NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game One: Who are these guys in green and what did they do with the real Celtics?

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Boston-Bench.jpgThe Celtics were angry when they went in the locker room. John McEnroe angry.

That’s not the norm for a veteran team, and it was not at all like the Celtics team that has marched through the playoffs. But they didn’t play like those Celtics, either. These Celtics were pissed. Not with the referees (well, yes they were but not as much as you’d think).

They were angry with themselves. For the rebounds they gave up, the bad passes, the blown layups. For simply getting out worked all night.

“You saw it in guys’ faces, you heard it , from reactions after the game just how the guys felt,” Paul Pierce said. “It wasn’t a typical loss locker room. There was some angry people in there and they showed it. But that’s just the pride.”

That pride went before the fall in Game 1. Little things started to snowball on the Celtics, their pride got wrapped up in frustration, and pretty soon the Lakers were winning the hustle categories (17 to 4 on 50/50 balls, according to the Celtics own numbers). And the Lakers were winning the game.

Boston had better get that pride back by Sunday for Game 2. And bring a few adjustments with it. One loss to start a series on the road can be overcome. Two and that mountain gets a whole lot higher.

Boston’s problems started with dribble penetration. It’s something the Celtics usually shut off better than anybody in the league. They overload the strong side of the floor so there a wall of big men to greet the penetrator, but the Lakers did a good job quickly swinging the ball around the court to the weak side. The Celtics, as they do, closed out on the guy getting the pass, and usually that means a contested jumper on the weak side from the opposition.

The Lakers made a conscious effort not to settle for that jumper and to drive off of the pass. Other times they just blew by guards from the top of the key. They did what they wanted and got into the paint, and that is where things started to break down for the Celtics. A big man would have to come over to help the guard who was beat. That in turn led to offensive rebounds for the Lakers as nobody helped the helper, nobody was there to box out Pau Gasol (who had eight offensive rebounds alone).

“There was huge dribble penetration,” Glen Davis said. “We can’t have that next game if we want to win. We’re a better defensive team than that. We’ve got to help out.”

It also led to foul trouble. That and a quick-whistled referee crew. Ray Allen had two early fouls and sat, and he didn’t like it at all. But it wasn’t just Allen, it was Piece and Tony Allen and a number of other Celtics. (And it wasn’t just Celtics, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had early foul troubles and had to sit, the officials were in love with the quick whistle all around.) Ray Allen admitted he frustrated having to watch so much of the game and said one foul of his five was clearly legit.”

But they also knew the fouls were a symptom of bigger issues, not the problem in and of themselves.

“I thought the fouls were called because (the Lakers) were more physical,” Doc Rivers said. “I thought the Lakers were clearly the more physical team. I thought they were more aggressive. I thought they attacked us the entire night, and you know, I’ve always thought the team that is the most aggressive gets the better calls.”

However, the fouls helped the snowball pick up steam. The Celtics rhythm was thrown off and they could not adjust. Gasol was aggressive and outplayed Kevin Garnett, who could not get comfortable. And at times KG looked like his knees still bothered him. A lot. He missed two easy chippies under the basket. He made some horrific passes. The length of the Lakers had him and other Celtics rushing shots.

This is a veteran Celtics team. They got over the anger and frustration pretty quickly — certainly more quickly than their fans will. They know it’s about making a few adjustments then just playing with a lot more energy. They knew what they needed to do.

Because one more game like this one and the Celtics will have plenty to really be angry about.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

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Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

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Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.