NBA Playoffs: Bulls shut down Hawks in the fourth

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The Atlanta Hawks gave the Bulls all they could handle for the first three quarters of Game 5. They had a surprising amount of success moving the ball against Chicago’s top-ranked defense, penetrating at will and scoring tough baskets under the rim. They continued to make the league MVP work for everything he got — Rose finished with 33 points and 9 assists while only making two jump shots, but he had surprisingly few easy layups against Atlanta’s defense. But in the end, the team with the best regular-season record in the league and the league MVP was able to overwhelm the Hawks in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls came away with a 95-83 victory and a 3-2 series lead. 

The big worry for Chicago in this game going forward was the ineffectiveness of their starting frontcourt — Joakim Noah was held scoreless, finished with only one offensive rebound, and was benched in the decisive fourth quarter for Omer Asik. Carlos Boozer’s playoff struggles continued — Boozer was active on the glass and put in a few mid-range jumpers, but he missed a ton of the “ugly baskets” between the free throw line and the rim that are usually his bread-and-butter, and he was benched in the fourth for Taj Gibson, who gave the Bulls a critical boost by scoring 11 points on 5-5 shooting in the fourth quarter.

The ineffectiveness of Noah and Boozer and Atlanta’s revelatory ball movement, and the spectacular play of Jeff Teague gave the Hawks a chance to steal home-court advantage and put the Bulls on the brink of elimination, but they failed to do the two things any team must do to have a chance against the Bulls: make shots from the outside and keep Derrick Rose away from the rim.

Atlanta couldn’t buy a jump shot all night long. They shot only 1-12 from beyond the three-point line, and Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot 7-24 from the field. Even with Jeff Teague flying into the paint at will and making every crazy floater he threw up, Chicago’s defense is too good to be broken without getting a few outside shots to fall.

Then there was Derrick Rose. As I mentioned, Rose only made two jump shots in Game 5, but the Bulls had no answer for his relentless drives to the rim. Rose put on an MVP performance, slithering through traps, absorbing contact, getting himself to the line, finding teammates when the Hawks were forced to collapse three or four defenders on him, and he was consistently able to sneak through the tiniest possible slivers of space for layups. Eventually, the Hawks simply succumbed to the pressure Rose put on their defense, and now they find themselves having to win two games in a row to avoid elimination.

The Bulls haven’t looked like juggernauts over the first two rounds, but they still do some things as well as any team in the league, and are just as much of a threat to come out of the East as they were at the beginning of the playoffs. Their deep bench gives them contingency plans when guys like Noah and Boozer have off nights. Rose can dominate a game without needing his outside shot to be on. The Bulls’ defense guarantees that any team who wants to get past them will have to be able to win an absolute war. The Bulls aren’t perfect, or close to it, but they’re gamers to the core, and that makes them just as dangerous as any team still alive in these playoffs.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

View this post on Instagram

We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.