NBA Playoffs: Bulls bounce Hawks, will need more from Boozer vs. Heat

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Chicago’s Game 6 dominance was in no way a surprise. Though Atlanta has played effective basketball at various points during this series, games like this one fall in line with the initial assessments of the Bulls’ superiority.

The Hawks exceeded most projections of their playoff performance, but their postseason success didn’t change the fact that the Bulls were, and are still, the better team. Their defense is more reliable. Their offensive execution is more consistent, even if the end product is flawed. They had the best players in this series on both sides of the floor, the better bench, and the superior coach. The Bulls were going to win this series because, ultimately, they’re the Bulls. Call that oversimplified analysis if you will, but being the considerably superior outfit is typically enough to win a playoff series, even if Atlanta figured things out for a game or two and a half.

The Bulls we saw on Thursday night were the fully functioning model, geared to bother the hell out of the opponent’s offense and skilled in doing so. Atlanta posted an effective field-goal percentage of just 37.2 percent, a commendable mark even against an opponent known for their troublesome tendency to settle for contested jump shots. It’s common NBA rhetoric to say that an offense “got whatever looks it wanted,” but in this case, Chicago’s defense consistently forced Atlanta into whatever looks that it wanted. Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah dictated the outcome of this game with their ball pressure, and the Hawks’ 14.2 turnover rate only stands as further evidence of the Bulls’ ability to cause trouble on D.

Offensively, Chicago had it easy. That tends to be the case when Carlos Boozer is working to find open space and — even more importantly — actually hitting a shot or two. Boozer hasn’t had the most impressive playoff run thus far, but he’s absolutely essential to Chicago’s success going forward. Atlanta and Indiana put up a fight, but neither is even close to Miami in terms of two-way efficacy.

The Heat defense is going to test the Bulls’ offense in ways it hasn’t even seen this postseason, and Boozer will have to keep working and finishing if the Eastern Conference finals are to be anything other than the end of the line for the Bulls. It’s odd that Chicago’s second-best offensive player has become something of an X-factor in these playoffs (an impact player with the potential to come and go, but hardly stable), but that inconsistency has historically been a part of Boozer’s postseason game. Deng, Noah, and the Bulls reserves may be able to compensate for Boozer’s lack of production on his less effective nights, but performances of this ilk are what the Bulls will need almost every night out against the Heat.

Jeff Teague did an incredible job of taking over the point guard responsibilities for the Hawks on a moment’s notice, and in spite of the fact that coach Larry Drew had consistently chosen to keep Teague on the bench over the course of the regular season. His success came on a borrowed opportunity, but Teague’s scoring was brilliant and his playmaking promising. Atlanta doesn’t have much hope for internal improvement, but Teague does provide a lone bit of hope.

I won’t miss these Hawks, and you shouldn’t either. There won’t be some summer night where we collectively long for a Joe Johnson iso or a Josh Smith ill-advised 3-point attempt. This team was confounding and irritating, and it’s never pleasant to see skilled players conquered so often by their own vices.

We should all miss the Hawks of Games 1 and 4 though, that brilliantly talented and athletic club that would show up from time to time. They’re capable of running a prolific offense and a versatile defense, and harness the power of an interesting, dynamic group — from Johnson to Teague to Smith to Horford — in concert rather than as a solo performance from a self-ordained virtuoso.

Either way, we bid farewell to both the good Hawks and bad, and greet what’s sure to be a phenomenal Eastern Conference finals series with open arms.

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Blazers beat Lakers 97-81, tie Denver for final spot in West

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 22 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81 on Sunday night to pull even with Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Both the Blazers and Nuggets are 35-38 with nine games left in the regular season. They play each other Tuesday in Portland.

Denver lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier Sunday night.

Portland took control by outscoring the Lakers 37-24 in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 points. Los Angeles shot 39 percent from the field and was outrebounded 61-42.

Allen Crabbe added 18 points off the bench for the Blazers, and Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 22 points, and reserve Tyler Ennis scored 14.

Portland led 40-32 at the break after an unsightly half in which the teams took turns struggling from the field. At halftime, both were shooting exactly 32.6 percent.

The Lakers won their previous game against the Timberwolves but have won consecutive games only once since mid-November.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Shot 62.4 percent against Minnesota on Saturday, their best mark since hitting 64.1 percent on March 12, 2003. Coming into Sunday, they had shot 50.6 percent over their last five games.

Lakers: Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, who started the previous 19 games and averaged 12.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, did not play because of right patellar tendinitis. Said coach Luke Walton: “He was out there warming up and it’s not right.” Corey Brewer got his first start for the Lakers.

 

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.