From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Not quite as soon as Jerry Sloan is back on his Illinois farm, but someday soon Phil Jackson will be at his house on the lake in Montana … the NBA going on without the greatest coach in its history. Maybe at post-retirement age Jackson will find a knit sweater warms him just fine and he won’t miss having the living room of his home always a roaring furnace of competitive fire. But behind the banging and beating scenes on the basketball court in Jackson’s job are subtle beauties: people connecting and lives touched. Any coach at any level gets that, even amid the awfully serious business of the Lakers and Celtics and championships. Jackson’s Lakers team won Thursday night – and man, did Jackson want to win – but the winning came the right way: The result flowed out of good and right things that happened for people about whom Jackson truly wants good and right things.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: The lasting image of the Lakers’ 92-86 victory Thursday over the Boston Celtics that signifies the team’s jump back to dominance might be this: Kobe Bryant puckered his lips after draining a fade away jumper over Ray Allen that gave the Lakers an eight-point lead with 48 seconds remaining. The lasting image of the Lakers’ aggressiveness might feature this: Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom accidentally knocking heads, an episode that happened after Odom tipped in Gasol’s missed shot, required a bandage on his forehead and necessitated stitches afterward. And the lasting image of the Lakers’ sense of relief might be this: the team exchanging handshakes and pats on the back after a well-fought victory. The obvious ramifications behind this win: The Lakers improved to 3-0 on their seven-game trip, winning four of their last five games, increased their mark against teams with better records than them to 2-6 and, of course, softened concern over the Lakers’ play and whether they need to make a trade, mostly notably Andrew Bynum, who posted an impressive 16 points and nine rebounds. But what makes the Lakers’ victory against the Celtics more more meaningful goes beyond the fact they evened the season-series against their archrivals.
From Sekou Smith, Hangtime Blog: He’s not the Los Angeles Lakers’ biggest personality and far from its biggest star, but no player on the Lakers’ roster is on display more these days than their biggest player (height-wise). It’s Andrew Bynum Day every day until the Feb. 24 trade deadline passes. Bynum’s spent the past week in the trade rumor crosshairs — having your name linked to Carmelo Anthony‘s these days can change everything — and will stay there until the trade deadline passes and he’s still wearing purple and gold. Last night’s effort against the Celtics showed once again why the Lakers value Bynum’s talent, length and youth. Even with all of his injury problems, Bynum’s presence in the paint is as obvious to the eye as it is crucial to the Lakers’ threepeat hopes. It remains to be seen whether or not that is enough to keep him in a Lakers uniform for the next five years or so.
From David Friedman, 20 Second Timeout: Ray Allen scored 12 first quarter points–including two three pointers to move past Reggie Miller into sole possession of first place on the career list for three pointers made–as the Boston Celtics cruised to a 27-20 first quarter lead over the L.A. Lakers. The Celtics eventually pushed that margin to 15 points but then Kobe Bryant erupted for 20 second half points and the Lakers emerged with a 92-86 win, their first victory of the season against a legitimate championship contender. “Statement game” is a somewhat overused phrase but, whatever you call it, at some point before the playoffs began the Lakers needed to prove that they could summon up the necessary concentration and effort to beat a top level squad. Bryant finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-17 field goal shooting, plus five rebounds and four assists; he played 38 minutes, which is roughly four more than his season average and an indication of just how important this game was to Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, because there have been times this season when Jackson has left Bryant fiddling on the bench even as the Laker reserves were burning down Rome on the court.
From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: I hope the Celtics fans at TD Garden this evening got their kicks watching Ray Allen become the NBA’s new all-time leader in career threes. Judging from their expectant proto-cheers whenever Ray went into his shooting motion from behind the arc – and their beautiful, bored silence the rest of the night – seeing number 20 surpass Reggie Miller was apparently the only reason they bothered to show up. Which is just as well, as their team gave them nothing else to celebrate. The Celts rode the emotional wave of Ray’s record-setting to a 15-point lead midway through the second period, but no one bothered to remind them that a regulation NBA contest lasts 48 minutes. Methodically, calmly, professionally, the visiting Lakers put on a second-half defensive clinic and won going away, 92 to 86, avenging a loss to their ancient rivals at Staples Center earlier this month. At long last, about two thirds of the way through the regular season, the Lakers have a no-joke, signature win to call their own. They’re now 3-0 on their Grammys trip, and although they have no time to luxuriate in the victory – with games in New York, Orlando and Charlotte on the docket over the next four days – tonight’s win reflects a possible turning point in their regular season. So many concerns that have hovered around this team were, for one night at least, laid to rest.
From C. A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: A week ago, my esteemed SB Nation colleague Tom Ziller created a Black Hole Index. If you haven’t already seen it, you should check it out, if for no other reason than to appreciate an aesthetically awesome chart. The chart plots the NBA’s top guards on two axes, one representing their usage rate, and the other representing their assists per shot attempt (including free throws). Not surprisingly, the chart shows Kobe Bryant as one of the biggest black holes in the league. Considering Kobe’s high usage rate, and relatively low assist numbers, this is in no way a surprise. Nor, as Tom points out, is it particularly an insult. For the rare player of Kobe’s talent and ability, being a “black hole” is only an indictment in the court of public opinion. It passes no judgment on a player’s value, no direct equivalency to his ability to help his team win games. And yet, despite the author’s plea for it to be seen simply as an observation, not a judgment, we Laker fans can’t help but rise to the defense of our superstar. The comments are filled with the familiar refrains that are seen whenever Kobe’s reputation is slandered with words like “selfish” and “ball hog”.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: There had always been a time when Phil Jackson expected Jerry Sloan would finally pick up the Larry O’Brien trophy, wear a championship ring and win the league’s coach-of-the-year award. That thought originated when Jackson saw first-hand how tough of a challenge his Chicago Bulls team went through in securing the 1997 and 1998 NBA championships in two grueling six-game series against the Utah Jazz. Once the Bulls’ dynasty was disbanded the following season, Jackson figured the mantle would go to the Jazz. That moment never came. Three days after signing a one-year contract extension, Sloan ended his 23-year tenure as the head coach of the Jazz on Thursday, marking the longest-serving coach in the four major U.S. professional leagues.
From Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Jerry Sloan grew up on a farm in McLeansboro, Ill. So he always knew there was a time to take the crops in.That it came this week instead of last week, today rather than tomorrow, is irrelevant. “You do it ’til they don’t want you anymore,” Sloan once said. “Or it stops being fun.” In this case, probably more than a little bit of both. Maybe it was halftime of Wednesday night’s home loss to the Bulls, following a locker room clash with star guard Deron Williams, when Sloan stopped hearing the calliope music inside his head and decided to resign as coach of the Jazz. Or perhaps it was when he agreed to a one-year contract extension through next season, but cautioned that it didn’t necessarily mean he’d be around next season. After 23 seasons standing, stomping and screaming in front of the Jazz bench, the 68-year-old Sloan was aware of the nearing expiration date stamped on his carton, but it never changed his demeanor or affected his style.