NBA Playoffs: Breaking down the second quarter

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After the first two games, it looked like the Los Angeles Lakers were getting ready to waltz into the NBA Finals. We all know the old saying that a playoff series doesn’t really start until one team loses at home, but Phoenix looked just plain outclassed throughout the first 96 minutes of the conference finals — the final two Laker wins seemed like a formality. Less than a week later, it’s a tie series again. 
There have been plenty of strategies, players, and shots behind Phoenix’s two consecutive victories. But for right now, let’s take a look at one of the high points of the playoffs so far: That insane 41-32 second quarter that featured frenetic action, momentum shifts, and stars and role players alike hitting shot after shot after shot. Here’s a rehashing of the quarter, with some commentary added:
-The Lakers start out the quarter with Kobe and Bynum out on the floor. The Suns go with their bench-only lineup of Dragic/Barbosa/Dudley/Frye/Amundson. Dragic starts the quarter out by setting Dudley up with a drive-and-kick three, which breaks the tie and puts Phoenix up 26-23. 
-Shannon Brown answers with a 20-footer to cut the lead to one. Random note: how many jumpers did the Lakers hit with their feet on the three-point line? It seems like they did it at least five times over the course of the game. In what turned out to be a close game, those things do matter. Watch those toes, Los Angeles. 
-Bynum hits a hook shot for the Lakers, but in the meantime Barbosa, Dragic, and Amundson all get layups. The Suns’ bench unit is doing to the Lakers what the Thunder did in round one — they’re beating them down the court, getting easy baskets, hustling all the time, and frustrating themselves with their athleticism. They don’t play defense as well as the Thunder do, but they make up for it by being much better shooters. 
-After Amundson dunks to put the Suns up six, Kobe finds a soft spot in the zone, spots up, and drains a catch-and-shoot jumper. 27 seconds later, Kobe answers a tough Barbosa jumper by hitting from the exact same spot he’d made from before. 
-With seven minutes to play in the quarter, Channing Frye hits a quick-trigger catch-and-shoot three. Before that shot, Frye had missed his previous 19 attempts from the field. The crowd goes absolutely crazy — huge momentum shift on that play, and all of a sudden Frye looked like he enjoyed basketball again. A minute later, Dudley hits a three to put the Suns up 10. Phil is forced to call timeout. 
-At this point, the Suns were up double-digits, they were making everything they looked at, and the crowd was in the game. The Lakers have yet to lose a home game in these playoffs, and the Suns have to beat them at home to win this series. In short, this was the point in the game where most teams could have folded. We’ve seen it plenty of times in these playoffs. 
But most teams don’t have Kobe Bryant. After the time-out, Kobe hit two tough threes in the span of 34 seconds to keep the Lakers in the game. The Suns kept answering with threes of their own, but Kobe wasn’t backing down either. Time after time Kobe would find a spot, wait for the pass, set up, and drain the jumper over whoever had the audacity to try and contest his shot. Kobe would end up tying the game in the third quarter by utilizing all aspects of his game, but his second-quarter performance was just as effective. He was taking the shots the Suns wanted him to take, and they were finding net every single time. 
Since the Lakers lost (and the Suns were able to take Kobe out of the game with some extreme double-teams in the fourth quarter), there’s no way this will be talked about as one of Kobe’s great games. In fact, this performance will probably be forgotten within 48 hours. But what Kobe did to keep his team in the game in the second and third quarters of game four was special nonetheless. If anybody but Kobe Bryant had been taking those shots, this would not have been a competitive game. 
-If this game had happened in Los Angeles, I don’t see how the Suns would have been able to survive this Kobe performance. Their threes would have been greeted by silence, and the “M-V-P” chants for Kobe may have reached other celestial bodies. But with the crowd behind them in Phoenix, the Suns were able to keep their composure, play with energy, and drain three after three to keep Kobe and Co. at bay. Channing Frye hit two more threes over the rest of the third quarter, Steve Nash hit a three of his own, J-Rich added a putback and a layup, and Amar’e was able to finish the quarter with an easy little pull-up. 
That second quarter wasn’t just one of the most entertaining 12 minutes of the postseason so far — it gave us a look at the blueprint the Suns need to follow to win this series. They need to hit their threes. They need to play with more energy and put the pressure on the older, bigger Lakers. Their bench needs to be a major advantage for them. They need to do whatever they can to keep the Lakers from beating them with their size in the paint and make them beat them from the perimeter, even if Kobe starts to get hot. Doing all those things in front of a hostile crowd will be very, very difficult. But if the Suns can do all of those things, they might just be able to pull off the upset and get themselves into the NBA Finals. 

Rajon Rondo calls Chris Paul ‘horrible teammate,’ denies intentionally spitting on Rockets star

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Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul don’t like each other. Rondo’s girlfriend and Paul’s wife don’t like each other.

And Rondo isn’t letting sleeping dogs lie after the league concluded Rondo spit on Paul and suspended both players for their roles in the Lakers-Rockets fight Saturday.

Rondo, via ESPN:

“Everyone wants to believe Chris Paul is a good guy. They don’t know he’s a horrible teammate. They don’t know how he treats people. Look at what he did last year when he was in LA; trying to get to the Clippers locker room. They don’t want to believe he’s capable of taunting and igniting an incident.

“Exasperating and spitting are two different things. He comes out and says I spit and the media sides with that.”

“Y’all are playing me with these tricks or these mind games, tampering with the evidence,” Rondo told ESPN on Tuesday. “Ain’t no way that I intentionally spit on you with my body language the way it was.

“One, if I spit on you, bottom line, there is not going to be no finger-pointing. If you felt that I just spit on you, then all bets are off. Two, look at my body language. If I spit on you on purpose, I’m going to be ready for a man to swing on me. You ain’t going to have my hands on my hip and my head look away at someone if I spit on them. After the [expletive] goes down, within 30 seconds, you run and tell the sideline reporters that I spit on you? If I spit on you, you are trying to get to me. You not trying to make up a story so you can look like a good guy. It makes no sense to me.

“I was going to let it rest. I wasn’t going to say much. But now I have kids and I teach my kids to speak up for themselves and don’t let the world tell their story.”

Video clearly shows Rondo spitting on Paul. Was it intentional? I can’t read Rondo’s mind. But intent should matter only to a degree. Rondo didn’t control his saliva well enough to ensure he didn’t spit on Paul. That alone should be a violation. Otherwise, players would fill their mouths with spit, start jawing with foes and let it fly wherever it goes.

Was the video we saw tampered with? I’d love to hear more about this conspiracy theory. That’s juicy, though for now (and probably forever), completely unsupported.

Rondo’s explanation that he would have looked more ready to fight if he intentionally spit on Paul also lacks credibility. I mean, maybe. But I’m also not convinced Rondo (or anyone) was acting completely rationally in that heated moment. Assigning cold logic to his actions after the fact doesn’t sway me.

Rondo also brings up the Rockets trying to fight the Clippers, Paul’s former team, after a game last season as evidence of Paul being a poor teammate. If anything, that shows how great of a teammate Paul can be. He wasn’t even with Houston a full year, and his new teammates were already ready to support Paul in his own battle.

Of course, Paul can also be a bad teammate in some ways. So can Rondo.

They’re both intensely competitive. I believe Paul can escalate a confrontation, just as I believe Rondo could.

But I saw Rondo do it this time.

Bucks owner: NBA would have forced team to leave Milwaukee if new arena not built

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The NBA won’t expand anytime soon, but there’s still demand to get a team in Seattle and any number of cities. That means the quickest path could be a current franchise moving.

It won’t be the Bucks, who are playing in a new arena in Milwaukee this season.

But it could have been.

Bucks owner Marc Lasry, via Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

“We were going to do everything we could to stay in Milwaukee,” Lasry said. “That was ultimately something that was outside our control in that the NBA wanted a new arena, and if we couldn’t get one, they would have forced us to move.”

“For me, I never wanted to be anywhere else, and the simple reason is I like going to games there. We were going to do everything we could to stay in Milwaukee.”

If Lasry and co-owner Wes Edens would have done “everything we could to stay in Milwaukee,” Wisconsin governments did a terrible job negotiating the arena deal. Taxpayers are spending $457 million (more, if you count the absurd naming-rights situation) on the arena. Why pay so much for what will surely be a money-loser for the public? Maybe there’s an intangible value in keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, but if Lasry and Edens were so determined to get the arena built, they could have contributed more than the $174 million they did.

Instead, they got the state and city to cover most of the costs and are now taking a victory lap.

Now, the NBA can use this as an example to other places: Publicly fund a new arena, or lose your team. And the cycle will continue.

Laker fan drains halfcourt shot… but security shuts down celebration with team

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LOS ANGELES — It was a great night for Ali Sabbouri.

The 26-year-old was selected to take the half-court shot at the end of the third quarter of the Laker game Monday night, and the Anaheim resident walked up and drained it. He was instantly $30,000 richer.

Then he ran around and celebrated as the crowd goes nuts, he gets a high-5 from the Laker girls — but watch security waive him off when he wants to get high-5s from the Lakers’ players.

That is hysterical. I’d feel sorry for Ali not getting a dap from LeBron James… but $30,000 will more than make up for that.

Lakers coach Luke Walton rips officiating: ‘I wasn’t going to say anything. I was going to save my money, but I just can’t anymore’

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The Lakers are 0-3 with LeBron James, and pressure is mounting.

One way to release it: Venting about officiating.

Lakers coach Walton via Kurt Helin:

“Let me start here. … I wasn’t going to say anything, because I was going to save my money. But I just can’t anymore.”

“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.

“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”

I’m not certain Walton will get fined. These comments are borderline. But he asked for it, and the league might abide.

The numbers Walton cites are not convincing. Sometimes, one team deserves more free throws than the other. Maybe the Lakers outscored the Spurs by so much in the paint because the Spurs kept ceding baskets inside rather than fouling and the Lakers kept sending San Antonio to the line for free throws, which don’t count as points in the paint. Also keep in mind: Los Angeles outscored the Spurs 41-7 in transition. Many of the Lakers’ paint points came against a defense not positioned to contest shots, with or without contact.

But Walton is fighting bigger battles – taking heat off his team for losing, showing his players he has their back, making referees think twice on foul calls. If Walton achieves those objectives, a fine will be well worth it.