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.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.