Feisty Bulls refuse to go quietly, but Heat comeback closes out series

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You knew the Bulls were not just going concede the series to the Heat.

Well, maybe you didn’t think that when Miami raced out to a 22-4 lead to open Game 5 Wednesday, but these Bulls quit as often as a T-1000 Terminator. All playoffs they have had reasons to give up because of injuries, but they didn’t. They could have rolled over Wednesday down 18 early, but they wouldn’t. Chicago went on a 49-25 run, took the lead back in the middle of the second quarter and didn’t surrendered it until the middle of the fourth.

However talent and the athletic Heat defense won out. Miami held Chicago to 14 points on 33.3 percent shooting in the fourth quarter, got some big plays from the hobbled Dwyane Wade and reserve guard Norris Cole, then held on for a dramatic 94-91 win.

The Heat take the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Pacers/Knicks series. The Pacers are up 3-1 and if they close it out Thursday night they will tip off against Miami Monday night. If the Knicks push the series to six (or seven) games the Eastern Conference finals tip off next Wednesday (Miami has home court against both teams).

LeBron James led the Heat with 23 points, but he shot just 5-of-14 on the night as Jimmy Butler played him tough. Which is a good nod to Butler, LeBron will probably be happy to see him go. Of course, that is Paul George waiting in the wings to guard LeBron next series and he is playing even better than Butler lately.

Miami came out with a real energy to open the game and their offense just flowed — they were moving the ball, spacing the floor, the tempo was up and guys were knocking down looks. Udonis Haslem was at the heart of that of that going 4-of-4 shooting for 8 points.

But that is when the Bulls turned on an energy they lacked in Game 4 in front of their own fans, while the Heat seemed to relax. Carlos Boozer was literally in the middle the turnaround, scoring inside rather than settling and he had 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Nate Robinson had 14 and hit a couple deep threes, and Butler had 10 and gave the Bulls the lead with a three in the second.

Meanwhile the Heat were just average because their role players did not step up — Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Shane Battier combined for 6 points on 13 shots and were 0-7 from three. Actually, it wasn’t just the role players, LeBron was scoreless in the second as well.

LeBron asserted himself in the third with nine points, but the Bulls kept making shots and it was 77-69 Chicago after three. The Heat were going to need better defense.

And they got it.

Chicago missed contested shots (and some open ones) while Miami’s cold shooters warmed up. Shane Battier hit a big three.

Then Norris Cole happened — he has played well enough this series to make Erik Spoelstra rethink starting Mario Chalmers. Cole hit a jumper to give the Heat the lead.

Then Cole drove the lane for a dunk that brought the AmericanAirlines Arena to life.

Dwyane Wade then started making plays — a couple of runners in the lane and an impressive putback dunk. It must have been the shoes: Wade was 4-of-10 in the first three quarters and looked off but changed shoes before the start of the fourth and went 3-for-3 shooting.

Still the Bulls had their chances — down three with time for one last shot both Robinson and Butler had looks at three to tie but their shots missed.

Eventually, talent won out. In this game and in this series.

But the Bulls pushed he Heat and their effort and style may have laid out a blueprint for the Pacers to follow in the Eastern Conference finals (the Knicks, if they make it, play a very different style).

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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