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.)

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.