NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Laker mistakes doom their comeback effort

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Game five of the NBA Finals featured a little bit of everything. The Celtic defense stifled every Laker not named Kobe Bryant. Kobe hit impossible shot after impossible shot on his way to a game-high 38 points. The play of Ron Artest was, to put it kindly, erratic. Rajon Rondo sliced through the lane with reckless abandon, converting seven layups and committing seven turnovers in the process. Paul Pierce played like a guy who’s got one Finals MVP trophy on his mantle and wants another. 
Yet even with all of those great players doing what they do best, game five of the NBA Finals ended up being decided by the simplest of plays. The Celtics didn’t play a perfect game, or anything approaching one; their turnovers were the only reason the game was competitive in the first half, and they gave Kobe way too many chances to give the Lakers the lead in the second half. 
If the Celtics hadn’t turned the ball over 16 times or let the Lakers grab 16 offensive rebounds, game five would have likely been a blowout. The bottom line was this: The Celtics shot 56.3% from the field, and could afford to make mistakes. The Lakers shot 39.7%, and could not. The Lakers made mistakes anyways, and now they’re a game away from elimination.
Lakers were flat-out sloppy, and their lack of energy and execution down the stretch gave Boston the game. The Lakers are nearly unstoppable when they run their offense from the inside-out, something they failed to do in Sunday’s game. Andrew Bynum was extremely limited because of his knee injury, but there’s no excuse for Pau Gasol only getting 12 FGAs in 38 minutes of play, especially when six of those 12 shots came when Gasol got an offensive rebound and put a shot back up. For those of you keeping score at home, that means the Laker offense got Pau Gasol got six shots in 38 minutes of play. That’s absurd. 
With the Lakers failing to establish Gasol and the Celtic defense swarming everywhere, the Lakers were never able to run their offense the way they wanted to: they finished with 13 turnovers and only 12 assists, and their only consistent source of offense was Kobe Bryant going one-on-five and making some flat-out ridiculous shots that kept the Lakers in the game. 
Late in the game, it became painfully apparent that the Lakers were making too many mistakes to beat the Celtics in Boston. With six minutes to play, the Lakers had managed to cut the Celtic lead to six, and there were not a lot of easy breaths being drawn in the TD Banknorth Garden. Fortunately for Boston fans, that’s when the Lakers completely unraveled. Kobe tried to force a drive, got stripped by Rondo, and the Lakers gave two points when Ray Allen scooped up the loose ball and found the streaking Rondo over the top for a layup.
A possession later, Derek Fisher’s entry pass to Kobe was tipped away by Ray Allen. Kobe got the ball back and found Fisher at the top of the floor, but Fisher panicked with both teams scrambling and tried to throw an ill-advised entry pass to the paint from the top of the key. That’s something they teach you not to do at the high school level, and Rajon Rondo was there to make the easy steal. Then the Lakers gave up another possession when Kobe’s nonchalant bounce pass got deflected by the Celtics, leading to a jump ball that Kevin Garnett won. The Celtics missed a three on their ensuing possession, but Rondo was there to tip the ball in after the Lakers failed to box him out.
After that, the Laker mistakes kept on coming. Boston grabbed two crucial offensive rebounds in the last three minutes of the game. The Lakers missed four free throws in the final three minutes. The Lakers took 10 seconds to give an intentional foul, and when they finally gave the foul Ray Allen got to shoot free throws anyways. While the Celtics found the confidence to pull off one of the craziest inbounds plays in recent memory to seal the game, the Lakers struggled to complete the most simple of tasks without incident. 
Outside of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers didn’t play the way they needed to play on Sunday night. The energy was not there, and neither was the execution. It was a performance that would get a young, inexperienced team criticized: that a veteran team coached by a Hall-of-Famer went out and played that way in the Finals is downright baffling. Phil and Kobe were both upbeat after the game, because they know the Lakers need confidence more than they need to know the severity of their sins right now. But deep down, Kobe, Phil, and every other Laker know they can’t afford to have another performance like this.
Late in game four, Phil Jackson reminded his team that the Celtics lost more games in the fourth quarter than any other team, and told them that “This team knows how to lose games.” That may be true, but on Sunday night the Lakers were the ones providing all the best examples of how to let an opportunity to steal an NBA Finals game slip away. 

Blake Griffin enjoying resurgence a year after trade to Pistons

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DETROIT (AP) — Blake Griffin doesn’t need to jump over any cars to be a hit in the Motor City.

A year after arriving in Detroit with his career at a crossroads, a more earthbound Griffin is doing all he can to shake the Pistons out of their decade-long malaise.

“He does a little bit of everything for us. Probably one of our better pick-and-roll players, passers, scorers, leader by example, just so many things,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “His basketball intellect, for me, is one that’s been the most impressive of our players. I didn’t know that about Blake, because when you think about him, you think about the high-flying dunker and the muscular guy in the post, but there’s a lot more to that than just his dunking and athleticism.”

A month shy of his 30th birthday, there are fewer above-the-rim highlights but Griffin’s first full season with Detroit has been one of his best. He’s averaging a career-high 26.3 points per game while making strides as a perimeter shooter, and he earned his first All-Star selection since 2015.

Most importantly, he’s been able to stay healthy, and although the Pistons still have a losing record, they’re in the playoff race, largely because of Griffin.

“As a player, you always believe in yourself,” Griffin said. “I knew I had another level to go to, and being healthy was part of that. … But the beginning of the year, my goal isn’t to only make the All-Star team. It’s much more than that.”

In July 2017, Griffin agreed to a $171 million, five-year deal with the Clippers, the team that drafted him with the first overall pick in 2009. Less than a year later, he was abruptly traded – from glitzy Los Angeles to a Detroit franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. It was a risky move for the Pistons, given Griffin’s high salary and the fact that he has only three seasons with more than 67 games played. They gave up a first-round draft pick in the trade, and when they missed the playoffs anyway, that was the end of Stan Van Gundy’s tenure as coach and president of basketball operations.

For Griffin, it was an inauspicious start to the Detroit portion of his career, and there’s been frustration this season as well. The Pistons are 26-30, tied for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference. Even if they do make the playoffs, they don’t look like a team ready to make a run.

But for Griffin individually, the season has been a significant step forward. The man who once pulled off a two-handed dunk while jumping over the front of a car is a bit less of an athletic sensation in Detroit, but the blue-collar elements of his game are still plenty effective. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Griffin can muscle his way to the basket and draw fouls, and he gives the Pistons another tough rebounder alongside Andre Drummond. Griffin is also leading the team in assists.

“I think for me, my job is to make his game as easy as possible on the offensive end. When I get him open, he usually makes the right plays,” Drummond said. “It’s a nightmare for teams. You’ve got to really pick your poison, who you really want to get going, and it’s scary when we both get it going.”

Griffin has expanded his offensive repertoire to include the 3-point shot in recent years. He has already made a career-high 134 3s this season, shooting a credible 37 percent from long distance.

“It helps a lot, especially in today’s NBA, with everybody spacing the floor a little bit more, and playing with a guy like Dre, who’s so effective inside,” Griffin said. “To be able to give him a little bit more space is a good thing. I always see guys working to expand their range, and when you do, you see them add years to their career.”

When Griffin joined the Clippers, he added some legitimacy and excitement to what had been one of the league’s most downtrodden franchises. Now the Pistons are a team that could use some buzz. The results recently have been mixed: Griffin has been terrific, but the team as a whole has remained mediocre.

But Detroit won four of five heading into the All-Star break, and if the Pistons do make the playoffs, they’ll have Griffin to thank.

“He’s thinking the game. He’s a couple steps ahead,” Casey said. “I’ve had a lot of great forwards, power forwards, and he’s right up there with the best, whether it’s Dirk (Nowitzki), (Kevin) Garnett, Detlef Schrempf – just a lot of great players that I’ve been around. He’s right in that category.”

 

Hawks GM: “If we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka (Doncic)”

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It was the Draft day trade that shook the NBA last June.

In a deal made agreed to before the picks were made, the Atlanta Hawks traded Luka Doncic, taken No. 3, to Dallas for Trae Young (taken fifth), and the Hawks got the Mavericks 2019 first-round pick (top five protected). It forever linked Doncic and Young in the minds of fans (fair or not).

Doncic has gone on to become a historically good rookie — averaging 20.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, he is the Mavs best player, is the runaway Rookie of the Year, and is already a star (who fans almost voted into the All-Star Game) — which has led to a lot of criticism for Atlanta in some quarters for not keeping the pick and Doncic. That despite the fact Young has played well after a slow start (20 points per game with 35.9 percent shooting from three in his last 20 games) and the Hawks got another pick in the deal.

On the Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said that the team would have drafted Doncic if they kept the pick (hat tip Real GM).

“Not a lot of people know this…if we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka. We had worked with his agent, he did a physical with us that morning in New York…but then Dallas came in an hour or so before the draft. I told them all along that it would take another lottery pick for us to slide back, and that’s when the conversations got started.”

Interestingly, Schlenk added that the team’s analytics department, projecting into next season, played a big role in the deal getting done.

“Our analytics staff was predicting Dallas to finish 8th this year,” added Schlenk.

As of right now (and before the lottery shakes things up), the Mavericks are projected to pick ninth. If that remains, Dallas has a 20.2 percent chance to jump into the top four with the new lottery odds. Otherwise, the pick will go to Atlanta.

Despite Doncic’s play, it’s too early to fully judge the trade. How good will Young become? How high is Doncic’s ceiling? What happens with the future first-round pick, and who will the Hawks get with it?

For a rebuilding team like the Hawks, a second lottery pick to move back a couple of spots can make sense — so long as the guy your trading doesn’t become a superstar. Doncic may become that. Atlanta was higher on Young than many teams, and he has rewarded that faith of late, but how good will he ultimately be? It’s not quite a Sam Bowie pick, but some fans may ultimately see it that way if Doncic’s star continues to rise. However, as Schlenk explained, there were logical reasons to make the trade.

One last look back: Best dunks of All-Star Weekend (VIDEO)

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Defense? That’s one thing that rarely makes an appearance All-Star weekend.

Combine that with the game’s best athletes and what you get are three days of insane dunks.

The NBA put this together, the best dunks of All-Star weekend in Charlotte. Enjoy.

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: ‘Recruiting process is really going alright…I’m trying’

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LeBron James went out of his way to say he was not recruiting guys on his free-agent heavy All-Star Team.

Bradley Beal had no such hesitation, he tried to recruit guys, as he told Chase Huges of NBC Sports Washington.

“The recruiting process is really going alright. It’s going alright. I’m trying,” Beal said. “This is new for me. I’m definitely getting some ears and seeing what guys are looking for.”

Beal was too smart to name names — that would have brought a fine from the league — but he said some guys asked if he was happy where he was, while other guys he talked to about the possibilities in Washington.

The problem is while the Wizards will have some cap space after trading Otto Porter and Markieff Morris (and assuming they don’t pick up the option on Jabari Parker) but they will be nowhere near the max cap space needed to land the elite free agents at the All-Star Game (Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, etc.). Even the second-tier All-Star free agents such as Khris Middleton will get max offers. Same with players who just missed the game, such as Tobias Harris.

If the Wizards renounce free agents they can get to $9 million in cap space, stretch and waive Ian Mahinmi and they can get to $18 million. That’s the top end. Meaning the Wizards will have room to make moves for good rotation players, but with John Wall‘s supermax extension kicking in at $38 million next season flexibility is limited. Genuine upgrades will be hard to come by.

Predicting what Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld will do next summer is a fool’s errand, but Beal is doing his part to try and bring more talent into Washington.