Celtics Lakers: Choose your own finish as Celtics out-draw Lakers late

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The talk this week was all about clutch. And in the closing minutes, the Celtics were a clutch beast of unstoppable force, coming together for the most cohesive showing in a big game setting they’ve shown this season, right when they needed it most, at the same time as the Lakers came unraveled, possession by possession.

Kobe Bryant’s brilliant fourth quarter in a phenomenal game led him to cutting the Celtics’ lead to four with 5:20 remaining in the game. He had absolutely daggered the Celtics down the stretch with one tough jumper after another. But after the 5:20 mark, here were the subsequent Lakers possessions.

  • 4:41 Kobe Bryant misses 19-foot jumper
  • 4:09 Kobe Byrant misses 8-foot shot
  • 3:47 Kobe Bryant makes 15-foot jumper
  • 3:19 Kobe Bryant misses 21-foot jumper
  • 2:55 Kobe Bryant offensive foul-charge
  • 2:25 Kobe Bryant makes 12-foot jumper
  • 1:46 Kobe Bryant misses 4-foot shot
  • 1:44 Pau Gasol misses tip-shot
  • 1:16 Steve Blake turnover (bad pass)

In that span of time, the Celtics scored on six of their eight possessions. Game. Four-point lead to fourteen-point lead just like that. So your options for deducing the reasons why the Celtics won the game boil down to three solutions. This is like the choose your own adventure game only at the end of it Kevin Garnett makes an Osama Bin Laden joke. Here are your choices:

  1. Kobe Bryant’s obsessive domineering of the offense completely took the rest of the Lakers out of the offensive flow, eliminating any possibility of getting quality shots and he was unable to deliver on all those shots. Doom.
  2. Bryant’s teammates utterly failed him in presenting themselves throughout the course of the day, leaving Bryant no option but to try and execute the offense on his own, leading to poor shots, misses, and a ballooning deficit.
  3. The Lakers didn’t play a lick of defense down the stretch and if you don’t play defense and the other team scores on 75% of their possessions, you’re probably screwed.

Let’s explore!

1. Kobe Bryant’s obsessive domineering of the offense completely took the rest of the Lakers out of the offensive flow, eliminating any possibility of getting quality shots and he was unable to deliver on all those shots. Doom.

Well, the rest of the Lakers’ starters shot 10-35 from the field. Lamar Odom was 6-8, but, well, it’s Lamar Odom. You never know when he’ll disappear. Bryant was in a pickle, trying to will his team to victory while the rest of the offense kind of sat around and moped like Charlie Brown. Bryant scored 41 points on 29 shots, and for most of the day was brilliant. He had the entire range of offense going, from the mid-range to the perimeter to the layup. He was slicing and dicing and for most of the game, so to focus on his 2-for-6, 1-turnover close is to ignore the fact that the rest of the offense left him with no choice. Bryant did everything he could to try and keep the Lakers in it and at some point, someone else on the Lakers needs to make a play. To fault him is to ignore how terrible the rest of the Lakers were and is typical of the kind of criticism Bryant receives. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Phil said post-game:

“I didn’t think anybody else wanted the ball. We did run a couple other plays to get guys into position, but I thought those times he had the best opportunities when other people were moving to the ball. But, a lot of times it didn’t look like we were running anything out there offensively,” Phil Jackson said. Of the offense down the stretch, Jackson wasn’t much more complimentary of the supporting crew. “I think they backed off. I think they wanted to let Kobe- he seemed to be the guy that had the hot hand. They wanted to just give him a lot of space instead of just our offense flowing into what we do.”

via Celtics 109, Lakers 96 — At the buzzer – Los Angeles Lakers Blog – ESPN Los Angeles.

2. Bryant’s teammates utterly failed him in presenting themselves throughout the course of the day, leaving Bryant no option but to try and execute the offense on his own, leading to poor shots, misses, and a ballooning deficit.

Well, it’s certainly true that the Lakers’ starters didn’t play well or shoot well on offense today, but how many opportunities did they really have? According to Synergy Sports, Bryant went into an ISO set 19 times today. By comparison, the Celtics went into ISO 5 times. Nineteen possessions ended in a Kobe Bryant ISO set. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers had 24 possessions. Ten of them were Kobe Bryant ISO sets. 42% of the time in the fourth quarter, it was Kobe Bryant one-on-one. No wonder he ran out of gas. At some point, Bryant has to take responsibility for getting the entire offense in gear. Even if it’s just creating ball movement to create space for himself, there’s got to be more than just ISO situation after ISO situation, particularly if the dribble-drive jumper stops falling. But there was none of that. But was that the real problem?

3. The Lakers didn’t play a lick of defense down the stretch and if you don’t play defense and the other team scores on 75% of their possessions, you’re probably screwed.

That’s more like it. The Celtics absolutely drilled the Lakers with efficient passing late. You can ponder the merits of an overworked Kobe or an ineffective supporting cast till you’re blue in the face but what can’t be denied is that run of possessions that closed the game for Boston. Your offense doesn’t have to be clicking at a high level to win that game down four with five minutes left, but you can’t be a defensive sieve for the rest of it. Rajon Rondo (who out-assisted the entire Lakers team 16-10) got out in transition constantly, forced the issue, and in the end, found open looks time after time, including an alley-oop to KG with Gasol and Bynum trailing. Kevin Garnett out-ran every defender to the bucket. That, right there is why the Lakers lost.

For the Celtics, it was a big win that brought them that much closer to homecourt advantage.  Ball movement, intensity, defense, rebounding, the works. A hostile environment and they walked away with the win. It won’t take away the sting of the Game 7 loss, but it’s a step in the right direction. The Celtics have now beaten the Lakers, Orlando, and Miami this season. And the hits just keep on coming.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.