LeBron's buzzer-beater ties series, steals homecourt from Bulls


LeBron's buzzer-beater ties series, steals homecourt from Bulls

Pandemonium turned to borderline panic in 1.5 seconds for the Chicago Bulls, as they gave LeBron James just enough time for a miracle, and Jimmy Butler gave him just a bit of airspace on his fadeaway jumper.

After Derrick Rose tied Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series with a driving layup with 9.4 seconds left, overtime seemed likely until James’ buzzer-beater tied the series at two games apiece with an 86-84 win over the Bulls at the United Center.

Just as Rose’s shot was a great one by a superstar, James’ was nonpareil, as Butler did everything he could aside from hanging in James’ jersey to contest the jumper from the right wing.

“It was a tough shot,” Rose said. “Jimmy pushed him to the corner, he got a chance to adjust his body and square up. He shot a hell of a shot.”

With that devastating jolt only a few men can provide, the Cavaliers pranced off the court, knowing full well they stole a game they had no business in. James led the Cavaliers with 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in 43 hard minutes.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“I don’t think there’s any stealing going on anywhere,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I don’t think we steal from them, I don’t think they steal from us. These games are hard fought and you have to win them.”

While that may be true, it puts the Bulls in an unenviable position to have to win — or steal — another game in Cleveland in front of that desperate, raucous crowd, having given this Cavaliers team new life.

Of course, it should be said Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt nearly threw away the game with back-to-back critical errors, one that should’ve been a technical foul and Bulls’ ball if the officials caught him trying to call a timeout after Rose’s tying layup.

After an official’s review to determine time and possession before James’ last second shot, Blatt attempted to draw up a play for someone else besides James before the four-time MVP intervened.

“I scratched that,” James said.

Before the crowd’s audible shock and awe could be felt through the building, the Bulls put themselves in position many times to take a stranglehold on this series and send real doubt to the hobbling Cleveland Cavaliers, having a 68-57 lead on the strength of a Tony Snell triple with 42.9 seconds left in the third quarter.

But as has been the case all season long, the Bulls failed to capitalize on what was in front of them — James was struggling with turnovers and then turned his ankle barging into Rose on a fast break, Kyrie Irving’s strained right foot caused him to make just two field goals in 40 minutes, and they held James to a 10-for-30 shooting afternoon on their home floor — yet couldn’t seal the deal.

“We’ve been like that all year,” said forward Mike Dunleavy of the Bulls’ lack of killer instinct. “We just can’t step on people’s throats. For whatever reason, it’s too many stagnant offensive possessions. It’s kind of been our Achilles heel on the offensive end. It’s not surprising. It’s disappointing.”

The Cavs went on a 16-2 run between the end of the third and start of the fourth, missing eight straight shots and allowing their rivals to recover when it was clear they were thinking of submitting to the Bulls charge.

Rose, who was magnificent again with 31 points and four assists on 23 shots, isn’t alarmed by his team’s inability to put opponents away.

“I mean, it’s still a season, we’re still learning,” Rose said. “I’m not concerned at all. We’re a quick-learning team. We’re gonna look at it and make sure we’re prepared for it. It hurts now knowing we had a couple chances.”

The Bulls shot just 36 percent from the field, as Rose and Butler combined for 50 of their 84 points.

Playing without Pau Gasol (strained hamstring) opened up time for Nikola Mirotic and to a lesser degree, Tony Snell, but Mirotic shot one for nine in 18 minutes. Joakim Noah had a couple stretches where he was dangerous on the pick and roll, twice finishing with dunks off passes from Rose and Snell, scored eight but missed eight of his 12 shot attempts.

Still, the Bulls didn’t turn the ball over much (12 times) and crawled back into the game, surviving a J.R. Smith onslaught that saw him score 11 of his 13 in the fourth. Timofey Mozgov was solid with 15 and nine rebounds with three blocked shots, one of the few Cavaliers James could count on, as they shot 39 percent, leaving the door open for one final Bulls push.

Rose scored a quick five, attacking and hitting his long range jumpers, to pull the Bulls to within three before forcing a James turnover near midcourt as he swung through a double-team to nail Dunleavy with an elbow with 14.3 seconds left. Rose attacked again and set the United Center afire with his layup, setting the stage for James.

“You got great players going at it,” Dunleavy said. “Just the nature, it’s the way this works, it’s gonna be hard to get any separation.”

Then James got separation — albeit slight — returning Rose’s favor and now the Bulls must pick themselves up again or else they’ll be facing elimination come Thursday.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”