NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Laker mistakes doom their comeback effort

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Game five of the NBA Finals featured a little bit of everything. The Celtic defense stifled every Laker not named Kobe Bryant. Kobe hit impossible shot after impossible shot on his way to a game-high 38 points. The play of Ron Artest was, to put it kindly, erratic. Rajon Rondo sliced through the lane with reckless abandon, converting seven layups and committing seven turnovers in the process. Paul Pierce played like a guy who’s got one Finals MVP trophy on his mantle and wants another. 
Yet even with all of those great players doing what they do best, game five of the NBA Finals ended up being decided by the simplest of plays. The Celtics didn’t play a perfect game, or anything approaching one; their turnovers were the only reason the game was competitive in the first half, and they gave Kobe way too many chances to give the Lakers the lead in the second half. 
If the Celtics hadn’t turned the ball over 16 times or let the Lakers grab 16 offensive rebounds, game five would have likely been a blowout. The bottom line was this: The Celtics shot 56.3% from the field, and could afford to make mistakes. The Lakers shot 39.7%, and could not. The Lakers made mistakes anyways, and now they’re a game away from elimination.
Lakers were flat-out sloppy, and their lack of energy and execution down the stretch gave Boston the game. The Lakers are nearly unstoppable when they run their offense from the inside-out, something they failed to do in Sunday’s game. Andrew Bynum was extremely limited because of his knee injury, but there’s no excuse for Pau Gasol only getting 12 FGAs in 38 minutes of play, especially when six of those 12 shots came when Gasol got an offensive rebound and put a shot back up. For those of you keeping score at home, that means the Laker offense got Pau Gasol got six shots in 38 minutes of play. That’s absurd. 
With the Lakers failing to establish Gasol and the Celtic defense swarming everywhere, the Lakers were never able to run their offense the way they wanted to: they finished with 13 turnovers and only 12 assists, and their only consistent source of offense was Kobe Bryant going one-on-five and making some flat-out ridiculous shots that kept the Lakers in the game. 
Late in the game, it became painfully apparent that the Lakers were making too many mistakes to beat the Celtics in Boston. With six minutes to play, the Lakers had managed to cut the Celtic lead to six, and there were not a lot of easy breaths being drawn in the TD Banknorth Garden. Fortunately for Boston fans, that’s when the Lakers completely unraveled. Kobe tried to force a drive, got stripped by Rondo, and the Lakers gave two points when Ray Allen scooped up the loose ball and found the streaking Rondo over the top for a layup.
A possession later, Derek Fisher’s entry pass to Kobe was tipped away by Ray Allen. Kobe got the ball back and found Fisher at the top of the floor, but Fisher panicked with both teams scrambling and tried to throw an ill-advised entry pass to the paint from the top of the key. That’s something they teach you not to do at the high school level, and Rajon Rondo was there to make the easy steal. Then the Lakers gave up another possession when Kobe’s nonchalant bounce pass got deflected by the Celtics, leading to a jump ball that Kevin Garnett won. The Celtics missed a three on their ensuing possession, but Rondo was there to tip the ball in after the Lakers failed to box him out.
After that, the Laker mistakes kept on coming. Boston grabbed two crucial offensive rebounds in the last three minutes of the game. The Lakers missed four free throws in the final three minutes. The Lakers took 10 seconds to give an intentional foul, and when they finally gave the foul Ray Allen got to shoot free throws anyways. While the Celtics found the confidence to pull off one of the craziest inbounds plays in recent memory to seal the game, the Lakers struggled to complete the most simple of tasks without incident. 
Outside of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers didn’t play the way they needed to play on Sunday night. The energy was not there, and neither was the execution. It was a performance that would get a young, inexperienced team criticized: that a veteran team coached by a Hall-of-Famer went out and played that way in the Finals is downright baffling. Phil and Kobe were both upbeat after the game, because they know the Lakers need confidence more than they need to know the severity of their sins right now. But deep down, Kobe, Phil, and every other Laker know they can’t afford to have another performance like this.
Late in game four, Phil Jackson reminded his team that the Celtics lost more games in the fourth quarter than any other team, and told them that “This team knows how to lose games.” That may be true, but on Sunday night the Lakers were the ones providing all the best examples of how to let an opportunity to steal an NBA Finals game slip away. 

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.