Shorthanded Bulls scrap, but Nets have enough to force Game 7

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This is how unprepared the Nets were for this moment, a playoff Game 7 on their home court in Brooklyn in their first year in the city:

They already had a Rihanna concert scheduled for Saturday night in the Barclay center. Thanks to Deron Williams and friends, Rihanna and crew will have to come back Tuesday night for a rescheduled show.

But at least the Nets offered her seats for Game 7.

A game they forced with an ugly-but-dramatic 95-92 win in Chicago Thursday night over a Bulls team devastated by injury and illness.

You have to tip your cap to the Bulls, who were gritty and tough just as they have been all playoffs. Tom Thibodeau tried to push his players, he just ran out of arrows in the quiver to fire.

The Bulls were without D-Will stopper Kirk Hinrich (calf), Luol Deng was sent home with the flu just an hour before the game. Nate Robinson played through that same flu, scored 18 points but was throwing up in a trashcan beside the bench during timeouts. Taj Gibson played through the flu but wasn’t himself. Again Joakim Noah played through plantar fasciitis. And let’s not even get into the Derrick Rose thing again (it’s his injury, he gets to decide when to return, not Chicago sports talk radio hosts).

Not shockingly, the Bulls were not themselves though all that and with a hot Joe Johnson (5-of-6 shooting) the Nets put up 33 points. But as was the case all night, the Bulls hung around; they had 27 in the first quarter with Marco Belinelli hitting 4-of-7 shots (he was key all night and finished with 22 points).

This pattern followed all game — Deron Williams was getting his way (14 points, 8 assists by halftime) but the Bulls made an 8-2 push midway through the quarter and they hung around, down 60-53 at the half.

Then came the ugliness that was the third quarter.

The Nets shot 4-of-19 for the third. The Bulls shot 6-of-22. There were 15 personal fouls between the teams, and they combined to shoot 10-of-17 from the free throw line. Neither team could take control of the game given the chance, and when the 12 minutes were over it was still a five point Nets lead.

It felt like Game 5, the Nets hanging around despite not playing well, but you kept expecting the magic, expecting the run. Except they just didn’t have enough healthy bodies to make it.

With four minutes to go, the Bulls were down just two (87-85) but got no closer because Brook Lopez got a dunk to cap the 18 points he had on the night. Nate Robinson tried, but he was 3-of-7 shooting for 6 points in the fourth. Noah blocked Lopez and Andray Blatche in the final minutes (Blatche would make a clutch high-arcing shot over Noah later), but they didn’t have Carlos Boozer after he fouled out for shoving Blatche in the back at one point.

Still it was a three-point game with 19.2 seconds to play and the Bulls had a shot. But it was this kind of night — Belinelli’s corner three to tie skipped across the rim and as it went to the opposite corner Noah tracked it down, he turned to take a shot… and stepped out of bounds.

Still, the Nets through the ball into Williams and Noah tied him up. Noah could win the tap for a three and the Bulls could stay alive… but the Nets gathered the tip and that was the ball game.

The Bulls have to leave this game thinking if they can just get guys healthy for Game 7 they have a shot.

For the Nets it’s simpler — they are the more talented team. But they are going to have to play with some of the heart and grit of the Bulls or they are going to disappoint their newest fan Rihanna Saturday.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.