Bulls put an end to Heat’s 27-game winning streak

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The Heat weren’t expecting to see their 27-game winning streak snapped in Chicago on Wednesday, due to the Bulls being shorthanded and playing without Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton, and Marco Belinelli due to injury.

But that’s the thing about winning streaks, and it’s also the reason that the NBA record of 33 straight wins set by the Lakers way back in the 1971-72 season still stands — they come to an end when you least expect it.

The Bulls beat the Heat 101-97, which gave Miami its first loss since February 1, and snapped the second-longest winning streak in NBA history in the process.

The streak wasn’t going to go on forever. It just seemed like the version of the Bulls that took the floor on Wednesday wouldn’t have the necessary firepower to stop it.

Chicago jumped out to a 13-2 lead to start the game, which had Miami playing catch-up from essentially the opening tip. That wasn’t necessarily that big of an issue for this Heat team, considering the multiple times they’ve come back from double-digit deficits during this streak to come back and win games, and win them convincingly.

Against the Bulls, however, it posed a problem.

When the Heat took the lead (as expected) late in the third quarter, behind an increased defensive intensity that held the Bulls to just 14 points in the period on 31.6 percent shooting while forcing six turnovers, Chicago didn’t fold like so many other opponents of Miami’s have in the past.

The Bulls responded and battled, and seemed to want it more than Miami as the game headed down the stretch.

The key run from Chicago came with just over seven and a half minutes to play in the fourth, with the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead. Two three-pointers from Luol Deng, with a runner in the lane from Kirk Hinrich in between, pushed the Bulls lead to eight with just over six minutes to play. That sequence was followed by an and-1 from Dwyane Wade, but Jimmy Butler answered with another three for Chicago to send the advantage back to eight with under five and a half remaining.

The best way to describe the rest of the game from that point was the Bulls finding a way, possession after possession, to withstand the Heat’s best shot.

LeBron James was called for a flagrant foul for lowering a shoulder into the chest of Carlos Boozer who was setting a screen on the perimeter with under four minutes to play — a questionable call in terms of it being ruled a flagrant, but a clear sign that James was experiencing frustration nonetheless.

Miami couldn’t put together a late run thanks to the defensive identity of the Bulls that was on display in the flesh in the final few minutes, and Nate Robinson, somewhat fittingly, got into the lane for a layup with 30 seconds left that pushed the Bulls lead to nine and put the game officially out of reach.

James finished with a stellar statistical line of 32 points on 11-17 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, and four blocked shots. Wade had 18 points and Chris Bosh finished with 21, but no other player from Miami was able to crack double figures.

Deng played like the All-Star he’s been for the past two seasons in this one, especially in the fourth quarter, where he finished with 12 of his team-high 28 points. Boozer was more than solid with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and Hinrich’s feisty and fearless effort defending James at times helped set the tone from an energy standpoint for his undermanned Bulls team.

The streak had to end at some point, and it’s worth noting that having it happen now, with 11 games left in the regular season, is probably just fine with the Heat.

Remember, the Spurs entered the playoffs a season ago riding a 10-game winning streak, and ran it to 20 through the first three rounds of the postseason. But once it finally ended, they lost four straight and were eliminated from title contention.

Gregg Popovich wouldn’t want to go through that again, and Bosh has already said that winning another championship would be much more meaningful than breaking the all-time record for consecutive wins could ever be.

Those are the silver linings the Heat will find as they reflect on the streak coming to an end in Chicago. It was an impressive run that will be remembered, but Miami’s hopes are that it will be a mere footnote to a season that ends in nothing short of a second straight NBA title.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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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.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.