NBA finals Lakers Celtics Game 5: Kobe Bryant hit lightspeed and left the Lakers behind

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bryantsad.jpgKobe Bryant’s third quarter was transcendent. It was simply brilliant individual basketball. He nailed a series of shots that literally, only he can make. He was incredible in turning low percentage shots into conversions time and time again. One handed runners falling out of bounds? Terrific. A near 28 foot three? Money. It was as fine an individual shooting performance as you will ever see in the NBA.

And it sunk his team.

After a series of manageable possessions kept the Boston lead to six at the half, the Celtics picked up where they left off. All five Celtics’ starters had buckets within the first four minutes, distributing the ball and creating easy looks against a suddenly apoplectic Lakers’ defense.

And the Lakers’ offense? It went into “Watch-Kobe” mode. And stayed there.

Beyond Bryant’s 7-9 shooting, here’s the entirety of the Lakers’ offense in the 3rd..

During the first six minutes of the game, as Kobe unleashed the barrage:

11:19 Kevin Garnett blocks Pau Gasol layup

After Kobe cooled to reload:

4:54 Kevin Garnett blocks Pau Gasol lauyup
2:49 Derek Fisher misses 21-foot jumper
2:15 Pau Gasol makes driving layup
1:25 Tony Allen blocks Pau Gasol layup (are you sensing a theme here?)
:53 Rajon Rondo blocks Jordan Farmar layup
:44 Sasha Vujacic makes 22-foot jumper
:04 Lamar Odom misses 3-foot jumper
:01 Pau Gasol makes layup

That’s 3 of 9 for the quarter for every player outside of #24. So during Kobe’s run, the Lakers had exactly one field goal from non-Kobe personnel, and that was before Bryant really started (his first field goal in the 3rd was at the 10:42 mark). Afterwards, 3 of 8 from the floor and they never really recovered from that. Non-Kobe personnel went 5-11 in the 4th quarter, a much better mark but not nearly good enough to overcome the Celtics’ offensive juggernaut (with the way the Lakers were playing defense especially).

There’s reasonable job (if it weren’t for the blown free throws), but the damage was already done and the Lakers’ offense never really hit its stride.

There’s precedent for this. In 2006, Kobe went ballistic on the Suns, only to find himself outgunned. Then, just like now, people blamed his teammates for not being good enough to get Bryant’s glowing performance to the promised land. But we know this Lakers team is good enough to win a title. See: 2009. But that version of Bryant was facilitating, rebounding, getting his teammates involved, working in the flow of the offense.

Tonight, instead, Bryant opted for ISO sets and reaction jumpers, taking any opening, or really, any opportunity, even if guarded. The catch and shoot three? A last second desperation after Ron Artest Crazy Pills’d his way around the perimeter and through the lane for 12 seconds.

So are we to blame Bryant for this? For submarining the Lakers’ offense and dropping them into an inefficient ditch, left for dead?

Of course not.

Kobe did what he does best. Score. Played with passion and pride. And had the Lakers set created open looks for other players, he likely would have given them the opportunity to succeed. But at the same time, Bryant’s teammates will get undue criticism. They ran the plays as asked, functioned as performed.

But Phil Jackson? Phil Jackson had a hand in this. At no point did he stop to ask “Hey, I have a highly inconsistent team that tends to fade considerably when not involved. Maybe I should get Bryant to start facilitating and not just gunning, to spread the bullets out a little bit, you think?” He instead just let the team go into “Watch Kobe” mode and suffered the consequences. The defensive lapses can be pinned on effort and awareness. Pau Gasol getting punked like a ballerina in rollerball can be pinned on the big guy.

But letting the Laker offense, which has such potential, go down the tubes behind a flash of Kobe’s brilliance that was sure to let up eventually against the Boston defense (and with Bryant considerably older than he was when he was dropping 81)? That’s on coaching, and another in a long line of adjustments Phil Jackson has failed to make in this series.

Oh, and by the way. Not to say we told you so… but we told you so. (We totally meant to tell you so.)

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?

Kyle Kuzma scores on own basket in Team USA-Australia game (video)

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The Lakers are desperate at center. They might even need Kyle Kuzma to play the position. He’ll have to work on, among other things, rebounding.

At least it usually won’t go as poorly as this play in Team USA’s exhibition win over Australia.

Rockets betting on talent of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, everything else be damned

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There is a tried-and-true method for winning an NBA championship: Get two recent MVPs. It has worked every time.

The Celtics paired Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Won a title.

The 76ers paired Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Won a title.

The Warriors paired Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Won a title.

By acquiring 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to join 2018 MVP James Harden, the Rockets are testing the limits of this plan.

Houston upgraded from Chris Paul to Westbrook in its trade with the Thunder. There’s certainly logic to that. Harden is in his prime, so this is the time to push in. It’s almost impossible to win a championship without stars. Stars are also hard to come by. Sometimes, you must just get whichever stars you can and hope for the best.

But Westbrook came at a significant cost.

Houston had to send Oklahoma City top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025. By the time most of those picks convey, the Rockets could be far worse.

The trade is salary neutral for the next three seasons, which partially explains why Houston gave up so much. Most teams would require a sweetener for taking Paul’s contract. But Westbrook’s contract runs a season longer, and the Rockets will owe him $47,063,478 at age 34.

There will be diminishing returns with Harden and Westbrook, two ball-dominant guards. They have the talent to figure it out offensively, though it will require major adjustments to how they’ve played lately. The defensive concerns are far bigger. Both players have frequent lapses on that end.

Westbrook, 30, has also declined the last few years. He remains quite good. But the way he relies on his athleticism, he could fall rapidly.

Based on name recognition on both sides, this is the most monumental trade in NBA history. In Houston, it will likely define the rest of Harden’s prime then – with those picks outgoing – the Rockets’ next phase.

Beyond that, Houston did well to build depth on a budget. The Rockets re-signed Danuel House (three years, $11,151,000 million), Austin Rivers (1+1, minimum) and Gerald Green (one year, minimum) and signed Tyson Chandler (one year, minimum). Most of the mid-level exception remains unused with the free-agent market largely dried up. But hey, luxury tax. Houston could still re-sign Iman Shumpert through Bird Rights.

The Rockets look pretty similar to last year – except Westbrook replacing Paul. That’s the enormous move.

I’m not even sure it will help next year, though. Houston could’ve kept Paul and fit squarely into a wide-open championship race. At least on paper.

The big unknown: How toxic was the relationship between Harden and Paul? Several Rockets denied a problem, but there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Westbrook is better than Paul. The two stars will likely get along better.

But will Westbrook add enough value to justify the high cost? All those draft considerations could have gone toward addressing other needs. Really, just needs. Houston didn’t need another ball-dominant guard one bit.

I support the Rockets prioritizing the present. Westbrook could propel them to a championship.

But given the fit concerns, the cost was too steep for my liking.

Offseason grade: C-