Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game Two

NBA Playoffs: Heat win war of attrition, get split in Chicago

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The final box score makes it look like the Heat evened up the Eastern Conference finals with relative ease. Miami won by a final score of 85-75, the Bulls shot only 34 percent from the floor, and Derrick Rose shot 7-for-23 from the floor while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to score 53 points.

In reality, though, this was one of the hardest wins the Heat have had all year. The Bulls missed shots all game long, and the Heat were able to execute their offense fairly well against the league’s best defense, but the game was tied with under five minutes to play thanks to the Bulls’ relentless energy, aggression, depth, and toughness. The Bulls couldn’t buy a shot all game, but they were beating the Heat to every loose ball, forcing more turnovers, and getting second- and third-shot attempts on a regular basis.

Erik Spoelstra made a desperation move to attempt to stop the bleeding on the boards, going to Jamaal Magloire, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem off the bench instead of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mario Chalmers and James Jones. It worked like gangbusters. Miller and Magloire provided the size, rebounding and hustle that the Heat desperately lacked in Game 1, and Haslem had the kind of game nobody thought he’d have in these playoffs, coming back from a foot injury to record 13 points on mid-range jumpers and dunks in transition, three offensive rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and a charge taken.

The last quarter was a knock-down, drag-out affair, as the exhausted teams combined to score only 24 points in the final period. In the end, though, the difference proved to be that the Heat had LeBron James and the Bulls did not.

With the score tied at 73 with 4:28 remaining, James drilled a 3-pointer off the dribble that ended up giving the Heat the lead for good. From there, he closed out the Bulls with ruthless efficiency, scoring nine of the Heat’s final 12 points as the Bulls only managed two points in the final seven minutes of play.

How should the Heat feel about this win? It’s hard to say. They did everything right. They kept the Bulls’ bigs from making an offensive impact, they blocked three of Rose’s shots and held him to 2-of-12 shooting from inside of the paint, and Wade and James were both able to play their games. That said, it was still an absolute battle, and the Bulls could easily have gone up 2-0 if the ball had bounced their way a few times in the final five minutes. The Heat got the game in Chicago they desperately needed, but they shouldn’t take any home wins for granted against a team that plays with the kind of energy the Bulls do.

The Heat got ambushed in Game 1. Before Game 2, Spoelstra made some major adjustments to the Heat’s sets and substitution patterns, and his gambles paid off. Now it’s Tom Thibodeau and Rose’s turn to make adjustments, and we’ll see if they’re up to the task. The Bulls’ season is simple at this point: either they win in Miami, or they go home.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.