Kobe Bryant, Luol Deng

Game of the night: Where you can’t throw anything new at Kobe

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Kobe has seen it before. On much bigger stage.

He knows how a Tom Thibodeau team is going to defend him. Whenever and wherever he got the ball Tuesday night he patiently waited to see where the double would come from, then he would try to pass to the cutter. Or he kicks it to a pressure-release guard and watches the ball get whipped quickly to the weak side for an open look. Or if the double doesn’t come he goes to work.

He knows how to beat it. The Bulls are a solid defensive team but they don’t have Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo making life even harder, really taking away those passes and punishing cutters. Kobe was able to execute, to facilitate. And he did it best when it mattered most.

Against the Bulls he had 20 points and an unknown but impressive number of hockey assists. A couple of those came on a string of threes in the fourth quarter from Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake that sparked the Lakers 98-89 win over the Bulls.

The threes were the show but the real key to the Lakers pulling away was a defense that held the Bulls to 18 fourth-quarter points.

“I think we packed it in a little tighter, we didn’t let them extend us out (on the pick and roll) because (Rose) was breaking us down,” Blake said. “I think it was a little but of us, but at the same time they probably didn’t play as well in the fourth.”

Brown continues to just blow people’s doors off this season. The guy known for high flying dunks hit his first four three point attempts and finished with 21 points, mostly from the outside.

“He’s shooting the ball well this year and he’s got a lot of confidence,” Derrick Rose said of Brown. “He’s doing great for them. We should have made him a driver.”

That somebody said they should make Brown a driver tells you just how well he is shooting.

Rose had 30. An impressive 30, but that is the usual for him. He is one of the guys in he league that if you can you should pay to see live. You know he’s quick from watching him on television, you’ve seen the highlights of the crossover, but in person it just wows you. The jaded crowd at Staples Center — which gets to see Kobe heroics and Brown fly — audibly gasped at Rose’s crossovers. His herky jerkey drives are a beautiful creation of space his body control unmatched.

Ron Artest came out on Rose and did a good job with ball denial and keeping Rose from getting comfortable. As opposed to later in the first half when Steve Blake was on him and Rose was as comfortable as your dads recliner in front of the television. He was going to get his.

Joakim Noah did a good job limiting Pau Gasol to 12 points on 3 of 10 shooting. What Gasol did have was five blocks — he’s a better defender of the paint and rim than he gets credit for.

He helped anchor the Lakers defense, and that is still not bad. Combine it with a patient and smart offense, and there is a reason the Lakers are 13-2.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.