Post Up: Clutch Factor

by May 07, 2013

Bulls 93, Heat 86 (Bulls lead series 1-0)

What if it wasn’t a fluke?

That’s the question I sat up last night contemplating. The Chicago Bulls handed the Miami Heat their fifth home loss of the season, their first of the 2013 Playoffs, and yet, it felt unsatisfying.

The Bulls proved they belonged in the second round with their inspiring seven-game series victory over the Nets, but talent always wins in the Playoffs. And with half of Chicago’s best players in street clothes, and the world’s best player on the other side, a series upset seemed as unlikely as they come.

But there was the dynamic duo Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler, who together scored 48 points and earned just a hair over $1.9 million this season. Nate feared nothing. Butler never let up for all 48 minutes (for the third straight game).

Robinson suffered a laceration on his lip after chasing down a loose ball late in the first half, and TV cameras caught him getting 10 stitches to hold his lip together on the sidelines. The Heat should never have made Nate see his own blood.

He took over the second half, shooting 7-11 from the field for 24 points. He came up biggest in the fourth, becoming the first player in 15 years to record at least 11 points and 6 assists in the final quarter of a Playoff game.

The MVP was out cold in the first half. Or maybe it was the Bulls’ handcuffing defense that slowed him down. LeBron didn’t get to the line in the first 35 minutes of the game, and cashed in his lowest first-half point total of the season with just 2 points at the half on 1-6 shooting.

Predictable as the tide, the L-Train picked up steam as the game went on. He attempted nine free throws in the final quarter en route to 15 fourth-quarter points. But the Heat gameplan proved to be too much LeBron isolation and too little ball movement.

After a slow start, Marco Belinelli continued his clutch ways in the fourth, tying the game at 76-76 with a three from the left wing and then another three to knot it at 86-86.

Robinson gave the Bulls the lead by connecting on a 20-footer with 1:18 left. And then Dwyane Wade (14 points, 7-16 shooting) picked a bad time to launch his first three of the postseason—bricking the shot with 1:11 remaining. ISO Nate then drove the lane for a finger roll layup against Ray Allen, and suddenly the game belonged to the Bulls.

Chicago outscored the Heat 35-24 in the fourth quarter and finished on a 10-0 run. Chi-Town’s 35 points were the most scored against Miami in the fourth since last year.

Per usual, Coach Tom Thibodeau had a plan for every scenario. Joakim Noah (13 points, 11 boards) owned the offensive boards. Carlos Boozer (6 points, 7 boards), who led the Bulls in scoring in the first round, was once again ineffective against Miami’s defense and sat out the majority of the fourth.

Wade was aggressive going to the cup, but he didn’t attempt a free throw and led the Heat with 3 turnovers. Chris Bosh was a non-factor through four quarter. Chicago held Miami to only 32 points in the paint.

It was one win, but a statement win for the underdog Bulls. That said, the Heat have been down 1-0 in a Playoff series before during the Big Three era. They went on to sweep the next four games. —Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

Spurs 129, Warriors 127 F/2OT (Spurs lead series 1-0)

The San Antonio Spurs were on their deathbed. The flowers were in the ground. The fat lady was singing and the funeral reception was going strong at Big Mama’s house. Gregg Popovich’s team was done.

Then Klay Thompson fouled out of the game with just under four minutes remaining.

Then Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals began to resemble Game 6 of the Golden State Warriors clash with the Denver Nuggets last Thursday. Calamity, hijinks, shenanigans and tomfoolery all ensued. Somehow, the Warriors were able to withstand a near disastrous end of the fourth quarter that night, but on this night, the Spurs and the basketball gods weren’t having it. San Antonio overcame a 16-point deficit in the span of four minutes (honestly, it reminded me of when you used to play NBA Jam with the “computer assistance” on…and the CPU would just relentlessly pummel you, shoot on you, dunk on you, with no regard for your human life) and the Spurs had the Warriors in the proverbial matrix. A 20-2 run later, we were headed into overtime.

Then another overtime.

Stephen Curry, who put on another masterful Playoff performance with 44 points and 11 assists (along with playing all but :03 seconds of the 58 minute contest) next to his name on the box score, faded down the stretch by going 0-7 from the field in the last 14 minutes of the game. The Spurs, with the crowd literally shrieking their support and the PA playing every single Jock James classic from the 90’s on full blast, simply willed their team into a chance for victory.

With the Spurs down one, Manu Ginobili (who had shot missed his last nine shots) took an inexplicable three from 30-feet out that clanked off the front rim. The Warriors collected the rebound, got the ball to Curry, who found a streaking….Kent Bazemore? Yes, Kent Bazemore, as the rookie reserve put in a nifty reverse layup which Gave the Warriors a one-point lead with just 3.9 seconds remaining. Just enough time for Ginobili to atone for his previous mistakes. As the Spurs began to run their sideline inbounds play and the motion of the offense began to paralyze the Warriors, there was Ginobili, fading to the backside of the court wide open.

Ginobili sized up his shot while Bazemore rushed at him, and the end result was inevitable. 129-127, the Spurs were victorious.

A couple of key points to make quickly:

—While many will want to speak on the Spurs’ Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili, (who shot just 39.3 percent from the field for a combined 62 points on 61 shots) the most important players that played into the Spurs win were Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Green splashed 6 threes, all crucial, and Leonard’s improved defense on Curry late in the game stifled the Warriors offense. Green and Leonard are the athletic young talents the Spurs have lacked since…well, honestly, I can’t remember. Them boys are good.

—Stephen Curry’s biggest games of the season were his 54-point outburst in Madison Square Garden versus the Knicks, his 47-point explosions versus the Lakers in Staples Center and tonight’s 44-point performance versus the Spurs. In all three games where he’s scored 40 or more, the Warriors have lost. In watching all three games, Curry’s seemed to fade late in the games and the Warriors haven’t been able to pick him up when he’s become tired.

—Why do people still leave Boris Diaw wide open for jumpers? When Andrew Bogut gave Diaw about 12-feet of space at the top of the key, and Diaw then trained an 18-foot jumper, everyone on Golden State looked surprised. Why? I have no idea.

—Jarrett Jack’s performance in Game 1 was part heroic and part head-scratching. Yes, Jack was absolutely the Warriors best offensive player during the two overtime periods. They wouldn’t have been in the game without him. However, the amount of questionable/shaky decisions that Jack makes during games is downright infuriating. When Ginobili popped wide open on the final play, it looked like Jack missed his defensive assignment. Or at least he didn’t communicate with his team like a savvy veteran would be expected to.

—That shrieking lady that’s in the stands for the Spurs has to be the worst sounding woman of all-time. Good grief, can someone give her season tickets to not show up? Please? I thought someone was dying every minute. —Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan