NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Pierce comes alive as Celtics even series

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In game four, the stifling defense of the Boston Celtics was once again able to keep the Lakers from doing what they wanted to do on the offensive end.

For the second game in a row, the Lakers had trouble establishing their post game (Bynum being limited to 12 minutes certainly contributed to this), and the Lakers had all sorts of trouble swinging the ball and making clean passes when the Celtics trapped their ballhandlers.

For the second game in a row, the Laker offense was almost entirely dependent on Kobe Bryant throwing up deep, contested jumpers from the perimeter. Because Kobe is Kobe, he was able to have a solid game, managing to fling in 33 points and shooting 6-11 from beyond the arc.

However, Kobe turned the ball over seven times and didn’t get one basket at the rim all game — Kobe managed to make something out of nothing a few times thanks to pure talent and skill, but he was never able to get the Laker offense going the way he wanted to. 

The Celtics were able to contain the Laker offense in game three as well, but thanks to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combining to go 5-25 from the field, Boston failed to take advantage of Kobe and the Lakers faltering on offense. Pierce and Allen didn’t exactly look like world-beaters on Thursday night, but they managed to do enough to get Boston a 96-89 win and even the series at two games apiece.
Pierce and Allen started the game off strong; Allen got a transition layup a minute into the game to break his horrifying field-goal drought, and Pierce scored or assisted on five of Boston’s first six field goals. Allen certainly didn’t have a great game, finishing with only 12 points and one assist, but he wasn’t a liability, and he made some shots that should give him some confidence going into game five. 
Allen playing like he actually knew what he was doing out there kept the Celtics competitive. Glen Davis and Nate Robinson’s energy off the bench gave the Celtics the lead. And Paul Pierce playing like the Captain of an NBA Finals team sealed the deal for the Celtics. 
After the Lakers cut the lead to six points with 2:50 remaining in the game and Kobe starting to get that look, Kevin Garnett grabbed a Ray Allen miss and allowed Pierce to re-set the offense. Pierce ran the clock, made his move, went to his favorite spot on the floor (the right elbow), elevated, and drained his signature step-back jumper to put the Celtics up eight. After Kobe answered with a fadeaway of his own, Pierce made a (controversial) and-1 to put the Celtics up by nine with 1:16 to play. After that, a Rajon Rondo steal and layup all but sealed the game for Boston. 
Paul Pierce certainly isn’t the fastest player in these finals. He’s strong, but not overpowering. He’s a good shooter, but he needs time and space to get a deep jumper off. More than any other “superstar” in these finals, Pierce is capable of being a relative non-factor for long stretches of time. Pierce likely knows all of that. He also knows that if he can get himself his second ring and the Celtics their 18th banner, it won’t matter whether he averaged 30 points per game or 3 points per game in the finals. 
With two Hall-Of-Famers and one other all-star in the Boston starting lineup, Pierce’s job isn’t to be the best player on the floor. His job is to grab that one extra loose ball, draw that one extra foul, make that one extra step-back that the Celtics his team needs him to get. On Thursday night, Pierce was able to do just that. If he can do just enough two more times, he’ll officially enter his name into Celtics lore. 

Five Things Warriors must do to win Game 5, take first step toward comeback

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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What is stunning is not that the Warriors lost two games in a row, it’s how they lost them — the length and athleticism of the Oklahoma City Thunder have completely overwhelmed the Warriors. The 73-win defending champions have been completely outclassed and have lost their poise. How do they get that swagger back? Here are the five things they need to do to win Game 5, the first step on the road to their long-shot comeback.

1) Stephen Curry and Draymond Green need to play much better.
We start with the obvious — Golden State’s best players simply have to play better. For Curry, the combination of the length and athleticism of the Thunder defenders, plus the fact he just doesn’t look 100 percent, have led to some ugly shooting numbers (6-of-20 shooting last game, he’s 5-of-21 from three the last two games) plus a lot of ugly turnovers. The Warriors are doing a seamless job with their switching of picks on- and off-the-ball, cutting off a lot of the gaps and driving lanes Curry likes to take advantage of. The Thunder are making things hard for him and being physical with him. But now even when Curry has gotten space to shoot a three — and he has gotten enough space at times — or when he has blown past his defender and gotten to the rim, he’s missed. Plus, the length of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have blown up the Curry/Green pick-and-roll that is at the heart of Golden State’s “death lineup.”

Likely because of lingering knee issues, Curry lacks the same explosiveness, he’s off just a little, and that with the length of Thunder defenders that takes away his margin for error. Simply put, Curry has to turn it around. We’ve seen flashes of elite Curry these playoffs — fourth quarter and OT of Game 4 vs. Portland, the third quarter of Game 2 vs. OKC — but the MVP Curry of the regular season sustained those kinds of runs, he was far more consistent. The Warriors need that Curry back.

And as bad as Curry has been, Green has been worse — Green is -73 in the last two games.  He is 2-of-13 shooting with nine turnovers in the last six quarters of basketball this series. He has been slow footed on defense. Again the length and athleticism of the Thunder are giving him problems inside, ones he hasn’t just been able to overcome with intensity and effort (because the Thunder have matched it). Green also has to get back to his All-Star form, his All-Defensive team form, or the Warriors are not the same.

2) Play better transition defense. That Thunder defense is forcing turnovers and missed shots, which in turn is leading to transition chances for the Thunder — and Russell Westbrook is not being stopped in transition. The Thunder are +17 this series in fast break points against the team nobody wanted to run with. The Warriors have to limit turnovers, start knocking down some shots, but also defend better when they get back in transition (they got back a little better last game, but they looked more like traffic cones for the Thunder players to dribble around then active defenders).

3) Andrew Bogut has to stay on the court, other Warrior bigs need to step up. Steve Kerr talked about this — the Warriors are +12 points per 100 possessions this series when Bogut is on the court, their defense improves 15.9 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors need more Bogut, the problem is he’s garnered 13 fouls in just 56 minutes of action. He’s almost always in foul trouble, in part because the Thunder are attacking (and the aggressors get the calls in the NBA). But Bogut — and Festus Ezeli, ideally less Anderson Varejao (if any) — have to do a much better job both protecting the rim and grabbing rebounds. The Warriors are getting destroyed on the glass (OKC is one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA).

“We’re forcing stops, we’re getting stops, but we’re not going and getting the ball,” Kerr said. “We have to be able to chase down loose balls and long rebounds. Otherwise, they’re getting just way too many possessions compared to us.”

4) Time to guard Andre Roberson a a little, maybe with Curry so he’s not getting torched by Westbrook. The Warriors tried to give Roberson the Tony Allen treatment — “cover” him with a big who stays near the basket to protect the rim, daring Roberson to shoot from the outside. Well, in Game 3 Roberson was 3-of-5 from three. In Game 4, Billy Donovan brilliantly started using Roberson like a center on offense — setting picks and rolling to the rim, or making cuts to the basket — which led to 17 points. The Warriors have to start covering him. Might I suggest putting Curry on him? Because for large swaths of the last couple games Curry has been on Westbrook and that has been a disaster for Golden State — Curry simply is not going to be able to stay in front of Westbrook. Not that anyone can, but the Warriors have better options.

5) Stop turning the ball over. We started with an obvious one, we’ll end with an obvious one — the length and active hands of the Thunder on defense has forced a lot of Golden State turnovers. But the Warriors have helped out, Curry in particular in Game 4 made some ill-advised passes — this is not the Portland defense anymore. The Warriors like to have a lot of flair, some playground in their game, but they need to be careful with that this series. Those turnovers have led to transition buckets for the Thunder, fueling the runs that put the Warriors in holes they have not been able to climb out of. The Warriors need to take care of the ball.

The Warriors may well be able to do all five of these things well enough to win at home Thursday, but could they do it on the road in a Game 6 is another question. The Warriors aren’t worrying about that yet; they need to get things right in Game 5 or their playoff run ends tonight.

Report: David Fizdale agrees to four-year deal to coach Grizzlies

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 17:  (L-R) NBA players LeBron James, David Fizdale, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Erik Spoelstra accept award for Best Team onstage at The 2013 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for ESPY)
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The Memphis Grizzlies’ head coaching position has been filled. On Wednesday, The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the team had offered the gig to longtime Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale, and that the sides were working on contract terms. Now, Wojnarowski reports that it’s a done deal.

Fizdale, who has been in Miami since 2008, is extremely well-liked by players he’s coached, as evidenced by their reactions on Twitter to news that he was close to getting the job. He was there for both of the Heat’s Big Three-era championships, and two players on those teams — Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen — played for the Grizzlies this year. His reputation around the league could make Memphis an attractive spot for free agents, especially if Mike Conley stays.

Gary Payton: “I don’t want to compare” Warriors and 1996 Bulls

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - MARCH 18:  Hall of fame basketball player Gary Payton watches his son Gary Payton II #1 of the Oregon State Beavers take on the Virginia Commonwealth Rams in the first half in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 18, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Everyone is tired of the who’s-better debate between the 73-win 2016 Warriors and the 72-win 1996 Bulls, but Gary Payton — whose Sonics lost to those Bulls in the Finals — actually has a reasonable take on the matter that most people should be able to agree with.

From an interview with DeAntae Prince of Sports Illustrated:

There have been a lot comparisons between the 72-win Bulls team you played against and this year’s 73-9 Warriors squad. How do you think the Warriors would stack up?

GP: “I don’t compare them and I don’t want to compare them. They’re two different animals. The Bulls did it with a physical type of basketball, we could hand check, we could do a lot of things. It was just a different era. They come back 20 years later and go 73-9. I couldn’t compare them, because if we put Golden State in that era a lot of teams, to me, would give them problems. Because we were more physical, we put our hands on them. A lot of our teams in this era we probably would have fouled out, we probably would have had a lot of problems.”

He may have his personal feelings about which era of basketball was “better,” but his fundamental point is true: they played different styles in different eras. The Warriors wouldn’t do as well in the 1990s, and the Bulls wouldn’t do as well in the 2010s. A hypothetical matchup between the two teams would come down in large part to which era’s rules were in place. We’ll never get a definitive answer, and that’s OK.

Steve Kerr says Andrew Bogut needs to stay out of foul trouble

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Andrew Bogut #12 of the Golden State Warriors fights for possesion of the ball with Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the NBA Western Conference Final at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr needs a lot of things to go differently Thursday night if his defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors want to avoid elimination. That starts with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green needing to play much, much better.

But another is for Andrew Bogut to stay on the court — the Warriors defense is 15.9 points per 100 possessions better this series when he is on the court compared to off it. The Warriors are outscoring the Thunder when he plays.

So why not more minutes? Foul trouble, and Kerr wants that to change, as Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News reports.

“He’s fouling,” Kerr said. “He’s got 13 fouls in 56 minutes. He’s almost fouling out of every game in 10-15 minutes. He’s got to be smarter with his fouls. We need him out there — he was plus-7 (Tuesday) night in 11 minutes…

“When he’s out there, we rebound better,” he said. “We’ve got a good passer out of the post. We want to play Bogut more, but he’s got to stay on the floor.”

It’s not that simple for Bogut — the Thunder are aggressively attacking the rim and in the NBA the aggressors usually get the calls. Certainly Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and the rest of the Thunder front line is more athletic than Bogut.

Doesn’t matter, Bogut must figure out a way to impact shots in the paint, grab boards, and not foul. The Warriors are not winning this series going small, and if they are going to mount any comeback with a big on the court, it’s going to have to start with Bogut.