NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest

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Thumbnail image for Pierce_celebrates.jpgTwo years ago, the Lakers tried to guard Paul Pierce in the Finals with Vladimir Radmanovic. Los Angeles might as well have tried to wrap Pierce up in wet toilet paper, it’s about the same deterrent. Pierce did whatever he wanted against the Lakers then starter, got in a rhythm and became almost unstoppable.

This time around, the matchup at the three is far more interesting — Ron Artest vs. Pierce. Two hard-nosed players. Two guys with some street in them, who will fight back. Two guys prone to sell calls. Artest the defender against Pierce the scorer.

This time around the three spot will be a battleground. Pierce told ESPNBoston he knows what’s coming.

“He’s the most physical player at the wing position,” said Pierce. “He
plays the forward/guard position like a power forward or center. He
likes to bang you, get on your body, grab you, hold you, pull down your
shorts. He’ll do anything. You guys know that, just from watching him
over the years. He’ll do anything to get in an opponent’s head. From
playing him over the years, I’m used to the things he tries to do. I
just go out there and play my game, not get into the antics.”

Pierce is still going to get his — he had 26 points on 7 of 20 (35 percent) shooting for the two games where the teams faced off this season, and he averaged well over a point per possession used. Zach at Celtics Hub looked farther back and when Pierce has been matched up on Artest from 2006 until now, Pierce has averaged 188 .points per game on 43 percent shooting, and is 36 percent from three.

Not bad numbers, but Pierce has to work hard for those points. Certainly a lot harder than he did against whatever it was that Vlad Rad was playing in 2008 (I wouldn’t call it defense).

Watching Pierce in the two games this season against the Lakers (thank you MySynergySports) a few things stood out.

Pierce’s best looks came in transition. With Rajon Rondo pushing the pace the Lakers would collapse back to protect against his drives and if Pierce went Orlando Magic playbook and just ran down and spotted up for a three he got wide-open looks. He also got some good looks off one of the Celtics favorite plays, where he pops-out off a pin-down screen (those down screens the Celtics set are some of the best in basketball, not always the most legal with some grabbing going on, but very effective).

In the half court, if Pierce ran the pick-and-roll the Lakers almost always switched, letting Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol take Pierce, and he struggled to exploit that. Gasol and Odom are both long and disrupt shots.

Pierce got shots against the Lakers in those games, and he can still get hot, he can still carry the Celtics offense. But he’s going to have to really work for it. Artest is not what he was as a defender five years ago, but he is pit bull relentless — he is strong, fights through picks well and does not give up on plays when others might (just ask the Suns about the end of Game 5).

This battle is just going to be fun to watch.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.

 

76ers coach Brett Brown: Markelle Fultz didn’t mean to insult Philadelphia coaches

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After getting traded from the 76ers to the Magic, Markelle Fultz said, “It just excites me really to know that I have coaches that’s going to push you to be better and not just going to tell you what you want to hear.”

I don’t know whether Fultz intended that to sound like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. But it sounded like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown said Fultz “didn’t mean that.”He said the two have spoken back and forth.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s a good young man, and, truly, we wish him well.”

I’d prefer to hear that directly from Fultz. But I doubt he’ll do any more interviews this season until he plays again – and who knows when that will be?

Still, it can be difficult for a player to compliment his new team without sounding like he’s admonishing his old team. There was always a good chance that’s all that happened with Fultz. Brown’s explanation makes that even more likely.

Report: NBA formally submits proposal to lower draft age to 18, end one-and-done

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It’s coincidental this happened the day after Duke star and likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson sprained a knee in a much-hyped, nationally televised game. This is been in the works for a while and is now becoming realty:

The NBA formally submitted a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association (the players’ union) to lower the draft age from 19 to 18. Meaning players could be drafted to the league straight out of high school. While that will not come until likely 2022, the formal proposal starts the project, reports Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today.

The NBA has submitted to the National Basketball Players Association a formal proposal that will lower the draft-eligible age to 18 from 19, a person with knowledge of the proposal told USA TODAY Sports…

The league and union have had informal discussions about lowering the age limit, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is on record saying the current 19-year-old age limit is not working for the league or college basketball.

This is the first step in formal negotiations to lower the age limit by the 2022 draft. The issue is collectively bargained between the NBA and NBPA, and both sides need to agree to any rule change.

There have been sticking points during those informal discussions between the sides. Specifically, the league wants to require that agents provide every team with full medical reports on players, and the league wants players to be forced to participate in some level of the NBA Draft Combine. As of now, agents often withhold medical info from teams they don’t want to draft their players (that doesn’t always work) and elite players often do little more than get measured at the combine. It’s a fight over information and the sides will need to find a compromise.

Silver had told reporters over the summer that the NCAA’s own report from Condoleezza Rice’s Commission On College Basketball called for an end to one-and-dones, and that has motivated him to end the practice. However, to give teams ample time to gear up scouting and get development programs in place, nothing will happen before the 2022 draft.

This has been a long time coming, the one-and-done rule is a compromise neither the NBA or colleges liked much, and it has made players resentful. What exactly the process will look like on the other side remains to be seen, but it should be better than the mess we see right now.