Bulls win 3OT thriller thanks to Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed. Up 3-1 on Nets.

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The Nets had this. Deron Williams was his old self and Brooklyn up 14 in the fourth quarter against a Chicago team with no good offense. This series was going to be even and a best of three.

Then Nate Robinson happened — a 23-point fourth quarter explosion in the fourth quarter led a dramatic 14-0 run (10 by Robinson) and shockingly we were headed to overtime. Then we had Joe Johnson sending it to double OT. Then Robinson fouled out as we were headed to triple overtime. Then Reggie Evans fouled out. And Joakim Noah. And Taj Gibson.

But some Bulls player always steps up and this time it was Nazr Mohammed with the dagger in the third overtime. Knocking down shots and outworking Andray Blatche.

After the smoke cleared from a battle of attrition, the Bulls won 142-134. The win gives them a stranglehold 3-1 lead in the first round series. The teams head back to Brooklyn for a Game 5 Monday where there will still be a lot of tired legs.

Brooklyn showed plenty of fight — C.J. Watson and Nate Robinson had to be separated at one point — and plenty of desperation in a must-win game, it’s just that the Bulls had more.

It was a strangely offensive-minded game for a series that saw plenty of grinding so far. Chicago in particular figured out how to put up points on what over the course of the season 58.5 percent shooting. Kirk Hinrich had 13 (he finished with 18) to lead four Bulls in double figures for the first half.

Brooklyn came on in the third quarter behind Deron Williams, who had is best game of the playoffs. He was much more aggressive off the pick-and-roll plus the Nets did a nice job of having Gerald Wallace or someone else bring the ball up then get it to a big man (usually Brook Lopez) out high and have Williams rub off him for a handoff screen, that way the defense couldn’t just load up on Williams. He finished the game with 32 points (11-of-25 shooting) and he had 10 assists.

D-Will sparked a 10-2 run in third quarter as the Nets took the lead 70-68 lead, getting buckets from Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace as part of that stretch. It seemed like it was going to be the Nets night when Brook Lopez dropped a 28-foot three to beat the clock at the end of the third quarter, putting the Nets up 84-76.

With four minutes to go, the Nets had a lead of 13.

But then came Nate Robinson’s run in the fourth. Advanced stats guys will tell you there really is no such thing as a hot hand, but Robinson is the exception to that rule. To a lot of rules. He gets hot and everything starts to fall. The Nets adjust their defense and suddenly the Bulls are making two quick passes and Carlos Boozer is getting a layup.

Robinson had 23 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter — one point shy of Michael Jordan’s Bulls’ record for points in a playoff quarter — but really words don’t do it justice.

Through the overtimes both teams kept making plays. It was playoff basketball at its best — Joe Johnson stepped up with a runner down the lane to send the game to a second OT and had a key three in that period, and Brook Lopez knocked down key free throws. Lopez finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

When Nate Robinson fouled out on an offensive foul late in the second OT you thought the Bulls magic might run out in the third.

Taj Gibson and then Luol Deng hit key jumpers in the third OT. Then when Gibson fouled out the improbable happened — Nazr Mohammed made a jump hook in the lane to put the Bulls up five with :32 seconds left. It felt like a dagger. Lopez made a bucket then Boozer answered with a free throw (he finished with 21 points) and when he missed the second Mohammed grabbed the rebound and put it in over Blatche. That was the dagger.

And it may have been the dagger for the Nets season. Hard to see them coming back from this loss to win three straight and the series.

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.