NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 5: Lakers problems all stem from their defense, or whatever you call that

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Pierce_leaning.jpgPhil Jackson was wrong after the game. He was doing what he had to do — he needed to build up his team’s confidence, not tear them down — but that doesn’t mean he was accurate. When questioned about the Lakers defense he did not seem all that disappointed.

“They scored 92 points,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the game. “We’ll live with that and we’ll come back and play that game again, regardless of what they shot.”

But Boston scored those points on just 84 possessions. The Celtics had an offensive rating of 109.5 (points per 100 possessions), which is three points a game higher than what they did in the regular season, and six points higher than the Lakers gave up during the season. The Lakers did not play good defense just because the score was low. The Celtics were efficient on offense, which is why they won.

Boston shot 65 percent in the first half. They came out in the third quarter and scored on 12 of their first 13 possessions.

The Celtics were hot, but the Lakers defense let them get that way.

“They were shooting a high percentage but it gets that way when you are shooting layups,” Jackson said.

“Tonight we were not very good on defense at all,” Kobe Bryant said.

Los Angeles let Boston get the shots it wanted from the places on the floor it wanted. Like losing Ray Allen so he is wide open under the basket to catch the pass and lay it in. Boston made those shots, then things snowballed and pretty soon the Celtics could not seem to miss.

The hottest Celtic was Paul Pierce, who had 27 points shooting 57 percent from the floor. But the Celtics got him free by bringing him off pick-and-rolls, which the Lakers switch, then he is able to drive by the other guy and get to the elbow jumper he likes. He hit a couple of those (he had 8 first quarter points), then he got confident, he got isolated on Ron Artest and hit step back shots. Once he gets comfortable, Pierce hits just about everything.

The Lakers help defense was spotty all night. There was the play where Nate Robinson drove off a pick, only to have Lamar Odom take a stab at the ball as the help rather than ride him all the way to the basket and take away the smaller man’s shot. All night long the Lakers did not help the helper.

Los Angeles also was not doing a consistent job getting back in transition —  Boston had 14 points to the Lakers 3.

Los Angeles needs transition points themselves — it is hard to score against the Boston half-court offense, the Lakers need some easy buckets. But you can’t run when you are taking the ball out of the basket.

If the Lakers want to play a Game 7, they will need to get stops in Game 6. They will need to contest shots, push the Celtics off the spots on the floor they like, generally make then uncomfortable. There are other things, too — Boston won seemingly every 50/50 loose ball — but if it doesn’t start with better defense not much else matters.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.