Derrick Rose’s injury punch to gut of Chicago, opens doors elsewhere

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Derrick Rose’s injury sucks. He is out for the playoffs with a torn ACL and there is no other word but sucks to do it justice. (Well, other words I can run here, anyway.)

It also changes the playoff picture in the East completely.

First and foremost, this just sucks for fans of basketball who now will be deprived of seeing one of the game’s most exciting players on its biggest stage. It also means we will be deprived of seeing Rose in the 2012 London Olympics — it’s unlikely he is healthy enough and doubly unlikely he’d take the risk of rushing back for the games. But when one door closes a window opens — this almost guarantees Russell Westbrook will get a roster spot. In London.

Next, this is a punch to the gut of Chicago — Bulls fans suddenly become Cubs fans talking about “next year” much earlier than they should.

The Bulls are a good team without Rose but they are not a title contender. Everyone knows it, which is why this is such a blow. This morning Chicago fans woke up thinking they had a real shot at a ring this season, then for the first 46 minutes of Game 1 against the 76ers felt better about that as they had the old Derrick Rose back — Taj Gibson said that to Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago.com.

“He looked like he was having fun. He was back to the old Derrick.”

The Bulls still won the game 103-91, in part because the injury happened with just more than a minute to go.

When Rose went to the ground late in the game it was like the breath was sucked out of the United Center. It still feels that way in Chicago.

Tom Thibodeau, who has played his starters heavy minutes this year, will hear a lot of flack over this — why was Rose in the game with the Bulls up 12 and just over a minute left? Why, because it’s the playoffs and you don’t take anything for granted. This is not the Timberwolves in February, this is a playoff game. The injury was a fluke, it could have happened any time, and it’s not on Thibodeau.

The Bulls will fight valiantly, they are used to playing without Rose and held on to the top spot in the East without him. But the playoffs are different, defense and execution are not enough, you need the talent to go with them. Chicago’s door will close because they lost their best talent on a fluke injury.

Finally, for other teams in the East, the door just swung open.

It’s not fair, but the reality of the playoffs. There is no asterisk next to the Magic reaching the NBA finals in 2009 because Kevin Garnett was hurt, just like there is no asterisk next to the Lakers 2010 title because Kendrick Perkins got hurt for Game 7. Injuries to key players are part of the playoffs and you can do it with any season if you want.

For the Miami Heat, their toughest obstacle to a finals return has been dealt a serious blow. They just became prohibitive favorites in the East (and it didn’t hurt that LeBron James looked dominant against the Knicks).

For the Boston Celtics — and maybe the Atlanta Hawks — they can now see a clear path to the NBA finals. The winner of the Boston/Atlanta series will get the depleted Bulls (or victorious Sixers, although I still don’t expect that). Boston — with it’s good defense and now superior point guard play and overall talent level — would be the favorites against the Bulls.

Celtics fans can dream — beat Atlanta, get by the Bulls now and suddenly you are in the Eastern Conference Finals against a very good but flawed Heat team. Banner 18 is still a long shot, but it seems more possible than it did 24 hours ago.

Derrick Rose’s tragic knee injury has changed the playoffs in the East. Miami and Boston (and maybe Atlanta) are the biggest beneficiaries.

Bulls fans, they just feel sick.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.