NBA Playoffs: The Chicago Bulls played their best, and it was still not enough

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LeBron_game4.jpgA harsh reality landed upon the Chicago Bulls Monday night — The Bulls played their best; their best was not good enough. They made the right decisions, they scrapped and fought inside, they played with passion.

And they lost. The final score was 112-102, and that 10-point margin is how much the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled away in the fourth quarter with their superior talent.

Joakim Noah loves to talk, but he keeps backing it up like this on the court and he can run his mouth all he wants. He had a team high 25 points on 10 of 18 shooting, plus pulled down 13 rebounds. He, along with a feisty Luol Deng (who also brought it hard for the night) were at the heart of a Bulls effort inside that included 13 offensive boards and 19 second chance points. They were at the heart of a smaller Bulls front line that helped outscore the Cavaliers 56-38 in the paint.

The Bulls also didn’t turn the ball over (just four for the whole game) and they made the extra pass on offense, and 61 percent of their baskets came off assists.

And they lost. Mostly because of LeBron James.

In the end, the game is about shooting the basketball. The Bulls simply don’t do that well, they haven’t all season — on the season they shot 47.7 percent (eFG%, which counts a bonus for three pointers made, just like the scoreboard does), that was 28th in the league. The only teams that shot worse than the Bulls this season were New Jersey and Detroit. It’s a testament to how hard they played that they overcame that shooting, both Monday night and on the season.

Cleveland, on the other hand, can shoot the ball (third best shooting team in the league). While the Bulls shot 44 percent overall and 31 percent from three in the game, the Cavaliers shot 56 percent and 50 percent from three. Do that and you win pretty much every time.

LeBron had 40 points, 15 of those in the decisive fourth quarter. While he had some plays at the rim — James Johnson, just stay out of the way next time — LeBron hit 9 of 16 on jump shots. He took four three-pointers and made two. When his outside shot is falling, he is inhuman.

But this wasn’t just the LeBron James show — he sat to start the fourth quarter and the Cavs started to pull away without him. Antawn Jamison hit a pretty little floater, Delonte West had an and-1 play. Even after LeBron returned and started doing LeBron things, other guys made plays. Like Anderson Varejao hitting a clutch jump shot late — if you’re Chicago you forced the Cavs to take the shot you wanted them to, and they hit it. What can you do? Also, Jamario Moon was hitting big threes all night long.

Bottom line is Cleveland is better than Chicago. Intellectually everyone knew that going in, but last night was the revelation of that fact on a gut level. The Bulls may pull out a game as the series shifts to the city with the best pizza in the nation, but last night showed us how this series will end.

League’s Last Two Minute Report backs referees (mostly) in Raptors/Thunder game

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Anyone who watched the Thunder’s win over the Raptors Sunday afternoon in Toronto — especially the final few minutes — thought it was not referee Marc Davis and crew’s finest hour. There were missed calls and three-straight ejections of Raptors players, which all seemed rather hair-trigger (especially coach Dwane Casey, who was tossed for something a fan behind him said).

The NBA’s Last Two Minute report doesn’t see it that way — it says the referees nailed it.

According to the report, there was only one missed call in the final two minutes: Carmelo Anthony held Pascal Siakam as a pass came to him with 11.7 seconds left, and that should have been called.

What about the play that set DeMar DeRozan off and ultimately got him ejected, the drive to the basket with 33 seconds left (and the Raptors down two) where DeRozan thought Corey Brewer fouled him? The report said that was a good no call:

DeRozan (TOR) starts his drive and Brewer (OKC) moves laterally in his path and there is contact. The contact is incidental as both players attempt to perform normal basketball moves….

RHH shows Brewer (OKC) make contact with the ball and the part of DeRozan’s (TOR) hand that is on the ball. The hand is considered “part of the ball” when it is in contact with the ball and therefore, contact on that part of the hand by a defender while it is in contact with the ball is not illegal.

(I didn’t see it that way, I think the contact was more than incidental, and to me looking at the replay Brewer catches some wrist and impedes the shot in a way that was not legal. Just my two cents.)

The report does not cover the ejections, which are reviewed by league operations but not part of this report.

Three thoughts out of all this:

1) Raptors fans/management/players have every right to feel the calls went against them in this game. As for calls always going against them — as DeRozan complained about after the game — 29 other teams and fan bases are convinced the officials have it out for them, too. I never bought that.

2) The Raptors didn’t lose this game solely because of the officiating. Russell Westbrook was clutch down the stretch, the Thunder were part of it, and the Raptors had other issues, too (Serge Ibaka had a rough game, for example).

3) This loss also does not say a thing about the Raptors in the postseason (even if they went a little too much isolation at the end) — this was their third game in four days, they looked tired and flat at the end. That will not be the case in the playoffs.

Rumor: Injured Jimmy Butler wore his jersey under shirt and jacket on Timberwolves bench

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Jimmy Butler‘s competitive fire burns hot.

How hot?

Butler is chomping at the bit to return from his knee injury. He sat on the Timberwolves’ bench during their loss to the Rockets last night wearing what appeared to be typical attire for a sidelined player. But dig deeper, and…

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This story is too good to check out.

Kevin Love returns to Cavaliers lineup Monday vs. Bucks

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The last time Kevin Love suited up for the Cavaliers, it was still January and Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Jae Crowder were still on the team.

That is about to change tonight — Love will return from a fractured hand and play for the Cavaliers, but on a minutes restriction to start, interim coach Larry Drew confirmed.

Cleveland needs Love back. The Cavaliers went 11-9 without him in this stretch (and 6-7 since the All-Star break) with an offense that has still been top 10 in the NBA but a defense that is holding them back. The Cavaliers’ defense is just not on the same page right now, and the more time the regular rotations guys get to play together, the better they should be before the playoffs start.

As Love rounds into form, the Cavaliers have to figure out their rotations. Does Love start Love next to Larry Nance Jr., or does Nance come off the bench again? Probably the latter, but the Cavaliers will toy with the rotations (and do that more when Tristan Thompson returns).

Former NBA All-Star Steve Francis cited for public intoxication

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What happened to Steve Francis [after his playing days]? I was drinking heavily, is what happened. And that can be just as bad (as drug use). In the span of a few years I lost basketball, I lost my whole identity, and I lost my stepfather, who committed suicide.”
—Steve Francis, writing in the Players’ Tribune earlier this month, about his journey from selling crack to the NBA, and what happened after.

Addiction, once it’s got you, never goes away. The fight to stay sober/clean is a new one every day.

Steve Francis was cited for public intoxication in Burbank, Calif., after an incident at a hotel bar, according to TMZ (since confirmed by other reports).

Francis, 41, was arrested around 11:40 PM after police were called for a disturbance between two men at a hotel in Burbank.

Law enforcement sources tell us when cops arrived, Francis was intoxicated. He was arrested for being drunk in public.

Francis was transported to jail … before being given a citation and released around 7 AM Monday morning.

Francis denied in the Players’ Tribune article rumors he had a drug problem, but he owned up to drinking.