Carlos Boozer not pleased with his frequent fourth-quarter benchings

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Starting lineups get the most attention, and Carlos Boozer has started for the Bulls since signing with them in 2010.

But closing lineups might be more important, and Boozer isn’t part of Chicago’s.

He’s played just 117 fourth-quarter minutes all season – ninth on the team. In fact, he’s nearly as close to 12th-place Derrick Rose (57 fourth-quarter minutes) as he is eighth-place Luol Deng (172), even though neither of those two are playing for the Bulls anymore this season.

Unsurprisingly, Boozer thinks Tom Thibodeau should give him more playing time in fourth quarters.

Boozer, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Nah, I think I should be out there, but it’s his choice, he makes the decisions out there, so I play, I don’t coach. He coaches. So he decides that,’’ Boozer said. “But honestly, he’s been doing that a lot since I’ve been here, not putting me in the fourth quarter. Sometimes we win, more times than not we don’t, but that’s his choice.’’

Asked how tough it’s been for him, especially considering Boozer could be an amnesty candidate after this season, Boozer replied, “Super tough, it’s very frustrating, especially when I’ve got a great game going or what have you. Obviously as a competitor you want to be out there to help your team win and especially when the game is close, you can do things that can help your team win. And not being out there, all you could do is really cheer them on, but that’s [Thibodeau’s] choice.’’

“He knows that. He’s aware of that,’’ Boozer replied, when asked if Thibodeau knew he wanted more minutes. “I feel great, body feels great. I think I’m very productive in the limited minutes that I am getting, so I can do even more if I was out there more, but as long as we’re winning that’s the main thing, but yeah, I do want to be out there in the fourth quarter, let’s make that clear.’’

A quick fact check: Chicago is 8-10 when Boozer is healthy and sits out the quarter and 12-13 when he plays the fourth. So, yes, Boozer is correct that the Bulls usually lose when sits out the fourth quarter. But they usually lose when he plays the fourth, too.

That probably doesn’t even show the full disparity. Quite likely, Thibodeau – whose baseline strategy is to bench Boozer for the final period – plays Boozer in the fourth only when the matchup is advantageous. So, while the Bulls are 5-4 when Boozer plays at least six minutes in the fourth quarter, their opponents in those games have a combined winning percentage of .329 (slightly better than the Celtics this season).

Thibodeau is a defensive-minded coach, and it makes sense his default fourth-quarter lineup includes Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson rather than Boozer. We could debate whether Gibson or Boozer is the better player, but there’s no question Gibson is the better defender.

Besides, you know who else wants to play a lot in the fourth quarter? Gibson and Noah. If the Bulls sat either of them for Boozer, they’d just be swapping which player is unhappy.

And make no mistake, Boozer is unhappy. But read his comments a little more closely.

This is exactly how a player who dislikes his role should handle it. He talked to his coach about the issue. He didn’t lie to the media about it. He’s not threatening any repercussions if he doesn’t get his way.

We want honesty from athletes, right? Boozer gave us honesty. He’s a competitor who believes in himself, and he wants more minutes. We can’t seek that honesty and then criticize the the player when he provides, as I’m sure many will do to Boozer.

As far as I’m concerned, Boozer is still a heck of a team player. He’s going to play hard when he gets on the court, and he’s going to cheer for his teammates when he’s off it. It doesn’t mean he has to like how often he does each.

Nene’s 28 lead Rockets past Thunder for 3-1 series lead

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Nene scored 28 points on perfect shooting from the field, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Nene made all 12 of his shots and had 10 rebounds. He helped the Rockets overcome an off night by James Harden, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18 points for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza had 14.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Houston.

Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime and finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. The Thunder said Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to claim three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.

Steven Adams scored 18 points and Victor Oladipo added 15 for the Thunder.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at the break. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter, and the Thunder led 58-54 at intermission. Meanwhile, Harden made just 2 of 9 shots and scored just six points in the first half.

The Thunder opened the second half with a 10-2 run, but Houston closed to 77-73 at the end of the third quarter.

Adams made the first of two free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining to cut Oklahoma City’s deficit to four. He rebounded his missed second free throw and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer that cut Houston’s lead to one point. But the Thunder lost track of Nene on the other end, and he converted a three-point play. Gordon’s two free throws with 6.2 seconds made it a four-point game.

TIP-INS

Rockets: G Patrick Beverley was fined $25,000 by the NBA for confronting a fan after Game 3. The league announced the fine about two hours before Game 4 tipped off.

Thunder: Westbrook had just one turnover in the first half. … Adams went 6 for 6 from the field in the first half. … Westbrook missed all six of his shots in the third quarter.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

Thunder convert missed FT to 3-pointer, refs miss James Harden push as Rockets win Game 4

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As if the end of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers Game 4 wasn’t wild enough, the finish to the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was just as odd.

The final quarter of Sunday’s game was laden with poor play and heavy fouling, including a ploy by Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to put Thunder forward Andre Roberson at the line as part of a hacking strategy.

But the final minute was what really caught everyone’s eye, as the Thunder converted a purposely-missed free-throw attempt by Steven Adams into a Russell Westbrook 3-pointer with just 21 seconds left.

Via Twitter:

The Thunder then broke down on the inbounds play a few seconds later, allowing Nene — who had a great game, scoring 28 points off the bench on 12-of-12 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds — to score an and-1 at the other end of the floor.

Oklahoma City then scored again on a tip.

That’s when it got REAL weird.

Houston inbounded the ball to James Harden, who got away with a gigantic, and frankly hilarious push off on Alex Abrines. OKC nearly stole the ball, but instead were called for a foul.

Via Twitter:

This game was wild, weird, terrible, and both sides have something to gripe about when it came to fouls.

Houston beat OKC, 113-109, and take a 3-1 lead back to Texas.

Russell Westbrook clinches triple-double in first half vs. Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder guard Russell Westbrook achieved a triple-double in the first half of Sunday’s playoff game against the Houston Rockets.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at halftime. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter. The Thunder led 58-54 at the break.

According to the Thunder, Westbrook became the second player to claim three consecutive triple-doubles in the playoffs. Wilt Chamberlain had three straight in 1967.

Westbrook entered the game averaging a triple-double in the series. He just set the record for triple-doubles in a regular season with 42.

Houston leads the series 2-1.

LeBron James helps Cavaliers hold off Pacers, earn sweep into 2nd round

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) LeBron James made a 3-pointer with 68 seconds left Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers hung on for a 106-102 series-clinching victory at Indiana.

James finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds as he became the first player under the current playoff format to win 21 straight first-round games. He also set a league record with his 10th career playoff sweep.

It sure wasn’t easy. After taking a 96-83 lead with 9:29 to go, the Cavs found themselves in a 102-100 deficit with 1:31 left.

But James answered with the go-ahead 3-pointer and Cleveland sealed the win on James’ free throw with 1 second left.

Lance Stephenson scored 22 points and Paul George added 15 but missed a 3-pointer that could have forced overtime in the closing seconds. It’s the first time the Pacers have lost a series 4-0 in their NBA history.

Kyrie Irving added 28 points for the Cavs, who await the winner of the Bucks-Raptors series.

Indiana got back into the game with a 7-0 spurt early in the in the fourth, then methodically continued chipping away at the lead until Thaddeus Young tied the score at 100 with a short jumper and broke the tie on a tip-in with 1:31 left.

But James, whose teams were 51-0 when starting the fourth quarter with double-digit leads in the postseason, made sure the perfect record remained intact.

Cleveland has won seven straight playoff games overall and 11 straight in the first round since James returned to his hometown team.

It was another milestone day for James, who moved past Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy on the league’s list of consecutive first-round wins, and past Tim Duncan for most career sweeps, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

James also went 13 off 25 from the field, tying Kobe Bryant for fourth on the career playoff list for field goals. Each have 2,014 baskets.

Indiana has lost five straight postseason games and six of its last eight.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Will make their 11th appearance in the conference semifinals. … Cleveland has swept all eight series in which it has taken a 3-0 lead. … Tristan Thompson grabbed 11 rebounds Sunday, giving him double digits in all four games. … Deron Williams scored 14 points and Kevin Love had 16 rebounds.

Pacers: George finished with a series-low point total Sunday and was 3 of 9 on 3s after entering the game with a league-high 15 3s in the playoffs. … Teague scored 15 points and was the catalyst in the final spurt, including blocking one of James’ shots. He can become a free agent this summer. …Myles Turner had 20 points and nine rebounds, while Young had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Cleveland gets some extra rest before finding out who it will play in the second round. Indiana embarks on a crucial offseason that could dictate the franchise’s future.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball