NBA Playoffs: Bulls win yet another nail-biter

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It’s hard not to feel for the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers came into the series as heavy underdogs, each one of their games against the mighty Chicago Bulls has come down to the last few possessions, and they still find themselves on the verge of being swept after another heartbreaking loss.

The Pacers needed to do two things in order to turn the series around — make shots and contain Derrick Rose. To their credit, they were able to do the latter extremely well. The Pacers trapped Rose aggressively and used a number of larger defenders on him, and were able to wall off the paint against him. They ended up forcing Rose into five turnovers and a 4-18 shooting night, and only one of Rose’s field goals came from inside of 19 feet.

The Bulls weren’t able to get much offense outside of Rose, either. Carlos Boozer had another terrible game, managing only four points on 2-1o shooting from the field, and Luol Deng required 19 shots to get his 21 points. If it wasn’t for the dead-eye shooting of three-point specialists Keith Bogans and Kyle Korver, who went 5-6 from beyond the arc, the Bulls would have been completely dead in the water offensively in Game 3.

Unfortunately for the Pacers, they completely failed to generate any offense of their own against the league’s top defense. The only thing that really worked offensively for the Pacers was Danny Granger shooting contested two-point jumpers, both in the half-court and in transition, and that is not a formula for sustainable offensive success. Darren Collison and A.J. Price dribbled aimlessly and tossed up shots. Roy Hibbert struggled to get comfortable in the post. The 18-foot jumper Tyler Hansborough had in Game 1 has completely abandoned him. Paul George struggled. Dahntay Jones was able to get to the hoop a few times, but that was about all the Pacers were able to muster on offense.

With the game tied and 55 seconds left to play, the Pacers called a time out to set up a play, but Darren Collison ignored what appeared to be an open Danny Granger and tried a tough floater in the lane, which he missed. On the ensuing Bulls possession, Derrick Rose let the clock run all the way down to five before exploding to the basket and making a left-handed layup over three Pacer defenders to put the Bulls up by two. It was Rose’s first layup of the game. Before Rose’s layup, Kyle Korver was instrumental for Chicago — he scored or assisted on 12 straight Chicago points during one stretch in the fourth-quarter, and kept a key offensive rebound alive that eventually turned into a pair of Rose free throws with 2:31 remaining.

After Rose’s layup, Danny Granger’s contested three missed on the Pacers’ final possession, and the Pacers are now in a 3-0 hole. Indiana should be proud of their effort in all three losses, and clearly has something to build on for next season if they don’t pull of a miracle and come back, but ultimately they didn’t have enough offensive firepower to crack Chicago’s dominant defense.

Chicago has some things to worry about, but ultimately a win is a win in the playoffs, and Chicago has taken three in a row. The Pacers have shown that the Bulls’ offense can be slowed to a crawl if you can trap Derrick Rose effectively and force the rest of the Bulls to beat you, but the next team that Chicago faces may not be able to trap Rose nearly as well as the Pacers have, and there’s a very good chance Carlos Boozer will be a lot more effective than he has been against the Pacers. The Bulls have shown some cracks in their armor, but they’ve yet to give up a game. Until somebody actually beats them, they shouldn’t be taken any less seriously than they were at the end of the regular season.

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.