With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Carlos Boozer was sitting on the bench. Joakim Noah was right next to him. Keith Bogans was right there with them.
Taj Gibson was in, with Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer.
And they were key to the 95-83 win that leaves the Bulls just one game shy of the conference finals.
When the usual Bulls substitutions came late in the third, the game was still very close. At the start of the fourth a Jeff Teague driving layup had the Hawks up one and all sorts of questions running through the United Center.
Then Derrick Rose made his own driving layup. Luol Deng drained a three (from Rose’s assist). Then Gibson started his big fourth quarter with an and-1 with the assist from Rose. Pretty soon (after another Rose layup) the Bulls were up 8 and in control.
That’s when Bulls Tom Thibodeau made the coaching ove of the series — he stuck with the hot hand. The starts sat and the bench stayed on the floor.
“I thought the bench was great, and they got it going pretty good so we stayed with them,” Thibodeau said after the game. “Derrick and Luol played well with that group.”
Gibson had 11 points in the quarter, Asik had three rebounds, set massive picks and was a big body in the paint that frustrated the Hawks, Brewer brought energy at both ends. The Bulls should have struggled with a lineup where Deng was the best outside shooter, but instead they attacked and got their shots at the rim in the fourth. Atlanta struggled against the defense — well, except for Teague — and settled for jump shots.
When the Hawks would try to make a run, the Bulls answered. Again and again. They made another late 8-0 run and salted it away.
In the end the Bulls bench — and Thibodeau’s willingness to ride that bench in the biggest game of the season so far — was the difference. And the bench will have the Bulls on to the next round with another performance like that.
When Mitch Kupchak came in as GM in Charlotte it led to a lot of speculation — and a lot of other GMs calling in to check — were the Hornets going to blow it up, trade Kemba Walker, and start to rebuild?
No. Walker is still there, Tony Parker is now backing him up, and new coach James Borrego is talking about upping the pace, getting the Hornets on the run. Walker, heading into the last year of his contract, has consistently said he does not want to leave Charlotte.
That has never stopped fans from his native New York from begging him to come home and lead the Knicks. Walker, talking to Don Amore of the Hartford Courant, reiterated he does not want to leave Charlotte.
“I’ve been hearing it for years,” Walker said Thursday, after working with youngsters at the National Basketball Players Association summer camp. “Every time I come home, ‘When are you going to come home and play for the Knicks?’ I know it’s a special place, I was a Knicks fan growing up, always rooted for the home team. But I just can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey, only because I’ve only been in one jersey.”
“I just want to do something special in Charlotte,” Walker said. “I’ve been there eight years now, and we haven’t really been consistent as far as winning. I just want to try to establish that culture at some point. That’s what I want to do, I just want to make it a winning organization.”
This season, the Hornets are going to try to win, be a playoff team and a threat once there. In a smaller market (one that took owner Michael Jordan a long time to rebuild after what the previous owner had done there), rebuilding can be hard on the bottom line, and the competitive MJ does not want to go there. He wants to keep Walker and build a steady playoff team, and Kupchak has said the same thing.
However, if that doesn’t happen this year, the calculations for the organization and Walker could be different next summer. Could.
For now, Walker just does not see himself if blue and orange.
Steve Kerr and Draymond Green have had their come-to-Jesus meeting (or, meetings) and have found their way to a place of mutual respect.
That doesn’t mean they don’t still argue. Plenty.
All this amuses Stephen Curry, who talked about it on The Bill Simmons Podcast when asked about his favorite Draymond story. (Hat tip Bleacher Report.)
“Probably the times him and Coach Kerr get into it,” Curry said. “And you’re inside of practice and you don’t know whose side to take. Just like, “I guess they’re both right, but they’re both wrong….
“They argue about a play call or maybe something Coach Kerr has been thinking about for a couple games. … And [Draymond’s] like, ‘Don’t over-coach. We know what we doing.’ And coach is like, ‘Well, I know you know what you’re doing, but let me just help you as I’m supposed to do. That’s what my job is, to point out things that could be important for us to win a championship.’
“But they have a real—the respect level between those two is at an all-time high, but they have their moments and it’s just amazing entertainment to watch in practice.”
It’s a long grind of a season, you’ve got to take your entertainment where you can find it.
Green’s passion is a challenge for Kerr, but he can’t snuff out that flame because Green would not be the same player without it. It’s about managing it, showing Green the coach has his back, and Green maturing (something he said happened more quickly after his 2016 Finals suspension). It’s worked the past two years and led to two more rings.
Kevin Love is the man in Cleveland now, with LeBron James having gone to Hollywood.
But it’s not going to be the same, and Love knows it. The best player of his generation is gone, and Love had nothing but praise for LeBron and his willingness to take on a challenge in a sit-down interview with ESPN.
Love is right, LeBron loves a challenge, but the one with the Lakers is unlike anything else in his career. Expectations are through the roof for a team that has undergone a roster upheaval, and while those kinds of teams can take a little bit to come together, if that happens and the Lakers get off to a slow start in the West it will be a lot harder to dig out of it than it was after the Cavs’ annual mid-season slump in the East. LeBron is on a team with young players and a lot of stop-gap one-year contracts set up to help them get another star (at the trade deadline or next summer). That makes they dynamics of this season different for LeBron (although he would never admit to it, saying winning was the goal from the start).
Love has got his own challenges. He may not be able to lead the Cavaliers to the playoffs this season. However, he could be a sneaky good fantasy pickup now that he’s going to get a lot more touches.
Timberwolves general manager David Kahn infamously drafted two point guards – Ricky Rubio No. 5 and Jonny Flynn No. 6 – before the Warriors took Stephen Curry No. 7 in the 2009 draft.
Curry, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:
“My guy David Kahn. I don’t know where he’s at right now,” Curry said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “I don’t know if that ever came out — there’s a story. Everybody knows how much I love golf — play it in my spare time and what not.
“I think the word on the street was that he didn’t draft me because in Minnesota it’s cold and I wouldn’t be able to play as much golf so I would have been miserable.”
A shocked Simmons asked Curry: “Is that true?”
“I hope it’s true because that’s hilarious (laughter),” Curry said. “That’s hilarious.”
If this is why Minnesota passed on Curry, it was a huge mistake. Better to take the best prospect available and hope for the best. Curry probably would have learned to appreciate Minnesota. There’s plenty of room to golf elsewhere in the offseason. Remember, Golden State was seen as a low-rung destination just a few years ago. Curry helped transform the franchise’s perception.
Mostly, though, I’m with Curry. This would be a hilarious story if true.
But that doesn’t mean we should just assume it’s accurate. Plenty of teams underestimated Curry, who looked like an undersized score-first guard when he entered the NBA. He just beat the odds and made everyone who passed on him look silly.