Gasol, Bryant end Lakers’ losing streak, spoil Paul’s return to the court

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The Los Angeles Clippers held the lead over the Lakers for most of the game on Wednesday night, but were unable to put the game away at any point, and ended up succumbing to the Lakers because of Pau Gasol’s aggressive play and yet another late-game takeover by a Mr. Kobe Bryant.

The Clippers got off to a hot start against the Lakers, and they might have gone into halftime with a double-digit lead if it weren’t for Pau Gasol’s excellent play. Gasol absolutely eviscerated the Clippers’ interior defense by making contested shots in the post, aggressive drives to the rim, attacking the offensive glass and swishing jumpers from both short and mid-range. Gasol came into Wednesday night’s game averaging just over 15 points a game — by halftime, he already had 17 points on 7-9 shooting.

After the game, Mike Brown, who mentioned both before and after the game that he had stopped a prior day’s practice to hug Gasol after he made an aggressive rim-run and get post position in transition, expressed how pleased he was with Gasol’s play, saying “he was impressive the whole night, whether he got the ball in the high or low post. We like to move him around; he’s a versatile guy, he’s a guy that doesn’t need to post all the time, he can face up and shoot jumpers, he can face up and take you off the dribble, he can pass the ball out of the post and you saw that all tonight. His aggressiveness was phenomenal.”

Gasol’s defense on Blake Griffin was also excellent — Griffin scored 4 of his first 5 baskets on 3 turnaround jumpers from the post and a spot-up jumper from midrange, but after Gasol allowed one dunk by biting on a Griffin shot-fake, he stayed grounded and refused to bite on any of Griffin’s shot-fakes, which allowed him to use his size advantage to bottle him up. Griffin finished with 26 points, but he didn’t make a free throw all game, needed 22 field goal attempts to get his points, and shot an abnormally good 6-10 on shots outside of the paint, so all in all Mike Brown has to have been pleased with the job he did on the Clippers’ superstar power forward.

While Gasol’s play kept the Lakers within striking distance for most of the game, it was, unsurprisingly, Kobe Bryant that triggered the run that ultimately gave the Lakers the win in the fourth quarter. Bryant made three fourth-quarter jumpers to put the Lakers up by one point with five minutes remaining, then pulled down a crucial offensive rebound minutes later and dished the ball to a wide-open Metta World Peace, who calmly swished the open three to give the Lakers a five-point lead and control of the game. With the Lakers up 2 with 40 seconds to play, Bryant lofted a perfect lob pass to Andrew Bynum, who made the catch, came down, and softly laid the ball in to officially put the game out of reach for Del Negro’s Clippers, whose late-game execution was absolutely miserable — on a key possession, a Clipper play out of a time-out resulted in Blake Griffin shooting a three, which he missed while getting called for stepping out of bounds.

While Chris Paul managed to dish out 12 assists in his 1st game back from a hamstring injury, he looked tentative on offense, and finished with only four points on 2-8 shooting from the field — in fact, Laker rookie guard Andrew Goudelock, who had a breakout 14-point performance, managed to handily outscore one of the best scoring point guards in the league. After the game, Mike Brown was glad that the Lakers made Paul “work for his shots” and noted that the Laker bigs did a very good job of getting up the floor on pick-and-rolls and not allowing Paul to have too much space to operate, which led to him having to go through two or more Laker defenders on each possession.

It was a chippy game, with a flagrant foul, six combined technical fouls, one ejection, and lots and lots of trash-talking between the two teams, but after the game neither the players or the coaches seemed to have an issue with the “chippiness” of the game, although nobody seemed eager to admit that the Lakers and Clippers are now rivals, either. The Clippers certainly played with intensity under the rim, but they were unable to make that intensity work for them — they finished the game with 15 fewer made free throws than the Lakers, and while they did a great job of grabbing offensive rebounds, they shot only 4-15 on 2nd-chance opportunities, something Mike Brown was very pleased about after the game.

Overall, it was a hard-fought game, and it looks like a fun new rivalry is brewing in the City of Angels, even if nobody will admit it. The Clippers have shown all season that they’re not just LA’s “other team” anymore, and continued to show it in the first three and a half quarters of Wednesday’s game, but when it was all said and done they simply didn’t have enough to hold off an apparently rejuvenated Gasol and a vintage close-out performance from a five-time NBA champion.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.