The Bulls had everything going for them. They were the number one seed, they had beaten all the contenders, they had homecourt advantage, the best defense, one of the best coaches, a superstar. And then it all went wrong.
In Game 3, they had a 14-point lead, had everything going for them. They had gotten even better defense than usual, holding the Sixers to a 46.5 third quarter efficiency. The crowd was despondent. And then it all went wrong.
It was just one of those games where the Sixers seized their momentum early, then waned when the game got tough, then pushed ahead when the Bulls ran out of energy. Joakim Noah was injured on a driving layup in the third quarter. He tried to return but couldn’t. It was pretty rough and may wind up affecting him in Game 4.
Spencer Hawes was the hero for Philadelphia (?!) with 21 point and nine rebounds, as Hawes finally got his mid-range shot to fall and the Sixers killed the Bulls’ help defense with the pick and pop. It was a huge adjustment for Philadelpia who needed it badly as Elton Brand, who had played well in the series, went 0-5 for 0 points. Evan Turner continued to play The Villain role against Chicago, as he attacked and was active in the lane. The worst thing you can do against Chicago’s defense is let them con you into shooting jumpshots, and Turner instead went right at the rim over and over and was active on the glass as well. Huge game for the young player.
Throw in more terrible point guard play from Chicago, who seemed to be missing someone (C.J. Watson and John Lucas combined for 12 points on 16 shots), and a strong performance from Jrue Holiday, and some tough defense in their own right, and Philly’s in control. A win in Game 4 puts the Bulls a seemingly impossible position going back to Chicago and you have to wonder when the emotional toll becomes too much for the Bulls, who were reportedly down in the locker room before the game. A Game 4 win in Philly and the Bulls may just not have enough to recover.
Things could have been different. They should have been different. But just like in Game 3, everything fell apart for Chicago, and the Sixers took advantage.
“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith said. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.”
And as long as the Cavs are operating this way, Smith is not interested in being part of it.
“Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win,” he said.
If that’s what the Cavaliers are doing, that’s smart. They need premier young talent, and a high draft pick is the best way to acquire it. Because they owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder, the Cavs need to tank hard rather taking half-measures.
But I also understand why Smith wants no part of it. He’s 33 years old, and he doesn’t have time to wait around for a rebuild. He wants to win now.
Smith should shame the Cavaliers for tanking. That should be a consequence of their plan, even if it’s the right one. He is a casualty of it. If he shames Cleveland into trading or buying him out, all the better.
Kevin Durant tells fans: ‘Watch the f—ing game and shut the f— up’ (video)
One witness who was sitting in spitting distance from the incident tells us … the heckler was just saying the typical NBA fan trash talk — calling KD names like, “Cupcake” and other insults.
Another witness tells TMZ Sports … the hecklers had been bombarding KD with the “cupcake” insults to the point where it became unbearable.
That witness tells us KD complained to the refs at one point but the fans were not removed or disciplined in any way.
We’re told the group laughed off the incident because they knew they got to him and ramped up the trash talk even more for the rest of the game.
Durant obviously has a history of confrontingcritics. But that’s usually online, not in person.
The NBA generally fines players for getting caught on video talking to fans this way. The league doesn’t seem to have a problem with players responding to fans when it’s not on video. Hecklers’ days are made when players respond, but the league doesn’t seem to account for that.
It’s an unfair system, but it’s the one Durant is in.
He and Golden State are also in a three-game losing streak. Snap that, and Durant will probably become more friendly.
Joel Embiid had a spectacular missed windmill dunk
Each night in the NBA there is a lot of action, a lot to unpack. Which is why every weekday morning during the NBA season we bring you three things you need to know out of the night before, to keep you up on all the big happenings around the NBA.
1) Kemba Walker is destroying everyone, including the Celtics Monday night. But Boston has issues. The Boston Celtics, the team that was the favorite in the East going into the season, the team everyone thought they had to beat, is getting beat. A lot more than we expected at 9-8 to start the season. What started as “don’t freak out they just need to get Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward meshed into what they do” has become legitimate reason for concern because the Celtics can’t get key boards, and that elite defense is not slowing their opponent’s best scorer often enough.
Monday night that opponent was maybe the hottest player in the NBA: Kemba Walker. He certainly is the most entertaining player in the league right now he and dropped 43 on the Celtics and yelling “this is my s***” after a big bucket.
Walker is a fringe MVP candidate right now (the way Damian Lillard jumped into the conversation a year ago) and he should thank new coach James Borego. His new Spursian offense has spaced the floor for the Hornets (not having Dwight Howard in the post and clogging the lane helps, too) and Walker is driving into that space and making plays. And if you play back on him, he will destroy you with off-the-dribble threes.
All of that does not change the fact Boston has issues compared to where we thought they would be right now. We went into the season knowing rebounding would be a concern but it has been worse than expected (like at the end of the Hornets’ game, when Charlotte was getting key offensive boards to keep plays alive). The Celtics have the 27th ranked offense in the NBA this season because the ball stops too much — Terry Rozier has been a problem here — plus the team is just not knocking down jumpers (Boston is third in number of three pointers taken a game but 21st in percentage at 34.5 percent). Brad Stevens can’t find a rotation he likes — Aron Baynes started in place of Gordon Hayward Monday — and Stevens just can’t find the toughness we expected from this team on a nightly basis.
Maybe we will get to March and April and shake our heads thinking “why did we worry about Boston?” They can still put this thing together and get up to be a top two or three seed (they are currently four games back of the Raptors, ground not easy to make up because Toronto is good).
But we are now 17 games in, approaching a quarter of the season, and these issues have not gone away in Boston. It’s time to admit this team is flawed right now and it might not be able to put it all together like we expected.
2) The Wizards are a disaster, they are open to trades… and it’s not going to be that easy. The dumpster fire in our nation’s capital… wait, let me be more specific, there are a lot of dumpster fires in our nation’s capital right now.
Being open to breaking up its core is something Washington should have been doing last summer (if not earlier) — the chemistry issues around this team are not new. They’re worse right now, but they are not new. Grunfeld and owner Ted Leonsis kept doubling down on the core guys and thought they could fix the chemistry issues by changing coaches or role players (Marcin Gortat was the guy shipped out last summer and was seen as the chemistry problem… the Clippers look really good with him on the roster, by the way, great chemistry there). But the real problem was the core itself.
Grunfeld has come around to that, but now the trade value is down for all of those guys because of the team’s struggles. Talking to sources around the league there is by far the most interest in Beal, who is just 25 and an All-Star player at a position of need around the league. He’s also the one of the three the Wizards least want to trade, so that will take a massive offer (the kind more often seen in July than mid-season).
Last in interest from teams is Wall. We can talk about how Wall’s contract will make him very difficult to trade — his designated veteran max contract kicks in next season, he has four years at an average of more than $42 million a season left on his deal after this one — but that may not even be the worst part right now. Wall is coasting on the court too much right now, not playing like an elite player at all, and the bigger problem is the best player on the team sets the culture. Stephen Curry set the “fun but work hard” tone in Golden State. LeBron James sets the tone for the Lakers and that tone won titles in Cleveland and Miami. Tim Duncan set the tone for the Spurs for two winning decades and five rings. What culture is Wall setting right now as he jogs through plays and has his hands on his hips? Forget the money, nobody wants to trade for that player, period. (Well, don’t forget the money, but the combo of the money and his attitude make him almost impossible to move right now.)
3) Joel Embiid backs up his trash talk and puts up 33 on Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns. This summer, Joel Embiid said No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton would get his a** kicked this year once the games got real. Embiid lived up to that on Monday night, almost doubling Ayton in points (33-17) and rebounds (17-9). Embiid was making plays on both ends of the floor.
But it was not all perfect for Embiid — this missed dunk is not something Ben Simmons is going to let Embiid forget.