Joakim Noah

Bulls beat Heat, show why nobody wants to face them in playoffs


One day doesn’t change that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What Sunday showed is why on the path to that show do neither of those teams wants to see the Chicago Bulls.

Sunday at home against the Miami Chicago was relentless, physical, they defended well, they take away the easy buckets so you have to work for every point. They take a lot out of whomever they face.

That’s what happened to Miami on Sunday in Chicago. The Heat pulled ahead by 12 early in the fourth quarter but the Bulls battled back, made enough shots down the stretch and forced the game to overtime, where they dominated and beat Miami 95-88.

Joakim Noah continued his run of play that inspires MVP chants with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. A couple weeks back he was frustrated with his team’s collapse late in Miami, so this time he put the Bulls offense on his back when they need points — he finds a way to get buckets. Not pretty buckets, but buckets. More importantly, on defense he can and did switch picks on to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and can lock them up. D.J. Augustin came off the bench to provide a 22-point spark for the Bulls. Jimmy Buttler had 16 points and 11 boards (plus a key strip of LeBron late). That was enough offense to get the job done.

However, as always the Bulls won with defense. LeBron James shot 8-of-23, struggling with his jumper going left all game — he can’t blame the sleeves this time — plus he never got to the free throw once. Dwyane Wade carried the Heat offense for long stretches and scored 25 points on 16 shots, and Chris Bosh chipped in 15. However, as a team the Heat shot just 40.5 percent and were 7-of-20 from three.

The Heat played strong defense as well, with Chicago shooting just 42.2 percent on the game. However when they needed it they were able to generate offense, something the Heat struggled to do.

Chicago came out playing good defense from the start and held the Heat to 41.2 percent shooting in the first half. It was close through the second quarter and the Bulls led until Miami went on 15-0 run late in second half. That run happened when Bulls missed and the Heat pushed in transition and converted. Chicago went 0-of-10 shooting with a 24-second violation in the mix during a scoreless five minute stretch and Miami converted the misses into transition buckets — Bosh got one on a great pass from Chalmers, then LeBron James had one also.

Heat lead 43-37 at half.

Miami stretched that lead out a little in the third quarter and early in the fourth got it up to a dozen.

But the Bulls never quit. Ever. They are the Terminator of basketball teams, and they wore down the Heat and caught them.

This matchup has been a feisty, physical rivalry for a few years now, the Bulls just play the Heat tough. In a seven game series Chicago would lack the scoring to keep up as Miami adjusted, but Chicago would wear them down. The Bulls would wear down Indiana as well.

Chicago, even without Derrick Rose, is the third best team in the East. They are the team to avoid in the East.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.