With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Carlos Boozer was sitting on the bench. Joakim Noah was right next to him. Keith Bogans was right there with them.
Taj Gibson was in, with Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer.
And they were key to the 95-83 win that leaves the Bulls just one game shy of the conference finals.
When the usual Bulls substitutions came late in the third, the game was still very close. At the start of the fourth a Jeff Teague driving layup had the Hawks up one and all sorts of questions running through the United Center.
Then Derrick Rose made his own driving layup. Luol Deng drained a three (from Rose’s assist). Then Gibson started his big fourth quarter with an and-1 with the assist from Rose. Pretty soon (after another Rose layup) the Bulls were up 8 and in control.
That’s when Bulls Tom Thibodeau made the coaching ove of the series — he stuck with the hot hand. The starts sat and the bench stayed on the floor.
“I thought the bench was great, and they got it going pretty good so we stayed with them,” Thibodeau said after the game. “Derrick and Luol played well with that group.”
Gibson had 11 points in the quarter, Asik had three rebounds, set massive picks and was a big body in the paint that frustrated the Hawks, Brewer brought energy at both ends. The Bulls should have struggled with a lineup where Deng was the best outside shooter, but instead they attacked and got their shots at the rim in the fourth. Atlanta struggled against the defense — well, except for Teague — and settled for jump shots.
When the Hawks would try to make a run, the Bulls answered. Again and again. They made another late 8-0 run and salted it away.
In the end the Bulls bench — and Thibodeau’s willingness to ride that bench in the biggest game of the season so far — was the difference. And the bench will have the Bulls on to the next round with another performance like that.
Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”
Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.
But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.
The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.
“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….
“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”
If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?
Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.
In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.
Steve Kerr has now reached 200 wins faster than any coach in NBA history
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr already has a championship under his belt as a coach. Now the 51-year-old former NBA player has reached another milestone in an already decorated career as a player and coach. After the Warriors beat the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night, 113-106, Kerr became the fastest coach in NBA history to reach 200 wins.
Kerr hit the mark in just 238 career games. His seasons at the helm of Golden State have produced just 38 losses — 15, 9, and 14 over the last three years, respectively.
In doing so, Kerr surpasses the mark set by former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
Tuesday was a big night for playoff chase games, so much so that the Wizards clinching the division title — their first since 1979 — or the bad night for the Pacers dropping them to seventh in the East didn’t even make the cut here. Here are the three big takeaways from the night.
1) In a battle of elite offenses, Warriors’ defense gets them key win in the race for the top seed. Wednesday night comes the game that will get a lot of media attention — Golden State heads into San Antonio in a battle of the two top teams in the NBA. The Spurs are 2.5 games back of the Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the West and all of basketball, any hope they have of catching Golden State requires a win tonight.
Except it may too late for the Spurs — with their win Tuesday night, the Warriors made it tough to catch them. Fivethirtyeight.com now has Golden State with a 93 percent chance to retain the top seed in the West.
Golden State held on to beat Houston on the road Tuesday, 113-106, in a battle of the NBA’s top two offenses. However, it was Golden State’s elite defense that was the difference — the Warriors held the Rockets to 38.8 percent shooting overall and 16.1 percent from three. The Warriors crowd Harden with multiple defenders, and while he still puts up numbers — he had a triple-double in this game — he’s not as efficient.
Rockets guard James Harden totals in three games versus Warriors this season: 19-56 FG, 3-25 3s, 20 TOs.
Not that there wasn’t an offensive show, between Harden’s triple-double and Stephen Curry dropping 32 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Those two put on a show.
Golden State raced out to a fast lead and pushed that margin up to 22 by getting stops (and the Rockets just missing looks, they were 2-of-16 from deep in the first 24 minutes), then turning their defensive stops into transition buckets. Credit the Rockets because they battled back, started getting to the line, grinding a little, and by halftime it was just an eight-point Golden State lead. The game stayed in single digits through most of the second half, but the Warriors always kept the lead, and with a little push late got the win.
Which brings us back to the showdown Wednesday with San Antonio. If the Spurs win, they will be 1.5 games behind the Warriors, one game back in the loss column, with seven to play. The Spurs will have the tie breaker, but San Antonio would still need to win out (and Gregg Popovich has said he will rest players) and hope Golden State loses again (they have now won eight in a row heading into San Antonio). Certainly not impossible, but also not likely. By at least getting a split in their Texas two-step, the Warriors have probably earned themselves the top seed in the West.
2) Portland beats Denver, essentially ending the Nuggets’ playoff dreams. This wasn’t a must-win game for Denver in the purest sense — the Nuggets are mathematically alive for the eighth seed, just one game back of the Trail Blazers.
However, in the practical world, Tuesday night was a must-win game for the Nuggets.
And the Trail Blazers beat them. Beat then because of the guy Denver traded them at the deadline — Jusuf Nurkic had a career-high 33 points plus pulled down 16 rebounds, six offensive. After the game, he wasn’t shy telling his former team to enjoy their summer.
Going into the game Portland and Denver were tied for the eighth seed in the West, the final playoff spot. With the win, the Nuggets are one game up and have the tie-breaker, so it is, in essence, a two-game lead with eight to play. The challenge for Denver is six of their eight games are on the road, while Portland has just two of their eight away from home.
Fivethirtyeight.com now has the Blazers a 92 percent chance to make the postseason, the Nuggets get 8 percent. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.
3) Hassan Whiteside’s tip in keeps Heat in eighth seed, all but ends Detroit’s playoff hopes. This one play was the dagger shot to Detroit’s playoff chances. They had what amounted to a must-win game Tuesday against Miami, the Pistons needed one stop at the end, and this happened.
If I’m Stan Van Gundy, what keeps me up is not even the Hassan Whiteside tip-in, it’s little Goran Dragic pulling down the first rebound in and amongst the trees. How do you let him get that?
It was a disappointing ending to a disappointing game that caps off a disappointing season in Detroit. This team should be better than this, but here we are. Detroit is now 2.5 games out of the playoffs with seven games to play. That’s too much. Fivethirtyeight.com has Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs at 1 percent.
Miami, on the other hand, has a 74 percent chance of making the postseason, according to the same site. The Heat’s biggest concern should be they are just one game ahead of Chicago for that last playoff spot, and the Bulls have a softer ending to the season (Miami’s last four games are Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, and Washington, although those teams could be resting guys at that point).
Blazers’ Noah Vonleh posterizes Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic with huge dunk (VIDEO)
Tuesday night’s game between the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers was an important one. The two teams are fighting for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers have been on the rise as of late, and the atmosphere at the Moda Center was electric.
Vonleh has played much better alongside Nurkić this season, and Portland fans are all hoping he continues to develop going into next year. This kind of confidence and aggressiveness is just part of what the Blazers will need from Vonleh moving forward.