Three takeaways from NBA Thursday: Kobe says goodbye to LeBron with vintage performance
What you missed from a light Thursday around the NBA because you were busy rapping about your cats.
1) Kobe Bryant drops 26 on LeBron James in final meeting, but Cavaliers cruise past Lakers for the win. We knew how this game was going to end, didn’t we? Sure, the Lakers beat the Warriors last week, but lightning striking twice and all that. The Cavaliers are clearly the more talented team, pulled away in the second quarter with an 18-8 run, and never looked back on their way to a 120-108 win.
But the fans fill Staples Center now to see Kobe, and the guy known for rising in big moments throughout his career was in rare form for his final meeting ever against LeBron. If your kids play basketball, have them watch Kobe’s footwork clinic — he works LeBron more than once with just perfect execution on his way to 26 points.
2) The Spurs execution slowly kills the Bulls, and San Antonio improves to 55-10 on the season (and remains perfect at home). There were moments of hope for Chicago fans, their team would hang around seemingly within striking distance. But then the Bulls would turn the ball over — they did that 21 times — or miss an open look, and suddenly on the other end Kawhi Leonard would be getting the shooter’s role on a three and the moment would pass. San Antonio did to shorthanded Chicago (no Jimmy Butler still) what they do to everyone — execute. Relentlessly, consistently all game long. Until the other team’s errors become their undoing. It’s not flashy like Golden State, but it’s just as effective (the Warriors have the better record, but the Spurs have the better net rating). Leonard had 29 and LaMarcus Aldridge 26 in the San Antonio win.
3) Toronto found its defense again, at least for a night, and handled Atlanta. Before the All-Star break, the Toronto Raptors had a top 10 defense, which helped fuel them to the two seed in the East. Since the All-Star break, the Raptors have allowed 7.6 points more per 100 possessions and have been 24th in the NBA defensively. Their offense has continued to carry them to wins, but if they want to win in the playoffs they are going to have to get their defensive groove back. Which is why this Raptors 104-96 win over Atlanta Thursday was a sign of hope — the Hawks had an offensive rating of just 96.1 points per 100 possessions. Toronto held key players like Jeff Teague — 4-of-15 shooting — in check. Start to do that consistently and everyone in Toronto can get back to worrying about how their weakness at the four will get exploited in the postseason. By the way, DeMar DeRozan was a beast and dropped 30.