Kobe leads Lakers to thrilling overtime win over Raptors with a series of amazing shots

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant doesn’t know where the energy comes from, or even how he’s able to find the physical strength to do what he does late in games, and at this late stage of his career as he plays into his 17th season.

But as long as it keeps coming, so will the Lakers.

Behind a series of incredibly difficult shots from Bryant late in regulation and in the overtime session, the Lakers completed their second improbable comeback in as many games, this time downing the Raptors 118-116 in as thrilling a contest as we’ve seen this season.

“I’m glad I’m on this side instead of the other side,” Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni said after his team, which trailed by as many as 15 points, came from 11 down in the fourth quarter to come away with the overtime victory.

For most of the night, the Lakers played abysmal defense, missing rotations seemingly every trip down the floor. It had nothing to do with Dwight Howard, who seems to be more active as each game goes by, perhaps beginning to get healthier as the season wears on. Howard finished with 13 rebounds and five blocked shots, but too many times his teammates weren’t in the right positions and didn’t rotate over in help situations.

The Raptors put 37 points on the board by the end of the first quarter, and were shooting 70 percent from the field as a team well into the second. The Lakers closed the gap by halftime, only to see it quickly shoot back up to double digits midway through the third.

That’s when Bryant began to get going.

He hit two three-pointers on consecutive possessions — the kind where he brings the ball up, lines up his defender, then fires right over him and drills the long shot, no matter how closely he’s being guarded.

The next trip down, Bryant tried to make it three straight. The shot rimmed out, but Bryant didn’t give up on the play, and got the steal of the rebound before resetting and driving the lane to throw down an emphatic two-handed slam.

The play ultimately didn’t do much to put a dent in Toronto’s lead, but Bryant’s grit provided a spark that energized his teammates moving forward. As the Lakers fought to chisel away at a Raptors’ fourth quarter lead of 11 points, Bryant’s incredible heroics down the stretch were enough to carry his team to the finish line.

Bryant connected on three three-pointers in the game’s final two minutes, with each one being more difficult than the last. The first came as the shot clock expired, and after a pump fake on defender Alan Anderson didn’t really work, but Bryant raised up from a flat-footed stance and got it to go nonetheless.

The next came off an inbounds play, which was a catch-and-shoot from the corner — except Bryant was moving away from the basket to come get the pass, and he immediately elevated and twisted to hit the shot once he received it.

That cut the Toronto lead to just one with 29 seconds left, but Kyle Lowry hit two free throws on the ensuing possession to push the lead back to three.

The next trip down, the Lakers were inbounding on their end of the floor with 8.4 seconds remaining. Bryant zig-zagged through defenders to free himself up to catch the pass, then pump-faked one defender, before shooting over a second to hit the incredibly difficult shot.

“I knew he was going to be gung ho to block the shot because he blocked one of my drives,” Bryant said afterward. “So I knew he was going to leave his feet. A lot of times that happens when it’s a late clock because the defenders don’t know how much time is really left, especially a young player. I just had to pump fake him, and got a clean look at it.”

Bryant had done enough by then, but he wasn’t finished. He had one spectacular play left, and it turned out to be the difference.

With 10 seconds left in overtime and the game tied at 115, Bryant went right around two defenders and right down the middle of the lane for the game-winning two-handed slam.

Bryant finished with 41 points and 12 assists, and almost had a triple-double, but not the kind players strive for; he finished with nine turnovers, though eight of those came in the first three quarters.

The shots Bryant made were absolutely stunning, and the dunk to cap off the effort was downright silly.

“His shots at the end of the game, that’s ridiculous,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think there’s anybody on the planet that can do that. And he’s done it constantly for 17 years.”

Bryant seemed almost in as much disbelief as the rest of us when asked to describe how he has the energy to continue to perform like this, and honestly seemed to have no idea how much longer it will continue.

“Hell if I know,” he said, when asked how much longer he can keep doing this. “I know that I have a determination that I don’t think anybody that I line up against [has]. On any given night, I don’t think that they’re going to be able to out-will me. I just refuse to believe that.”

Bryant continues to make believers out of all of us.

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.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.