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. 

Report: Bulls telling teams they plan on keeping Jimmy Butler

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 14:  Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls warms up prior to action against the Toronto Raptors in an NBA game at the Air Canada Centre on March 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Bulls defeated the Raptors 109-107. NOTE TO USER: user expressly acknowledges and agrees by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Bulls are trying to find their identity. They used to be a defensive team, but they went and got an offensive coach in Fred Hoiberg and by the end of the season had slid badly on that end of the floor. They are no longer Derrick Rose‘s team, but they didn’t have the personnel to run Hoiberg’s system. The Bulls need to figure out who they are and what players on the roster should be part of that team moving forward.

Expect Jimmy Butler to be part of that future. He’s the best player on the team, but he rubs some teammates the wrong way, and there have been rumors the Bulls would listen to trade offers.

The Bulls are telling teams they plan to hold on to him, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com.

A league source tells CSNNE.com that the Bulls, while still open to listening to offers for Butler, are telling teams that are inquiring about his availability that their plan for now is to keep him in the fold.

And while there was some thought that a top-3 pick coupled with a few decent players might be enough to entice the Bulls to pull the trigger on a deal to trade Butler, CSNNE.com has been told such an offer would have to include at least one “legitimate, NBA starter” for the Bulls to even possibly consider trading him.

“And that might be a stretch,” the source indicated.

What is the hardest part of assembling a potential NBA title contender? Finding the elite, cornerstone player you need who can lead your team at both ends of the floor. The Chicago Bulls have that in Butler, he’s locked up under contract until at least the summer of 2019 on a good contract (a max before the TV deal money kicked in), why would they trade him?

Stranger things have happened, especially with the Bulls, but unless they want to tear it all down and rebuild — and they don’t — getting rid of Butler doesn’t make sense.

The better question is who will be around Butler come next fall.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 =

Watch all 25 threes from Cleveland in Game 2 win

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Apparently, all it takes is a little public discussion of LeBron James‘ “broken” jump shot to get him back on balance and knocking down the three ball — he was 4-of-6 from deep Wednesday.

Then again J.R. Smith was 7-of-13, Kyrie Irving 4-of-5, and as a team the Cavaliers knocked down a record 25 threes — while shooting 55.6 percent — as they wiped the floor with the Hawks in Game 2.

In case you’re curious where the Cavs were hitting from, here’s the team’s shot chart.

Cavaliers threes shotchart

Report: Rockets to interview Mike D’Antoni, Frank Vogel for coaching vacancy

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures during the game against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center on February 28, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 126-122.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.

The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.

Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.

Cavs set single-game three-point record in blowout win over Hawks

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On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.

Nope.

The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.

The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.

18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:

That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.