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.

Kobe Bryant’s 25 points not enough to upset Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have watched helplessly as Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has tormented them for the better part of the past two decades.

Bryant did so again in his final appearance in San Antonio, but the Spurs were able to enjoy this one.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a throwback performance by Bryant to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-102 on Saturday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“I thought it was great,” San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. “It was a great game, fans were into it. It felt a little bit like the old days in the playoffs, Spurs and the Lakers.”

Kawhi Leonard added 20 points and 13 rebounds to help the Spurs win their 28th straight home game to open the season. The Spurs’ 37th straight home victory dating back to last season was surprisingly difficult.

Bryant had 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter, going 3 for 6 on 3-pointers in guiding the Lakers to an 81-79 lead entering the fourth.

“I watched him growing up,” said Lakers guard and San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson, who finished with 21 points and four assists. “I watched him kill the Spurs.”

San Antonio has trailed for only two minutes in the fourth quarter at home this season, but the Lakers led for all but 23 seconds in the opening seven minutes of the period.

Bryant finished 9 for 28 from the field, but was 7 for 18 in a dynamic second half that electrified a pro-Bryant crowd.

“It’s like watching Michael (Jordan),” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was just watching. It was great. It was great. We made some mistakes. He took advantage of it. He’s fantastic.”

After rising to drain a 3-pointer with Leonard squarely in his face contesting the attempt, Bryant turned to an injured Tim Duncan on the bench and shrugged his shoulders.

“He was like, `No way,’ and I was like `Dude,’ ” Bryant said. “What could I do? I miss the easy ones and make some B.S. like that. I don’t even know what to tell you. It was Tim’s version of a yell, so it was a strong whisper.”

The Lakers trailed 101-99 lead after trading 3-pointers following Bryant’s improbable shot, but the Spurs’ were able to hold Los Angeles to just three points in the final 2 minutes.

“Missed defensive assignments,” said Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, who had 12 points. “They executed their offense to perfection. We were young and that’s an excuse I could give you.”

Bryant had a sore right shoulder, but he was not about to miss one last game against his fiercest rivals. He has faced the Spurs 90 times in the regular season and postseason, his most against any opponent.

TIP-INS

Lakers: The Spurs honored Bryant with a 3-minute video. The Spurs’ Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all paid tribute to Bryant’s competitiveness along with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Bryant walked over to the Spurs’ bench prior to tipoff and hugged Popovich, sharing a few words with San Antonio’s longtime coach.

Spurs: San Antonio’s 12-game lead in the Southwest is the largest ever since the division was formed in 2004-2005. … In addition to Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs were also without Matt Bonner. The reserve forward suffered a left calf strain Friday against Dallas, which was just his 20th game of the season. … Pop star Selena Gomez sat courtside, wearing a Tony Parker jersey.

 

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.