Chicago 88, L.A. Lakers 87: Bulls erase a six-point deficit in the final minute to steal it

14 Comments

The Lakers surprised many with their play for most of Christmas Day, hanging with the Bulls without suspended center Andrew Bynum and integrating a lot of new pieces into a new head coach’s system.

L.A. erased a seven-point halftime deficit quickly, built its lead to as many as 11 late in the fourth quarter, and led by six with under a minute to play. But turnovers and poor free throw shooting down the stretch, along with some clutch play from the reigning MVP Derrick Rose, turned a winnable game into a one-point loss by the time the final buzzer had sounded. Here’s how it transpired.

First Quarter – CHI 22, LAL 20

The new-look Lakers, missing Andrew Bynum due to suspension and with Lamar Odom gone to Dallas, started Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Derek Fisher. The Bulls also had a new addition to their starting lineup in the form of Rip Hamilton, who got the privilege of checking Bryant. Hamilton didn’t even last the game’s first three minutes, however, and was sent to the bench after picking up two quick personal fouls, both of which came with him guarding Kobe.

Speaking of Bryant, plenty of attention will be paid to how he performs while playing with a torn wrist ligament on his shooting hand. He did have two turnovers early trying to dribble through traffic in the paint, but his first jumper from 20 feet out looked smooth.

Gasol got off to a strong start for L.A., and led all scorers in the period with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. He seemed comfortable scoring against Chicago’s defenders, and will need to continue if the Lakers are to have a shot today.

Rip hamilton picked up two quick fouls trying to check Kobe, and was sent to the bench after less than three minutes of game time. Derrick Rose did absolutely nothing, going scoreless with just one field goal attempt and one assist in just over nine minutes of action.

Second Quarter – CHI 56, LAL 49

After the secondary players did the heavy lifting in the first quarter, the stars got involved in the second.

Kobe Bryant had eight points in the period, including a stretch where he scored on three straight Lakers possessions. Luol Deng made sure he wouldn’t do the same on the fourth, crowding Bryant near the sideline and forcing him into committing his fifth turnover of the game. Bryant has 14 points at the break.

Derrick Rose made a huge impact in the period, after being essentially nonexistent in the first. He scored 10 in the quarter, two of which came in highlight-reel fashion after using a behind-the-back dribble to escape Metta World Peace on the perimeter and then banking home a floater in the paint.

The teams played close throughout the half, but it ended disastrously for the Lakers. Chicago ended the period with six straight points from Deng, on a three-pointer followed by a layup and-1 at the rim which has the Bulls sitting with their biggest lead of the game at the half.

Chicago is getting balanced scoring with 10 each from Rose, Deng, and Boozer, and is converting its attempts at a high percentage. The Lakers will need to do a better job of challenging shots and limiting turnovers in the second half (L.A. has 10 for the game) if they want to close things up.

Third Quarter — LAL 69, CHI 68

The Lakers opened the period on a 10-3 run to tie it at 59, and the Bulls cooled off considerably from the field, shooting 21.7 percent while managing to score just 12 third-quarter points. Deng went 1-of-6 in the period, while Noah was 0-for-4. The one-point lead after three came courtesy of a wide open, two-handed jam from Josh McRoberts off of a pass from Steve Blake.

Fourth Quarter — CHI 88, LAL 87

It really shouldn’t have come to this for the Lakers. L.A. led by 11 points with 3:44 to play, and after the Bulls cut it to five two possessions later, Bryant found Blake in the corner for a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to eight with 2:33 to go. That should have done it, but credit the Bulls for attacking defensively to force turnovers, and going to the basket and creating contact to get to the line to get easy points.

And for making free throws.

Deng made five straight free throws down the stretch, while Gasol and McRoberts each missed a pair. Had they converted, the game might not have been lost. The same can be said of Kobe’s last couple of touches.

After Bryant hit a spinning, fadeaway jumper from the baseline that pushed the Laker lead back to six with under a minute to play — a shot that felt like classic Kobe, and one that again, should have helped put this game away — he found himself with the ball in his hands and his team up a point, with 20 seconds to play.

The shot clock was off. The Bulls would need to foul or get a steal to regain possession, and Bryant helped them achieve the latter. He was trapped by two Bulls up top, and decided to try a jump pass to Gasol, who didn’t have his defender sealed and was unable to get to the errant pass. Deng got the steal, the Bulls put the ball in Rose’s hands, and he went to his right and converted a floater in the lane that turned out to be the game-winning shot.

Bryant had one final chance, and the Lakers ran an iso for him to try to win the game, But he drove right to the baseline, and the Bulls rotated perfectly defensively, and had three defenders all skying to prevent Bryant’s heroics. Deng got a piece of the shot and the game was over.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

Getty Images
Leave a comment

What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

Getty Images
1 Comment

It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.