Lakers get huge double overtime win over Thunder…. without Harden

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The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday, 112-106.

In five years, that’s all that will remain from this game, in searched box scores. Those are the facts. But what happened is such a bigger story.

I’ve been sitting here struggling to find a way to accurately portray this game. Can you deny that the Lakers played a fantastic round of basketball down the stretch, with Kobe Bryant putting in a virtuoso performance even for him? You can’t. Can you ignore the fact that the Lakers not only took out the Thunder’s third best player, but a player who specifically would have helped the Thunder hold on to an 18 point lead late in the game by not committing turnovers and creating offense, as is his role? You can’t. Can you ignore the work of Jordan Hill? You can’t. Can you ignore that MWP’s actions handicapped the Thunder and the Lakers still needed double-overtime, a terrible night from Durant, and an “Oh My God”-awful night from Westbrook to survive? You can’t.

It’s all these things. This is the NBA. It’s complicated, it’s dramatic, and it’s intense. It’s playoff season.

Ron Artest’s elbow to the head of James Harden was part of why the Lakers won. It wasn’t the entirety. Let’s do bullet-points, because honestly, my brain’s fried from that thriller.

  • Again, Kobe Bryant played one of his best games of the season. He went into hero mode, to be certain. There were bad shots. But for the most part, he worked Thabo Sefolosha down and cranked it over him at the elbow or wing. They weren’t hoist-em-up 40-footers. He also posted and re-posted Gasol and found Steve Blake. He shut down Russell Westbrook by forcing him to the worst spots on the floor. When Bryant plays like that, the Lakers are nearly unstoppable.
  • James Harden’s primary contributions are running an efficient offense and thereby limiting turnovers, creating open looks, and being able to score. Down the stretch, the Thunder needed cohesive offense and a few more scores to win in regulation, or overtime. Or double overtime. Harden wouldn’t have stopped Kobe Bryant. A nuclear weapon wasn’t stopping Kobe Bryant Sunday. But he might have given the Thunder a lift in their biggest area of concern, offense.
  • Jordan Hill’s performance speaks volumes. His rebound rate was exceptional. He gave the effort the Lakes needed and did not get from Andrew Bynum. Hill was a toss-in for the Fisher trade and yet made a massive contribution in a key game for the Lakers.
  • Pau Gasol’s mid-range game was highly effective over Serge Ibaka, while attempts to go inside failed.
  • Kevin Durant was off today. He got good looks, took some bad shots, but like Kobe, they’re shots he can hit. 11-34 from the field, the most shots he has ever taken.
  • Russell Westbrook was also off. Bryant did a great job on him defensively, but the pull-up jumpers off the pick and roll are a shot that he’s going to hit at a higher clip than 3-22. The Thunder could have really used another option down the stretch. Like a talented shooting guard who can run an offense, score, distribute, and make plays. Someone with a beard who… oh, right.
  • Steve Blake was massive for the Lakers. When he hits those corner threes, the Lakers’ offense is a different animal.

So to review: The Lakers got a monster win that clinched no-worse-than-4th for them in the West. With Harden, without Harden, it was a win. That’s what matters.

As for a playoff series? If we’re to use Sunday’s game as a model, the Lakers just need to make sure Durant and Westbrook shoot 14-56, that Stave Blake hits monster threes, that Jordan Hill gives a huge performance, that Devin Ebanks makes critical plays, that Kobe Bryant goes off at an even higher than normal level, and that James Harden is knocked out by an illegal elbow shot to the head.

Like everything in the NBA, it’s complicated.

The playoffs start in five days.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one,Β “I missed that on purpose.”Β 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. β€” he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle β€” providing more quality wing play and good decision making β€” and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart β€” an All-Defensive Team player β€” had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that β€” and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late β€” to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year β€” 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back β€” Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.