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. 

NBA VP explains decision not to suspend Draymond Green; says very different play than Dahntay Jones

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second quarter in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 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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All day long NBA Twitter — and the Warriors, and the Thunder — waited for the shoe to drop on a decision about suspending Draymond Green for a kick to the “groin” of the Cavaliers’ Steven Adams.

Everyone just waited. And waited. And waited.

It took that long because the league wanted to be thorough — watching the film, looking at similar incidents (and the punishments there), talking to the players and the referees, and thinking it through. It was a decision with a huge impact on the series (Golden State was not winning Game 4 without Green).

So why did NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe decide not to suspend Green, rather upping the foul to a flagrant 2 and taking on a $25,000 fine?VanDeWeghe talked in some detail to Sam Amick of the USA Today in a piece you should read right now. This is just a highlight.

We have professional investigators that conduct the investigation. They talk to the players, they talk to all the referees, including the replay officials, and they all come back and report to me. I obviously discuss it internally, and especially with referee operations, get their perspective. But at the end of the day … every play is different and that’s the problem. You take into account everything. You take into account t what the referees have said. They obviously went with a Flagrant One last night, and you take into account the comparables. The problem with comparables is they never tell the whole story.

One comparable a lot of people supporting the suspension brought up was the one-game suspension for Cleveland Dahntay Jones just a day before (for a punch to the groin of Bismack Biyombo. Except VanDeWeghe says it was not comparable.

But just to talk about the Dahntay Jones situation, I think that was basically a completely different play. That, you had somebody (who was) tussling for a rebound, and Jones brings back his hand his hand is open. And as he brings his hand back forward and makes contact with Bismack’s (Biyombo) groin area, the fist is closed. And so you have contact with a closed fist, so to me that’s a very different scenario and, to me, a different fact pattern, so it’s very different from what we’re talking about with Draymond, that I viewed as a flail that is becoming, you know, pretty common amongst our players in trying to sell calls. Draymond does it a fair amount, Westbrook does it a fair amount, and a number of other players. Unfortunately, in this particular one, Draymond’s leg connected in the same Adams groin area, the same area, as the Jones one, but everything else about the call, or the play, was really different.

That is what the Warriors tried to sell, and the league came to find — Green was fouled but in trying to sell that call a little he accidentally kicked Adams where men least like to be kicked.

None of this is going to change anyone’s mind — if you’re convinced Green’s kick was intentional, and he should have been suspended, there is no evidence that will get you to think otherwise. This is just context, it helps everyone understand the process and the decision. More information is a good thing.

Raptors race out to lead, hang on to beat Cavaliers 105-99, even series 2-2

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball in the fourth quarter against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Now this is some adversity.

After winning 10 straight games to open the playoffs, the Cavaliers struggled in Game 3 in Toronto last Saturday, but that felt almost like a setback rather than a change of direction in the series. At least it did until Game 4 tipped off.

Toronto again came out with fantastic energy again on defense, scrambling and contesting everything. The Cavaliers were not attacking (well, except LeBron James) and were kicking out for threes — and missing. As a team, Cleveland was 3-of-22 from three in the first half. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry was hot on the other end, both hitting long threes and setting up teammates. Lowry was 8-of-11 shooting in the first half, 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and had three assists as well.

Raptors led 57-41 at the half. They needed every point of that down the stretch.

Cleveland started the second half on an 11-0 run and came back behind Kyrie Irving (15 second half points), LeBron, and a more focused defense. With six minutes to go in the game Cleveland even took the lead. It felt like this was when the Cavaliers would assert themselves as the best team in the East.

Except the Raptors out hustled and out executed the Cavaliers down the stretch. Bismack Biyombo was grabbing key rebounds inside (Patrick Patterson had a huge offensive rebound as well), and Lowry and DeRozan remained hot — the guards combined for 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the fourth quarter — not taking threes (0-of-1) but attacking and getting to the basket an the line.

The result was a 105-99 Toronto win that evens the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland Wednesday for Game 5.

“I thought we come back, had control of the game, was up three points, then we made some defensive mistakes you can’t do down the stretch, and they cost us — each time we made a mistake they made us pay,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said postgame.

This was another game where Toronto played with great defensive energy and the Cavaliers responded by settling — they took 41 threes in Game 3 (hitting 13), Monday they were 13-of-42. J.R. Smith was 3-of-11, Kevin Love 2-of-7 (and sat out the fourth quarter with a potential injury, he was limping). The guys that kept the Cavaliers in it in the fourth (besides LeBron, who was fantastic again) were Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, who combined 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. But it was not enough.

“We’ve got to be more well balanced,” LeBron said on a night he finished with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting. “We started the game, we had some great looks, but when they’re not going you’ve got to be able to switch it up and get into the paint and do what you can do. I was able to get into the paint a little bit, Kyrie as well, but we just haven’t shot the ball from the three point line.”

Offensively, the Raptors were carried by Lowry and DeRozan, which was the case all season. Lowry had 35 points on 20 shots and looked every bit the All-Star version of himself.

“He’s made shots,” Lue said. “He’s being aggressive. He’s making shots. Tonight he made some early baskets that gave him some confidence, I thought, in the first quarter, and he carried it throughout the game.”

DeRozan had 32 points on 23 shots and was getting to the spots on the floor he liked. Once in Toronto both Biyombo and Patterson have done a good job of switching up their screen angles on the pick-and-roll, and the Cavaliers get flummoxed by this.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent,” Lowry said. “(He and DeRozan) need to find a way to be consistent throughout a whole series.”

Then again there was Biyombo, the free agent to be making the case he should get paid big this summer. He finished with 14 boards — including a number of key ones late — and three blocks. His presence inside has the Cavaliers hesitant to attack the paint.

This sets up a lot of interesting questions heading into Game 5 Wednesday.

Can Toronto play with the same energy on the road? Can Cleveland adjust to the Toronto defense and get back to attacking the paint? Will Lowry stay hot? Will Love regain his stroke?

The bottom line is this is a series now — best of three. And the Cavaliers are no lock to advance.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s red-hot shooting second quarter

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Kyle Lowry found his shot back home in Toronto.

After a rough first couple games (actually a rough couple rounds to start the playoffs), Lowry has gotten hot back home, and that seemed to peak in the second quarter when he shot 6-of-7 overall and 3-of-4 from three. He had 15 points, 20 in the quarter, and the Raptors were up 16 at the half.

LeBron James with early dunk, flying scoop around Biyombo (VIDEO)

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LeBron James was making his presence felt early in Game 4 in Toronto.

Toronto again got an early lead and was scrambling, defending, and playing with energy, but the Cavs were playing better on offense in this contest, trying to keep it close. That started with LeBron making some plays, starting 3-of-4 from the field.

The alley-oop was good, but the scoop shot where LeBron adjusted in midair was special.