Derrick Rose is out for the rest of the playoffs. Joakim Noah, who was a game-time decision, ended up not playing a minute. And it didn’t matter from the Chicago Bulls, who staved off elimination in Game 5 of their series with the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to a great performance from Luol Deng and some absolutely suffocating defense.
The Bulls won Game 5 by doing what got them the best record in the Eastern Conference — playing some absolutely ridiculous defense. As good as Joakim Noah is defensively, the Bulls are one of the deepest defensive teams the league has ever seen, and Omer Asik and Taj Gibson did a great job filling in for Noah on the defensive end of the floor. And while nobody is even thinking that the Bulls don’t miss Derrick Rose desperately, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer are two of the best backcourt defensive players in the league.
On Tuesday, the Bulls’ defense played up to its full potential, and the results for Philadelphia were brutal. The team shot 32% from the floor, made 2 of its 11 3-point tries, and had a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Andre Iguodala shot 4-19 from the floor, Jrue Holliday shot 5-17, and Elton Brand had a grand total of 5 points. To put things bluntly, the 76ers couldn’t find the basket with a map against Tom Thibodeau’s defense.
The Bulls didn’t light the scoreboard on fire without Rose and Noah, but Luol Deng’s great performance (he scored 24 points on 10-19 shooting from the field and 4-5 shooting from beyond the 3-point line) and a solid 19-point game from Carlos Boozer was more than enough for the Bulls on a night where their defense played such lights-out basketball.
The Bulls still have a long road ahead of them if they want to make it out of the first round, let alone any further, but they showed how they just might be able to pull it off on Tuesday night. If the Bulls can keep using their unrivaled combination of defense and depth this effectively, their season just might not be over quite yet.
Phil Jackson goes on vacation, reportedly puts Knicks’ coaching search on hold
Jackson is on vacation at the moment. The interesting thing here is that league sources say that some involved in the Knicks’ coaching search have been informed that Phil is away at the moment, meaning the search is on hold.
This matters only if Jackson isn’t just going to hire Rambis anyway. But if the Knicks are interested in exploring candidates other teams – Rockets, Pacers and Kings – might want, Jackson is missing a valuable opportunity.
Reminder: The Knicks are paying him $12 million per year – money that could have lured someone with a record of front-office success or even just the commitment to delay a vacation until after hiring a coach.
Three Things to Watch in Heat/Raptors Game 2: Will Kyle Lowry’s jump shot return?
The first game went to overtime, and we should see a desperate Raptors team in Game 2, one that knows it can’t go down 2-0 and win this series. Here are three things to watch.
1) Did Kyle Lowry’s late-night shooting work pay off? To put it bluntly (as I did in the series preview): If Lowry isn’t playing at an All-Star level the Raptors are not winning this series. He was 3-of-13 shooting in Game 1. It wasn’t just that game, and it wasn’t just the first playoff series with George Hill draped on him, Lowry was not shooting well as the campaign wound down — his 57.8 true shooting percentage for the season dropped to 51.1 (below the league average) in April. That has to change fast.
It wasn’t just Lowry, however, a lot of Raptors players were missing wide open looks — as a team they were 4-of-17 on uncontested threes. Those shots need to fall.
2) Can Toronto defenders stay in front of Goran Dragic? The Miami point guard has felt more and more comfortable in recent months — since the All-Star break when Miami was pushed to small ball — and the Raptors did nothing to make him feel uncomfortable. Well, one Heat player did, Hassan Whiteside (Dragic was 3-of-9 finishing in the paint in Game 1), but if he keeps getting into the paint at will — both in secondary transition actions and in the half court — breaking down the Raptor defense this is going to be a rough series in Toronto. I expect a lot more effort and a better performance from the Raptors defensively, with Dragic as a focal point.
3) “We need more Jonas Valanciunas” — the Raptors must attack Hassan Whiteside and draw some fouls. Whiteside intimidated a lot of Raptors shooters in Game 1 — not only did Raptors guard struggle to finish inside, but they also pulled up and didn’t take shots in the paint at times just to avoid Whiteside. However, Toronto’s Valanciunas has the size advantage inside and put it to good use with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. The Raptors need to feed him early and try to get Whiteside in foul trouble — that also means attacking guards like DeMar DeRozan can’t pull up, he has to risk some blocked shots to go into the body of Whiteside and draw fouls. If Whiteside is allowed to dominate the paint, the Heat will take the series, the Raptors need to go at him.
Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting was excellent. THEN, they made 25 in a game
That’s right, the Cavs needed just five games to set a record for 3s through six playoff games. Then, they piled on 25 3-pointers – a record for any NBA game – in their Game 2 win over Atlanta on Wednesday.
Cleveland’s 97 3-pointers through six postseason games absolutely crushes the previous record:
The difference between the Cavs and second place equals difference between second and 88th.
In fact, Cleveland has already demolished the record for 3s through EIGHT playoff games (previously 90 by the 2014-15 Hawks). Again, the Cavaliers have played just six games this postseason.
Where is all this outside output coming from? The key long-distance shot makers:
The Washington Wizards announced that guard John Wall underwent a successful procedure today to excise calcific deposits in his left patella tendon in order to eliminate pain and assist healing. He will begin the rehabilitation process immediately and is expected to be available for the start of the 2016-17 season. Wall also underwent an arthroscopic lavage on his right knee in order to remove loose bodies.
If the Wizards are just using the next date most fans care about, this might not be such a big deal. That would open the door for Wall being healthy at any point over the summer.
But if the start of next season is his targeted return, that’s more troubling. Sitting an entire offseason is a big deal, and that means potential complications are more likely to cause him to miss games. It’s also a worse indicator for his long-term health.
As the Wizards enter free agency primed to spend, the last thing they need are questions about the length of their franchise player’s prime.