Kurt Helin

Associated Press

PBT Podcast: Why Bulls are owning Celtics, plus more East talk with Sean Highkin

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Going into the playoffs I thought Boston was a flawed team, the kind that could get exposed in the second round or maybe the Conference Finals.

However, I never saw this coming — the Bulls have owned them for the Celtics for the first two games of the playoffs. Nobody else did either. But the Bulls have the best player in the series in Jimmy Butler, they have been far more physical, they have defended aggressively, and the Bulls have owned the glass. Not only is Chicago up 2-0, but it’s also hard to see a way for Boston to get back in the series.

Kurt Helin of NBC and Sean Highkin who covers the Bulls for The Athletic break down this series and also discuss the rest of the matchups in the East, plus a little awards talk slips in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Russell Westbrook doesn’t give a %&@# about 51-point triple-double, his team lost

Associated Press

This game was a blow to Oklahoma City’s moral and ego. They played hard, they got the ball inside and owned the paint in the first half, they led by double digits in the second half, and they got a 51 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assist night from Russell Westbrook. That’s the first 50-point triple-double ever in the playoffs.

And the Thunder still lost.

After the game, Westbrook didn’t want to talk about his historic night.

Well, that ends that line of questioning.

Westbrook is understandably frustrated, this was the Thunder’s chance to steal a game on the road, and they blew it. He has to shoulder some of that blame with his 4-for-18 fourth quarter, but he was clearly tired, and Billy Donovan couldn’t take him out (the one time he did in the second half the Thunder were outscored by 9 in 2:21). Westbrook didn’t trust his teammates, they stood around and watched him, and the Thunder went into a downward spiral.

The first two games of this series simply validate what we said going into this series: Westbrook can be brilliant, but James Harden has a better team around him in the Rockets and they are going to win because of that.

Stephen Curry nailing threes, throwing lobs as Warriors cruise past Trail Blazers


Kevin Durant was resting his strained calf muscle.

Not that it changed what was happening on the court, we just wanted to make note of it. The rest of the Warriors picked up the slack and cruised to a 110-81 win, putting the Warriors up 2-0 in the series.

There’s not a lot to break down here — one team is vastly superior, particularly on defense. That was the biggest key to this blowout, the Warriors played better defense, holding the Trail Blazers to 33 percent shooting on the night.

Meanwhile, the Warriors did whatever they wanted on offense, such as Stephen Curry hitting the deep three you see above. Curry finished with

Or, Curry was throwing lobs to JaVale McGee, who had 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting.

Curry did that a few times.

You get the idea how this game went from those clips.

Westbrook has 51-point triple double, Harden has help so Rockets win Game 2

Associated Press

Wednesday night’s game summed up the Thunder this season. And it summed up why Oklahoma City is outclassed in this series by Houston — Russell Westbrook had the first 50-point triple-double in playoff history. However, he was tired and inefficient late, and his 14 missed shots in the fourth quarter was also an NBA record. Meanwhile, the Rockets played team ball down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Rockets played team ball down the stretch — their star James Harden had 35, but in the fourth quarter he got plenty of help.

That’s why Houston is up 2-0 in this series after a 115-111 victory at home, as the series heads back to Oklahoma City for Game 3.

Wednesday’s loss feels like a punch to the gut of the Thunder because they got a big Westbrook night, they had 14 point lead in the second half, and it wasn’t enough.

The first half saw the Westbrook that the Thunder wanted and the Westbrook the rest of the NBA feared — Westbrook had 22 points and 10 assists in the first 24 minutes. More importantly, he opened things up and got his teammates going — Oklahoma City had 10 more points in the paint than Houston, it had 12 second chance points, and it had seven blocked shots. OKC owned the paint. That successful team play started because Westbrook was doing stuff like this on both ends.

The fourth quarter was the flip-side of that coin.

A tired Westbrook just kept jacking up shots, many of them bad ones, and he shot 4-of-18 for the quarter, including 1-of-7 from three. After the Thunder had taken the lead back at 100-99 with 4:14 remaining, Westbrook missed his next seven shots. While that happened, the Rockets went on a run that sealed the game. Check out Westbrook’s fourth-quarter shot chart.

Why didn’t coach Billy Donovan rest Westbrook in the fourth? Because when he sat Westbrook for 2:21 at the end of the third the Rockets outscored the Thunder by nine and changed the complexion of the game.

More important than the poor shooting, and unlike the first half, Westbrook was not getting his teammates involved, so they started standing around and watching the show, which was a stark contrast to the Rockets who played with a team energy. How much of the OKC offensive stagnation is on Westbrook and how much of that falls on his teammates depends on which side of the chicken-egg debate you stand on, but the Westbrook one-man show did work well for them in a lot of close games this season. Wednesday night, in the glare of the postseason spotlight, it did not.

What is undebatable is the Rockets started their crucial 10-0 early fourth-quarter run with Harden sitting on the bench. Harden was rested at the end, Westbrook was tired and pulling up for shots (so the Rockets switched the longer Trevor Ariza on him to contest looks). The Rockets also got better defense in the fourth, particularly in the paint from Clint Capella, who had multiple stops when it mattered.

Harden certainly had a good night, scoring 35 points and getting to the line at will. But he went just 2-of-4 from the floor in the fourth while Eric Gordon was 4-of-7 for 11 points and Patrick Beverley was 3-of-3 for eight in the quarter. Houston had balance, they had a team effort on both ends.

And with that, those Rockets have a 2-0 series lead.

Kevin Durant sitting out Game 2 for Warriors on Wednesday

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Things seemed to be leaning this way all day, and in the grand scheme of things it appears to be the right play.

Kevin Durant is out Wednesday night for Game 2 of the Warriors’ series against the Trail Blazers.

This is the right move for the Warriors — they can beat Portland without him, and it gives KD five days to rest his injury before Game 3. The Warriors will need Durant later in the postseason, and they don’t want this to linger.

While the loss of Durant is not good for the Warriors, it doesn’t change the main dynamic in this series — Portland can’t stop the Warriors’ offense. Maybe if Jusuf Nurkic returns they can slow it a little, but the simple fact is Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are not great defenders, and they are going to struggle to slow Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, particularly because the Warriors guards have a few inches each on their defenders. Portland has struggled on defense all season, and the Warriors have scored at an insane rate all season with or without Durant.

Maybe this is the game where the red-hot shooting of the Blazers can beat the Warriors, but I wouldn’t bet on it.