Three Stars of the Night: Hello, Damian Lillard

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There’s nothing like a nice three-course NBA meal. The appetizer was fried something or other, as the Hawks burned the Bobcats with 57 percent shooting in a convincing 113-90 victory. The main entree involved the Knicks introducing the Lakers to the benefits of something called “passing” in a 116-107 beatdown. For dessert, Portland’s stud point guard Damian Lillard passed on the crème brûlée and ate up another one of France’s greatest imports instead in a 98-90 win over the Spurs. Here’s hoping you saved some room for the Three Stars of the Night:

Third Star: Tyson Chandler – (18 points, 5-for-5 FG shooting)

Unless you’re playing in MTV’s Rock and Jock basketball where there’s 10-pointers, there’s pretty much no way you should be able to score 18 points on just 5 field goal attempts. That’s the name of the game for Tyson Chandler, though. Chandler rolled hard to the rim and created contact, going to the line a whopping 14 times against a Lakers defense that rotates with the speed of a zombie stuck in quicksand. On the other end, Chandler did a decent job containing Dwight Howard and protecting the rim, but his value really showed after Carmelo Anthony left the game with an ankle injury. Nearly every successful fourth quarter possession for the Knicks generated from Tyson Chandler loosening things up in the high pick-and-roll, and his two back-tap offensive rebounds over Howard in the game’s final minute truly served as the dagger. The numbers weren’t gaudy, but this is the type of performance from Chandler we tend to take for granted.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony – (30 points on 10-for-15 shooting in 23 minutes)

Anthony was absolutely cookin’ early on against the Lakers, helping the Knicks jump out to a huge 41-point first quarter. Melo dropped an insane 22 points in that first quarter (a career-high) and became the first player to score at least 30 points in 23 minutes or less since 2006. Anthony exited the game with a sprained ankle after a tough fall, but hopefully that won’t discourage him from putting his head down and getting to the rim like he has most of the season. Many hypothesized that the Knicks (and Anthony) would be better if he played at the 4, but I don’t think anyone saw this type of production coming. It’s very early for talks of titles or MVP awards, but it’s hard to argue that the Knicks and Melo aren’t, at the very least, contenders for both.

First Star: Damian Lillard – (29 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists)

How about that for a coming out party? Lillard has easily been the best rookie so far this year (get healthy and we’ll talk, Anthony Davis) and tonight he showed why. Young point guards can sometimes struggle to toe the line between distributing and scoring, but Lillard has a knack for picking his spots. His little step back jumper is a killer move, but Lillard’s control on drives to the rim is breathtaking to watch. The polished shooting stroke will garner most of the attention, but watch Lillard’s footwork sometime. He just utilizes space so well and rarely looks wild or out of control. It helped that Tony Parker had some tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back, but take nothing away from Lillard’s performance — he’s the real deal.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.