NBA Playoffs: Can Bulls find answers to Heat’s questions?

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LeBron James didn’t really get going as a scorer (holding him to 22 points is keeping them in check). Same with Dwyane Wade who had just 17 points. The Bulls grabbed 32.5 percent of their missed shots for offensive rebounds. The Bulls limited the Heat’s transition points. Carlos Boozer put up 26 points with 17 boards.

A lot of things went right for the Bulls — and they still lost 96-85. They now trail 2-1 to the Heat.

If all those things to right and they lose, what does it take for them to win? Game 3 felt like the Heat starting to take control of the series.

The battle of the power forwards — Chris Bosh outscoring and outplaying Boozer — will be the big storyline. And that mattered. Bosh dropped 34 and was key in the second and fourth quarters.

But that was part of a larger issue for the Bulls — the Heat’s schemes and matchups are asking questions of the Bulls they seem to have no answers for. Like where is the second scorer for the Bulls? And if all three of Miami’s top three get going, does it matter? Sure, the Bulls are only one game down in this series. But can they find enough answers to those questions to win three of the next four games? Because that is what it will take to advance.

The most important of those questions is who will score if Derrick Rose can’t? Rose is facing hard double teams, walls of players when he attacks the rim, and the result has been forcing someone else to score. During the regular season he was relentless and just found a way to get it done, that’s why he is MVP. But in the playoffs he needs help.

“It always comes down to your three primary scorers,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said in a postgame press conference on NBA TV. “You have to try to make it hard on those three. That’s the case with every team.”

The Heat didn’t make it hard on Boozer, who was the secondary scorer for the Bulls with his 26 points on 19 shots in Game 3.

But that came with a cost — Boozer is not a good defender and his primary assignment with Bosh. And Bosh went off. He had room to operate early and got his confidence, then by the end was spinning into the middle off a poorly-positioned Boozer for crowd-pleasing dunks. Taj Gibson off the bench is a better defender than Boozer and Gibson brings some offense, but this is one of the challenges Thibodeau and the Bulls face — do you sit a hot scorer for more defense? The Bulls face the same issue at the two with Ronnie Brewer or Kyle Korver. Off the bench

Erik Spoelstra doesn’t face that offense-for-defense issue — Bosh, LeBron, Wade all are good at both ends. It makes the Heat that much more difficult.

The other issue the Bulls face is who is their third scorer? Luol Deng? He can shoot and dropped 14 in this one, but is he steady enough and really a big enough threat?

This game had an interesting twist in the Bulls offense, — when the double came to Rose he slid the ball to Joakim Noah near the free throw line. Then when the defense came at Noah he made some nifty passes to Boozer and others, leading to Noah having six assists on the night. But by the fourth quarter the Heat had adjusted and they didn’t send anyone to Noah — they dared him to beat them with a jumper or on the drive. Neither worked, and the Bulls offense struggled. It is easier to make the Bulls struggle.

Meanwhile, the Heat found their offensive groove. Their third scorer is a former All-Star in Bosh who can do a lot of damage (as he has in tow of the three games this series). The Bulls couldn’t stop the Heat once they got going — in the last three quarters the Heat shot 60 percent (second), 50 percent (third) and 56 percent (fourth). The Heat are getting their points against the best defense in the league.

The Heat also are getting enough rebounds, with Wade leading the team with nine. They are causing problems with their pressure defense. They are taking control of the game.

The series is far from over. But those are a lot of areas for the Bulls to fix, and not with easy answers. Bosh may well not shoot as well next game, but James and Wade likely will shoot better.

Maybe the Bulls have answers. Maybe this series will head back to the United Center for Game 5 tied 2-2. But it’s not easy to see how right now, because they have no easy answers to some very difficult questions.

Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Giannis Antetokounmpo absolutely dominated the regular season.

That can be easy to forget. Coronavirus caused a lengthy interruption. In the spotlight when play resumed, Antetokounmpo underwhelmed. The Bucks flamed out in the second round.

So, this timing is awkward.

But MVP is a regular-season award, and Antetokounmpo will deservedly win his second straight.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Antetokounmpo’s performance comes as speculation intensifies about his future in Milwaukee.

He’ll be eligible for a super-max extension this offseason. If he bypasses it, he’ll also be eligible for a super-max contract in 2021 free agency.

Because of this award, Antetokounmpo will now also be eligible to sign a super-max deal in 2022 free agency.

Maybe he won’t be a free agent that offseason. But this opens his options if he takes a shorter contract to let league-wide revenue rise post-pandemic and/or further assess the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has that type of leverage. At just 25, he put himself in the pantheon of players to win consecutive MVPs:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Steve Nash
  • Tim Duncan
  • Michael Jordan
  • Magic Johnson
  • Larry Bird
  • Moses Malone
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Bill Russell

Antetokounmpo has a bright future, especially with the mentality to fix his shortcomings. He must polish his skills (and maybe approach) to thrive in the playoffs. But it’s easy to project growth there.

Already, Antetokounmpo has the regular season solved.

He joins Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) as the only players to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Fun fact: Jordan’s Bulls also lost in the second round in five games the year he claimed both awards. It got better for Jordan and Chicago from there, eventually.

LeBron and James Harden finished second and third in some order for 2020 MVP. The NBA will officially announce the winner at 2 p.m. Presumably, we’ll also get full voting then.

Report: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown bickered in Celtics’ locker room

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After their Game 2 loss to the Heat last night, the Celtics – especially Marcus Smart – made a commotion in their locker room.

What actually happened?

Apparently, Smart and Jaylen Brown got into it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown had a heated confrontation inside that locker room after the Game 2 loss and needed to be separated by teammates, multiple sources told The Athletic.

Sources told The Athletic that Smart stormed into the Celtics postgame locker room saying that other players needed to be held accountable and not simply point the finger toward him when things are going wrong. As Smart continued and his voice grew louder, sources said Brown snapped back and shouted that Celtics players must stay together and that their actions must come as a team, not individually, and that Smart needed to cool off. Those sources added Smart had verbal exchanges with a couple of the assistant coaches during the game.

None of this is new for Smart. Not jawing with a Boston assistant coach during a game. Not getting hot after a loss. Not even clashing with Brown.

This is who he is – sometimes for good, sometimes not. But the same reasons Smart thrives as a feisty player are the same reasons he was going off last night.

Brown, via Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston:

“He plays with passion, he’s full of fire, and that’s what I love about him most, to be honest. He has that desire and that will and we need him to continue to have that. There’s ups and downs with families all the time. But we embrace each other for who we are. And who Marcus is, I love him for it.”

Brown doesn’t mind a little chaos if it serves a greater purpose. He’s emotionally mature enough to handle this.

But will last night’s incident actually help the Celtics? Maybe it’ll light a fire under them to keep their foot on the gas when leading.

Offensive sets that can beat a zone defense would probably go further, though.

Gordon Hayward reportedly feels good, hopes to return for Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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After a frustrating come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics need a boost.

Like the return of Gordon Hayward.

That is on track to happen in Game 3, although nothing is official, reports Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He left the bubble for a time to get treatment, but has been back with the team, working out and going through a practice.

Gordon Hayward could be Boston’s X-factor in the conference finals — and his return may be the lift it needs. He gives the Celtics another versatile wing player — along with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who can create his own shot and knock down open looks. Throw in Kemba Walker, and Hayward would be the fourth scoring option for Boston, making the Celtics deep and difficult to defend. Hayward also spent time guarding Butler during the regular-season matchups.

 

Celtics try to play down postgame yelling, things thrown in locker room

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“You’re not supposed to be happy when you’re down 0-2. Nothing out of the ordinary, just talking about the game.”

Jayson Tatum is right in his postgame comments, to a point. The Boston Celtics should be frustrated after blowing a 17-point lead and losing to the Miami Heat Thursday night, putting the Celtics in an 0-2 hole.

However, that part about “nothing out of the ordinary” and “just talking” in the locker room postgame? That’s not what went down, according to multiple reporters on the scene in the bubble.

After the game, the Celtics tried to play it all down. That started with coach Brad Stevens.

“Guys were emotional after a hard game, hard loss.”

Kemba Walker wouldn’t even discuss it.

“It was nothing. It was nothing. I’m not speaking about it.”

Enes Kanter took to Twitter to echo the comments of several Celtics, that they are still a family.

Boston may have just been venting postgame, but if they don’t bring the fire from the locker room out onto the court Saturday for Game 3, or this may be a very short series.