Joakim Noah leads Bulls to Game 7 win over Nets

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Immediately after the final buzzer sounded in the Bulls 99-93 Game 7 win over the Nets on Saturday, Joakim Noah walked toward center court, screaming with excitement and popping his road red Bulls jersey.

He had every right to do so, considering his inspired performance was the main reason behind his team’s victory — one that will send them to Miami for the second round of the playoffs against the defending champion Heat.

Noah finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocked shots in 41 minutes of action, and was the catalyst for the Bulls in bringing the energy from the very start. He opened the game with 10 points and five rebounds — all offensive — in the first 12 minutes, and instilled the belief in his teammates that, despite being undermanned with key players out due to injury, that they might still have enough on this night to survive and advance.

Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich were both out for the Bulls — Deng was hospitalized after suffering complications from a spinal tap he received days earlier, and Hinrich tried to go in warmups, but his calf injury was too severe for him to feel like he could have contributed anything at all to his team’s effort.

The second quarter for Chicago was where the damage was done, and even seldom-used players off the bench that were pressed into action were able to contribute in temporarily blowing the game open in the Bulls’ favor. Marquis Teague, Nazr Mohammed, and Daequan Cook all hit shots in the period, one in which Chicago shot almost 62 percent from the field, while getting out to a lead of 17 points by the end of the first half.

Brooklyn finally brought the energy a Game 7 should require in the third quarter, and shaved 10 points off of the halftime lead before the period was through. Gerald Wallace was key for the Nets during that stretch, scoring 11 of his 19 points, while knocking down three shots from three-point distance.

The Nets were able to get as close as five late in the game, but the Bulls seemed to answer every single time they got close. Marco Belinelli scored on a layup with the shot clock winding down on a possession with about two minutes remaining to push the lead back to seven, and finished the Bulls scoring for the game by converting four free throws down the stretch to seal it.

Joe Johnson was playing through injury for the Nets, and said a couple of days earlier that he was essentially a decoy on the court while playing on one leg. He gave it a go in this one, but his shot was nowhere near what he’s capable of, and his inability to hit open looks hurt the Nets more than his presence helped. Johnson finished just 2-of-14 from the field in 38 minutes, including just 1-of-9 from three-point distance.

It really was an incredible accomplishment by these Bulls to overcome the loss of so many key players to win a playoff series on the road like this. Things get immediately and exponentially more difficult beginning on Monday in Miami, but for now, Tom Thibodeau and the healthy Bulls that stepped up deserve all the credit in the world for their Game 7 performance.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.