NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Rondo shut down in game one

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With 8:45 remaining in the very first quarter of game one, the Celtics looked to set up their half-court offense after Ron Artest made a jumper. The Celtics brought the ball up and gave it to Kevin Garnett on the wing, who swung a two-hand pass to Rajon Rondo on the other side of the perimeter. 
It was a simple pass early in the shot clock, the type of thing an offense does before they actually get down to the business of trying to put the ball in the basket. 99% of the time, that pass gets to Rondo without incident. That wasn’t the case with this pass. Before the ball got to Rondo, Kobe Bryant jumped into the passing lane and deflected the ball, forcing Rondo to jump in order to attempt to make the catch. 
Rondo failed to get a handle on the ball, tried desperately to save it, and ended up putting the ball directly into the hands of Ron Artest. Artest started a sloppy three-on-two break that ended in nothing but a missed layup, an offensive rebound, and a foul on the floor. In fact, the Lakers didn’t even get a basket on the ensuing possession. 
Nonetheless, a message had been sent. The Lakers were not going to give the Celtics anything free, even a pass out on the perimeter early in the shot clock. They were going to beat them to every loose ball, run at every opportunity, and keep the pressure on Rondo and the Celtics at all times. In short, they did to the Celtics in game one what Rondo did to the Cavaliers and Magic in the previous two rounds of the playoffs. 
As a player, Rajon Rondo gets his individual numbers by preying on the mistakes of his opponents. Every time one of his opponents fails to locate a loose ball or rebound, Rondo is there to grab it. Every time the other team doesn’t have enough players back on defense, Rondo is going to push the ball. Every time the Lakers help off of Rondo too much, he’s going to cut into the open space. When there’s a lazy pass, Rondo is going to snatch it and start streaking towards the hoop. 
As a team, the Celtics pulled off two consecutive playoff upsets because they were the ones controlling the chaos. They pushed the pace, they forced turnovers, they got the early leads, they made teams too nervous to trust their role players and loaded up on their superstars. They didn’t just beat teams; they made them miserable while they were doing it. 
On Thursday night, the Celtics got a taste of their own medicine. The Lakers played a high-energy, low-risk, mistake-free game, and they forced Rondo and the rest of the Celtics out of their comfort zone. Without a supply of mistakes to feed off of, Rondo was thrown to the Lakers’ half-court defense and left to starve. Rondo loves to grab long rebounds and start the break; the Lakers only missed six three-pointers all game, and 72 of their 102 points came on points in the paint or free throws. When the Celtics did get the ball in a possible transition situation, the Laker bigs sprinted back to seal off the paint. Thanks to all of those factors, the Celtics only managed five fast-break points in game one. 
With the Lakers failing to give Rondo any opportunities to run, he was forced to try and score points against the Lakers’ half-court defense. Things did not work out well for him. Rondo went 6-14 from the field, which isn’t good news for Celtics fans. The worse news is that Rondo went 6-14 while making three of his five shots from outside the paint. 
When Rondo tried to drive, the Lakers were waiting for him. His behind-the-back fakes drew no reaction. His reverses didn’t stop his layups from getting turned away. When he looked to drive and dish, the Lakers anticipated the pass. When he looked to go all the way to the basket, a Laker defender was there to draw the charge. Everyone knows Rondo has some very significant weaknesses; the Lakers were finally able to exploit them. 
For game two, the Celtics need to do a better job of stopping the Lakers from living in the paint and start forcing them into making some mistakes so Rondo can get the team running. In the half-court, Rondo has to find a way to get some points, whether it means getting more creative with his floaters in the paint or taking a deep breath and trying to draw contact. Rondo and the Celtics have a lot of adjustments to make before game two; if they have another performance like this, they’re going to need three straight wins in Boston to stay competitive in this series. 

Ostensibly on bench, Markieff Morris steps onto court and tugs Seth Curry’s shorts during play (video)

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Markieff Morris (28 points and nine rebounds) came up big in the Wizards’ overtime win over the Trail Blazers last night.

He didn’t even need to be in the game to help Washington stop Portland on the final possession of regulation.

CJ Fogler:

There should be no place for that. None. Games should be decided by the 10 players on the court. Anyone not in the game should do nothing to encroach on the space of players in the game. Stepping over the sideline is an egregious violation. Touching a player or his uniform is beyond outrageous.

The NBA has occasionally fined coaches (including former Wizards assistant Sidney Lowe) and players, but the league hasn’t gone far enough. This type of conduct, though usually not this flagrant, occurs far too often. It’s past time to crack down. Fines, suspensions, whatever it takes to ensure this stops.

After years of neglecting to deter these antics, the NBA shouldn’t put all the weight of the problem on Morris. Fine him what has been the standard amount, but make clear to everyone this was the last straw before more severe penalties.

Morris’ shorts tug might have decided the game. We’ll never know whether that would have been the difference between the Trail Blazers scoring on the possession or not. Probably not. Damian Lillard missed on a drive, but maybe he would kicked to Seth Curry if Curry weren’t flailing his arms, exasperated by Morris contact. Or maybe Otto Porter would have stuck just a little closer to Curry without “help” defense from Morris, leaving more room for Lillard.

But it’s only a matter of time until the NBA has a more controversial ending involving someone on the bench getting involved in the play.

Check out Maurice Harkless’ Tyrone Biggums of the “Chapelle’s Show” Halloween costume

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The Trail Blazers were celebrating Halloween a little early this year, wearing their costumes to the arena Monday night.

Damian Lillard went with Stone Cold.

But nobody topped Maurice Harkless’ Tyrone Biggums costume. Brilliant.

 

There were other creative players, too.

Portland has set the bar high this year.

Three Things to Know: Boston’s offense lacks any magic in loss to Orlando

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Bad loss for Boston: Offense stumbles again and Celtics fall to Magic. I get it, we’re just four games into the NBA season and the Celtics are still adjusting to having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the rotation. This early the defense isn’t expected to be at its switching peak yet. Everything is a work in progress and it’s far too early to even get nervous.

But the Celtics were manhandled down the stretch by the Raptors. Then Boston almost lost to an unimpressive Knicks team.

Now comes a home loss to Orlando. That is a bad loss. Boston is simply not playing well right now.

Following an unimpressive preseason, the Celtics are 2-2 to open the season after a 93-90 loss to the punchless Magic Monday. While Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin were able to get in the paint and kick out, and Nikola Vucevic had 24 and 12, it wasn’t the Magic offense torching the Celtics defense that was the biggest problem on the night. Once again, Boston’s offense looked out of sync, as evidenced by them shooting 7-of-20 in the first quarter or going 9-of-40 from three (22.5 percent). When the long Magic defenders stopped the Celtics’ initial actions, Boston players were not making passes that started good actions elsewhere, they just looked stagnant.

Meanwhile, the Magic had their young star, Jonathan Isaac, making plays.

The Celtics’ offensive chemistry is a work in progress — they will get there, this team will be elite, but it’s going to take a lot longer than expected. Everybody thought this would be more plug-and-play, that everything would come together quickly for the Celtics with their stars back. Things seemed to come more easily last season, it’s not that way this time around. This time, Brad Stevens and crew have a lot more work to do.

It’s just four games, the Celtics have the talent and plenty of time to get it all together. But this is not the start their fans envisioned.

2) Laker defense gets them in trouble, Spurs’ Patty Mills puts the nail in the coffin. Lakers remain winless. If you want highlights, this game had plenty. There was clutch LeBron forcing overtime.

Then, capping off a dramatic comeback where the Spurs scored the final seven points of the game in the final :55 seconds, Spurs veteran Patty Mills drained his game-winning attempt.

However, he did it so fast LeBron had one more shot to win it all, he got to his spot and…

The Spurs win, 143-142 in overtime.

Get past the highlights, and LeBron’s Lakers remain winless because of the same things that have plagued them through the first two games. The Lakers do not defend well at all (the Spurs scored 125.7 points per 100 possessions, and the Lakers are bottom six in the league in defense through three games). While the Lakers’ offense is great in transition, slow them down and they are very inconsistent (and searching for consistent shooting from three). Bottom line, if the Lakers get stops and can run they are impressive, but they don’t get enough of those, and then things are a roller coaster.

It’s just three games, but for a Laker team expecting to make the playoffs in a deep West, they need to start winning sooner rather than later.

3) Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris secure Wizards win a wild overtime game in Portland. Two of the best backcourts in the NBA — Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for Portland, John Wall and Bradley Beal for Washington — faced off on Monday night, and the star was…

Markieff Morris?

Yes. Markieff Morris. He had 28 points and nine rebounds, including making key plays in a 125-124 overtime win for the Wizards. Damian Lillard was hitting clutch shots too, but with everything on the lin late Otto Porter rejected Lillard near the rim.

Rather than reading a description, just watch the highlights of the end of regulation and overtime, and enjoy.

Poor defense, Patty Mills game-winner keep LeBron James, Lakers winless

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LOS ANGELES — This loss stung. More than the first two. Because the win was in LeBron James‘ hands and…

The Lakers are 0-3 to start the season.

For much of the first 47 minutes Monday night, the Spurs out-executed the Lakers and exposed their porous defense. The Lakers ran enough, and got hot from three for a stretch, to keep themselves close, but then a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper had the Spurs up 128-120 with 1:10 left in regulation. Frustrated fans headed for the exits. The game looked over.

Then a JaVale McGee dunk and a Kyle Kuzma three (he had 37 points on the night) set up LeBron James forcing overtime in a classic LeBron fashion.

Overtime was the reverse of regulation — it was the young Lakers’ turn to make plays and dominate. A LeBron James driving and-1 had the Lakers up by six, 142-136, with just :55 seconds left. LeBron was on the doorstep of his first win as a Laker… then Bryn Forbes hit a driving layup, and after a Kuzma miss the Lakers gave up the one thing they couldn’t — a three. To Rudy Gay. Uncontested in any meaningful way. That made it a one-point game with 12 seconds left. LeBron was fouled instantly on the inbound pass but then missed two straight free throws, setting up Patty Mills for the heroics.

LeBron had one last chance to get his first win as a Laker… and nothing.

“I got to my spot, I got the shot I wanted, it just didn’t go down,” LeBron said.

For the third game in a row another team executed better than the Lakers when it mattered most, this time it was the Spurs, who pick up a 143-142 win. LeBron and the Lakers fall to 0-3 to start the season.

It was always going to be a process for these Lakers, but it’s going to take longer than fans and most pundits expected.

The same problems from the first two games remained for the Lakers — on defense they allowed 125.7 points per 100 possessions (it’s very early, but the Lakers are bottom six in defense so far). They struggled to slow LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points on 22 shots) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points), which happens to a lot of teams, but Laker defenders lost guys on back cuts and struggled with the Spurs ball movement. Los Angeles gives up too many easy buckets and fouls too much. Offensively the Lakers were impressive in transition and got their buckets in the paint (74 points), but shot 4-of-10 between the paint and the arc, and were 9-of-32 on above-the-break threes (L.A. hit 5-of-7 from the corners, a definite improvement).

“We’re going to continue to get better. I like the direction we’re going it,” LeBron said. “Obviously, we don’t have too many wins right now, but it’s such a long process. We had our chances…

“We want to defend, we know that’s going to be our staple. We know we’re going to defend. When we defend and rebound, we’re very good, we’re just trying to figure out how to defend without fouling.”

It was a game all about pace (which ties to the Laker defense). In the first quarter Spurs put up 40 points and shot 72.7 percent, and with that made the Lakers take the ball out of the basket time after time. Los Angeles couldn’t run and trailed by as many as 16 in the quarter. In the second quarter the Spurs shots didn’t fall, and the Lakers were off and running getting 34 points. For the game, the Lakers had 41 fast break points.

It just wasn’t enough.

Lakers’ coach Luke Walton earned himself a fine after the game with his frustration with the referees, something that has been a running theme with the Lakers for a couple of games now.

“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.”

We’ll see if Walton gets his money’s worth with that rant when we see the calls Los Angeles gets in Phoenix on Wednesday.