Lakers-Thunder Game 3: L.A. wins free throw contest by a lot, wins game by 3

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Forty-two free throws is a lot of free throw attempts. Forty-one free throws made is a lot of makes. The Lakers got one, made the other, and walked out of Staples with a win in Game 4, 99-96.

We can talk about a lot of things. The way that the Lakers attacked the Thunder defensively, once again doing damage to Russell Westbrook who has been unable to find his jumper since Game 1. We can talk about Pau Gasol giving more effort even if he wasn’t that assertive offensively. We can talk about Kobe Bryant hitting one clutch shot late (and missing two with a turnover), and all his free throws. We can talk about a Lakers defense that on two key plays forced the ball out of Kevin Druant’s hands and into Serge Ibaka’s, and then forced a tough 30-foot three-pointer.

These were all part of it.

But really? It was the free throws, a 42-28 advantage for the Lakeshow.

Good, bad, ugly, they were what they were. You can argue that the league hates small markets and that the Lakers won because David Stern pushed some magical button. You’ll be an idiot, but you can say that. You can argue that the Lakers were more aggressive and earned those calls. But considering the Lakers drew six shooting fouls in the second half to create 27 free throws and that the Thunder drew six shooting fouls to create 14, it doesn’t really hold up. You can argue it was the Lakers’ size advantage, but the fact don’t bear that out, nor do they bear out that they were all bad fouls.

The officials lost control of this game early, during an early game scuffle between Russell Westbrook and, you guessed it, Metta World Peace, and spent the rest of it trying to gain control. And when that happens, ticky-tack perimeter fouls are called. And the Thunder were working for open shots, while the Lakers were driving to draw contact. It worked. Kobe Bryant absolutely worked over James Harden in drawing fouls on routine contact in a playoff game.

You can’t say the officials decided the game, but you can definitely look at them as the biggest weapon used.

The Lakers did get a number of things to go their way Friday night. Ramon Sessions finally contributed. Steve Blake hit two huge shots in the second half. Metta World Peace played terrific defense. Andrew Bynum was a defensive force, even if he went 0-6 in the second half from the field. They played well enough to win, when Kevin Durant’s desperation three wouldn’t go down. And they hit 41 of 42 free throws, which is just nuts and takes a world of mental discipline.

So now what? Now we get Game 4 on a back to back. Will the Lakers have the energy to keep up with the young Thunder on a back to back? Will playing two games on the road wear on the Thunder? Will the disappointment of this game, one they could have had if they had just fouled slightly less, haunt OKC into a sluggish performance? The Lakers are only down 2-1 with a chance to tie the series at home. They looked dead in the water just hours ago. But it’s funny what a few dozen trips to the line will do for you.

All of a sudden, the Lakers are getting the breaks those great Lakers teams get. And they’re taking advantage of them. Game 4 is Saturday.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen left awkwardly waving to nobody after apparently offending Suns coach Igor Kokoskov (video)

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Jim Boylen is making friends within the Bulls.

Outside the organization? Not so much.

Boylen and Doc Rivers got ejected for yelling at each other during the Clippers’ win over Chicago on Friday. Rivers blamed Boylen for instigating.

Then, Boylen called timeout with the Bulls up 14 and 40 seconds left against the Suns last night. Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov appeared to take exception.

The Suns intentionally fouled, stopping Chicago from running its after-timeout play. As the game ended, Boylen gave the customary wave to the opposing coach – and was clearly rebuffed.

Kellan Olson of 98.7 Arizona Sports:

Was Boylen trying to rub in the victory? He pulled his starters during the timeout, giving him plausible deniability. It’d also be reasonable to use the timeout as a teaching opportunity for running an after-timeout play.

But the Suns don’t have to like being used for practice. They’re in the midst of a trying season, especially Kokoskov. His bitterness is understandable.

I don’t think either coach was wrong here. Both were doing what was best for their teams. The Bulls should get experience running situational plays. The Suns should find motivation to no longer get treated like a pushover.

Boylen strayed further from the accepted norms, but I rarely support unwritten rules. If the Suns didn’t like it, they should have done something about it – which they did by fouling to stop Chicago’s play. It was petty, but it was well within their rights. Just like the Bulls were calling timeout.

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Lakers-Bucks

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the NBA’s most popular players. They led the league in All-Star fan voting the last two years. Antetokounmpo is favored to win MVP this season, and LeBron is generally recognized as the best player in the world.

So, tonight’s Lakers-Bucks game is losing a lot of luster.

Lakers:

Bucks:

This is what happens when you get a game-winner blocked by Mario Hezonja. You must take a seat for at least one game.

The Lakers are apparently going through with a plan to rest LeBron James in one game of back-to-backs. This isn’t that. The Lakers were off yesterday then have tomorrow and Thursday off.

LeBron missed 18 games earlier this season with a groin injury. That’s the type of injury he could play through – while at risk of aggravating it. Maybe he came back before fully recovered in order to make a playoff push.

LeBron’s activated playoff mode went nowhere. The Lakers are almost certain to miss the postseason. At this point, it makes sense to be cautious with the 34-year-old LeBron.

The Bucks should also be cautious with their superstar – but for the opposite reason. Milwaukee is 2.5 games up on everyone else in the league.

Antetokounmpo injured his ankle against the 76ers on Sunday. He stayed in that game, scoring 52 points in a loss. Hopefully, this is minor. The Bucks also play the Cavaliers tomorrow, so maybe Antetokounmpo will play the other half of the back-to-back.

Damon Jones details J.R. Smith’s soup throw: ‘It was hot as hell’

Jason Miller/Getty Images
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J.R. Smith got suspended for throwing soupchicken tortilla, to be precise – at Cavaliers assistant coach Damon Jones last season. Smith’s anger reportedly stemmed from him not sharing Jones’ joking mood that day.

Now, Jones – whom Cleveland fired with Tyronn Lue earlier this season – is revealing his side of the story.

Jalen & Jacoby:

Jones:

It was the bowl plus the soup.

It was the first bowl out of the pot, so it was hot as hell. Yes, it was hot, very hot.

It went everywhere.

I was standing up, and it hit me in the shoulder, arm, everywhere. It hit the wall. I mean, it was a mess.

We didn’t talk to each other for probably three months, not one word. And then, I remember it was a night after a back-to-back. We was in Philadelphia, and we had a conversation and said, “You know what? Brothers have quarrels. I’m sorry. I apologize. Let’s move on.”

Kudos to David Jacoby for asking the important questions. This interview revealed a lot – the soup temperature, where it went and whether the bowl got tossed. Unfortunately, Jones dodged Jacoby’s question about whether Smith threw overhand or underhand. Relatedly, we don’t know the distance of the throw. There’s still a lot to uncover.

Additional context: That game in Philadelphia was just over a month after the soup throw. So, the rift didn’t last quite as along as Jones described. It might have felt like three months, though. Even one month is a long time to ignore someone you see every day.

At least the Cavs had experience with a player not talking to anyone.

Players with five straight triple-doubles: Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan… Elfrid Payton

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Anthony Davis is a superstar with an expanding all-around game. Jrue Holiday plays like a star.

But Davis is getting only limited minutes, and Holiday is injured.

So, that leave a huge production void on the Pelicans.

Elfrid Payton has been filling it.

Payton’s 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over the Mavericks last night gave him five straight triple-doubles. That streak puts him in elite company.

This is a nice accomplishment by Payton. Obviously, he’s not nearly as good as Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. This is a statistical oddity. But Payton is still playing well enough to get included with only Hall of Famers and a future Hall of Fame. That counts for something.

Payton has a solid all-around game that lends itself to getting triple-doubles. He’s active on the glass for a point guard. He’s comfortable running an offense and handling the ball enough to get so many assists.

But he’s an inefficient scorer who doesn’t space the floor enough. His defense is disappointing. There are reasons New Orleans was 0-4 during the first four games of his streak and got outscored by 12, 27, 13 and 7 with him on the court during those games.

Take this streak for what it is – a very cool feat, but not something that elevates Payton into a higher class of players.