Mike Dunleavy scores 35 points to save Bulls from 3-0 deficit

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Mike Dunleavy scored 35 points, made 8-of-10 3-pointers and repeatedly drew defenders while slashing to the rim.

But his most-gratifying moment might have been cleanly catching an inbound pass with 0.3 seconds remaining.

Dunleavy took one hard dribble, set the ball on the court and ran to a line of high-fiving teammates after ensuring the Bulls escaped Game 3 with a 100-97 win over the Wizards on Friday.

The Bulls led Game 1 by five points with fewer than 10 minutes left and blew it. They led Game 2 by 10 points with fewer than seven minutes left and blew it. They led Game 3 by seven points with fewer than 10 minutes remaining and blew it.

Finally, Jimmy Butler put the Bulls up three with a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining. And then they tried their darnedest to blow that, too.

They let Trevor Ariza get off a 3-point attempt, but he missed it. Mike Dunleavy floated an inbound pass John Wall stole. Butler fouled Wall who sped away from the pack and then made both free throws. Butler lost the ensuing entry pass out of bounds, though he was bailed out by a foul call and made both free throws. Joakim Noah fouled out while intentionally fouling Bradley Beal before the Wizards shooting guards could attempt a game-tying 3-pointer. Beal split from the line, and Garrett Temple fouled D.J. Augustin before the inbound, giving Chicago one free throw and the ball. Augustin made it and then two more to put the Bulls up five with four seconds remaining, a nearly completely secure lead. Then, Tony Snell fouled John Wall on a 3-pointer about 65 feet from the basket. Wall made all three free throws, though he probably should have missed the third. Washington fouled Taj Gibson with three seconds remaining, and he only split at the line, missing the second. The Bulls let Trevor Ariza grab the rebound, and before the Wizards could attempt a desperation heave to tie the game, Ariza threw the ball away with 0.3 seconds remaining. Finally, Chicago inbounded to Dunleavy.

Whew.

That’s a lot of action in the length of the shot clock and far too much drama for a team that already trailed 2-0 in the series following two home losses. In the end, though, Chicago got exactly what it needed – a victory. No team trailing 3-0 has ever come back to win a series.

On a micro level, the Bulls got what they needed, too.

They needed Joakim Noah to contain Nene, and he did with Butler’s help. They needed D.J. Augustin and Gibson to keep scoring off the bench, and they did with 13 points each. And they needed a starter to rise to the occasion offensively, and Dunleavy most definitely did.

His 35 points more than doubled his previous career playoff high (17 for the Bucks in a loss to the Heat last year). Only LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin have scored so much in a playoff game this year. Dunleavy came only one point shy of his career high, a mark he’s hit five times but never since 2008.

He scored 10 in the first quarter, 6 in the second, 13 in the third and 6 in the fourth – providing effective counters as the host Wizards smelled blood in the water early and continued to thrive in spurts throughout the game.

Wall especially thrived in Washington’s first home playoff game in six years. He was so hot early, even a missed 360-degree layup qualified as a highlight, and he finished with 23 points, seven assists and four steals.

Beal led the Wizards with 25 points, and Ariza (16 points, 11 rebounds and two steals) and Marcin Gortat (13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks) both turned in solid outings.

But Washington’s fifth starter – the one who keyed both wins in Chicago – let the team down. Not only did Nene struggle most of the game, finishing 5-of-15 with five turnovers and no free throws, he lost his cool when he finally got going. After making consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter, Nene picked a needless fight with Butler and then even more needlessly escalated it. The Wizards big man was ejected, and he might face further NBA discipline.

Trying to win with a struggling Nene is tough enough – Washington was outscored by 10 points in the 29 minutes he played – and trying to win with him in the locker room is even tougher. But as a parting shot, Nene’s outburst apparently inspired Butler, who was 0-for-7 on 3-pointers to that point in the series.

On the possession following Nene’s ejection, Butler made a 3, and then he hit another to put Chicago up for good with 24 seconds remained.

It wasn’t easy for the Bulls after that, as Washington kept grasping at straws until, finally, none remained. The young Wizards continue to play loose and spirited basketball, and with a 2-1 series lead, they remain in control.

But as Chicago found, with Dunleavy rolling, it was a little easier – and tonight, just easy enough.

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.

Donovan Mitchell outplays Thunder Big 3 in fourth, Jazz win to even series

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Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma City’s big three — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony — were 0-of-15 shooting in the fourth.

That, in a nutshell, is how the Jazz bounced back from a 19-0 Thunder run in the third quarter that had OKC in charge of the game. It’s how Utah got the win Game 2 win, 102-95, to even the series as it heads to Salt Lake City.

“There was a time out (after the OKC run) where there was a just a determination, and we felt like we would rely on our defense, and that’s what we did,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “Donovan, obviously, his aggressiveness on the offensive end fueled us there.”

It was what fueled them all night. In Game 2, the Jazz defense was more settled and like itself than the opener, and that forced more isolation ball out of Oklahoma City — they had eight assists and nine turnovers in the first half. The Thunder were still getting buckets because Playoff P and Westbrook are just great scorers, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it had been.

For the Thunder, it was often the Russell Westbrook show, and he was scoreless in the second quarter and had just a couple of free throws in the fourth.

All of that made this a game it felt like the Jazz needed to win — there are few chances to steal a game on the road against a good team, and this was one. The game was defensive and played in Utah’s style.

Which is why it was devastating when the Thunder had their 19-0 third quarter run, turning a deficit into a 10-point lead. In that stretch, the Jazz missed shots, took a few bad ones, and turned the ball over in that run. Mitchell even missed an uncontested dunk in there.

When Mitchell struggled, other guys stepped up.

Derrick Favors had a huge game for Utah, finishing with 20 points and 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive. He was particularly impressive in the first half, when Mitchell struggled (with George draped all over him). Utah had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, six of those by Favors. Utah’s dominance on the glass was big for them, Utah got a second chance on 37.5 percent of their missed shots in the first half, which is far too high a percentage. Steven Adams battling foul trouble had a lot to do with that.

“The biggest thing for us, Derrick Favors played his ass off,” Mitchell said after the game. “When we were missing shots he was getting rebounds, I think he had a double-double almost at the half [note: he had 10 points, 8 rebounds at the half]. Without Fav we wouldn’t even be at this point.”

The other key was Ricky Rubio. He was being more judicious about when to shoot and was looking to set up teammates. However, when left open and able to shoot in rhythm, Rubio was hitting, he was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 22 points and nine assists. Rubio struggled with his shot inside the arc (1-of-8) but he hit the big buckets and kept the floor spaced when asked. he had seven fourth-quarter points.

But the fourth belonged to Mitchell, who showed exactly what he meant to this team all season — they are not in the postseason without him. Mitchell finished with 28 points to lead the Jazz.

For the Thunder, the shots that fell in Game 1 did not in Game 2, much as it has been night to night for this team all season. George had 18 points on 21 shots, Anthony had 17 points on 18 shots, and Westbrook had 19 points on 19 shots. Combine that with Adams being in foul trouble most of the night and it was not the Thunder’s game.

Now the onus is on them to steal one in Utah, starting Friday night.

LeBron James starts hot, scores 46 in Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over Pacers

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LeBron James attempted no shots in the first 10 minutes of Game 1.

Less than half that long into Game 2, he scored all of the Cavaliers’ points as they built a 16-1 lead over the Pacers.

LeBron dominated early, and Cleveland held on for a 100-97 Game 2 win Wednesday. The first-round series is now tied 1-1 with Game 3 Friday in Indiana.

LeBron finished with 46 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals. It was his highest-scoring playoff game in his second Cavs tenure.

More than any point since he left Cleveland for the Heat, LeBron’s team is built for him to carry it singlehandedly. He was obviously always the leader and best player, but at times, he could let Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving cook. Now, LeBron has no teammates worth deferring to – only teammates who can flourish when LeBron positions them to succeed.

LeBron showed a willingness to accept that challenge tonight in a way he didn’t even in Game 1, when he had a triple-double. That bodes well for the Cavaliers as they undertake what they hope will be a long playoff run – and maybe even as they approach LeBron’s free agency.

But as well as LeBron played tonight, the Pacers battled back. Victor Oladipo missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 27 seconds left after Cleveland blew its coverage and left him open.

“We got lucky,” LeBron said. “We gave up a wide-open 3 to Oladipo, and he missed it. I’d rather be on time and on target than being lucky.”

Cleveland was also fortunate with Pacers coach Nate McMillan’s handling of Victor Oladipo’s early foul trouble.

McMillan sat Oladipo just more than a minute into the game. Oladipo picked up two quick fouls, but both were offensive – more fluky than indicative of a problem. During the regular season, Oladipo committed four fouls (necessary at that point to foul out tonight) every 58 minutes he played. Oladipo returned in the second quarter but got pulled again midway through the period with a third foul, a questionable call as Kevin Love jumped sideways into him on a shot. Oladipo committed three fouls (necessary at that point to foul out) every 44 minutes during the regular season.

Oladipo finished with three fouls. Indiana was +11 points in his 28 minutes and -14 points in the 20 minutes he sat.

That could bode well for the Pacers going forward. Many of the Cavs’ advantages tonight might not continue throughout the series. In particular, Kevin Love left the game late with a thumb injury.

But Cleveland’s biggest advantage remains: LeBron James. He showed tonight just how much that still matters.

Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, dies

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The Spurs may be in the playoffs, but all of that takes a backseat now for Gregg Popovich.

Spurs:

With deep regret the San Antonio Spurs announce that Erin Popovich, wife of Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich, passed away earlier today. Erin and Gregg were married for four decades and were blessed with two children and two grandchildren.

“We mourn the loss of Erin,” said Spurs General Manager RC Buford. “She was a strong, wonderful, kind, intelligent woman who provided love, support and humor to all of us.”

The organization asks media to respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

What devastating news. Hopefully, Popovich had time to make peace with this eventuality, but that doesn’t make it easy to handle.