The Extra Pass: Chicago’s never-ending story, plus Thursday’s recaps

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In the early days of mixed martial arts, there were quite a few athletes who would refuse to submit in the ring. Their arm could be on the verge of snapping, but it didn’t matter – they wouldn’t give up. They would rather break their arm.

I remember holding these athletes in such high regard, as if it were some sort of courageous decision to choose to have your arm broken and lose instead of not having your arm broken and lose.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that pride (the emotion, not the MMA organization) can be a very fickle thing. It’s not always an admirable quality to have.

That’s what makes watching the Chicago Bulls hard. You know they won’t quit. This is a prideful basketball team, and it would be almost easier to accept their failures if they were the result of poor effort. But they aren’t, and they won’t be.

The circumstances have not changed this at all. The crushing Derrick Rose injury, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler being banged up, management providing a warm blanket instead of actually putting out fires – it’s just another day in Chicago.

But how bad is it this time? Poor Taj Gibson sounded legitimately excited about the prospect of having “another body” when the Bulls signed D.J. Augustin this week. No one should have to be excited for D.J. Augustin.

And really, no one should be excited to watch the Bulls right now, either. I don’t watch Chicago in hopes of seeing good basketball anymore, even if there’s a good chance of it. I watch Chicago in hopes that the basketball gods will grant them mercy.

It’s just not fun anymore. Great performances by Joakim Noah, which come quite regularly, can’t be appreciated without the nagging feeling that they’re being wasted. Watching  Tony Snell, a guy who probably wouldn’t even sniff the court if Thibodeau had his way, play a game-high 41 minutes is cruel and unusual.

There isn’t even any schadenfreude to be had here like there is in, say, New York. Chicago’s wounds aren’t really self-inflicted, especially if you’re willing to separate management from the coach and the team, which seems to have already been done internally.

And really, the Bulls still represent a lot of the ideals we want our basketball teams to: they defend, they play smart, and they’re tough.

But in spite of those things, it’s hard to classify the Bulls as anything but a beaten team right now.

It’s easy to focus on when Rose will come back and pin hopes on that, but not many are considering what he’ll actually come back to. How drained will this roster and Thibodeau be from just trying to stay afloat? How much more deterioration, both in terms of relationships and personnel, can the Bulls suffer through in the mean time?

Will management tap out, trade Deng and possibly others for future assets and live to fight another day? Will it be Thibodeau who sees the writing on the wall and moves on, spurring a restructuring of the roster under someone else’s vision?

What ends this?

Is it another bad break, or is it acceptance?

-D.J. Foster

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Thunder 107, Bulls 95: The struggling Bulls were without Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich for this one, meaning we had a pretty good idea how it was going to end before it started. Kevin Durant did what Kevin Durant does — score at will. He had 32 points on 13-of-20 shooting (4-of-5 from three). Oh, ad he chipped in nine rebounds, six assists and three steals. Russell Westbrook had 20 points and 10 assists. Credit the shorthanded Bulls for putting up a fight (Joakim Noah had 23 points and 12 rebounds) but this game never felt in doubt.

Spurs 104, Warriors 102: No Tim Duncan, no Tony Parker, no Manu Ginobili yet the Spurs still find a way to win because their subs execute. Well, that and the Warriors helped them out turning the ball over 24 times (22.7 percent of their possessions) plus they shot 8-of-31 from three, which didn’t bail them out of their mistakes. Stephen Curry had 30 points and 15 assists, David Lee had 32 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Wizards. For the Spurs it was 28 points from Marco Belinelli, 21 from Kawhi Leonard, good defense and a tip-in by Tiago Splitter with 2.1 seconds left that was the difference.

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff agrees to three-year deal to coach Memphis Grizzlies

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We heard rumblings that the Memphis Grizzlies were looking to remove the interim distinction from J.B. Bickerstaff’s title and make him acting head coach. Now, the team has made their move.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Memphis agreed to a three-year deal with Bickerstaff on Thursday, making him the new head coach of the team.

Bickerstaff, 39, was previously the associate head coach of the Grizzlies under David Fizdale. Fizdale was fired in November, and Bickerstaff took over as interim head coach.

This has been a long time coming for Bickerstaff, who was a longtime assistant coach in Charlotte, Minnesota, and Houston. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets job in 2015 when the team fired head coach Kevin McHale.

The task ahead of Bickerstaff will not be easy. Next season he will get Mike Conley back from injury, but the roster is still in the process of being rebuilt and Marc Gasol, 33, seems like constant trade bait. The Western Conference is tough, but finally Bickerstaff gets his shot at the big job on a permanent basis.

Enes Kanter helps pardon Thunder fans who left playoff game early (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter may be leaning toward opting in to his $18 million player option with the New York Knicks this summer (I would) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have love for fans in Oklahoma City.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Oklahoma City mayor David Holt and Kanter appeared together to give pardons to the Thunder fans who left early during the team’s Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony staved off elimination with their win against Utah, giving the Jazz a 3-2 series lead as they head back to Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Kanter, who played for the Thunder from 2015-2017, says he is still friendly with many of the players on the Oklahoma City roster. Kanter also played for the Jazz for the first three-and-a-half years of his career.

Via Twitter:

I personally don’t understand leaving a game early. Your car is trapped underground or is parked six miles away on some back alley, you’re not leaving any game quickly. The train is going to be jam packed and will sit at the stadium station for like 28 more minutes after you board, no matter when you board.

Don’t leave games early, folks. Try to haggle with the people working the concession stands to give you another soft pretzel for free. Get your money’s worth.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

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