NBA finals, Lakers Celtics: The Doc, the Master, and when to say enough

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jackson.jpgIf coaching basketball, is, as they say, a chess game, then why is so much of it predicated upon dramatic shifts in approach? Yes, you have your pieces, and yes, you’re maneuvering for advantage, to neutralize your opponent’s pieces and move in for the checkmate (having more points than the other team), but in chess, the sides are equal. Each team begins with the same number of pieces, and each piece has a corresponding alternate on the other side.

This is not how it is in basketball, or any other sport.

Doc Rivers’ knight in this case, Paul Pierce, is considerably better than the Lakers’ bishop, Ron Artest. And Phil Jackson begins this game with his bishop, Kobe Bryant, at a supreme advantage over Doc Rivers. But even more explicitly, in a well matched chess game, your objective is to spring the same strategy. It’s nearly impossible to commit resources to one approach, have it met with disaster, then manage a victory through improvisation and guile. It can be done, but the game isn’t particularly built on adjustment and often when one piece falls, the rest follow.

But it is just that, adjustments and improvisation, that are going to be a central component in the Finals’ coaching matchup. And in a strongly bizarre twist, and for the second time, Doc Rivers may actually have the advantage in this area.

In 2008, we expected a dominant performance from Jackson. After all, he had nine rings at that point and Doc Rivers was a season away from the hotseat, often derided even during that championship season for his inability to formulate a rotation. It looked like it would be a complete wipeout for Rivers against the man with the rings. Turns out, Rivers coached rings around Jackson, consistently having his teams more ready and able to tweak things.

Part of that has to do with the intrinsic nature of both coaches. Jackson is renowned for his resistance to adjusting to his opponent. His philosophy is to force your opponent to adapt to you. In a similar vein, he often resists timeouts during big runs by his opponents, opting to let his team “play through it.”

Take his frontcourt. If Kevin Garnett begins to give Pau Gasol trouble, Jackson won’t be changing his approach; he’ll trust Gasol to come through. This may reflect the coach’s response to all the talk of Rondo. There will be wrinkles, sure. Tiny reflections of things they think of. But you have to force the Lakers pretty far with the edge of your sword to provoke a parry from Jackson.

But this Celtics team has enough versatility and advantages that Jackson needs to adjust that approach. If Rondo is consistently detonating whatever approach the Lakers take on him, Jackson needs to be willing to make those changes, quickly. And if the conventional approaches aren’t working, he needs to be willing to try things before untested. If that means Shannon Brown in for spot duty, go with it. If that means a move away from the overload defense, so be it. Similarly, if a player is having success on the offensive end, sticking with the plan may not be in order, especially if the Oklahoma City Kobe shows up.

Rivers on the other hand, probably has what he needs. The Big 3 and Rondo means that he doesn’t need to juggle much in the way of managing minutes. And any adjustments from there on out are fluid, unlikely to disrupt much. The Celtics’ defense is dependent upon its players knowing when to help one another, and executing the fundamentals. If their talent can stand up to LA’s, Rivers will be in a position to combat whatever wrinkles the Lakers throw at them.

Perhaps this is the series where Jackson comes out on top, however. Maybe he makes one significant adjustment (Bryant on Rondo, perhaps) and comes out on top. But whereas two years ago, this looked like a wild coaching mismatch, suddenly, it appears much closer, due to Jackson’s insistence on playing chess while Rivers mans an XBox.

It was an ugly end of the game by Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Warriors

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With 1:10 left in the game Saturday night, the Golden State Warriors were down just one point, 109-108, to the Dallas Mavericks following a Luka Doncic floater. Warriors fans — and the Warriors themselves — had to feel confident, this is the kind of game they close out and win. The Warriors have done it for years. Sure Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were out, but is where the Warriors other big stars hit big shots.

Not on Saturday night:

Kevin Durant missed a running hook shot from 7 feet.

• Durant missed an 11-foot fadeaway jumper.

Klay Thompson missed a clean-look 16-foot baseline jumper.

• Down 3 with :04 seconds left, Durant intentionally misses a free throw, Jonas Jerebko gets the offensive rebound, then goes up with an 11-foot two-pointer that does the team no good.

It wasn’t just the final minute. In the fourth quarter, Durant was 1-of-7 shooting, missed his last four shots, and was a -7. Thompson was 3-of-8 in the fourth and also a -7.

With Curry and Green out — something to expect for a few more games — Durant and Thompson combined to shoot 41.7 percent overall (20-of-48) overall and 2-of-15 (13.3 percent) from three. The Warriors can’t win that way, and didn’t.

Don’t read “the Warriors are in trouble” into that — it’s just one game. In November. We all should expect the Warriors to be healthy when it matters most next April and reform Voltron to wipe out the rest of the NBA.

However, in the short term, the Warriors need their stars to step up. This is not as deep a team as Golden State has rolled out during this run, it relies more on its star power, and Saturday night that let them down.

Anthony Davis scores 40, leads Pelicans past Nuggets 125-115

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 10 field goals for New Orleans against Denver on Saturday night. That’s not a bad total, but it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story about how he carried the Pelicans.

Davis added 20-for-21 shooting from the free throw line and finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Pelicans defeated the Nuggets 125-115 Saturday night.

Davis’ performance on Saturday followed a 43-point effort a night earlier in a win over New York.

“It’s pretty hard to stop him, especially when he gets in a groove like that,” said Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who overcame foul trouble to finish with 19 points and match Davis’ assists. “We don’t think anyone can guard him in the first place.”

Julius Randle had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Nikola Mirotic had 20 points and 10 rebounds and E'Twaun Moore scored 13 for New Orleans, which won for the fifth time in six games.

Nikola Jokic had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Gary Harris scored 24, Juancho Hernangomez had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Monte Morris came off the bench to add 13 and Jamal Murray had 11 for the Nuggets, who lost for the fifth time in six games.

Davis’ assists tied a career-high and it was his seventh game with at least six assists this season. In his previous six seasons, he had just eight such games.

“I just realized that a lot of teams are scouting for me,” Davis said. “They didn’t want me to go off I guess, so I’m just trying to find guys and guys are playing with a lot of confidence and making shots. They know and I know where they are going to be and they know where I like them to be.”

The Pelicans made 31 of 34 free throws, and the Nuggets made 8 of 13.

“I felt we were doing things that should’ve generated some more free throws,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “Obviously, the referees didn’t see it that way tonight. They saw them getting fouled quite a bit.”

The Pelicans, who rallied from a 19-point deficit against the Knicks, had a much easier time against the Nuggets.

Though Denver got off to a fast start, New Orleans took the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed again.

Davis scored 12 points as the Pelicans held a 37-35 lead after the first quarter. He wound up with 12 at halftime as his team clung to a 70-67 halftime lead and even though he had just four points in the third quarter, New Orleans took a 98-88 lead into the final period.

The Nuggets got within seven points three times early in the fourth quarter, but Davis and Holiday scored four points each during an 8-0 run that gave New Orleans a 110-95 lead midway through the quarter.

The closest Denver got after that was nine points.

“It’s hard to stop him,” Jokic said of Davis. “He’s a really great player. We didn’t do a good job tonight.”

 

Luka Doncic leads Mavericks over short-handed Warriors 112-109

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic gave the Dallas Mavericks a glimpse of an exciting future – and extended a bad week for the Golden State Warriors.

The rookie scored 24 points, including a short jumper that put Dallas in front for good, and the Mavericks beat the Warriors 112-109 on Saturday night.

The 19-year-old from Slovenia arrived in the NBA having led Real Madrid to the 2018 Euro League title. On Saturday, he hit a 10-footer in the lane with 1:10 left to put Dallas up 109-108, then sealed the game with two free throws with seven seconds remaining.

“I’ve been doing this when I was in Madrid, too,” Doncic said. “I love the last-minute shot. (But) of course it’s different. It’s the NBA. It’s the best league in the world.”

Golden State played without injured starters Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and lost for the fourth time in six games. The Warriors dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, and Saturday they led by eight points in the second half before the Mavs rallied.

Kevin Durant scored 32 points, but only three in the fourth quarter on 1-for-7 shooting. Klay Thompson added 22 for the two-time defending NBA champions. Durant missed two shots and Thompson one in the final minute, all of which could have either tied the game or put Golden State ahead.

“You don’t set NBA records being frustrated,” Thompson said. “I’m not going to go over here and dwell on missing a couple of shots, missing a game-tying shot this early in the season.”

Harrison Barnes had 23 points for the Mavericks, who have won four in a row. It was just the second time Dallas has beaten Golden State in their past 19 meetings, the other coming on Dec. 30, 2015 – one of only nine games the Warriors lost that regular season.

An 8-0 Mavs run early in the fourth quarter, capped by Dwight Powell‘s three-point play, gave Dallas its first lead since early in the third quarter, 93-92, with 9:18 to play. After Golden State surged ahead again, the Mavericks hung tough and Dorian Finney-Smith‘s fast-break layup put Dallas back up 107-106 with 1:45 remaining.

“Our guys worked incredibly hard to wear on them throughout the game and we made their shots a little more difficult,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you work as hard as we did, you get luck to go your way.”

In addition to missing Curry (left groin strain) and Green (right toe sprain) in the midst of this rough stretch, the Warriors are still trying to repair the bad feelings caused by Green’s dust-up Monday night with Durant and subsequent suspension.

“Just trying to move forward,” Durant said. “Are we going to talk about this the whole year? We just want to play ball. I know that’s all I want to do.”

 

Donovan Mitchell scores 28, Jazz beat Celtics 98-86

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BOSTON (AP) — Donovan Mitchell had 28 points and six assists, bouncing back from one of his worst performances of the season and leading the Utah Jazz to a 98-86 win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.

Ricky Rubio scored 20 points for Utah, which beat Boston for the second time in eight days and swept the season series. Rudy Gobert had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Derrick Favors finished with 10 points and eight boards.

Mitchell took 35 shots and did not record an assist in Friday night’s 113-107 loss at Philadelphia. He was far more efficient against Boston, going 10 for 21 from the field and 3 for 4 at the free-throw line.

Boston scored its fewest points since a 93-90 loss at Orlando on Oct. 22.

Kyrie Irving had 20 points for the Celtics, who had won two in a row. He also had the move of the night.

Jayson Tatum finished with 10, but no other player scored in double figures for Boston.

The Celtics were just 8 for 26 from the field in the third quarter. They had to play much of the period without Irving, who fouled Mitchell on a 3-pointer with 5:40 left. Mitchell made all three from the line to put Utah up 68-55, and then Irving picked up his fifth foul just 28 seconds later.

Irving returned in the fourth, but Boston was unable to catch up. Mitchell blocked a dunk attempt by Gordon Hayward and Utah took it the other way for an alley-oop dunk by Favors from Geoges Niang to put the Jazz up 83-64 with 9:07 left to play.

Utah ended a two-game losing streak, which started with a 118-68 loss at Dallas on Wednesday.