NBA Playoffs: The Bulls manage to hold on

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The Indiana Pacers were able to put up yet another great fight against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, but they were once again left with nothing to show for their valiant effort.

In game one of the series, the Pacers took the Bulls down to the wire because of their sharp jump shooting. The Pacers didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well from outside as they did in game one, but their defense was able to frustrate the Bulls for long stretches of the game.

On paper, Derrick Rose’s final line doesn’t look much different than it did in game one, as he finished with an impressive 36 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. But the Pacers’ decision to guard Rose with bigger defenders, particularly Paul George, forced Rose to work much harder for his points than he did in game one, and he required 25 shots and 13 free throw attemtps to get his ponits. In Game one, Rose got to the rim or the line at will, only made one shot from outside of 15 feet, and only turned the ball over three times. In game two, 10 of Rose’s 36 points came on jumpers, and he turned the ball over six times.

Indiana caught a seriously bad break when Darren Collison went down with an injury in the first half and subsequently missed the rest of the game. Sophomore guard A.J. Price did a decent job filling in for Collison, but he’s not the same caliber of player, and the Pacers were outscored by 12 points with Collison off the floor.

Fortunately for Chicago, Carlos Boozer showed up in game two. He was in the paint and making baskets from all angles from both hands, was a big part of Chicago’s dominating performance on the offensive glass (Chicago had 20 offensive rebounds to Indiana’s 24 defensive rebounds), and was much better on defense. However, the rest of the Bulls’ supporting cast didn’t shoot particularly well from outside, and Joakim Noah couldn’t buy a basket around the rim. Because of that, the Bulls’ offense was often stagnant on Monday, and the team finished with more turnovers than assists.

Despite the Bulls’ offensive issues, they were able to pull out a win thanks to a dominant size advantage and some timely plays down the stretch, and a win is a win in the playoffs. There’s a reason why teams jockey for home-court advantage all season long: even though the Pacers performed well beyond all possible expectations in Chicago, they are still returning to Indiana with no wins, and if they lose one more game, their season is all but over. The Pacers should be encouraged by their play in the first two games, but they will need to do just a little bit more if they want to avoid elimination.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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