NBA Playoffs: Chicago struggles, but Rose comes to the rescue

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The Chicago Bulls finished the regular season with an NBA-best 62 wins. The Indiana Pacers finished the regular season with 37 wins. There was not supposed to be a lot of suspense surrounding the two teams’ first-round matchup. However, nobody told the Pacers they were supposed to go quietly against the Bulls, and the NBA Playoffs got started with an absolutely fantastic game.

The Pacers set the tone early by making jumper after jumper against Chicago’s top-ranked defense. The Bulls out-scored the Pacers 44-32 in the paint and 26-11 from the free-throw line, but the Pacers led for most of the game because of their sharp jump shooting. Darren Collison and A.J. Price were able to nail off-the-dribble threes when Rose went under the screen against them. Danny Granger was able to drain some quick-release catch-and-shoot jumpers with barely any room. Tyler Hansborough could not miss from 18 feet. The Pacers hardly got any wide-open threes or easy opportunities at the rim against the Bulls’ defense, but it didn’t matter — they were able to score on the Bulls’ defense because they believed that they could make any shot on the floor at any time.

The Bulls didn’t have much working for them on offense outside of Derrick Rose going to the basket. Fortunately for them, the Pacers had no chance of stopping Derrick Rose when he decided to go to the basket. Rose went 0-9 from beyond the three-point arc on Sunday, and only one of his 10 field goals came from outside of 15 feet. But even when Indiana tried to play Rose for the drive, he was able to snake his way into the paint and either make a twisting layup or draw a foul — Rose made 7 shots in the painted area, and sunk 19 of his 21 free throw attempts.

With 2:32 remaining in the game, the Pacers had a six-point lead. Then Derrick Rose took over. After a missed Tyler Hansborough layup, Rose fired an absolutely gorgeous pass to Joakim Noah for a dunk that cut the lead to four. On the next two possessions, he converted an impossible and-1 and hit a floater to tie the game. With the game tied at 99, Rose drove the lane, forced the defense to collapse, and hit a wide-open Kyle Korver for a three. In less than two minutes, Rose single-handedly turned a six-point deficit into a three-point lead, and a loss into a win. That’s what MVPs do.

This was a great win for the Bulls, but it did reveal that they could have some serious problems going into the playoffs. The Bulls’ depth was one of their greatest assets in the regular season, but they would have fallen to a 37-win team on Sunday if Derrick Rose didn’t have an absolute masterpiece of a game. Carlos Boozer was hampered with foul trouble, and was completely outplayed on both ends of the floor when he was in the game. Joakim Noah provided great energy and grabbed eight key offensive rebounds, but shot poorly. C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson, and Ronnie Brewer barely made an impact, and Omer Asik barely played.

In the playoffs, most teams tighten their rotation and rely less on their role players; one has to wonder if that will hurt a team as deep as the Bulls. The Bulls got what they needed from their supporting cast: Luol Deng made some big shots, Kyle Korver made all four of his threes, and Kurt Thomas was in the right place at the right time in that way he always seems to be. Still, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best players on the floor Sunday were all wearing Pacer jerseys, and that has to worry fans hoping to see the Bulls go all the way.

I think this will be the closest game of this playoff series — The Pacers couldn’t miss from outside, the Bulls couldn’t buy a jumper, and Chicago was still able to scrape out a victory. Still, the Pacers did reveal that the Bulls have some weaknesses, and those weaknesses could come back to bite them later in these playoffs.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.