Game of the night: That Tom Thibodeau guy can coach some defense

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have the league’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant. They have an elite point guard in Russell Westbrook. They have guys who can light it up like Jeff Greed and James Harden. They have a nice bench.

The Chicago Bulls handcuffed the Thunder all night Monday with what was a vintage Tom Thibodeau defense. It was by no means pretty, in the same way the Celtics have made teams and games look ugly for years with physicality, but it works. The Bulls disrupted any rhythm the Thunder tried to establish. They were never allowed to be comfortable. And the result was Thunder shot 35.4 percent and were 4-19 from three. To be fair, some of that was misses on open looks, and maybe it had something to do with the Thunder being on the second night of a back to back. But a lot of it was the Bulls, who won this one 99-90.

The Bulls already have the 9th ranked defense in the NBA for their first-year coach (who came from the Celtics) but they looked better than that against the Thunder. Chicago’s offense is starting to look more comfortable with Carlos Boozer in the middle of it.

Boozer had 29 points and looked good — he is moving well without the ball and getting a lot of chances because of it as Derrick Rose is starting to find him. The rust is off — so is the pad on his hand — and the result is his touch is back. Boozer is also one of the best in the league at getting to his spots on the floor where he knows he can hit. He was doing that from his left wing spot, from the top of the key, elbow and in the lane Monday.

Boozer, as well as scoring, is a good passer. So is Joakim Noah. Combine that with guys moving off the ball, plus guys like Kyle Korver knocking down the threes, and you have something that is showing flashes now and could be spectacular in the future.

The Bulls needed Boozer on offense because Russell Westbrook just took Rose out of his game. Westbook has the speed to hang with Rose and he’s stronger. Rose was 3 of 13 shooting for 13 points but he did drop nine dimes.

Chicago also got offense by pushing the pace, running on a Thunder team with some weary legs after a tough game against Golden State the night before.

With the Thunder struggling to get a rhythm, coach Scott Brooks tried an interesting move he sat Kevin Druant and Jeff Green for the final nine minutes of the third quarter. It didn’t work — Oklahoma City was outscored by 10 the rest of the quarter and that was essentially it. But if you’re trying to find a rhythm I think taking two of your three best scorers off the floor is an odd way to do it.

Nenad Kristic opened with 8 of the Thunder first 10, hitting 4 of 5 shots. He finished with 18.

Not sure this loss says much about the Thunder, it was a tough spot for them. But the fact Chicago is starting to look comfortable and better says a lot about them.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.