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. 

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.