Games of the Night: Where Derrick Rose had really good seats for the ending

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Knicks 120, Bulls 112: Bulls fans are going to get all over rookie coach Tom Thibodeau for not putting Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah back in when the team was on a run and pulled within nine late. Instead, the Bulls two best players sat the entire end of the contest.

That was not where this game was lost. We’ll get to the ending and talk about it, but be clear that the Bulls lost this game a lot earlier.

The Knicks put up 70 on the Bulls and whatever that was Chicago playing when the New York had the ball in the first half. Most teams call it defense, but that’s not what it looked like to me, if you let guys get to the rim and give them open threes I don’t know what you call it when you give up 132.1 points per 100 possessions like the Bulls did in the first half.

Part of it was the tempo — that pace the Knicks played at in the first half is where they need to be all the time. The 13 turnovers by the Bulls in the first half helped fuel that.

Then there was the Knicks outside shooting. Yes, the Bulls didn’t defend the arc well, but for the game New York hit two/third of their deep bombs. It was just one of those nights. Danilo Gallinari was 4-4, Toney Douglas 5-9, Raymond Felton 4-6. The Knicks just had it going.

Chicago was down 18 at the half. That is when they lost the game, not the last five minutes.

But about those minutes. The Bulls really hadn’t gotten closer in the second half. They slowed the tempo down, they scored a little more, but the three ball was falling and that kept the Bulls at arm length.

Then a run came with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah on the bench. The Bulls went on a 10-0 run that cut it to nine. The crowd was up and there was hope with 4:30 left and a time out.

Thibodeau did not put Rose and Noah in at that point. I can live with that decision, with rewarding the hot hands. But they have to be on a short leash now — your stars are your stars for a reason and crunch time is when you use them. It’s not all about the bench guys’ egos.

Maybe he could have put everone back in when Galinari hit another three at 4 minutes, but then Korver answered with a leaning three. Still 9 points down with 3:30 left. Now had to be the time. But no.

Then Wilson Chandler beat Taj Gibson in straight away isolation and got the layup. The Knicks lead was 11 and you were thinking the Bulls maybe can do it with one more spark. Maybe someone like Noah who would have been there to help protect the rim when Chandler came in.

Then Stoudemire blocked a Gibson dunk, which leads to the Knicks in transition and Felton wide open pull up three. And then it’s over. It’s too late.

The timing on these things and decisions are hard, and for all his experience as an assistant this is Thibodeau’s first time in the big chair. He gets some slack. But don’t think his decision cost the team the game.

Thunder 108, Trail Blazers 107 (OT): It wasn’t pretty, but credit Oklahoma City — the Southern California to Portland back-to-back is brutal. Most teams lose the back end of this, most teams fade down the stretch. Oklahoma City came from behind then won in overtime.

Maybe this was a turn-the-corner win for the Thunder. This was a team that got blown out by the Jazz and the Clippers — the Clippers?!? — and then looked bad for much of this game.

There offense seemed to have become  isolations or high screens, with everybody is just standing around on the weakside. Not like they were last year at all. The defense was worse. They were giving up easy shots at the rim all night and acted like they had never seen a backdoor cut before. The bigger issue was the lack of consistent effort. One of those effort down times was in the second quarter when Portland put up 35 points hitting 16-22. AT the half Portland’s offensive rating was  a ridiculousluy good 126.1.

But good teams find a way to win on bad nights. Oklahoma City is a good team.

Portland fans, it happens. Tough loss to swallow, but it happens. It’s hard to put away a team like the Thunder even when the are playing poorly because Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are exceptional and dynamic.

You can second guess this one all you want in Portland, but there will be games like this again. It happens. Can they learn and move on and improve is the question.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?