Bulls

Celtics are too old? More like too good.

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Celtics are too old? More like too good.

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A week ago, the Boston Celtics were too old. Three games later, they're one win away from the NBA finals. And Miami -- the team that was constructed with hopes of supplanting Boston as the power in the Eastern Conference -- is suddenly in big trouble. Kevin Garnett finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce scored 19 -- including a huge 3-pointer over LeBron James' outstretched arm with 52.9 seconds left -- and the Celtics beat the Heat 94-90 on Tuesday night, taking a 3-2 lead in the East finals that now shift to Boston for Game 6 on Thursday night. "We've done nothing," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We're playing a heck of a basketball team. So just because we're going to Boston, I told them, we have to play. They're not going to give it to us. We have to go get it." James finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds for Miami, though he went 8 minutes without scoring in the final quarter. Dwyane Wade scored 27 for the Heat, who got no more than nine from anyone else. "We wouldn't want to be in this situation but we never get too high or too low in a series," James said. "We had an opportunity to come home and take a lead, but we didn't. So we have to go up to Boston and win a game." Pierce's 3 put Boston up 90-86. Miami got within two points twice, and argued that it should have had a steal with 8.8 seconds left. Instead, a foul was called on Udonis Haslem, Garnett made two free throws, and the Celtics knew they had just stolen one on Miami's home floor. Now all they need is one home win of their own to clinch a trip to either Oklahoma City or San Antonio for Game 1 of the NBA finals. The title series starts June 12. "Right now," Celtics guard Ray Allen said, "the next game is Game 7." The Celtics were down by 13 points in the second quarter, then down nine in the third, and answered both times -- prevailing on a night where they shot just 41 percent, and got outrebounded 49-39. "We stayed with it," Garnett said. "We had a rough first quarter, first half. We got our stops and made our run ourselves. And when we had to, we had stops." Allen and Mickael Pietrus scored 13 apiece for the Celtics, who got 10 from Brandon Bass. Pietrus hit two huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for Boston, which remained perfect with this core when facing maybe the most pivotal situation a best-of-seven can offer -- a Game 5 with a series tied 2-2. Pierce, Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen are now 9-0 in that scenario. "We came in with the right focus," Pierce said. "That was key for us." So Game 5s are magical for Boston. Sometimes, they are for James as well. And sometimes -- this one included -- they're not. James' most memorable moments have come in Game 5s, like the epic 48 points where he just carried Cleveland on every possession down the stretch at Detroit in 2007, and the 120-88 loss to the Celtics in 2010, his last home game with the Cavaliers. This one offered more theater, of course. James hit a 3-pointer to give Miami a two-point lead with 8:10 left, closed out on Pierce to force an airball on the next possession, and eventually Miami pushed the margin out to 78-72 on a layup by Wade with 6:17 to play. On that play, James looked gassed, gasping for air as he stood near the baseline. Those might have been the last gasps the Miami home crowd sees this season. Boston closed on a 22-12 run. "Every time we got them down, they made runs," James said. "They made us stagnant offensively, got stops and got back in the game." Boston tied the game twice early in the third quarter, before Miami peeled off nine straight points to go up 59-50. Four players scored for the Heat during that quick burst, highlighted by Shane Battier's corner 3-pointer and a lazy turnover from Rondo, who threw the ball into the backcourt without being pressured by any Miami defender. But just as they did in the first half when Miami looked poised to pull away, the Celtics rallied -- and then some. A 15-1 run gave the Celtics a truckload of momentum and 65-60 lead going into the fourth, capped by Keyon Dooling connecting on a 3-pointer from near the Miami bench with 2 seconds left. There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter, and the game was tied for the final time when Wade made an acrobatic layup with 1:39 to play. Miami never led again. "We played hard," Battier said. "We just didn't play intelligent." Miami didn't lead by more than eight points at any time in the three previous games of the series. The Heat changed that quickly, and maybe it was fitting that Chris Bosh got them their first double-digit advantage since Game 1. Bosh came off the bench for his first minutes since straining a lower abdominal muscle in Game 1 of Miami's second-round series against Indiana. His three-point play with 1:17 left in the opening quarter -- punctuated with a stare-down for some cheering fans -- capped a 24-13 Miami run to open the game. James made a 3-pointer with 9:39 left in the half, and the Heat went up 31-18. The Celtics did what Miami did to them in Games 3 and 4 at Boston. They started chipping away. Miami missed 15 of its final 17 shots of the first half, with four turnovers thrown in there as well, and the Celtics took advantage. After James' 3-pointer, Boston outscored Miami 22-11 to close the second quarter -- Garnett got six of his eight first-half points in the final 3:09 -- and the once-sizable Heat lead was down to 42-40 by intermission. "We just told our guys, Hang in there, just hang in there, don't overreact,'" Rivers said. "The longer we're in the game, the better we'll play." That was the way Game 5 went. And the series has gone the same way. NOTES: Dorell Wright, a member of the 2006 Heat championship team and now with Golden State, was in attendance. A denim-vested Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks -- Miami's first-round playoff foe -- was seated courtside, and former Celtic Glen Davis was near the Boston bench. ... Wade scored seven points in the first 4:22 of the game. He didn't score again in the first half, and after scoring 26 points by halftime of the series-clincher against Indiana, he has 29 points in five first halves against Boston in this series. ... Pierce said before the game that he does not expect to need offseason surgery to repair the sprained MCL in his left knee. "No complaints," Pierce said.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.