NBA Playoffs: Bulls rode strong start and hung on for dear life to beat the Cavs in Game 3

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rose_game 3.pngWinning Game 3 wasn’t going to convince anyone that Chicago will win the series, but this game was huge. The Bulls sprinted out to an early double-digit lead behind a huge opening frame from Derrick Rose (15 in the first quarter alone on 6-of-8 shooting; he finished with 31 points on 26 shots, seven assists, and zero turnovers), and then survived Cleveland’s incredible fourth quarter rally to gut out a 108-106 victory.

Rose was hardly the only hero for Chicago, though, as Kirk Hinrich put together one of the best games of his playoff career (27 points, 9-12 FG, 4-4 3FG, five rebounds, five assists), Luol Deng was confident and efficient (20 points on 16 shots, and a game-changing charge drawn on LeBron James), and Joakim Noah was as active and productive as you’d expect (10 points, 15 rebounds, five assists). In terms of all-around production, the Bulls aren’t likely to see such a balanced game from this core on many occasions. It’s a bit of an outlier even if it is a pleasant one, and shows just how effective this team can be when they’re clicking on all cylinders.

Even the Brad Miller cylinder, as Miller outscored Shaquille O’Neal (10-6), out-shot him (50% for Miller to 37.5% for O’Neal), and outrebounded him (5-4) to boot. This Bulls team looked woefully undersized just two games ago, but Noah and Miller did what they could to deny Shaq interior position and made every shot as difficult as possible. On some nights that won’t stop Shaq from pounding his way inside and dropping a baby hook, but on this one it was enough to frustrate him into being a complete non-factor.

Then there was that LeBron James (39 points on 36 shots, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five turnovers, two steals, three blocks) guy. James showed off an array of jump shots over the game’s first three quarters before taking over Cleveland’s offense in the fourth. I’d say it worked, as the Cavs put up 38 (26 of which were either scored or assisted by LeBron) points in the quarter, with their only shortcoming being their inability to stop the Bulls from getting 29. Chicago’s total is a bit inflated by free throws from intentional fouls (the Bulls had eight free throw attempts in the last minute alone), but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cavs came up just short of an incredible comeback win.

Cleveland didn’t do themselves any favors with the way they started the game, as poor perimeter defense (Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were getting into the paint at will) and iffy shot selection gave Chicago a comfy lead. It was enough for the Bulls to ride their momentum through the second and third quarters before sealing the win at the line in the fourth. Not that the Bulls were spotless from the stripe when it counted; out of their eight free throw attempts in the final minute, Chicago made just four of them, leaving the door open for a potential tie on several occasions.

 Mo Williams (21 points, three assists, three turnovers) hit two three-pointers in the final 30 seconds to keep Cleveland within striking distance, but Chicago scored just enough to win their first game of the series. There was no dagger, just a sigh of relief as Anthony Parker’s half-court heave drew iron.

I’m not sure this game exposed anything about the Cavaliers aside from the fact that they are, in fact, beatable. Not beatable in this series, mind you, but beatable over the course of 48 minutes. The Bulls played a damn fine game and the Cavs merely passable ball, and this is the result we’re left with. Thanks for the great game, Chicago, and thanks for playing, but even this win doesn’t change much of anything. 

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.