Rajon Rondo, Kobe Bryant

Celtics, Lakers play one that feels like old times

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On paper this was a battle of seven seeds, a couple teams just a few games over .500 with a lot of potential but not really contenders.

But once the ball went up, it felt like it was the 2010 NBA finals again. Or maybe the 2008 finals. Or 1985. Or 1969.

Rivalries are what make sports fun and there was some real fire and some good old-fashioned dislike between the Lakers and Celtics on a Thursday night in February. That made for an entertaining game that was close the whole way, went into overtime — and down to a blocked shot in the final second of overtime — as the Lakers get out of Boston with an 88-87 win.

Let’s be honest here, it may have felt like 2008, but the level of play was nowhere near NBA finals level. Or even good playoff ball. Both teams were sloppy in their execution, particularly late in the contest. The best example was the Celtics had a chance for one play, one shot to get the win on the last play of regulation. They ran a Boston staple where Paul Pierce has the ball, Ray Allen comes up like he’s setting a high screen then slips the screen and slides out for a jumper — and it worked, both defenders went with Pierce. And he never made the pass. Allen stood there open. Instead the result was Mickael Pietrus having to come out and help Pierce, then take a 30-footer at the buzzer.

The difference in this game was the Lakers size — they made a point of pounding the ball inside all night, crashing the boards hard and taking advantage of their skill and size advantages. In the first half, 22 of the Lakers 33 shot attempts came from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Gasol responded to being snubbed for the All-Star Game by putting up 25 points on 12-20 shooting, plus grabbing 14 boards and having the game-winning block on an attempted Allen putback of a Pierce miss. Andrew Bynum (who will start in the All-Star Game) had 16 points — including the overtime tip-in putback that won the game — plus 17 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Kobe Bryant was Kobe, distributing early, putting on a display of impressive footwork in the midpost, knocking down jumpers and finishing with 27 points.

You know those three will be there most nights, but the Lakers got a solid contribution out of Matt Barnes as well. As for the point guard spot… let’s just say Derrick Fisher was so bad (0-7 shooting and getting abused on defense) that Steve Blake, in his first game back from injury, closed out the game. And Blake wasn’t good. The Lakers were 1-15 from three — if they can’t make teams pay for collapsing down on their big men they are in a lot of trouble come the playoffs.

Boston played good defense in this one — that has been their hallmark in winning five straight — but when faced with another good defensive team could not generate enough offense to get the win. They settled and shot just 39.2 percent on the night and only got to the free throw line five times. Ray Allen had 22 points, Pierce 18 but needed 18 shots to get there.

In the end, it may not have been pretty but it was fun. We fans got some free basketball in overtime, some dramatic plays from big stars, and some real passion. Rivalries are fun. Even on a random Thursday in February.

Too much Stephen Curry, too many threes bury Thunder in Game 7, Warriors win 96-88, advance to Finals

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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For seven games the athleticism and improved defense of the Oklahoma City Thunder smothered nearly everything Golden State tried to do inside the arc. The Thunder length and aggressiveness had them dominating the glass much of the series. Oklahoma City played Golden State below the arc all series long.

But the Warriors owned the three ball.

After a rough shooting first half, the three balls started to fall for Golden State in the second half — many of them contested, the Thunder defense remained stout. The Warriors opened the game 2-of-6 from three, then hit 12 of their next 24 — 10-of-20 in the second half — while the Thunder missed 13 straight at one point.

The Warriors made 10 more threes than the Thunder in Game 7 and — just as it was in Game 6 — that proved to be the difference. The Warriors came from down 3-1 to win Game 7 96-88 and take the series.

Golden State will host Cleveland in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

It took the best run of games these Warriors have put together in two-plus seasons — those are seasons that ended in a championship and included 73 regular season wins — to get that chance to go back-to-back. The Thunder played their best ball in years and forced the Warriors to find another gear.

Stephen Curry, who finished with 36 points and hit 7-of-12 from three, was the difference as he played like the MVP version of himself. That version had been held in check much of the series by the Thunder’s defense, and likely a lingering knee issue (although he would never admit that). All series long Curry had struggled to beat the Thunder bigs who switched onto him off picks, but not in Game 7 when he hit four threes over those bigs, and blew by them and into the lane a host of other times.

Kevin Durant was giving up the ball early in the game, trying to get teammates involved, but late in the fourth he put together a personal 7-0 run that made it a four-point game inside three minutes. Durant was a beast and finished with 27 points to lead the Thunder. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and 13 assists.

Early on it felt like it might be the Thunder’s night. It was a disjointed start to the game (as often happens in Game 7s), which helped Steven Adams get a couple of buckets and had the Thunder trying to move the ball. Both teams had jitters and guys are trying to do a little too much, evidence by Curry starting 3-of-8 and Thompson 0-of-4. What OKC did was get six offensive boards in first quarter, which had then up 24-19.

In the second, Waiters came in and played a little out of control but proved to be a spark that had the Thunder pushing the lead up to 13. The Thunder also got solid play early from Enes Kanter, who had eight points and four rebounds in eight minutes. Meanwhile, the Warriors were missing their twos — started 6-of-20 inside the arc — but unlike Game 6 they were missing their threes as well. Play Thompson started 0-of-7.

Then Thompson hit three in a row from beyond the arc, the Warriors’ energy returned, and they went on 11-2 run to make it a game again. Thunder responded with 7-0 run of their own. Then Warriors have 7-0 run to get it to five. By the half, it was 48-42 Oklahoma City.

Golden State came out gunning from three to start the second half and behind a few Curry threes went on a 15-4 run and the Warriors were up 57-54. The Thunder hung around but got sucked into the wrong style of play and they missed 13 consecutive threes at one point. The threes were falling for the Warriors, the Thunder could not buy a bucket, it was a 29-12 third quarter for the Warriors and they were up 71-60. The Warriors felt in control.

But the Thunder played too hard and too well this series to go quietly into that good night. They defended with heart and Durant made plays down the stretch. Just not enough.

Because the Warriors threes kept falling no matter what.

Stephen Curry goes high off the glass at the buzzer just before the half

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Golden State hadn’t shot well all first half — 38.6 percent — and Stephen Curry was 4-of-10 with time running out in half.

Then Curry hit this high, high off the glass to end the half and bring Golden State within six at the break, 48-42.

Notice that Curry grabbed his knee after the shot. He was out for the start of the second half.

Draymond Green pulls Steven Adams down on him in latest tangle between rivals (VIDEO)

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The double personal foul call by the officials here was a cop out.

Either you call Steven Adams for falling on Draymond Green. Or, better yet, you call Green for hooking the arm of Adams and pulling him down on top of him (which could have led to a dislocation).

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Or — my preference — you make it a no call and move along.

But the officials looked at the latest tussle in the Green/Adams rivalry and gave them each a personal foul.

I will add, I think the officials have generally handled this game well and let the players play in a Game 7.

Can Pat Riley convince Hassan Whiteside to take a little less to stay in Miami?

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat reacts after a call against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Miami has a lot of key free agents this summer — Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire — but at the top of the list of guys they want to keep is Hassan Whiteside. Pat Riley said re-signing Whiteside is the Heat’s top priority. The shot-blocking center is at the heart of the style Erik Spoelstra wants to play because of his ability to protect the paint on defense, run the floor, and get buckets at the rim.

He’d fit with a lot of other NBA teams, too. Which is why he is going to get paid a max or near max contract (that and the salary cap spike that means a lot of teams have money to spend). While Whiteside reportedly likes Miami, the challenge for Heat is they do not have his Bird rights so they need to use cap space re-sign him. In an ideal world, Riley could work his magic and get Whiteside to take a little discount, but would he? Barry Jackson laid it out at the Miami Herald.

My understanding, reiterated in recent days, is if all things are equal financially, Whiteside wants to re-sign with Miami. He likes living here and likes the organization.

But we’ve repeatedly heard the Heat’s preference is persuading him to sign under the max (projected to be $21.6 million next season) by selling him on the lack of state income tax, his comfort level here, the roster flexibility created by him taking a bit less; and that Miami can offer 7.5 percent annual raises off the first year salary (compared with 4.5 percent elsewhere). That means a four-year deal starting at $20.7 million with Miami would equal a four-year deal starting at $21.6 million elsewhere.

But if Miami offers, say, $2 million less per year than max offers elsewhere, what would Whiteside do?  That decision hasn’t been made and it won’t be an easy one.

My guess is the Heat will max out Whiteside if that’s what it takes to keep him. Maybe he would take a discount, maybe not, but in the end, the Heat need him and can’t replace him (Al Horford is a free agent and would cost more, and there isn’t another center nearly as good out there). Are the Heat going to let Whiteside walk and take a significant hit on the court over just a couple million? Probably not.

But with Whiteside and Wade in the fold (they aren’t letting him leave, either, even if it costs them $20 million a year) it’s likely Deng will land elsewhere. Probably the same with Johnson, unless he is willing to take a steep discount to stay (and I wouldn’t bet on that).