitive, occasionally unexpected (like the Lakers’ late-game dry spell), but ultimately so close that things could really go either way.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.