A collection of thoughts on Game 3 between the L.A. Lakers and Boston Celtics:
- So here’s the trick. I need to somehow convey that the Celtics and Ray Allen didn’t fail tonight necessarily without sacrificing the respect the Lakers’ defense earned in defending Jesus Shuttlesworth. You see, to say the Lakers shut him down would simply not be accurate. The Celtics still repeatedly created opportunities for Allen, using those double screens to force baseline shots and creating spacing issues to open up the perimeter off the dribble. Allen got looks, ones that weren’t rightly contested by LA. They simply didn’t drop. They weren’t bad shots by Allen, they just didn’t fall. And even when you’re as good a shooter as Allen is, you’re going to have those nights, just as you’re going to have Game 2s where you can’t miss if you’re shooting underhanded. You need breaks as much as anything in this game, and sometimes you’re not going to get them.
- But let’s also not make the mistake of saying the Lakers had nothing to do with it. The Lakers decided to go ahead and gamble giving up some inside passes by having their bigs extend out on Allen, to interrupt passing lanes and contest shots (see: Gasol’s massive block). The good news is that with the Lakers anticipating more and more of Allen’s location, he drifted further and further to the corner, which made opportunities for those entry passes that much rarer.
- One monumental change in Andrew Bynum in this series has been how prepared he’s been at all times on offense. It’s one thing to be tall and beastly. It’s a whole other to always be ready for those little last-second dump offs, focused on where the ball is and what to do with it instead of looking for the rebound before the shot is up. Those little dunk shots Bynum are getting are just as much his work in being mentally prepared for them as they are the great passes he’s getting.
- Glen Davis may want to try jumping from time to time in post defense. You can have as great a gravity base as you want, but when Gasol turns, you have to contest or he’s just going to plop it in .
- Sometimes there IS a story in the boxscore. Rajon Rondo, 11 points on 10 shots, 8 assists, zero turnovers, 3 rebounds. The Celtics may need an efficient scoring night from Rondo at some point in this series and it remains to be seen if he’s got that kind of versatility in him. The calls aren’t coming when he drives, and that midrange isn’t as automatic as it was in Orlando.
- Luke Walton continues to be both sides of the coin for this team. Great hustle plays, terrific defense, some fantastic, timely passes. Walton’s been in that offense long enough to know how it breathes and play with resiliency and focus. On the other hand, he’s limited so badly in some athletic possessions and when he dribbles I keep thinking we’re going to see a cop pull him over for driving under the influence.
- Rondo’s defensive reputation was set on fire in a hobo’s trashcan tonight as Derek Fisher sliced him and diced him.
- Davis, as unbelievable as it is when you see his form, was terrific at attacking the glass offensively. He’s just got an ability to hesitate on his release for the long arms to pass their apex before he shoots that Perkins doesn’t have. The fact that he wails around like a drunken seal on every play helps his FT/FG rate as well.
- Zero turnovers for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, but really, some of those Kobe Bryant shots should have counted as such.
- The Lakers managed to win this game with a medicore performance from Bryant (and yes, 29 points on 29 shots is a pretty mediocre performance considering his play down the stretch), especially down the stretch. That’s huge. Because on the flip side, the Celtics were unable to win when Garnett responded. The Celtics still need 2 of the big 3 to show up if they want to win. Game 2 was an aberration in many respects. They have to get points from 2 of the Big 3.
- It cannot be overstated how brilliant the offensive rebounding was for the Lakers tonight, and vital. The Lakers’ offense stuck in the mud and then dug its head in the sand like the ostrich it sometimes is, but those offensive rebounds provided redemption. That’s a huge element in a lower possession game like this.
- Odom’s performance (5-5 for 10 points, 5 rebounds) wasn’t dominant by any means, but it didn’t need to be. Simply being efficient and aware is enough for the Lakers to get the separation they need sometimes.
- Ron Artest with only 23 minutes tonight. Perkins with only 21. Adjustments.
- Game 4 is officially a must-win for the Boston Celtics.
- And, oh, yeah, that Derek Fisher guy is old and good and makes good old plays.
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:
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.
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.
It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.
Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.
Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:
“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:
“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?
“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”
On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.