NBA finals Lakers Celtics Game 5: Kobe Bryant hit lightspeed and left the Lakers behind

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bryantsad.jpgKobe Bryant’s third quarter was transcendent. It was simply brilliant individual basketball. He nailed a series of shots that literally, only he can make. He was incredible in turning low percentage shots into conversions time and time again. One handed runners falling out of bounds? Terrific. A near 28 foot three? Money. It was as fine an individual shooting performance as you will ever see in the NBA.

And it sunk his team.

After a series of manageable possessions kept the Boston lead to six at the half, the Celtics picked up where they left off. All five Celtics’ starters had buckets within the first four minutes, distributing the ball and creating easy looks against a suddenly apoplectic Lakers’ defense.

And the Lakers’ offense? It went into “Watch-Kobe” mode. And stayed there.

Beyond Bryant’s 7-9 shooting, here’s the entirety of the Lakers’ offense in the 3rd..

During the first six minutes of the game, as Kobe unleashed the barrage:

11:19 Kevin Garnett blocks Pau Gasol layup

After Kobe cooled to reload:

4:54 Kevin Garnett blocks Pau Gasol lauyup
2:49 Derek Fisher misses 21-foot jumper
2:15 Pau Gasol makes driving layup
1:25 Tony Allen blocks Pau Gasol layup (are you sensing a theme here?)
:53 Rajon Rondo blocks Jordan Farmar layup
:44 Sasha Vujacic makes 22-foot jumper
:04 Lamar Odom misses 3-foot jumper
:01 Pau Gasol makes layup

That’s 3 of 9 for the quarter for every player outside of #24. So during Kobe’s run, the Lakers had exactly one field goal from non-Kobe personnel, and that was before Bryant really started (his first field goal in the 3rd was at the 10:42 mark). Afterwards, 3 of 8 from the floor and they never really recovered from that. Non-Kobe personnel went 5-11 in the 4th quarter, a much better mark but not nearly good enough to overcome the Celtics’ offensive juggernaut (with the way the Lakers were playing defense especially).

There’s reasonable job (if it weren’t for the blown free throws), but the damage was already done and the Lakers’ offense never really hit its stride.

There’s precedent for this. In 2006, Kobe went ballistic on the Suns, only to find himself outgunned. Then, just like now, people blamed his teammates for not being good enough to get Bryant’s glowing performance to the promised land. But we know this Lakers team is good enough to win a title. See: 2009. But that version of Bryant was facilitating, rebounding, getting his teammates involved, working in the flow of the offense.

Tonight, instead, Bryant opted for ISO sets and reaction jumpers, taking any opening, or really, any opportunity, even if guarded. The catch and shoot three? A last second desperation after Ron Artest Crazy Pills’d his way around the perimeter and through the lane for 12 seconds.

So are we to blame Bryant for this? For submarining the Lakers’ offense and dropping them into an inefficient ditch, left for dead?

Of course not.

Kobe did what he does best. Score. Played with passion and pride. And had the Lakers set created open looks for other players, he likely would have given them the opportunity to succeed. But at the same time, Bryant’s teammates will get undue criticism. They ran the plays as asked, functioned as performed.

But Phil Jackson? Phil Jackson had a hand in this. At no point did he stop to ask “Hey, I have a highly inconsistent team that tends to fade considerably when not involved. Maybe I should get Bryant to start facilitating and not just gunning, to spread the bullets out a little bit, you think?” He instead just let the team go into “Watch Kobe” mode and suffered the consequences. The defensive lapses can be pinned on effort and awareness. Pau Gasol getting punked like a ballerina in rollerball can be pinned on the big guy.

But letting the Laker offense, which has such potential, go down the tubes behind a flash of Kobe’s brilliance that was sure to let up eventually against the Boston defense (and with Bryant considerably older than he was when he was dropping 81)? That’s on coaching, and another in a long line of adjustments Phil Jackson has failed to make in this series.

Oh, and by the way. Not to say we told you so… but we told you so. (We totally meant to tell you so.)

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.