NBA Playoffs: Bryant takes over with passing down the stretch

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We all know who Kobe Bryant is — one of the most successful, dynamic, creative, and audacious scorers to have ever played in the NBA. Kobe’s passing has always been very good, but he’s generally preferred to take over games with his scoring throughout his career. 
Yet in crunch-time on Thursday night, while passing virtuoso Steve Nash kept the Suns in the game by making tough shot after tough shot, Kobe was the one making pinpoint passes and trusting his teammates to make big finishes. 

Kobe wasn’t as red-hot from the field in game five as he was in game four, but he made enough tough shots in the first 7/8ths of the game to give the Lakers a 88-83 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game. From that point on, Kobe did most of his damage by picking apart the Phoenix zone with passes that led to layups and wide-open jumpers rather than trying to win the game by himself with contested jumper after contested jumper.
Kobe’s playmaking takeover stared when Bryant found Pau Gasol for a layup with 6:16 left to play. After that, Kobe drew the defense and found Derek Fisher, his longtime backcourt partner and big-shot specialist, in the corner for an open three that put the Lakers up eight. After answering a Steve Nash mid-range jumper with one of his own, Kobe flared up on the weak side to draw the defense away from the corner, where Fisher went to make another catch-and-shoot jumper. 
As Nash kept dribbling around the perimeter and making shot after shot, Kobe remained content to set up his teammates with beautiful passes, finding Pau with a pass in the lane that led to two free throws and Lamar Odom in the “blind spot” of the zone for a layup. With 20 seconds left, Bryant made a beautiful pass to set Gasol up with a dunk opportunity that should have put the game away, but Gasol’s dunk bounced off the rim, allowing the Suns to tie the game with a third-chance three. 
With three seconds left, Kobe forced a game-winner attempt and missed badly, but Ron Artest was there to clean it up and give the Lakers the win, making up for Gasol’s gaffe less than a minute earlier. Just goes to show that trusting your teammates can pay off in all sorts of ways that you can’t expect. 
Kobe couldn’t miss from the field for much of game four, but the Suns were able to take him out of the game late by aggressively doubling Bryant in the fourth. Since the Lakers’ offense had been four guys standing around and watching Kobe up to that point, they had no idea how to attack the zone when the Suns took the ball out of Kobe’s hands. 
In game five, Kobe and Co. made the necessary adjustment. When the Suns forced the ball out of Kobe’s hands, his teammates knew where the weak spots in the zone would be, and Kobe knew where and when to find them when they flashed open. With the Staples crowd and their years of playoff experience giving the Laker role players confidence, they were able to step up and put the game away when the Suns tried to throw double and triple teams at Kobe on the perimeter. 
I could talk about how Kobe willing to set up his teammates in such a big game is an example of how he’s matured over the years, but I’ve never quite believed in the new/old Kobe thing. The defense was giving Kobe passing lanes rather than easy shots, and Kobe has players around him who he can trust to make big plays late in the game rather than the terrible supporting cast he had in his early post-Shaq years. If the Suns go man-to-man late in game six and his teammates are struggling to make shots, I would wager that Kobe would take that game over with his scoring. 
Forget the new Kobe. Forget the old Kobe. Forget looking at each of Kobe’s big playoff performances like a window into his psyche. If you get caught up in all that stuff, you might miss the player who’s been doing the same, mostly amazing thing for a number of years now: the most complete player in basketball, and maybe the most complete player ever, doing whatever he can to try and get his team as many wins as possible, especially when it matters most. 

Report: Carmelo Anthony has multiple NBA options, expected to pick one before trade deadline

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The Rockets leaned heavily on Carmelo Anthony then promptly declared him unplayable. Anthony remains in limbo with Houston, on the roster but no longer part of the team. It seemed he might be finished in the NBA.

But he might get another chance soon.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

According to​ two sources​ with​ knowledge​​ of Anthony’s situation, the exiled 10-time All-Star who remains on the Houston Rockets roster has multiple options available and is expected to pick one before the Feb. 7 trade deadline. There is no clarity as to whether he would be traded in these scenarios or waived and subsequently signed, but there are strong signs that he will play in the NBA again.

These options can’t be great. Otherwise, why wouldn’t Anthony have joined his new team already? My only guess is he’s waiting for a better offer.

Anthony has been most commonly linked to the Lakers. But that’s seemingly due more to his friendship with LeBron James than the Lakers wanting him. That said, LeBron’s voice carries a lot of weight in Los Angeles.

It’s tough to find a team that would actually benefit from acquiring Anthony. He looks washed up.

But if someone wants him and he wants to keep playing, he should go for it. He doesn’t owe it to anyone else to retire so we feel better about his legacy. It’s his life, not ours.

Watch Bulls coach Jim Boylen get bowled over by Denver’s Torrey Craig

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Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen received a raise as part of the team deciding he deserved additional compensation after moving up from an assistant position.

Of course, what Boylen probably didn’t expect when he took the head job was to literally be in a more vulnerable position on the floor.

During Thursday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, Boylen was it standing on the sidelines in front of his bench when an errant pass from Nikola Jokic sent Torrey Craig hurdling into Boylen.

Via Twitter:

Everyone appeared to be okay after the collision, but even still it feels like with the way things have gone for Boylen in Chicago, this could only happen to him.

Charles Barkley isn’t buying Kyrie Irving’s apology to LeBron James (VIDEO)

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Kyrie Irving made headlines on Wednesday night when he won the game for the Boston Celtics against the Toronto Raptors, then proceeded to call LeBron James to apologize about how he treated the Los Angeles Lakers star when the two were on the Cleveland Cavaliers together.

To many, the move seemed like a quick maturation of Irving as well as a surprising about face by the shifty point guard. Even LeBron thought that Irving calling him was out of character, saying as much to media on Wednesday.

However, some saw Irving’s comments and actions a little bit differently. Speaking on Inside the NBA on TNT on Thursday, Charles Barkley said that he felt Irving’s conversation with LeBron was actually a swipe at his current Celtics teammates.

Via Twitter:

To be fair, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst expressed a similar sentiment to Barkley’s on “The Jump” on Thursday, and I have to side with both of them. Their explanation of Irving’s comments make more sense than some kind of overnight maturation on the part of the Celtics star.

Irving is a very good player but he’s also a transparent marketer. His flat earth comments, his commercial that became a terrible movie … it’s all about his personal brand. Part of that is shifting blame away from himself as Boston — currently fifth in the East — continues to struggle.

I don’t think Irving is magically more mature. If anything, his apology is a self-serving attempt at comparing himself to LeBron and by association, the rest of the Celtics as the flotsam that has traditionally consisted the Cavaliers roster.

That’s really not a fair view of either side, and I don’t trust much of what comes out of Irving’s comments beyond their obvious marketing value.

Russell Westbrook hanging with his son Noah before the Lakers game was extremely cute (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook seems like a pretty intense guy. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard has won an MVP not by being a pushover, but by pushing past opponents for triple doubles.

We have really rounded out Westbrook as a individual over the past couple of years, particularly after Kevin Durant decamped Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors. Part of that has been seeing Westbrook as a father, which we got more of on a Thursday before the Thunder took on the Los Angeles Lakers.

Before the game, Westbrook was seen on the floor hanging out with his son, Noah, and generally having a good time.

The result was, admittedly, extremely cute.

Via Twitter:

Noah Westbrook will be draft eligible in 2036. Set your calendars, I guess.