Bulls use trademark defense to shut down the Knicks

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The Knicks came into Saturday’s contest in Chicago against the Bulls at the top of the league in offensive efficiency, averaging 111.2 points per 100 possessions.

The problem was, they were facing a Bulls team that was fourth in the league in the same category on defense, and playing without Carmelo Anthony, Chicago was able to stifle New York’s offense on the way to a 93-85 victory.

Anthony missed his second straight game due to a laceration of a finger on his non-shooting hand which required five stitches to seal. We all expect him to try to make it back to face his former Denver Nuggets team on Sunday, but in his absence on this night, and with the Bulls playing excellent team defense, the Knicks simply couldn’t get anything going offensively.

New York was able to beat the Heat without Anthony for two very specific reasons that tie together quite nicely: One, Miami has been disinterested in defending at all this season, to the point where the defending champions rank just 23rd in defensive efficiency on the season. And two, the Knicks shot the lights out from three-point distance.

Percentage-wise against the Heat, New York wasn’t necessarily fantastic in this category. But making 18 three-pointers while attempting 44 of them certainly helps the offense, even at just a 40 percent clip.

Against a Chicago team that stayed home on the shooters due to the knowledge that there was virtually zero threat from dribble penetration or legitimate post-up opportunities, the Knicks managed to make only eight three-pointers on 23 attempts.

The Bulls forced Raymond Felton into taking 30 of the Knicks’ 84 shot attempts, which was more than double that of anyone else on the team. Felton only converted nine of them to finish with 27 points, and Chicago likely couldn’t have been happier with the distribution of its opponent’s shots.

This was a trademark performance from the Bulls; a gritty win brought on by a stellar effort on the defensive end of the floor. Without Carmelo Anthony there, New York struggled to move the ball and find someone who could take control and get buckets when the team needed them most.

On the Chicago side of things, Marco Bellinelli was big with 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, 17 of which came in the first half. He ended up playing 45 minutes, right there with Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, as Tom Thibodeau continued his practice of playing his studs until they drop in order to secure a victory.

The Knicks will be fine, provided Anthony comes back in a timely manner, and they don’t have to face teams like Chicago who win games with defense above all else.

It would actually be a pretty big surprise if the Knicks didn’t bounce back with a win on Sunday, considering it will be the first time that Anthony faces the Denver Nuggets — if he plays, that is. But he’d be hard-pressed not to, considering it will be his first opportunity to play against his former team since forcing a trade to New York back in 2011.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.