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.

Terry Rozier on Celtics’ challenge: “Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

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Too many mouths to feed.

Among the many “what is wrong with the Celtics?” theories the idea that there are too many players who want touches and shots had a lot of traction around the league. Last playoffs, then rookie Jayson Tatum, second-year player Jaylen Brown, and “scary” Terry Rozier had increased roles — and thrived. They were the alphas (along with Al Horford), the guys with the ball in their hands leading a team to the conference finals, and they liked it — these are young players trying to carve out a role (or, in Rozier’s case, prove to other team’s he’s a starting point guard) and they didn’t want to take a step back. But that’s what had to happen with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the rotation. The result was a lack of a pecking order on offense, uncomfortable sacrifices, and precious little of the fluid play that got them within a game of the Finals a year ago.

Rozier seems to agree with that theory, speaking to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports in a story about Kyrie Irving’s adjustment to being a leader.

“I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this,” Rozier told Yahoo. “Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it.”

When asked if the roster was too talented, Rozier didn’t back down.

“Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

If everyone buys in, if everyone sacrifices (including Irving), if guys are willing to accept a role, all that talent can make the Celtics versatile and the team everyone expected. The team to beat in the East.

To get there will require Irving to be a leader — in words and actions. That’s more than just calling out the young core, it’s getting them involved and feeling like contributors so they are willing to make sacrifices. It’s doing the little things yourself. Can Irving do all that and turn Boston into the conference favorite we expected.

Or were Nets fans right, he is going to get frustrated and leave this summer?

The second half of this season in Boston is going to be fascinating.

Philadelphia signs Corey Brewer to 10-day contract in effort to add depth

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The Philadelphia 76ers remain a step behind Toronto and Milwaukee — and maybe Boston — in the Eastern Conference, despite adding Jimmy Butler to form a “big three” with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. One issue is getting those three to make sacrifices to their games and meld together. The second big issue is depth: J.J. Redick is their fourth best player, then things drop off a cliff.

Enter veteran Corey Brewer.

For at least 10 days, anyway.

The 76ers signed Brewer to a 10-day contract, the team announced Tuesday.

“For me, I love playing basketball. I just wanted another opportunity,” Brewer told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I feel like I did enough last year that I should be on a team. But sometimes things don’t work out the right way … you can’t look it like that. An opportunity is an opportunity. I get to come here, and I gotta prove myself…

“I’m like a glue guy,” he said. “I do all the little stuff. I play hard, I’m going to run hard, and I feel like the way Ben [Simmons] pushes it, that’s right up my alley.”

Brewer is the king of the leak out and may benefit from some Simmons passes that way.

Brewer split time last season between the Lakers and Thunder, and in OKC he showed he could play a role on the right team and shot 34.3 percent from three. That fit was not evident on the young Lakers, Brewer looked out of place and struggled with his shot, which is likely why he was not able to land a guaranteed contract this past offseason.

This is a 10-day contract, the Sixers can sign him to two of those before having to either let him go or commit to him for the rest of the season. This is likely the first in a series of roster moves over the next few weeks as Elton Brand looks to find the right pieces to go around his big three stars so the team can make a push this offseason.

Warriors, Nuggets battle for first in West

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Playing in big games has become the norm for the Golden State Warriors.

Not so much for the Denver Nuggets.

Tuesday’s matchup between the top two teams in the Western Conference is new territory for Denver. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Nuggets have been rebuilding and retooling, not competing for titles, but they have arrived this year and are challenging to be the best team in the Western Conference.

The winner of Tuesday’s game in Denver will sit atop the conference standings. Denver (29-13) has been up there for a while now, but the Warriors (29-14) might yet find another gear in the second half of the season as they pursue a third consecutive NBA championship.

They are about to get a new, big piece when DeMarcus Cousins returns this week.

The center, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, tore his Achilles almost a year ago. His season debut is projected to come on Friday at the Los Angeles Clippers. Golden State is expecting it will take time for Cousins to get fully immersed and integrated into the offense.

“We’re excited, but it’s a little daunting, too,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not going to be simple just to plug him in. There’s going to be an adjustment period. He knows that, but it’s a fun challenge.”

The Nuggets have a big enough task stopping Golden State’s other stars. Guard Steph Curry, a two-time league MVP, hit 11 3-pointers in a 48-point effort to beat Dallas on Sunday, and then there’s Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to worry about.

And the Warriors have a revenge factor to use. The Nuggets beat them 100-98 in Denver on Oct. 21 when Juancho Hernangomez blocked Damian Jones‘ layup at the buzzer.

The Nuggets have been playing at a high level lately, especially at home, where they are 18-3 and have won their last 12. The latest was a grind-it-out 116-113 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, which might have been a perfect tune-up for the Warriors.

Denver has its own star power in center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray. Jokic, averaging team-highs with 19.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, had consecutive triple-doubles last week and then clocked in with 40 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Portland.

With or without Cousins, Golden State will have a tough time handling the Serbian. But the Warriors are best when they force teams to adjust to them, and they come at teams from different angles. One night it could be Curry, the next Durant. When tuned in, Golden State is hard to beat.

The Nuggets are ready for the challenge after getting everyone’s best this season.

“As teams give us their best shot because we’re No. 1 in the West right now, everybody gives the Warriors their best shot,” said Murray, who is averaging 18.5 points. “We just know we have the home court, and we beat them last time here.”

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the MVP race, other NBA mid-season awards

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Patience is not the NBA community’s strong suit — we were talking MVP race the first week of the season.

Now, however, it’s time. Teams are more than halfway through the season and we have seen enough games, we have enough data to start discussing who is the frontrunners for all of the league’s end-of-season awards.

Is it James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP?

Can anyone challenge Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year?

It’s a deep field for Coach of the Year, but is Mike Budenholzer the front-runner and can Doc Rivers, Dave Joerger or someone else catch him?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports talk about their picks at this point of the season and who is in the running long term.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

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