NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 3: It's all about the paint

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Rondo_drive.jpgRay Allen got all the love last game, well deserved love at that. The man with the pure jumper was shooting it as well as anyone ever has. It was beautiful basketball.

But he’s not why Boston won.

The Celtics won because they took back the paint. On offense the Celtics got 46 shots in the paint, 38 of them at the rim. They only shot 39 percent in the paint, but it was a sign that they were attacking again, particularly Rajon Rondo.

Getting the ball inside matters. The Lakers pick-and-rolled the Celtics in Game 1 and that got them buckets at the rim. But Boston adjusted — they are, after all, one of the best pick-and-roll defensive teams in the league. What did you expect? Well, apparently the Lakers weren’t expecting it because they seemed unprepared for better defense in the paint and their perimeter people went back to their default of shooting jumpers.

According to Hoopdata, the Lakers were 12 of 16 at the rim in Game 2, 17 for 55 (31 percent) everywhere else. Ron Artest was part of that going 1 for 10, but tried to make up for it by dribbling more.

Game 3 tonight will again be about the paint. For the Celtics it means continuing to get penetration and break down the Lakers defense that way. For the Lakers, it means the same thing it has meant all season when they struggled — they have to get the ball inside again to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

There are two constant keys in this series: points in the paint and points in transition.

The team that can get the most transition baskets will probably win. These are two good defensive teams. The Celtics held the Lakers to 40.8 percent shooting in Game 2, but the Lakers length really bothers the Celtics big men, as Boston shot just 14 of 38 at the rim (layups, dunks and put backs) last game.

When points are that hard to come by, the easy buckets that can come in the open court running after a miss or turnover are key. Remember, of the eight Allen three pointers, four of them came when he ran to the arc and got the ball in transition. Bottom line, the Lakers were better at this in Game 1, the Celtics in Game 2, and whoever is in Game 3 gets a huge win.

One key stat that goes with the transition game — rebounds. You need them to run. When your point guard gets a dozen, as Rondo did, it jump starts the break.

Look for the Lakers to go back to getting the ball to Pau Gasol in the high post, that is when their offense functions best. The pick-and-roll is a treat for the Lakers offense, it cannot be the main course again. Boston is ready. But do expect to see Kobe Bryant try to attack more off the dribble, and hope his teammates follow his lead and not just settle for jumpers.

Look for Boston to continue to exploit the defense of Derek Fisher. He cannot guard Rondo or  Allen, and he has to cover one of them. Allen likely wil not be that hot again from three, but if he gets the looks he got with Fisher chasing him he’s still going to get a lot of points. Rondo would just be able to get into the paint at will on Fisher (at least Kobe is long enough to recover and guide him to help). Look for the Lakers to move Kobe around and keep him on the hot Boston hand.

If either team can get production out of their missing fours — Lamar Odom or Kevin Garnett — they will have a huge advantage.

You can also figure that the referees and foul trouble will play a key role tonight. Pray that it doesn’t, but expect it to.

Lots of story lines. Lots of possibilities. But in the end, the team that scores more points in the paint will have the lead in this series.

Jamal Crawford says Lonzo Ball should not change his shot

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Lonzo Ball‘s shot has become a running gag around the NBA. During pregame warmups this season it looked like LeBron James and Joel Embiid mocked/tried to imitate it. TNT’s Inside the NBA was asking if it was worse than Charles Barkley’s golf swing, and the crew on that show mocks it all the time.

Ball is shooting 30.3 percent overall this season, and 23 percent from three. He’s shooting just 42.1 percent in the restricted area (it’s not just his jumper that is off). He’s shooting 37.5 percent on pull-up jumpers. He’s shooting 22.5 percent on shots when there is nobody within six feet of him (stats via NBA.com).

Is it time to tear down Ball’s awkward release and rework his jumper? Jamal Crawford, a guy who knows something about getting buckets in the NBA, said no, speaking on CBS Sports’ Flagrant 2 Podcast.

“No, I wouldn’t (change his shot). He’s done it his whole life. Even if he struggled, I’m sure he’s struggled, but when he makes 10 in a row you won’t change it then so I’d just keep it consistent.”

Crawford also said he sees a real star in Ball.

“Star. Absolutely a star. I love watching him play. He plays the right way. He doesn’t play for stats. He’ll give the ball up early when he could easily hold it to get an assist. He’s making the right play if it was a hockey assist he’d get 20 a game cause he’s always passing up early. He seems like a great teammate. If you look at all his interviews…he’s always well spoken he’s always about the team.”

Luke Walton has the Lakers players taking and making 100 threes at each practice, and he continues to encourage Ball to shoot his way out of this slump. Magic Johnson has said the Lakers would not change Ball’s jumper during the season.

But if Ball does not find a rhythm and is under 40 percent for the season on jumpers, come next summer the Lakers have some decisions to make. And tearing down and rebuilding Ball’s shot is a long process that will take more than one summer of hard work.

PBT Podcast: Celtics win over Warriors, all things Boston with A. Sherrod Blakely

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The Boston Celtics are for real.

In case you had any doubts, they ran their streak to 14 wins in a row by coming from 17 down – twice — to beat the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, and it threw the Warriors off their game, something few teams have been able to do over the past few years.

Kurt Helin welcomes in A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston to talk about what this win means to the Celtics, why their defense is so good, how Kyrie Irving is fitting in, how young stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are rising up, and what is the deal with Marcus Smart. Also, there is a lot of Brad Stevens love.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley out at least two weeks with sore heel, Achilles

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Injuries are already starting to shape the playoff chase in the West — Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month in Utah, and the Clippers have lost six in a row as they battle injuries to three starters.

Now add the Memphis Grizzlies to the mix.

Mike Conley, the point guard who, along with Marc Gasol, is crucial to Memphis’ success, will be out at least two weeks to rest a sore left heel and Achilles, the team announced Friday. He could be out longer, Conley has had issues with this Achilles before, the team will want to be cautious, and by far the best treatment is rest.

Conley averages 17.1 points per game, is a great floor general running the offense, and is a quality defender at the point.

Memphis is 7-7 on the season and tied with Oklahoma City for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Grizzlies have dropped six of their last eight. What’s more, they are entering a gauntlet part of the schedule without Conley: Their next game is against Houston, then Portland, and in the next 10 they have the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Spurs (twice). The danger is they fall far enough back from the playoff chase they struggle to catch up again.

Expect to see a lot more Tyreke Evans, who has been strong as a sixth man but now will have much more asked of him. Also, more playmaking duties will fall to Gasol, working out of the elbow, and both Chandler Parsons and Mario Chalmers will get the ball in their hands. The question is what do they do with it.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.