NBA Playoffs: Bulls rode strong start and hung on for dear life to beat the Cavs in Game 3

6 Comments

rose_game 3.pngWinning Game 3 wasn’t going to convince anyone that Chicago will win the series, but this game was huge. The Bulls sprinted out to an early double-digit lead behind a huge opening frame from Derrick Rose (15 in the first quarter alone on 6-of-8 shooting; he finished with 31 points on 26 shots, seven assists, and zero turnovers), and then survived Cleveland’s incredible fourth quarter rally to gut out a 108-106 victory.

Rose was hardly the only hero for Chicago, though, as Kirk Hinrich put together one of the best games of his playoff career (27 points, 9-12 FG, 4-4 3FG, five rebounds, five assists), Luol Deng was confident and efficient (20 points on 16 shots, and a game-changing charge drawn on LeBron James), and Joakim Noah was as active and productive as you’d expect (10 points, 15 rebounds, five assists). In terms of all-around production, the Bulls aren’t likely to see such a balanced game from this core on many occasions. It’s a bit of an outlier even if it is a pleasant one, and shows just how effective this team can be when they’re clicking on all cylinders.

Even the Brad Miller cylinder, as Miller outscored Shaquille O’Neal (10-6), out-shot him (50% for Miller to 37.5% for O’Neal), and outrebounded him (5-4) to boot. This Bulls team looked woefully undersized just two games ago, but Noah and Miller did what they could to deny Shaq interior position and made every shot as difficult as possible. On some nights that won’t stop Shaq from pounding his way inside and dropping a baby hook, but on this one it was enough to frustrate him into being a complete non-factor.

Then there was that LeBron James (39 points on 36 shots, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five turnovers, two steals, three blocks) guy. James showed off an array of jump shots over the game’s first three quarters before taking over Cleveland’s offense in the fourth. I’d say it worked, as the Cavs put up 38 (26 of which were either scored or assisted by LeBron) points in the quarter, with their only shortcoming being their inability to stop the Bulls from getting 29. Chicago’s total is a bit inflated by free throws from intentional fouls (the Bulls had eight free throw attempts in the last minute alone), but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cavs came up just short of an incredible comeback win.

Cleveland didn’t do themselves any favors with the way they started the game, as poor perimeter defense (Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were getting into the paint at will) and iffy shot selection gave Chicago a comfy lead. It was enough for the Bulls to ride their momentum through the second and third quarters before sealing the win at the line in the fourth. Not that the Bulls were spotless from the stripe when it counted; out of their eight free throw attempts in the final minute, Chicago made just four of them, leaving the door open for a potential tie on several occasions.

 Mo Williams (21 points, three assists, three turnovers) hit two three-pointers in the final 30 seconds to keep Cleveland within striking distance, but Chicago scored just enough to win their first game of the series. There was no dagger, just a sigh of relief as Anthony Parker’s half-court heave drew iron.

I’m not sure this game exposed anything about the Cavaliers aside from the fact that they are, in fact, beatable. Not beatable in this series, mind you, but beatable over the course of 48 minutes. The Bulls played a damn fine game and the Cavs merely passable ball, and this is the result we’re left with. Thanks for the great game, Chicago, and thanks for playing, but even this win doesn’t change much of anything. 

Report: Sixers, in need of shooting, interested in Kyle Korver trade

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Trading for Jimmy Butler was the right move for Philadelphia, an all-in kind of play that ends the slow-play “process” and pushes championship dreams to the forefront.

It’s also risky — Butler has some Thibodeau-miles on his body, making the need to win sooner rather than later more urgent. It also comes with the problem that while the core three are elite, this team doesn’t have the depth and shooting to compete with Boston or Toronto (or maybe Milwaukee) right now, especially after having to trade Robert Covington and Dario Saric to get Butler.

Everyone around the league expects Philadelphia GM Elton Brand to be aggressive from here on out, looking for trades that bring in veterans who can help right now. One target: Cleveland’s Kyle Korver, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

The desperate-for-shooters Sixers remain highly interested in acquiring Cleveland’s Kyle Korver.
But that will be harder for Philadelphia to make happen without Jerryd Bayless‘ handy $8.6 million expiring contract to help facilitate a trade.

Korver is in the second season of a three-year, $22 million deal he signed with the Cavaliers in 2017. The Sixers instead plugged Bayless into the Butler trade to help make that salary cap math work.

There are options to get this deal done. Korver for Markelle Fultz straight up works, but that likely doesn’t work personnel wise for either side (the Sixers probably will want more for the former No. 1 pick, while the Cavs may want a pick as a sweetener to take on a “broken” player, the trade value of Fultz is an interesting question but it’s not high around the league). Korver for Mike Muscala and Zhaire Smith also works financially. Future picks also can be part of any package, which may interest Cleveland now that they figured out they’re supposed to rebuild after losing the best player of a generation.

However it gets done, what Stein reports follows the buzz around the league — expect the Sixers to be aggressive going after guys who can help them win right now, and Korver is at the top of the list. He’s been available since this summer, the Cavaliers have just been holding out for more than the market will offer.

Korver, at age 37, has not looked as sharp this season, he’s not moved as crisply and his three-point shooting percentage has dropped to 38.7 — which is still better than any of the regular three-point shooters on the Sixers right now (J.J. Redick is a better shooter overall but is hitting 34.9 percent this season so far). Korver has been in and out of the Cavaliers rotation as the franchise tries to figure out what it’s doing.

Warriors suspend Draymond Green for postgame comments in locker room

AP Images
6 Comments

The play itself that sparked everything was ugly.

With :06 seconds left in a tie game against the Clippers Monday night, watch Draymond Green grab the rebound and try to go the length of the court for the game-winner himself — only to fumble the ball away without a shot — while Kevin Durant, who should take that shot (or the hot Klay Thompson at that point), claps his hands and calls for the ball.

On the bench after that play got uglier with an argument between Green and Durant where Green allegedly even called KD his “b****” before Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins stepped in as peacemakers. In the locker room later the argument continued and was nasty as there has been in this era of the Warriors. It wasn’t just Durant, a lot of players questioned and called out Green’s decision, while Green defended himself angrily, and questioning KD on his free agency next summer.

All of it crossed a line, and Green has been suspended for a night and will sit against Atlanta, without pay.

From Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports:

Green repeatedly called Durant “a bitch” after he was called out by the two-time NBA Finals MVP in the huddle for not passing him the ball, sources said. The organization is of the belief that Green cut too deep in his disagreement with Durant, sources said.

Klay Thompson, who is typically reserved, spoke up in the locker room to the surprise of his teammates about the altercation and stressed the importance of sticking together, sources said.

Durant is not making his free agency decision — he is expected to opt out of the last year of his contract before July — based on this one incident. But it seems to point to an overall tension around the team as it knows it could be the last year of this specific Warriors team.

Long term, Durant and Green will get over it — they had public arguments before then were hanging out at a baseball game together the next night. They will put it behind them.

But it’s just something to remember come next July.

Report: DeAndre Jordan has bothered Mavericks teammates with selfish play

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DeAndre Jordan bumping teammate Luka Doncic to get an otherwise-uncontested rebound could have been seen as a minor issue, overexuberance by Jordan due to determination to get every loose ball.

But to the Mavericks, it was an example of a troubling pattern with Jordan.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

He has rubbed teammates the wrong way with what they perceive as selfish play

Jordan signed a one-year contract with Dallas last summer, and it’s already hard to see him returning next season.

The Mavericks are just 5-8. They’ve been outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions when he plays and outscored opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions when he sits. He often looks disinterested. His help defense – what Dallas really needs from him – has been especially lazy.

Jordan is still big and mobile, and he can’t help but make some positive contributions as a rebounder and finisher. He just leaves so much to be desired.

Jordan’s mood with the Clippers alternated between despondent and eager. Maybe it will in Dallas, too.

But he’ll apparently have to overcome a poor reputation with his new teammates.

Jimmy Butler joins 76ers defending reputation from Timberwolves exit

AP Images
3 Comments

76ers general manager Elton Brand wore a suit. 76ers owner Joshua Harris wore a suit. New 76ers center Justin Patton wore a suit – with a bowtie!

And then there was Jimmy Butler, who sat between them in sweats.

“As you can tell, I’m the only one up here without a suit on because my suit got here late this morning,” Butler pointed out at his introductory press conference today.

Butler begins his new chapter in Philadelphia trying to repair his image.

His trade request from the Timberwolves, his subsequent tactics and reports about his treatment of teammates tarnished his reputation. In a humbler outfit – a genuine consequence of a hasty move or another orchestrated stunt? – Butler addressed those questions.

“I think that I’m an incredible human being, teammate, and I’ll show that to the guys that are here,” Butler said.

So, he won’t convince anyone he’s humble.

But he shouldn’t have to. Butler worked his way up from a modest origin into superstardom. Arrogance can be earned. His ascent should be celebrated – and emulated.

Everyone, including Butler’s new teammates, could learn from his work ethic. That didn’t work well in Minnesota, where Butler sparred with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler would do well to exercise more patience while setting an example.

Not that he’s ready to admit wrongdoing.

“The funny part about it is all you hear is ‘sources say.’ You never hear a player say it,” Butler said. “And I think if a player had a problem or anything, they would. That’s how I feel about the situation. Unless everybody in my past locker room was just that fake, I don’t think I’m that big of a problem at all.”

I don’t think players turned off by Butlers fury would be above criticizing him anonymously. His confrontational style isn’t for everyone.

Besides, Butler used leaks to his advantage, too. It’s all part of the game, which resulted in Butler getting his Bird Rights – and the ability to offer a max contract projected to be worth $190 million over five years – to the 76ers.

Of course, Butler denied money drove his trade request. He insisted he’s still the guy who listens to country music, plays dominos and drives a minivan.

“I’ve already got enough money to have me and my family set for the rest of my life,” Butler said. “It’s not about the money. I’ve got to be able to love where I’m at and have a great chance of winning a championship.

“I love what Josh and Elton are doing. I think they’re doing it the right way. That’s what matters, the people that are around here and how everybody is treated. Because basketball is just one part of it. But to know that you’re wanted and that you’re always going to be taken care of, your people are always going to be taken care of, I think that’s what matters most to me – and a lot of other people in this league.”

Butler wasn’t pressed on what went wrong in Minnesota. He professed his fondness for Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau and said, “it just didn’t work out.”

Will it in Philadelphia? Butler said he dominated the ball in Minnesota only because that was asked of him. He sounds ready to adjust to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, whose social-media postings Butler called a “special work of art.” Talent tends to win out, and this team has awesome defensive ability.

Butler’s reputation never should have been as sullied as it was. The Timberwolves’ mismanagement contributed to the dysfunction as much as, if not more, than Butler’s trade request. He still performed very well for Minnesota in his year-plus there.

But if he comes to Philadelphia with an even larger chip on his shoulder, eager to prove his bona fides as a teammate and leader, that could be good for him and the 76ers. Butler lifted himself to an elite level. He still must show an ability to help others get there.

At least on day one in Philadelphia, Butler came dressed to work.