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By Sam Smith | 5.9.2015 | 10:05 a.m.
The Bulls Friday by a 99-96 margin, again beat the Cleveland Cavaliers with a buzzer beater from their star. Call it The Shot Jr.
“I was supposed to get the ball in the corner,” said Derrick Rose, who banked in the most unlikely of three pointers to give the Bulls a 2-1 lead in the conference semifinal. “When I ran toward the corner I wasn’t open, so I just ran toward the ball. Mike (Dunleavy) threw me the ball; I drove right and released the ball. I felt like it was a good shot. It went glass and went in. I don’t mean to sound cocky, but those are the shots you want to take as a player in my position.
“And no,” Rose said with a smile, “I did not call glass.”
Call Rose money; for the bank was open late in the United Center.
There were plenty of smiles after this one, Rose retreating in bouncing joy after the shot went in, the United Center crowd exploding in ecstasy, Rose christening the new “Joakim leap,” as Rose jumped into a full man hug from Joakim Noah, a look of defiant assurance. Yes, he did. Yes, he can.
“Very well deserved,” said Noah. “Derrick’s gone through so much over the last couple of years. So much adversity, so much pain not being able to play basketball games. He’s somebody who has a lot of confidence in himself, more than anybody I’ve ever been around. I know he’s special. I just feel great right now he hit a huge shot for us. But we are not satisfied. We just need to stay hungry, stay humble and be ready for a huge Game 4.”
No, it didn’t win a championship like Michael Jordan’s shot in 1998 in Utah or John Paxson’s in 1993 in Phoenix. It actually was the Bulls first true playoff buzzer beater since Jordan’s in Game 1 of the 1997 Finals. Nor did it win a series like “the Shot” in Cleveland, almost 26 years to the day to close out the first round series against arguably the Cavaliers best team to that time. Of course, LeBron James came along and that all changed, including a lonely trip to the 2007 Finals. But now he’s back and Cleveland almost is counting on a championship.
But in some sense so are the Bulls, healthy and wise as they took home court advantage on Cleveland last weekend and Friday got 30 points, seven assists and seven rebounds from Rose, including the latest of shots to the gut of Cleveland, 20 points, eight assists and brilliant defense on James from Jimmy Butler, 16 points from Dunleavy and 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench from Nikola Mirotic.
James had 27 points and a career playoff high 14 assists, though with seven turnovers while Kyrie Irving had 11 points.
Perhaps more significantly for the Bulls, this was the first time after being tied 1-1 against a James playoff team—in 2011 and 2013—the Bulls went on to lose four straight. Not again. It doesn’t mean the Bulls have won anything, which they surely understand as they were just as close to losing this game or at least having to play overtime after J.R Smith made a tying three with 10.8 seconds left.
And, like Rose said, he didn’t call bank.
“It was so much emotion,” said Taj Gibson, who made two clutch free throws–the only fourth quarter points not scored by Rose and Butler–with 23.5 seconds left for a 96-93 lead. “We’ve been in that position before where the series was tied, we had chances to win the game late and magically LeBron would hit a tough shot or get a tough and-1 basket and it would crush us. My emotions were still going through that from previous years. It shows the growth of our team, having guys like Jimmy, like Niko, Derrick’s back. I was real emotional man, having flashbacks. I was worried.
“The past memories of him beating us,” Gibson said. “Like tonight when he missed that layup (before Gibson was fouled); when it came off I was shocked. All these years I remember him hitting that shot and us being the ones with heads down. Had that done to them tonight.
“Tonight shows the dedication of Jimmy Butler, Niko, guys just being ready because I don’t know if previous guys would have taken those looks they took tonight,” said Gibson. “So much emotion. I’m happy for Derrick. He really deserves it. Just so much up and down, so much criticism, But he stayed the course. He knows we have his back. When he hit that shot the emotion you saw the way he jumped into Jo right after shows he was feeling good.”
They don’t let good feeling last two long in the playoffs with Game 4 at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, though that was marvelous theater. It’s difficult to imagine in what sport you can witness so many pressure plays in such a short time from so many star talents. We love this game!
But now comes the infirmary list as well.
Pau Gasol played only briefly in the second half with what was described as a left hamstring strain. He’ll get tests Saturday to determine the severity. But given it’s a hamstring issue and Gasol said it seemed to worsen during the game, it seems doubtful Gasol would play Sunday since an exacerbation could mean weeks out.
“It tightened up in the first quarter,” Gasol said as he’s apparently had issues with it in this series. “Really bothered me. I thought it would loosen up; I thought I could push through it. The more I pushed through it the worse I got. Second half it just got worse and worse. Going to get some tests, see what is the injury and how bad is it or how good is it and then proceed from there.
“I’m just hoping it’s not a bad tear or anything like that,” said Gasol. “Hamstrings are tricky and are dangerous. Hoping for the best, trying to stay positive. Looking forward and hopefully I will get up tomorrow with not too much soreness and go to the hospital and do whatever I have to do to find out what I’ve got.”
Cavs coach David Blatt meanwhile in trying to explain away Irving’s three of 11 shooting volunteered Irving has had a foot or ankle problem all series, though it seems funny that it wasn’t mentioned until he played poorly Friday after two very good games.
“Probably (hurt in) in Game 2 of the Boston series,” Irving contended. “I have just been trying to get treatment since then. I just have to stay ready to play. There are no excuses and I have to play through it. Coach was trying to protect me with what he said. Tonight I am not hanging my head nor using a bad foot as an excuse. I am staying out there for my brothers. I can be a decoy, set screens, and do whatever I can to help us win. I just have to get treatment and come out and play.”
James at the post game press conference with Irving said to blame him as he had seven turnovers and shot one of seven on threes.
Perhaps Noah will as James also in that post game session with reporters complained Noah said things to him after James got a technical foul for taunting Noah—courtside fans say James likened Noah to a female dog—that Noah said things to him that were completely untoward for a father with three children. Sounded like another fine whine.
“I love Joakim’s emotion and his passion,” said James. “The words he used went too far. I’m a father with three kids and it got very disrespectful. I’m OK with competing and I love the competitive nature in him, but we should leave it there. What he said to me was uncalled for. If it was the 1990s or 1980s I would have been able to say what I wanted to and moved on. But I got the T, I earned it.”
Both received technical fouls as Noah retaliated with hand clapping—yes, not quite the 80s—to draw his technical foul.
The Cavs got Smith back from his two-game suspension and Smith had 14 points with four of Cleveland’s 14 threes. The three ball has been their chief weapon against the Bulls in this series. And it was good enough the Cavs led by six late in the third quarter, though there were 19 lead changes and 17 ties in the masterpiece theater of basketball on Madison.
Iman Shumpert played through his groin problem and did have a pair of threes, but was not as efficient as in the first two games.
But Gasol’s injury also presents an interesting circumstance for the Bulls, not that they are unaware James’ teams can and have run off four straight.
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our generation,” Gibson said of James. “He’s extremely talented, extremely physical. It’s tough. I actually was just watching the Detroit Pistons documentary of how you have to go after guys all these years (how they kept beating Jordan’s Bulls like James has beat these Bulls). We’ve been seeing LeBron over and over, over the years. Every year we kept getting better and better; now you see Jimmy stepping up taking those shots he wouldn’t take last year; that’s big. Jimmy has grown so much; he’s taking the big time shots Derrick doesn’t want to take. I’m extremely happy for him.”
Gasol has been vital for the Bulls this season, but if he doesn’t play Sunday, the Bulls will play smaller. It was the smaller lineups that gave the Bulls problems with Milwaukee, and the Cavs have mostly in the second half and especially the fourth quarter played smaller lineups without Timofey Mozgov to take advantage of their three-point shooting.
If Gasol doesn’t play, the Bulls likely return to their former defensive lineup with Noah at center and Gibson at power forward and then Mirotic with power forward relief.
Though there was that really nothing dustup with James, Friday’s game was a glimpse of Noah for the Bulls that had been missing. Though Noah still shot wildly at one of eight, his infectious enthusiasm that drives the other players along with his hustle and emotion was back. Noah had 11 rebounds, six offensive, in 21 minutes with three blocks. He’s clearly struggled with his game in these playoffs and it’s seemed to take the edge off his emotion, which drives the team. It was back Friday, and the team responded, opening with an 11-7 lead halfway through the first quarter even though they trailed 24-16 after one. But it was an important sign for the players they were back to pushing the ball, getting up on defense and fighting for the rebounds.
“We had great energy; our defensive intensity was awesome,” agreed Dunleavy. “We didn’t make shots or finish around the rim to start off, so we didn’t get any type of lead. But our energy was great, fans were great and it was important to get off to a good start.”
So finally momentum? Dunleavy was asked.
“Not with this group,” Dunleavy said with a laugh.
“We haven’t gotten any momentum all year. It’s a new game Sunday; Sunday will have nothing to do with today. We’ve got to go out there with the same intensity, get off to a good start. That’s key for us, always has been this year. We’ll see if we can pull it off. We were so much better than in Game 2; hopefully we can follow that up in Game 4.”
It’s been the story of this Bulls team this season, that inability to sustain from game to game, to treat enough games with the appropriate urgency. The Bulls seemed to have it Friday, though the ball would not go in as they shot 34.6 percent in the first half.
Dunleavy kept them in there with threes, and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau finally went deep into the bench for Mirotic, who, Gibson said though anxious to play was still surprised given how little he’s played.
“Niko’s been patient,” said Gibson. “We want everybody to be ready. We didn’t know if he’d play. He was kind of shocked he was playing. He was asking everybody, ‘Are you OK’ Everyone was telling him, ‘Go out there and play.’ He did a great job. He was asking Joakim, ‘Are you OK?’ We were saying, ‘We need you now. It’s playoffs.’ We need everybody.”
But they especially needed Rose, who was three of nine for six points in the first half along with Butler one of nine for three points. They would combine for 41 of the Bulls’ 52 second half points. With Gibson controlling the boards with eight after halftime.
“I feel good,” Rose said about the specious talk he’s not effective on one day off. “When people talk it’s all their opinion. I can’t get mad about your opinion. My job is to make sure I’m prepared for every game, take care of my body and come out and compete. What everybody says is nothing I can do about it; you are entitled to your own opinion.”
Rose, by the way, was shaking again in his post game remarks at the podium, though not nervous as he was hooked up to one of his rehab machines.
“Every game is going to be different,” said Rose. “I shot terrible the first half and my confidence was still there the second half. Of course, when you win a playoff game your confidence is going to be high, you are going to feel good. But it’s all about the little things, rebounding, talking to your each other, communicating and competing and making sure we throw bodies in front of them.”
Rose also said he did like Thibodeau’s decision to play Mirotic more
“It was more space on the floor,” said Rose. “I felt you couldn’t help off anyone or I was going to find them. We missed a bunch of shots we normally hit, but we made them pay attacking the basket.”
Not that you want to complain about officials’ favoritism to stars—or lack of it for Rose, though he got 10 free throws Friday—but James had an obvious charge late in the first half that was called a block. It was when James had two fouls already. Hmmmmm. Then it was so obvious James fouled Rose with Rose dribbling up with 10 seconds to go that all three of the national TV announcers were aghast not only at the lack of a call but that James would even try such a stupid maneuver in a tie game with 10 seconds left. The Bulls heard plenty of that in the 90s with Jordan, that the NBA wants the stars in the Finals. It just means you have to play them harder.
The second half was great back and forth stuff, everything the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight last week wasn’t, good shot after good shot, each one going after one another and no one backing down. The Bulls led 74-73 after three quarters and you knew this was coming down to one shot.
A Butler three and Rose almost losing the ball on a drive and then recovering up and scoring on a spin move gave the Bulls an 89-84 lead midway through the third. James answered with a pair of jumpers and then Cleveland took it’s first fourth quarter lead 93-92 with 52 seconds left on two James free throws.
Butler responded with a terrific play, a drive and then a stop and reverse layup. Then James missed that drive that Gibson rebounded and was fouled. And you don’t think pros get nervous?
“My heart was pounding,” admitted Gibson, whose candor and good spirits remain an inspiration around the team. “The crowd was cheering for me, but I was like ‘Guys, c’mon, please be just be quiet. Please give me a chance.’ I sort of was getting flashes of a couple of years ago. I got fouled and I couldn’t make the foul shots. It was tough. My teammates were behind me. I heard Derrick, I heard Jimmy, I heard guys encouraging me and I was happy I was able to knock them down.”
But Smith made that three, and Thibodeau did note the way players fall into shots and get three free throws these days it’s risky to foul. Plus, it was too early to start fouling when the Bulls haven’t actually been brilliant shooting free throws in these playoffs.
Rose then dribbled up and was intercepted by James, who knocked the ball away, though Rose surprisingly didn’t need any stitches. Actually, Gibson said the last play was primarily for Butler as Thibodeau has taken to calling more plays for Butler this season. The Cavs obviously guessed that and James defended Butler. You could see Dunleavy look for Butler, who was covered. Then Rose came up from the left corner. Gibson shut down Shumpert with a strong screen and Rose went up over Tristan Thompson.
“That’s his greatness,” said Thibodeau. “There are not many like him. As a matter of fact there are not any that combine the speed, the quickness, the power and he is shaking the rust off.”
Everyone was so disappointed in that Game 4 loss in Milwaukee when Rose was stripped and missed the inbounds for the winning Bucks layup. Rose afterward said he’d learn and everyone shrugged. But he does learn.
“I felt like the game I played in Milwaukee, the last one when I turned the ball over and they scored on the out of bounds play I learned from that,” said Rose. “They (Cavs) didn’t double team. So I just came off a curl to my right.
”It feels good to see one go in,” Rose added. “It’s just going to boost my confidence and hopefully make me play better. It could have been playing against anybody (being thrilled with the game winner). Just that we were playing against him. It’s always exciting and feels good to win a playoff game, period. This game is already over with. On to the next game. Can’t think about the past.”