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Celtics Lakers: Choose your own finish as Celtics out-draw Lakers late

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The talk this week was all about clutch. And in the closing minutes, the Celtics were a clutch beast of unstoppable force, coming together for the most cohesive showing in a big game setting they’ve shown this season, right when they needed it most, at the same time as the Lakers came unraveled, possession by possession.

Kobe Bryant’s brilliant fourth quarter in a phenomenal game led him to cutting the Celtics’ lead to four with 5:20 remaining in the game. He had absolutely daggered the Celtics down the stretch with one tough jumper after another. But after the 5:20 mark, here were the subsequent Lakers possessions.

  • 4:41 Kobe Bryant misses 19-foot jumper
  • 4:09 Kobe Byrant misses 8-foot shot
  • 3:47 Kobe Bryant makes 15-foot jumper
  • 3:19 Kobe Bryant misses 21-foot jumper
  • 2:55 Kobe Bryant offensive foul-charge
  • 2:25 Kobe Bryant makes 12-foot jumper
  • 1:46 Kobe Bryant misses 4-foot shot
  • 1:44 Pau Gasol misses tip-shot
  • 1:16 Steve Blake turnover (bad pass)

In that span of time, the Celtics scored on six of their eight possessions. Game. Four-point lead to fourteen-point lead just like that. So your options for deducing the reasons why the Celtics won the game boil down to three solutions. This is like the choose your own adventure game only at the end of it Kevin Garnett makes an Osama Bin Laden joke. Here are your choices:

  1. Kobe Bryant’s obsessive domineering of the offense completely took the rest of the Lakers out of the offensive flow, eliminating any possibility of getting quality shots and he was unable to deliver on all those shots. Doom.
  2. Bryant’s teammates utterly failed him in presenting themselves throughout the course of the day, leaving Bryant no option but to try and execute the offense on his own, leading to poor shots, misses, and a ballooning deficit.
  3. The Lakers didn’t play a lick of defense down the stretch and if you don’t play defense and the other team scores on 75% of their possessions, you’re probably screwed.

Let’s explore!

1. Kobe Bryant’s obsessive domineering of the offense completely took the rest of the Lakers out of the offensive flow, eliminating any possibility of getting quality shots and he was unable to deliver on all those shots. Doom.

Well, the rest of the Lakers’ starters shot 10-35 from the field. Lamar Odom was 6-8, but, well, it’s Lamar Odom. You never know when he’ll disappear. Bryant was in a pickle, trying to will his team to victory while the rest of the offense kind of sat around and moped like Charlie Brown. Bryant scored 41 points on 29 shots, and for most of the day was brilliant. He had the entire range of offense going, from the mid-range to the perimeter to the layup. He was slicing and dicing and for most of the game, so to focus on his 2-for-6, 1-turnover close is to ignore the fact that the rest of the offense left him with no choice. Bryant did everything he could to try and keep the Lakers in it and at some point, someone else on the Lakers needs to make a play. To fault him is to ignore how terrible the rest of the Lakers were and is typical of the kind of criticism Bryant receives. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Phil said post-game:

“I didn’t think anybody else wanted the ball. We did run a couple other plays to get guys into position, but I thought those times he had the best opportunities when other people were moving to the ball. But, a lot of times it didn’t look like we were running anything out there offensively,” Phil Jackson said. Of the offense down the stretch, Jackson wasn’t much more complimentary of the supporting crew. “I think they backed off. I think they wanted to let Kobe- he seemed to be the guy that had the hot hand. They wanted to just give him a lot of space instead of just our offense flowing into what we do.”

via Celtics 109, Lakers 96 — At the buzzer – Los Angeles Lakers Blog – ESPN Los Angeles.

2. Bryant’s teammates utterly failed him in presenting themselves throughout the course of the day, leaving Bryant no option but to try and execute the offense on his own, leading to poor shots, misses, and a ballooning deficit.

Well, it’s certainly true that the Lakers’ starters didn’t play well or shoot well on offense today, but how many opportunities did they really have? According to Synergy Sports, Bryant went into an ISO set 19 times today. By comparison, the Celtics went into ISO 5 times. Nineteen possessions ended in a Kobe Bryant ISO set. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers had 24 possessions. Ten of them were Kobe Bryant ISO sets. 42% of the time in the fourth quarter, it was Kobe Bryant one-on-one. No wonder he ran out of gas. At some point, Bryant has to take responsibility for getting the entire offense in gear. Even if it’s just creating ball movement to create space for himself, there’s got to be more than just ISO situation after ISO situation, particularly if the dribble-drive jumper stops falling. But there was none of that. But was that the real problem?

3. The Lakers didn’t play a lick of defense down the stretch and if you don’t play defense and the other team scores on 75% of their possessions, you’re probably screwed.

That’s more like it. The Celtics absolutely drilled the Lakers with efficient passing late. You can ponder the merits of an overworked Kobe or an ineffective supporting cast till you’re blue in the face but what can’t be denied is that run of possessions that closed the game for Boston. Your offense doesn’t have to be clicking at a high level to win that game down four with five minutes left, but you can’t be a defensive sieve for the rest of it. Rajon Rondo (who out-assisted the entire Lakers team 16-10) got out in transition constantly, forced the issue, and in the end, found open looks time after time, including an alley-oop to KG with Gasol and Bynum trailing. Kevin Garnett out-ran every defender to the bucket. That, right there is why the Lakers lost.

For the Celtics, it was a big win that brought them that much closer to homecourt advantage.  Ball movement, intensity, defense, rebounding, the works. A hostile environment and they walked away with the win. It won’t take away the sting of the Game 7 loss, but it’s a step in the right direction. The Celtics have now beaten the Lakers, Orlando, and Miami this season. And the hits just keep on coming.

Report: Jimmy Butler telling people he will be back for playoffs

Associated Press
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We don’t know a lot about Jimmy Butler‘s meniscus injury (other than that it’s not an ACL injury as feared). Because of that, it’s impossible to put a timeline on his return. We don’t know what kind of surgery he likely needs — a traditional meniscus partial removal takes six weeks or so to get a player back on the court (but is harder on the knee long-term as cushioning in it is removed, Dwyane Wade had this), but a repair could take three months or more before he is back on the court. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said this pregame Saturday:

However, Butler himself is telling people he will be back for the playoffs.

Is that the optimism of a fierce competitor? Players are often the worst judge of their ability to return from injury.

Or, does he know that a meniscus repair is out of the question with his injury, that a partial removal is the only option (as is true in some cases)? That has a speedier return that could have him back for the playoffs.

In the short-term, Minnesota is going to need a lot more out of Andrew Wiggins, and they need to play a lot better team defense, to hold on to a playoff slot in the West. The Timberwolves have been -8.3 per 100 possessions without Butler this season, but went 2-2 in the four games he missed. Minnesota is currently the four seed in the West at 36-26, but just three games from falling out of the postseason in a crowded conference.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.

Steve Ballmer: “Difficult” Blake Griffin trade moves Clippers toward modern NBA

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Last summer, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer went all-in on Blake Griffin. They wooed him with a mini-museum tour of his life, did a mock jersey retirement, told him they wanted him to be a “Clipper for life,” then sealed the deal with a five-year, $173 million maximum contract offer. Griffin accepted and never even met with another team.

Within eight months, the Clippers traded Griffin to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovich, and a lightly protected 2018 first-round pick.

What changed? Was it another injury to Griffin that sidelined him and had the Clippers questioning their investment? Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN asked Ballmer about the decision.

“[Griffin] is obviously a superstar player,” said Ballmer. “But if you look at what happened injury-wise, if you look at the kind of chemistry we were getting on our team, the thing you can see at the high level with the numbers when I started — one guy got all the assists, one guy got all the points and one guy got all the rebounds. It’s not all quite that way, but I think in the modern NBA, we were seeing it more and more — there’s a greater distribution of responsibility….

“We have to add some pieces obviously, but I think we’re building for what I think is the modern NBA, and that trend has only accelerated since we signed Blake last summer.”

Ballmer thinks he can use this trade and the Chris Paul one last summer to begin to retool a roster in that fashion, saying that winning a ring is his goal. Maybe he can, but…

The Clippers are a long way from being that kind of a modern NBA team.

Talent still wins out in basketball. Those elite “modern NBA” have superstars — Stephen Curry, James Harden, etc. — who rack up a lot of numbers, but also where the other players are versatile threats. With Brad Stevens in charge, Boston runs a modern, egalitarian offense, but at the heart of it is Kyrie Irving and, eventually, Gordon Hayward as stars who can just get buckets and use their gravity to draw defenders, opening things up for others. Then there are All-Star level players around them such as Al Horford.

Without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick this season, the Clippers had to run the offense through Griffin because, well, who else? Danilo Gallinari can create some when healthy, but he’s really a second or third option and works better of the ball. DeAndre Jordan is a threat as a roll man but it takes a special point guard and passer to bring out the best in him. Austin Rivers has developed into a solid rotation point guard in the NBA, but he’s not a No. 1 option. Lou Williams is really their only other guy who can create at that level. The Clippers may have leaned on Griffin too much, but it’s not like Doc Rivers had better choices sitting around.

What is going to be interesting is to see what the Clippers do this summer — do they back up the Brinks truck and re-sign DeAndre Jordan? Do they try to bring back Bradley and Patrick Beverley? Do they keep or trade Lou Williams, who just extended with the team but at a very reasonable price ($8 million per year)? Can they move Danilo Gallinari (which would require attaching a first-round pick)?

Ballmer says he doesn’t want to bottom out and rebuild, but if Jordan leaves how much does that change the scenario? The Clippers 2019 first-round pick belongs to Boston but is lottery protected. What the Clippers don’t want is for a year from now to be exactly where they are today in the standings — on the cusp of the playoffs trying to get in. While the lottery odds change in 2019, they need to either be a rebuilding team that’s going to keep that pick, or find a way to push up into the standings (which is not going to be easy in a deep West).

It’s good to be moving toward a more modern NBA, but it’s going to be a process for the Clippers.

 

Lonzo Ball rusty in return, likes playing with Isaiah Thomas

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball took the pass and set his feet at the arc. Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr. gave him space, so Ball put up the shot — and drained it.

And Staples Center erupted.

Lonzo Ball returned to the Lakers for the first time in 15 games following an MCL sprain. He was up and down (3-of-8 shooting) as to be expected, but had nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 17 minutes. (He will not play Saturday in a back-to-back in Sacramento.)

“I feel pretty good, only played 17 minutes so nothing crazy out there…” Ball said. “I could feel (his MCL), but the doc says I can get no worse. Just sliding a little bit, especially going right. Other than that it was OK.”

“I thought he looked good, I thought his shot looked good,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, noting that he could have played Ball a little more under the minutes restriction.

Ball had three three-pointers on the night (3-of-6 from three). His shooting motion isn’t any quicker or less quirky, but he’s gotten much better and knowing when he has the room to get it off. When his feet are set and he has room, he can knock it down.

His ability to push the pace, find teammates and pick up the pace is a welcome return to the Lakers.

Ball fit in well as part of a blowout win over a Dallas team that, to use coach Rick Carlisle’s words, “played without any force.” The final was 124-102 and it was never really in doubt for Los Angeles. The Mavs looked like a team tanking, not that their owner would ever tell them to… oh, wait. Carlise and the Mavs are not trying to lose, but this is a time when Dallas needs to get a look at its players about to be free agents — Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell — and young players to see who will be part of the future. The question is how to best utilize them.

“You got to trust your gut in a lot of instances,” Carlisle said of how to evaluate his young players. “It’s not rocket science, certain things become obvious. But it’s important to compete.

Luke Walton is doing the exact same thing and he liked how his team competed. He tried something different playing Ball and Isaiah Thomas together for stretches.

“I liked it a lot,” Ball said of being on the court with IT. “Two playmakers on the court, I think we benefit from it. Look forward to playing with him all the time.”

The two were -6 when on the court in a game the Lakers won in a blowout. Still, expect to see more of that and some other odd combos the rest of the way.

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