NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 2: The Celtics will play like themselves, but is that enough?

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Garnett_jumper.jpgAll that time spent in Boston practices working on the triangle sets, and the Lakers destroyed the Celtics vaunted defense with the old-fashioned pick-and-roll in Game 1.

What people forget is that this happened some in 2008 — the Lakers had maybe their best offensive success with the pick-and-roll. But as Darius of Forum Blue& Gold reminded me in an email the Celtics had a counter move: James Posey. The differences in personnel will force much different adjustments this time around, and it may not be enough.

The Celtics will make adjustments — starting with their energy level and physicality in Game 2. They have to. Everything for the Celtics flows out of their defense, and against the Lakers in particular they need to get stops, rebounds and get Rajon Rondo out and running for some easy transition baskets.

To do that, they have to stop the pick and roll.

The Lakers had Andrew Bynum come out and set the high pick and Kobe Bryant as the ball handler. All too often Kobe was allowed to turn the corner with little or no resistance and he went driving into the paint, which broke down the Celtics defense. Kevin Garnett would step out to help on Bryant and that left Pau Gasol free to get rebounds.

So the Celtics started try and trap Kobe coming off the pick with Kendrick Perkins and Ray Allen, to get the ball out of Kobe’s hands. Then Gasol would flash to the high post area and Kobe would get him the ball. Then Garnett was screwed. He had two responsibilities: Stop Gasol’s 17-foot jumper (which he can and did hit) and cover Bynum rolling to the hoop. Garnett is a great defender, but he cannot be in two places at once. That is where you saw that nifty Lakers interior passing tearing up the Celtics.

Again, this happened some in 2008, but things were different. Gasol was setting the picks for the Lakers, not the injured Bynum, and Odom was the guy flashing to the high post. Back then the Celtics could counter with James Posey, who could body Odom and give him trouble. The Celtics also put Paul Pierce on Kobe because they were not afraid of the Lakers small forward. Pierce did a good job in the Kobe-stopper role. The Celtics could go with a small lineup — KG at the center spot — and had a lot of success with that.

This time around, it’s not that easy. No James Posey, for one. Second, the Celtics run a real risk going small because Phil Jackson will not adjust — he will try to pound the Celtics with his front line. Ask Phoenix and Utah about that. Also, putting Pierce on Kobe now means Ray Allen trying to guard Ron Artest, and Ron-Ron is too big and strong for Allen, the Lakers could post that up all day.

Look for Boston to use some of the Phoenix defensive strategy. Not the zone, but the idea of packing the paint a little more and making the Lakers jump shooters. Even if that means giving up a little of the aggression out on the wings the Celtics like to use to throw teams off. The Celtics cannot let the Lakers once again get into the heart of their defense off the dribble or pass. Nobody is stopping the Lakers front line if they get to shoot 8 footers all night.

Expect to see the physical Celtics, expect to see the Celtics front line that pushes and believes the paint is its home to protect. The Lakers will counter and they still have weapons — Lamar Odom was almost non-existent in Game 1, but he could explode at any time. And these Lakers will push back — as a reminder Jackson has been splicing scenes from “Inglorious Bastards” into the Lakers game film. A movie about guys who took no prisoners.

The style and pace of this game will be more to the Celtics liking. The question is, will that be enough? With this Lakers roster, it may not be.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.