New York Knicks v Chicago Bulls

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.

Heat players past, present throw support behind David Fizdale heading to Memphis

David Fizdale
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The Memphis Grizzlies have found their man — Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale has been offered the head coaching job in Memphis. He’s a smart coach who earned the trust of elite players and was a key part of the staff that helped Miami to a couple of rings.

It’s a good hire. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what a couple Heat players from that era had to say.

Mario Chalmers had a first-hand view — he was traded from Miami to Memphis in the middle of last season. The point guard who went the other way in that deal, Beno Udrih, also helped push the deal along.

Fizdale is going to be a popular hire with the players. That said, if the Grizzlies can’t keep Mike Conley in free agency the team is going to have struggles this season, regardless of who coaches them.

Watch Kevin Love drop 25 points on Toronto

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Before Game 5, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue told Kevin Love just to stay aggressive. Channing Frye told him the same thing.

Love took that advice to heart. From the opening tip of Game 5, Love was attacking — backing down the overmatched Luis Scola and knocking down threes. Love had 12 points in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 25, helping spark an easy, 38-point Cavaliers win in Game 5.

Now, can Love do this on the road in Game 6?

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.