Heat's James drives past Bulls' Joakim Noah during the fourth quarter in Game 5 of their NBA Eastern Conference semi-final basketball playoff in Miam

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

47 Comments

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).

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

1 Comment

The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Associated Press
3 Comments

We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Getty Images
10 Comments

We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.