NBA Playoffs: Back in sweet home Chicago can Bulls extend series?

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In one key way, the Eastern Conference Finals have been a lot like the Western Conference Finals — it has been about the fourth quarter.

Miami has turned up the defensive pressure late and the Bulls have wilted in the final stanza. In the fourth quarter of the last three games the Bulls have shot 32.7 percent and been outscored 64-47. The fourth quarter is when LeBron James has switched on to Derrick Rose and the result is Rose shooting 2-of-11 in the last three fourth quarters combined.

Desperate and down 3-1 and heading back home for an elimination game, look for the Bulls to have a better fourth quarter, to finally close out a game well. They had better, or this series is over.

Back at home, look for the Bulls role players to feel more comfortable and play better. For one, expect Taj Gibson has to give the Bulls more, both on defense and in transition. Also Kyle Korver has to hit a shot — the Bulls still need to knock down some threes and long twos to make the Heat pay for packing the paint on them.

Expect to see the same out of the Heat bench we saw last game — Erik Spoelstra has gone to a tight eight-man rotation with Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the only guys seeing big minutes off the bench. Both have played well but can that continue under pressure on the road? Probably, especially with Haslem, who has been what the Heat needed inside. The Bulls need to force Miami deeper into that bench by getting some guys in foul trouble, either by the penetration of Rose or some other guys stepping up.

One interesting matchup to watch is Joakim Noah over on Chris Bosh — something the Bulls made a priority of in Game 4 (and should have worked harder to do in earlier games rather than letting him get switched off so easily). Bosh has been the best Heat player in a couple games, doing a great job of mixing midrange shots with drives, and if he is again the Bulls will not be headed back to Miami.

At some point soon, Dwyane Wade is going to go off. He has not looked himself this series and was doing a lot of extra shooting and work Wednesday. If Game 5 is when he does go off there will be no Game 6.

On the flip side, who is going to take the pressure off Rose? Carlos Boozer you say? Well, they need him. But they need someone to create their own shot and be a better outside shooter in this series. Miami has been able to pack the paint and wall off Rose because they do not fear the outside shot of the Bulls. That is particularly true in the fourth quarter.

The Heat are the better team and they have closed games better. But this is still a close series — Rose drains that fadeaway over LeBron and this series is even. That’s not how it went down, but these two teams are close. Close enough that the Bulls have hope — win Game 5 at home, steal one on the road and suddenly it’s one game for all the marbles.

But to get there, the Bulls need to be desperate. They need to knock down shots. And they need to close out the fourth quarter better. Because you know the Heat will.

Marcus Morris after scuffle with Joel Embiid: ‘He’s too big to be flopping. He’s just flopping’ (video)

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Joel Embiid loves to get under opponents’ skin.

Marcus Morris won’t accept any perceived disrespect.

So, of course they’ve butted head before. And of course they did again.

During the 76ers’ win over the Knicks last night, Morris and Embiid got tangled jostling for a rebound. Morris pulled Embiid to the floor then both were separated. The players received a double technical foul, and Morris got a flagrant foul.

SNY:

Morris:

He’s too big to be flopping. He’s just flopping and then grabbing. I’m not the one that’s going to take that. He knows that. He know what I’m about.

Embiid, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

I didn’t have anything with him. I just got thrown on the ground and I literally don’t know why I got a technical foul, being the victim. I didn’t do anything. I feel like it’s starting to get ridiculous with the flagrants. Even the last one — I mean, I make a play and they still call a flagrant. This one, I have nothing to do, and I get thrown on the ground, and I get a technical foul. … It’s just annoying.

Maybe he wasn’t going to charge Morris, but Embiid got up quickly and stepped toward Morris. That made it appear as if Embiid were escalating a confrontation. He probably was, but if he weren’t, he can blame his teammate and coach for getting him a technical foul. Ben Simmons held back Embiid, and Brett Brown came onto the court to separate everyone. That made the incident appear far more significant.

As for Morris, he sure stays on message.

Luka Doncic had more points, rebounds and assists than Warriors in first quarter

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Luka Doncic keeps doing amazing things.

But he really outdid himself in opening quarter of the Mavericks win over the Warriors last night. The box score after the first quarter:

  • Points: Doncic 22, Warriors 16
  • Rebounds: Doncic 5, Warriors 4
  • Assists: Doncic 5, Warriors 4

Outscoring Golden State? OK. Getting more assists? OK. Doing both? That’s just incredible. Doncic was in total control offensively.

The 6-foot-7 wing out-rebounding the Warriors is especially astounding. Though I suppose if 6-foot Allen Iverson out-rebounded an entire team for a quarter, it’s not that crazy Doncic did, too.

To be fair, this achievement deserves a little context. Warriors who played in the first quarter:

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s sloppy first game shows promise

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s first game together is both sloppy and shows moments of real promise. This was what the Clippers had been waiting for since July, what they had paid a steep price to make a reality and change the course of a franchise.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shared an NBA court for the first time and it was…

Sloppy.

A bit awkward, like a blind first date. Credit Boston’s active defense for some of that — it’s not a fluke Boston has the seventh-best defense in the league this season and forced 23 turnovers on the night — but through the muck there were moments of real promise. Like the first play of the game, when the Celtics trapped Leonard off an Ivica Zubac pick, Leonard fed Zubac, who quickly found Leonard for a three.

Moments later, when the Celtics trapped Leonard, and he found George for three.

For much of the game, things were not as smooth with those two on the court together — as should be expected. George missed the first 11 games of the season following double shoulder surgery this offseason. Once he returned, Leonard was out three games with a bruised knee. The pair had literally one practice together, and in the full-contact scrimmage to end that day they were on opposing sides.

This marriage going to take time. The Clippers didn’t even explore a Leonard/George pick-and-roll in this game, but you know that’s coming. As Doc Rivers put it postgame:

“We were kind of trying not to get in each other’s way at times, you could feel that…

“We need a lot of work, you can see that… part of that was we were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score.”

With the game on the line in overtime against one of the NBA’s better and hotter teams in Boston, two things that make the Clippers so dangerous were evident.

One is the defense — George and Leonard each made big defensive plays late, including Leonard blocking Marcus Smart’s attempt at a game-winner.

All game long the Clippers length and defense gave Boston — which came into the game with the league’s fourth-best offense — trouble.

Second is Leonard and George have a good team around them — Patrick Beverley was the best Clipper on the floor Wednesday night and the team gave him the game ball afterward. He was intense on defense (as always), had 14 points and 16 boards, and with the Celtics making the choice to trap and double on offense guys were open, and it was Beverley who made Boston pay with the overtime dagger to seal a 107-104 win.

The Clippers, for all their star power, look a lot like Beverley. This is a scrappy, hard-working team with guys who play their roles and bring intensity. Even their stars are that way — George and Leonard are not anointed No. 1 picks where everyone saw their stardom coming, they are lunch pail guys who had talent but came out of smaller colleges and had to work hard to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, they had to grind it out.

This is why pairing Leonard and George was always going to take a little time to make work. They were always going to have to figure it out.

But when they do…. you can already see why the rest of the league should be worried.

2) Another night, another ridiculous Luka Doncic triple-double. This feels like a nightly thing, and I’m fast running out of ways to praise Luka Doncic, his play, and to remind everyone that he’s just 20 years old and in his second NBA season.

Age doesn’t matter, he’s been so good he’s injected himself into the way-too-early MVP conversation. His latest feat Friday night was a 35-point, 11 assists, 10 rebound triple-double against the hapless Warriors — this time he did it in just 25 minutes on the court.

Doncic scored more points in the first quarter than the Warriors (22-16) and also had more rebounds and assists than the Warriors team. The last guy to do that to any NBA team was Allen Iverson.

Doncic is now averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games: 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in that stretch. Here’s the list of other NBA players to average a 30+ point triple-double for 10 games or more: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson. That’s it.

Doncic is special, has willed the Mavericks to a 9-5 record, and has them looking like a playoff team in the West. Lifting up your team to the next level is what MVPs do, and so far in Dallas it’s what Doncic has done.

3) Do you believe in miracles… YES! Ben Simmons hits his first NBA three. That headline may overstate the excitement around Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons on Wednesday. But not by that much. Sixers fans — and coach Brett Brown — has had to wait three seasons, 193 games, and 18 attempts from three clank off the rim, if they hit anything at all. (Those numbers include his playoff stats.) It finally happened:

Ben Simmons has made his first NBA three.

We’ve all seen the videos of Simmons knocking down threes in an empty gym, but that’s the NBA equivalent of dunking on an 8-foot rim at the local elementary school. Not the same thing.

This was Simmons’ first attempt at a three all season — that’s the real concern. To create floor spacing Philly wants and needs, Simmons needs to be much more willing to uncork this shot — he’s got to take a bunch and make enough of them before teams respect him from deep.

This is at least a start. And it feels like a miracle.

There’s a mural in L.A. of Alex Caruso dunking over Harden, Leonard, Doncic

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It’s hard to overstate how popular Alex Caruso is in Los Angeles. Seriously. This isn’t just cult status popular, when he enters the game off the bench Staples Center explodes in cheers like LeBron James just fed Anthony Davis for an alley-oop.

Now Caruso has his own mural in Los Angeles.

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This is legit, it’s on the side of SportieLA, a clothing/apparel store on Melrose Ave. in the trendy heart of Los Angeles. Artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has done murals in the past for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles sports icons such as Vin Scully.

This one plays off a huge Caruso dunk from earlier this month when Dallas’ Maxi Kleber was the victim.

It’s good to be Alex Caruso in Los Angeles right now.