Thibodeau benches Noah for fourth, overtime, and nobody’s talking

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Here are the facts: Taj Gibson subbed out Joakim Noah with 5:53 left in the third quarter. At that point the Bulls center had 10 points and five rebounds and had played admirably against Marc Gasol and the big front line of Memphis.

Noah never got back in the game — Tom Thibodeau benched him for the fourth quarter and overtime. Even when Gibson fouled out with 39.1 seconds left in overtime of a close game, Thibodeau went with Nazr Mohammed. The Grizzlies went on to win.

The other fact is there seemed to be tension. The usually media friendly Noah was gone before reporters were let in the locker room. Thibodeau wasn’t saying much other than that Noah was not injured, reports Aggrey Sam at CSNChicago.com.

“That’s just a coaching decision,” Thibodeau said.

If you want, you can rationalize the move.

For one, the Bulls were in their third consecutive overtime game in four days. Noah has been racking up heavy minutes and resting key guys during the season with an eye on the big picture can be a smart move. Although if you’re going to do that, you sit him the entire game, not just the crucial end.

Second, and more plausible, is that Thibodeau was riding the hot hand. The Bulls were down 17 in the third quarter and a lineup of Carlos Boozer (17 points for the game), Jimmy Butler (12 in the fourth quarter), Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Gibson brought them all the way back.

But Noah had played pretty well and when Gibson fouled out and Mohammed came in you couldn’t just explain it away. Mohammed played 2.3 seconds then Kirk Hinrich subbed in for him (they needed shooters).

Little coach/star player feuds happen all the time. What matters is does it carry over to the next game, does the tension linger, or do Noah and Thibodeau hug it out (or whatever Thibodeau does instead of hug) and move on? That’s what will be interesting to watch. We’ll have to watch, because nobody is talking yet.

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’

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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.