Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls - Game Three

Bulls, Nets make Nets’ offense stink

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Joakim Noah scored his first point and on the next possession, in his 27th minute, he closed hard to marginally, if at all, bother a wide-open corner 3-point attempt.

Tonight, that was plenty.

The Bulls – with lots of help from Brooklyn – crippled the Nets’ offense and watched one more airball as time expired, preserving a 79-76 Game 3 win. Chicago surrendered a late 12-0 Brooklyn run, but the Bulls are still the only lower-seeded Eastern Conference team to win a playoff game, and they now have a 2-1 series lead.

Those positives, of course, mean plenty of negatives for the Nets, who are the NBA’s only higher-seeded team losing its series.

The Nets’ final numbers, 82.2 offensive rating and 34.6 field-goal percentage, don’t show how anemic their offense was for most of the game. Until Marshon Brooks entered the game in the fourth quarter, Brooklyn shot 27.9 percent from the field.

The Nets’ three offensive centerpieces – Brook Lopez (22 points), Deron Williams (18 points) and Joe Johnson (15 points) – weren’t terrible, at least in the context of this game. Their combined field-goal percentage (43) was much higher than their teammates’ (24).

But absent other reliable scoring options on the court, Tom Thibodeau used his strong-side-flooding defense to smother Lopez, Williams and Johnson. Without space to operate, the trio couldn’t do much.

Blatche was the Nets’ only reliable complementary offensive threat during the regular season, but in a physical playoff series, they can’t count on him. Blatche has done a lot to overcome his reputation for being a mentally weak player, but he made that progress against teams other than the hard-nosed Bulls. In the second quarter, Blatche took a fairly typical playoff foul from Nazr Mohammed and responded by elbowing Mohammed and getting a technical. In this tough series, Blatche showed his true colors, and that bodes poorly for the Nets.

If the Nets don’t get supplementary scoring from Blatche, who shot 3-for-9, who can they get it from? Down the line, the answers are uninspiring.

Finally, P.J. Carlesimo turned to Brooks. Brooks didn’t play particularly well, scoring two points on 1-of-3 shooting, but the threat of him scoring opened the offense. When playing Brooks with its Big Three, Brooklyn’s offensive rating surged to 121.5. That was in just five minutes, so small-sample caveats apply, but alternative lineups have a longer track record in this series of not working offensively.

The Bulls’ offense wasn’t pretty, either – their final offensive rating was 84.7 – but their gameplan was a bit better suited to this type of defensive struggle. Like the Nets did with Lopez, Williams and Johnson, the Bulls funneled their offense through their top offensive players. Carlos Boozer (22 points) and Luol Deng (21 points) combined to take nearly half Chicago’s shots.

Even though Boozer and Deng aren’t as gifted scorers as Lopez, Williams and Johnson, the Chicago duo shot more efficiently. That’s because Boozer and Deng play with Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler, two above-average 3-point shooters, and Noah, a plus passer and finisher – three players who help space the floor.

The marginally positive help tonight was based mostly on reputation, though. Hinrich and Butler combined to shoot 1-for-6 on 3-pointers, and Noah went 0-for-7 with as many turnovers as assists (two). Like I said, it wasn’t pretty.

But as C.J. Watson’s final shot, his seventh miss in eight tries, sailed by the rim, it proved good enough.

The time Kobe Bryant tried to recruit Dirk Nowitzki to the Lakers

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 05:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks greets Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers after a game at American Airlines Center on November 5, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.   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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — Kobe Bryant has been loyal to the Lakers for 20 seasons (if you ignore some “trade me” tantrums along the way). He’s also been über competitive.

Those same qualities are what he most appreciates about Dirk Nowitzki.

Kobe talked a little Dirk during his All-Star media availability Friday.

“Dirk and I have always had a great relationship because we’re both extremely competitive. Also both extremely loyal to our teams,” Bryant said.

“I’ll tell you a story about Dirk. He was up for free agency, and I knew what his response was going to be. But out of respect, everybody’s looking around at all these free agents, I felt I’d shoot you a text, if you want to come to L.A. He goes, ‘I would love to play with you, but Dallas is my home. This is my team. I’m not leaving here.’ So he and I think a lot alike in that regard.”

Nowitzki’s last couple free agencies have been mere formalities, nobody around the league thought he would leave Mark Cuban or Dallas. The only questions were money and years — in 2014 the Lakers reportedly offered the max to Nowitzki, who took three-years, $25 million from Dallas so the Mavs could rebuild their roster. It’s all part of that loyalty — and it’s worked out, Nowitzki and Cuban have a ring.

Kobe’s respect for Nowitzki was clear when Dirk nailed a game winner against the Lakers this season, Kobe just nodded his approval from the bench.

One of the best things the past couple seasons about Kobe, and especially this season with just about to retire Kobe, is that he is giving honest answers. He doesn’t care what people think. That leads to honest moments and great stories.

Watch Kristaps Porzingis drop 30 at Rising Stars Challenge (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Knicks’ fans were in full throat at the Air Canada Centre Friday night. Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the Rising Stars Challenge (behind Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins).

Porzingis didn’t disappoint, dropping 30 and sparking a World Team comeback against the USA that just fell just short, with the USA winning 157-154.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Kobe Bryant basks in All-Star spotlight one final time

Kobe Bryant All-Star
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TORONTO — Kobe Bryant is the center of attention one last time.

To get to his final All-Star Game in his final season in the NBA, Kobe received more fan votes than Stephen Curry or LeBron James or any other player. Now that he’s at the 2016 All-Star Game, more people want a piece of his time. More media were crowded around him on Friday than any other player at the NBA’s equivalent of media day. Even the other All-Stars could count on getting peppered with Kobe questions (to their annoyance at times).

Kobe is at peace with his decision to walk away from the game. This weekend he wants to savor being in the All-Star spotlight one final time.

“I’m happy,” Kobe said. “This is pretty cool. I’m looking around the room and seeing guys that I’m playing with that are tearing the league up that were like four during my first All-Star Game. It’s true. I mean, how many players can say they’ve played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all. I mean, I’m really happy and honored to be here and see this.”

Does that mean Kobe has plans to chase the All-Star MVP one last time?

“Zero…” Kobe said. “But, no, I’m really just enjoying this whole thing, being around these players and talking to them one more time, going out and practicing and enjoying that moment in the game and enjoying that moment. So competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something or prove something, that’s gone.”

What is Kobe’s best All-Star memory?

“My first one in Cleveland was pretty special because you had all the top 50 players,” Bryant said. “I think in ’98 (it was), it was pretty special too, being in my first All-Star Game and being in the locker room with greats, like [John] Stockton and [Clyde] Drexler and all those guys, that was pretty cool too.”

Kobe has a hectic schedule for his final weekend, but much as he has since he announced his retirement he is trying to soak in and fully enjoy this last go around in the NBA. He understands that the life he has known for two decades is about to change. He hasn’t given much thought to his first day of retirement.

“I’ll probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep,” Bryant said.

I don’t think he understands why you drink coffee, but he’s got all of his retirement to figure that out. For now, he just wants to bask in the spotlight one last time.

Zach LaVine wins MVP, Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Rising Stars Challenge

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TORONTO — Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins was the rock star of the night. “An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few dunks) leading a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

“An-drew-Wi-gins” chants broke out in the Air Canada Center as Canada’s native son put on a show with 29 points (and a few huge dunks), sparking a World Team comeback against the USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

His Minnesota teammate Karl-Anthony Towns was going to have none of that.

“I gotta see Andrew Wiggins for a long time and I want to rub this in,” Towns said.

He got his wish, the USA beat the World Team 157-154.

It was a glorified pickup game for three quarters, and the level of defensive intensity will make Sunday’s All-Star game look like Tom Thibodeau teams are playing. That led to a lot of high scorers.

Zach LaVine — the other teammate of Wiggins and Towns — led the USA with 30 points and was named the game’s MVP, and said he wanted to steal Wiggins’ thunder at home.

“That’s what I was going for,” LaVine said.

Also from the USA, Jordan Clarkson (Lakers) had 25, Devon Booker (Suns) had 23 and was 5-of-8 from three, D'Angelo Russell (Lakers) had 22, and Towns chipped in 18 points and 7 boards.

Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis was the second most popular player in the building, and he had 30 for the World team.

“Not great defense, but it’s about having fun, I guess,” Porzingis said. “And I think we had fun out there. In the second half we got more competitive, as both teams wanted to get the win, and we fell a little short.”

Also for the World Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets) had 30 points, Wiggins had 29, and Mario Hezonja (Magic) had 19.

The intensity and defense did pick up in the end, although one wouldn’t call it a thing of beauty. What matters is the crowd in the Air Canada Centre enjoyed it, even if their team didn’t win. It’s an exhibition, and they got a show.