Shorthanded Bulls scrap, but Nets have enough to force Game 7

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This is how unprepared the Nets were for this moment, a playoff Game 7 on their home court in Brooklyn in their first year in the city:

They already had a Rihanna concert scheduled for Saturday night in the Barclay center. Thanks to Deron Williams and friends, Rihanna and crew will have to come back Tuesday night for a rescheduled show.

But at least the Nets offered her seats for Game 7.

A game they forced with an ugly-but-dramatic 95-92 win in Chicago Thursday night over a Bulls team devastated by injury and illness.

You have to tip your cap to the Bulls, who were gritty and tough just as they have been all playoffs. Tom Thibodeau tried to push his players, he just ran out of arrows in the quiver to fire.

The Bulls were without D-Will stopper Kirk Hinrich (calf), Luol Deng was sent home with the flu just an hour before the game. Nate Robinson played through that same flu, scored 18 points but was throwing up in a trashcan beside the bench during timeouts. Taj Gibson played through the flu but wasn’t himself. Again Joakim Noah played through plantar fasciitis. And let’s not even get into the Derrick Rose thing again (it’s his injury, he gets to decide when to return, not Chicago sports talk radio hosts).

Not shockingly, the Bulls were not themselves though all that and with a hot Joe Johnson (5-of-6 shooting) the Nets put up 33 points. But as was the case all night, the Bulls hung around; they had 27 in the first quarter with Marco Belinelli hitting 4-of-7 shots (he was key all night and finished with 22 points).

This pattern followed all game — Deron Williams was getting his way (14 points, 8 assists by halftime) but the Bulls made an 8-2 push midway through the quarter and they hung around, down 60-53 at the half.

Then came the ugliness that was the third quarter.

The Nets shot 4-of-19 for the third. The Bulls shot 6-of-22. There were 15 personal fouls between the teams, and they combined to shoot 10-of-17 from the free throw line. Neither team could take control of the game given the chance, and when the 12 minutes were over it was still a five point Nets lead.

It felt like Game 5, the Nets hanging around despite not playing well, but you kept expecting the magic, expecting the run. Except they just didn’t have enough healthy bodies to make it.

With four minutes to go, the Bulls were down just two (87-85) but got no closer because Brook Lopez got a dunk to cap the 18 points he had on the night. Nate Robinson tried, but he was 3-of-7 shooting for 6 points in the fourth. Noah blocked Lopez and Andray Blatche in the final minutes (Blatche would make a clutch high-arcing shot over Noah later), but they didn’t have Carlos Boozer after he fouled out for shoving Blatche in the back at one point.

Still it was a three-point game with 19.2 seconds to play and the Bulls had a shot. But it was this kind of night — Belinelli’s corner three to tie skipped across the rim and as it went to the opposite corner Noah tracked it down, he turned to take a shot… and stepped out of bounds.

Still, the Nets through the ball into Williams and Noah tied him up. Noah could win the tap for a three and the Bulls could stay alive… but the Nets gathered the tip and that was the ball game.

The Bulls have to leave this game thinking if they can just get guys healthy for Game 7 they have a shot.

For the Nets it’s simpler — they are the more talented team. But they are going to have to play with some of the heart and grit of the Bulls or they are going to disappoint their newest fan Rihanna Saturday.

Report: Danuel House apologized to Rockets before leaving bubble

Rockets forward Danuel House
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Rockets forward Danuel House left the bubble after the NBA determined he “had a guest” – reportedly a female coronavirus tester – “in his hotel room over multiple hours on September 8 who was not authorized to be on campus.”

House reportedly maintained his innocence.

At least to NBA investigators.

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

From what I understand, House apologized to the entire team before exiting the bubble.

I wonder what exactly House apologized for. An apology isn’t necessarily an admission of wrongdoing. But this at least implies he came clean in the end.

Houston missed House, who had been playing very well off the bench. The Rockets split the first two games of their second-round series against the Lakers then dropped three straight without him.

Was that slide all because of House’s absence? No. Would Houston have beaten the Lakers with House? Probably not.

But the Rockets had a chance at a championship this year, and their odds shrunk sans House. With James Harden, Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker aging, these opportunities won’t keep coming around forever.

House – who has two more seasons left on his contract – might need to regain trust of this team. He’s not good enough to get preferential treatment. Role players must do their part to fit in.

Anthony Davis on sprained ankle: “Rolled it pretty bad… I’ll be fine”

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Anthony Davis has been the best Laker throughout the playoffs, particularly in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets. Davis averaged 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and the Los Angeles Lakers are outscoring the Nuggets by seven points per 100 possessions when Davis is on the floor.

Behind the play of Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and now just have to do what the Jazz and Clippers couldn’t: Get one more win.

Which might be harder to do after Davis rolled his ankle midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night.

Davis stayed in the game after that, but could it impact him in Game 5?

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Laker coach Fran Vogel noted that with ankles it is often the next day when there is a sense of the severity.

“We’ll see how it responds overnight, responds to treatment,” Vogel said. “Yeah, there’s always concern with an injury like that. It was good for him to play through it, but we’ll see how he responds overnight.”

With the Lakers just one win from the NBA Finals, if Anthony Davis can walk he will play on Saturday in Game 5. The Lakers want to close this series out, they have seen what happens to teas that let the Nuggets hang around.

 

LeBron James speaks more on Breonna Taylor, power of Black women

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The decision not to prosecute the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor in her home has frustrated and angered NBA players. A number of them have spoken out, including Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who played his college ball in Louisville, Taylor’s home town.

LeBron James also has spoken out, saying the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Asked about it after the Lakers Game 4 win on Thursday, LeBron spoke about justice.

LeBron also had taken to social media to talk about the challenges Black women face.

When asked about that Tweet after Thursday’s game, James was more than willing to open up on the topic.

“You just look at the history of America and the disrespect that Black women have gotten for the last 400 years. You can’t turn a blind eye to that,” James said. “When I look at my household and see my daughter, who is five on her way to six, my wife and my mom, rest in peace my grandmother, so many Black women have done so many things for me. Seeing the sacrifices they made, especially my mom when I was growing up. They were disrespected along the way and it’s still like that today.

“In the case of Breonna Taylor’s case, it’s just shown once again that the walls of the neighbor is more important than her life.

“So not only did I want to acknowledge all the queens in this world, all the Black queens in this world, but the ones in my life, the personal ones, too. I just kind of had a moment yesterday. I mean, I have a lot of moments, but felt like it was important to let Black women know that you’re not alone. No matter the disrespect or what they may feel, don’t stop. Because that’s exactly what they want you guys to do. They want you guys to stop. They want you guys not to be as powerful as you guys are, not as strong as you guys are, as determined as you guys are. They want you all to be at bay. They want you to accept what’s going on. For sure, I won’t allow that.”

Powerful words from LeBron, who once again is using his platform to speak for a lot of others with these sentiments.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Los Angeles Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.