Luol Deng and the cruel tutelage of Tom Thibodeau

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Bulls fans have been perplexed by Tom Thibodeau’s management of minutes. For the reigning Coach of the Year, a man who has transformed the Bulls into a defensive juggernaut, the East’s best regular season team and a Conference Finalist, it’s really one of the handful of criticisms you can make against Thibs. He routinely plays his starters in blowouts, logging huge minutes in needless situations. Luol Deng, especially.

The Bulls are routinely involved in blowouts of 20-plus points, comfortable leads, and yet Deng has averaged 38.4 minutes per game, down just slightly from last season when Deng logged 39.1 minutes per contest. Deng was fourth in minutes per game last season, and has moved up to 2nd this year. While most teams are limiting minutes in this crazy schedule, Thibodeau has kept pace with Deng, his best defender and the pivotal player on Chicago’s defense. But with Deng suffering a torn ligament in his wrist and still contemplating surgery, surely Thibodeau would be more careful when and if he decided to bring him back. Nope. Here’s what Thibodeau told NBA.com earlier this week.

Thibodeau says that Deng is “getting close” to being ready to play again. “He’s doing more and more each day,” the coach said before Thursday’s game. But Thibodeau wouldn’t entertain the notion that this stretch is allowing him to get more comfortable with having Deng on the bench.

“I’m comfortable with the minutes he plays,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a reason why he plays those minutes. I’m confident in our bench. We have a bench that’s more than capable. I think that if you studied the teams in the league over the years, there’s players that have averaged those minutes, and it’s fine. So that’s the way we’ll go.”

via Thibodeau Won’t Stop Leaning On Deng « NBA.com | Hang Time Blog.

And true to his word…

Deng returned Saturday night in a blowout win over the Bucks. The Bulls were up 20-plus for most of the second half. So Thibodeau eased Deng back in…

By playing him over 41 minutes.

That’s the sound of a Coach of the Year, trolling everyone.

Now, it’s not like Deng wouldn’t want to play those minutes. If asked, he’ll play. He wanted to come back, to prove he’s tough after so many years of questions regarding his toughness. He’ll play every single minute Thibodeau asks him to, as will most of the Bulls. But it’s just stunning to see that kind of a decision about such a crucial player, playing with such a serious injury, even though doctors have confirmed Deng cannot damage the injury anymore by playing on it. His first game back, and he goes 41 minutes.

Tom Thibodeau enjoys pain. Inflicting it on opponents. Teaching his players through it. This is some Pai Mei stuff going on.

And the Bulls keep winning. By a lot. By hook, by crook, or by devastating exhaustion, Thibodeau keeps his team on a razor’s edge.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.