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NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: How Boston blew the championship

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Bynum over Boston.jpgIt was the type of the game the Celtics wanted. It was an ugly game, dominated by defense and sloppy play. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combined to shoot 12-40 from the floor, and the Lakers shot 32.5%/20%/67.6% as a team. The Celtics had their game plan, and they executed it to a T. Kobe looked mortal, even downright bad. The crowd was dead. Boston was all set to grind its way to its 18th championship. And then the Lakers were the ones pouring champagne on each other as the Celtics were left to wonder where it all went wrong. 

So how did it all go wrong for the Celtics in game 7? First of all, the Celtics had an absolutely disastrous game on the glass. The Celtics got 32 defensive rebounds; the Lakers had 23 offensive rebounds. That means that when the Lakers missed a shot, the Celtics got the ball 58% of the time. That’s absolutely abysmal — Golden State had the worst defensive rebounding rate in the NBA this season, and they managed to snag 68% of their defensive rebound chances. Just so we’re clear here, the Warriors often used Corey Maggette at the four. 
Early in the game, Boston’s inability to cleanly grab any rebound or loose ball kept them from building a substantial 1st-quarter lead. They led by nine points after the first quarter, but the Lakers’ 5 second-chance points and 10-0 advantage on the offensive glass kept Boston from really breaking the game open early. 
Overall, the Lakers had 17 second-chance points, which accounted for a full 20% of their offensive production. The Celtics, meanwhile, only managed to get five second-chance points, and all five of them were scored by Rajon Rondo, the smallest Celtic starter. Whether it was Perkins being out, Bynum, Gasol, and Kobe wanting it more, or the ball just bouncing the Lakers’ way, the Celtics’ inability to secure the basketball consistently was a big reason they lost game 7 and the NBA championship.
Even though the Celtics were getting killed on the glass, they still had a chance to secure the game in the third quarter. Four minutes into the third, the Lakers’ only points in the quarter had come from a free throw and a Ron Artest tip-in, Boston was up by 12 points, and the Lakers’ season was on the brink. What the Lakers knew, and what Boston had failed to recognize up until that point, is that the Lakers had too much talent not to make a run at some point in the game. 
While Boston had the lead, they blew their opportunity to do what they did in the deciding game of the 2008 Finals and what the Lakers did to them in game six; demoralize their opponents so completely that they had no hopes of making any sort of legitimate comeback. 
The Lakers were down and playing as badly as they were capable of playing, but they still had Kobe, they still had Pau, they still had experience, and they still had a crowd behind them. 12 points was nowhere near enough, and the lead could have been a lot bigger. Kobe curled off a Pau Gasol screen, caught Rasheed Wallace standing at the free throw line, and drained his easiest look of the night. Pau Gasol posted up Rasheed Wallace and drained a nasty left-handed hook after spinning baseline. On the next Laker possession, Derek Fisher got a double-screen and drained a mid-range jumper off a curl. A possession later, Odom cleaned up an Artest miss. 
All it took was four players doing what they do best — Kobe on the perimeter, Gasol in the post, Fisher on a catch-and-shoot, Odom doing the dirty work — to cut the lead to six points, get the crowd involved, and put Boston their heels. Paul Pierce hit a big three to stop the bleeding, but that run was the beginning of the end for the Celtics, whose only chance of victory was to continue playing defense at an insanely high level. Before Kobe’s jumper, the Lakers had scored 37 points in 28 minutes — after it, the Lakers scored 44 points in the final 20 minutes of play. 
The Celtics had a chance to cling to the lead in the fourth, but a critical mistake by Ray Allen (getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar by Kobe, leading to three free throws), and an absolutely massive game-tying three gave the Lakers all the confidence they needed to take it at the Celtics, got the Celtics panicked and committing fouls left and right, and all but sealed the game and the championship for the Lakers. 
Boston briefly threatened the Los Angeles lead during the insane three-point fest that ended the game, but the majority of the quarter was devoted to the Lakers methodically marching to the free throw line and the championship while the Celtics melted down around them. 
The Celtics had plenty of chances to put the Lakers away, and they failed to capitalize. They got the stops they needed, then failed to get the rebounds. They held Kobe and Pau at bay, but failed to capitalize by making shots themselves. They played 36 minutes of great defense, then got desperate and foul-happy when the momentum began to turn. The Celtics came out and executed their game plan, but they didn’t go the extra mile and make sure the inevitable Laker run wasn’t going to cripple them. On the flip side of things, once the Lakers made their big push and got the lead, the Celtics were completely unprepared to try and make a comeback of their own. When mattered most, the prohibitive favorites coming into the series were the ones who had to dig deep and believe in themselves, and that’s exactly what they did. Now they get free ugly hats and champagne. 
The Celtics had the lead. They had the defense capable of holding it. They had a team of veterans with championship experience. None of that means anything now. When they had the chance to get the big prize, the Celtics played the scoreboard. What they needed to realize was that they were playing the defending, and now still reigning, NBA champions. 

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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