Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game Five

NBA Playoffs: Heat make stunning comeback, reach finals

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For the first 44 and a half minutes of the Miami Heat’s 83-80 victory on Thursday night, the Chicago Bulls got the exact game they wanted.

LeBron James was bottled up after missing some tough jumpers early, with free throws being his only real source of offense. Dwyane Wade’s struggles continued, and he committed nine turnovers while failing to get a shot to fall or a pass to go through traffic. Chris Bosh had a strong game, especially for a third option, but it wasn’t enough.

The Bulls dominated the glass, and they made the game ugly. They beat the Heat to 50-50 balls, they finally got a few outside shots to fall, and they forced turnovers and created unforced errors. They made Miami miserable, and with three and half minutes remaining it looked like the series was heading back to Miami for a Game 6.

Then the LeBron James that took over the 2007 Eastern Conference finals and the Dwyane Wade that took over the 2006 NBA finals decided to show up — at the same time. With 3:53 remaining in the game, Miami took a timeout after Ronnie Brewer made what looked like a dagger 3-pointer to put the Bulls up by 12.

After the timeout, LeBron got fouled and split a pair of free throws. Then Wade made a short jumper, stole a pass, and got a quick layup in transition. After a missed jumper by Taj Gibson, LeBron drilled a three to cut the Bulls’ lead to five, and Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau immediately called a timeout.

After the timeout, Derrick Rose hit a beautiful, spinning floater over LeBron, and the Bulls’ lead looked safe once again. Then Wade made his first three-point basket since May 7 — while getting fouled. Wade made the free throw, Rose missed a floater, and LeBron calmly pulled up in semi-transition to make a game-tying three with a minute to go. After that, LeBron stole a pass and hit a pull-up jump shot to put the Heat up by two. Rose had a chance to tie the game with a pair of free throws, but he missed the second, and Bosh was able to seal the game for the Heat with two clutch free throws in a must-foul situation for the Bulls.

Now the Heat are going to the NBA finals, and they look fairly terrifying. They refused to have their wills broken by the team that accumulated the NBA’s best record by breaking wills. LeBron and Wade look unstoppable in crunch time. The team’s defense has been suffocating, and nobody can doubt how much offensive talent Miami has. The Heat will have to score more than they have in their last two series to win a championship, but the Mavericks’ defense won’t give them nearly as much trouble as the Celtics or Bulls.

The Heat were made. The Heat were criticized. The Heat had an up-and-down regular season. The Heat won the Eastern Conference in a total of 15 games. Now we get to see if the story of the Miami Heat, which has been one of the most intriguing of the NBA season, will end with a championship parade.

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.