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.

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.

NBA implementing ‘Zaza Pachulia,’ ‘James Harden’ rules

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season’s playoffs.

Officials will also make sure jump shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a perimeter foul is worthy of free throws, which could cut down on James Harden‘s attempts after he swings his arms into contact.

Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard’s in Game 1 of Golden State’s victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.

“It’s 100 percent for the safety of the players,” NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia said Thursday.

The NBA had made the freedom to land a point of emphasis for officials a few years ago, because of the risk of injuries. But the play got renewed attention during the playoffs because of Leonard’s injury, and also one in which Washington forward Markieff Morris landed on Al Horford‘s foot in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal, knocking him out of a game the Celtics rallied to win.

Officials can still rule the play a common foul if they did not see a dangerous or unnatural attempt by the defender upon review. Borgia said Pachulia’s foul would have been deemed a flagrant.

With the fouls on the perimeter shots – often coming when the offensive player has come off a screen and quickly attempts to launch a shot as his defender tries to catch up – officials will focus on the sequencing of the play. The player with the ball must already be in his shooting motion when contact is made, rather than gathering the ball to shoot such as on a drive to the basket.

“We saw it as a major trend in the NBA so we had to almost back up and say, `Well, wait a minute, this is going to be a trend, so let’s catch up to it,”‘ NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said.

Report: Cavaliers signing Kendrick Perkins

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Kendrick Perkins spent fewer than four months with the Cavaliers, including the 2015 playoffs. But nearly a year later after Cleveland let Perkins walk in free agency, LeBron James was still bemoaning Perkins’ absence.

Are the Cavs righting a wrong?

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Kendrick Perkins joined the Cavaliers at LeBron James’ minicamp in Santa Barbara, Calif., and will come to training camp next week, sources told cleveland.com.

The Cavs now have 18 players with standard contracts, and 15 – the regular-season limit – have guaranteed salaries. I doubt Cleveland wants to waive the two without guaranteed salaries, Kay Felder and Edy Tavares, either.

In other words, Perkins is a longshot to stick into the regular season.

Perkins was washed up when with the Cavaliers two years ago. The 32-year-old who sat out last season hasn’t produced on the court in several years. He’s tough and well-liked in the locker room, which might give him a chance of sneaking onto the regular-season roster.

But the Cavs should focus on developing toughness and chemistry among their rotation players. Perkins is just a crutch, most likely one who’ll be yanked away by cut-down day a few weeks from now.