Bulls make it clear — right now they are better than Celtics

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If Chicago and Boston meet in the playoffs, it will be in the second half of May. Conference finals time. Things can change and evolve in a month.

But right now Chicago is the better team.

Clearly. And they enter the playoffs with a lot of confidence.

It wasn’t just that they beat Boston Thursday night 97-81, it was how. (See the highlights here.)The Bulls were the more active and physical team on defense. They were the better three point shooting team (Boston just 2-10 as the Bulls chased them off the arc, Chicago was 9-22). Boston’s defense had no answer for Derrick Rose (30 points on just 16 shots), and his slashing led to Boston getting more points in the paint, too.

The Bulls dominated the game.

Chicago put up 14 more points per 100 possessions than Boston normally allows. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau finds an offensive mismatch and he will beat it into the ground. It’s things like Carlos Boozer not having a great night (14 points on 16 shots) but Chicago recognizing that when Jeff Green was on Carlos Boozer the smaller Green could not contain him, so the Bulls fed the ball to Boozer until Boston adjusted.

Virtually everyone on Rose is a mismatch, and Boston could not protect the rim against him. And that is where the Kendrick Perkins question is — Boston fans were tweeting it all game.

Just to add fuel to that fire, Chicago’s Brian Scalabrine said before the game to CSN Chicago that no Perkins made the Bulls more confident.

“For us, Perkins was an intimidating factor at the rim,” Scalabrine told Comcast SportsNet prior to tonight’s game. “Kevin (Garnett) and Perkins out there, that’s a big deal.”

Perkins might well have helped some, but what the Celtics really needed was a scoring threat in the post and Perkins would not have provided that. They needed Shaquille O’Neal, who changes that equation because he can score thereby by pulling in defenses so Ray Allen and others can get better looks at threes. Shaq can still do that even at this stage of his career.

Rose certainly won the point guard battle against Rondo, as the Celtics center had just 7 points. But that was as much or more about Rondo taking himself out than what Rose did. Things Rondo can normally succeed at fell short.

Boston also needed transition points on the Bulls. Both of these teams can be too good defensively if you let them set. But the Celtics walked it up all night. Chicago was there waiting.

The game means Chicago is just one win (or one Boston loss) away from securing the top seed in the East. That is a done deal. The loss also ties Boston with Miami and sets up a huge showdown Sunday with the second seed in the East almost on the line.

As for Thursday night, it was not just one thing. It was a lot of things and the Bulls won pretty much every one that mattered. They were the better team by far.

And if these two team meet again in a month Boston is going to have to make some strides if they are going to compete.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.

Report: Knicks to interview Kenny Smith for head-coaching job

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The Knicks are casting a wide net in their coaching search.

It’ll apparently include a familiar, though surprising, name.

ESPN:

TNT analyst Kenny Smith will interview for the New York Knicks’ head-coaching job on Friday, a source told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

A quality organization, the Rockets, interviewed Smith (in 2016, before hiring Mike D’Antoni). So, this isn’t proof of the Knicks’ oddball thinking. (There are plenty of better examples, if you wish).

Steve Kerr opened the door for former players to go straight from TV to being an NBA head coach without having any coaching experience. He’s been a smash hit with the Warriors.

But Kerr was also the Suns’ general manager before Golden State hired him. Smith has no front-office experience.

So, it’s tough to judge Smith, whose role on television is more to entertain than inform (though he does both). He’ll have to really wow in his interview to get the job.

But at least he has that opportunity.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.