Bulls

Spurs-Thunder: A changing of the guard?

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Spurs-Thunder: A changing of the guard?

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Kevin Durant and the surging Oklahoma City Thunder are just one victory from the NBA finals. "We never just thought we were supposed to wait our turn," the 23-year-old Thunder star said following the biggest road win of his career Monday night. What little wait they've had could end Wednesday. That's when the Thunder can finish off the San Antonio Spurs back home in Oklahoma City -- where they're unbeaten in these playoffs -- and complete a remarkable turnaround in the Western Conference finals after starting in an 0-2 hole and up against a 20-game Spurs winning streak that ranks among the longest in NBA history. But look who's unstoppable now. Durant scored 27 points and the Thunder beat the Spurs 108-103 in Game 5, moving within a victory of a series knockout and the conference title after beating San Antonio for the third time in five days. "We came here, we wanted to get a win on their home floor," Durant said. "That's what it took for us to advance or to get to where we wanted to go." Russell Westbrook added 23 and the Thunder took a 3-2 lead in a wildly entertaining series. Looking invincible while carrying a 20-game winning streak a week ago -- the fourth-longest in NBA history -- the Spurs have lost three straight and are on the verge of a stunning collapse. Manu Ginobili scored 34 in a smashing return to the starting lineup, and the switch showed just how much Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knew his team might be in trouble. The only way the Spurs would have considered the move a success is if they had they won, and that chance went clanging off the back of the rim with 4.9 seconds left when Ginobili missed an off-balance 3. Ginobili then walked to the scorer's table, made a fist and hammered it down. "It wasn't a great shot, but it wasn't a bad one," Ginobili said. "It just didn't go in." It was the Spurs' first loss at home since April 11. Popovich said he removed Danny Green from the starting lineup and plugged in Ginobili -- who had started only seven previous times this season -- to give the Spurs "an energy boost." But that didn't solve a third straight uneven game for the Spurs, particularly another languid second quarter that put them in a 14-point hole. "If we don't get that straight," Popovich said, "it'll be over on Wednesday." Oklahoma City, meanwhile, is bringing home just what it needed: the must-win on the road. "That was a total team effort," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Everybody did their job. I thought we played as hard as we can play." Oklahoma City pulled it off behind their stars. James Harden scored 20, joining Durant and Westbrook as the only Thunder players in double figures. Harden hit the biggest shot, draining a 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left that pushed Oklahoma City's lead to five. He admitted afterward that the ball was supposed to go to Durant but had no choice but to let go with the shot clock winding down and Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard in his face. "The shot clock was running down and I had to make a play," Harden said. "Leonard was playing great defense on me. I just shot it with confidence. West Conference finals -- that's a big shot." Tony Parker had 20 points and Tim Duncan had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs. After remaining unbeaten for 50 days before arriving in Oklahoma City, San Antonio has lost three games in five days. They now must win two straight to avoid seeing their last best chance to win in a title in the Duncan era end. "Championship teams win on the road," Popovich said. "Oklahoma City just did that." It's the first time the Spurs have lost three in a row all season. Durant scored 22 of his points in the second half. He dedicated the win to his uncle, whom Durant said was in the hospital. Westbrook also had 12 assists. Not wanting the series to slip away, Popovich moved Ginobili to the starting lineup in place of Green, who came in shooting a combined 8 of 28 in this series. Green's days as a starter began looking numbered after Game 3. He couldn't save his job before leaving Oklahoma City -- Green shot 4 of 12 in both losses combined -- and Popovich couldn't wait any longer with the series tied and the season in the balance. Out with the undrafted swingman who barely made training camp, and in with the former All-Star. Pulling this big an adjustment this deep in the season likely didn't come easy for the NBA coach of the year, and the gambit drew mixed results. It looked like a no-brainer with Ginobili leading all scorers at halftime with 14, but new rotations for the Spurs made for rocky possessions. None more so than in the second quarter, when the Spurs shot 38 percent. Ginobili finished 11 of 21 and made half of his 10 3-point attempts. But with the game and arguably San Antonio's season on the line, his last one didn't connect. "It's either win or go home," Ginobili said. "It's our job. Nobody is going to feel sorry about ourselves." Notes: Taking a page from the Thunder, the Spurs held a T-shirt whiteout at the AT&T Center, a move the team has rarely made before. ... Durant's the clear last-shot taker for the Thunder. Popovich said it's as obvious as Dirk Nowitzki having the ball in his hands at the end for Dallas. But who do the Spurs go to with the game on the line? "It's a secret," Popovich said before the game.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.