Post Up: The Finisher

by April 23, 2013

Bulls 90, Nets 82 (Series tied 1-1)

After the Nets washed the Bulls in Game 1, they were ready to hang Chicago out to dry in Game 2 Monday night. But the man with one good leg, Joakim Noah, didn’t want to hear any of it.

Noah led Chicago to a signature grind-it-out win on the road to tie the series and weather Brooklyn’s momentum. The game began just the way Chicago wanted it—ugly. A lane violation, a free-path call, a host of errant passes, and the Bulls were feeling right at home at Barclays Center.

Deron Williams, who made mincemeat of Kirk Hinrich in Game 1, had a horrendous shooting night in Game 2, connecting on just one field goal for 8 points. His former teammate, Carlos Boozer (13 and 12) had his mid-range jumper lit as usual, forcing Reggie Evans away from the cup.

Noah, who was defiant in saying he’d play in Game 2 despite being far less than full strength, recorded 11 points, 10 boards and 2 blocks in 26 minutes. Making a huge statement for his team, Noah set the tone for Chicago from the opening tip. “I feel like overall our team played passionate basketball tonight and that’s a plus, because it was ugly in that Game 1,” Noah said.

The Nets missed eight of their first 10 shots, allowing Chicago to get into the defensive game they needed. Neither team was able to score more than 20 points in the first stanza, but Chicago was playing their game.

”Our execution when they made an adjustment or when they increased the defensive pressure, we didn’t handle it or react as well as we need to,” Nets coach PJ Carlesimo said.

As well as Noah played, it was clear that he couldn’t slow Brook Lopez. The Nets’ big man played like the most complete center in the game at times. Knocking down three straight 18-footers with ease, Brook seemingly channeled his inner Kevin Garnett, leading the Nets on a 12-3 run in the second quarter.

Even Kris Humphries briefly came to life in the second quarter, playing tough on the glass and contesting every one of Boozer’s shots. CJ Watson finished the second half with a corner three that kissed the ceiling. It brought the Nets within one point, and it was the closest they would come.

Slowly, the Bulls built a 12-point led in the third quarter, punctuated by a Jimmy Butler transition dunk. Nazr Mohammad came off the pine to drop 8 points and played with an energy that fans hadn’t seen in eight years.

In easily its best quarter of the series, the Bulls held the Nets to 11 points on 2-19 shooting in the third. They built a solid 12-point lead heading into the final stanza.

The hero of the final quarter was Noah, who dunked and hustled and screamed (maybe in response to the pain in his foot) to make three fourth-quarter buckets to push the Bulls ahead.

“I thought overall, I thought Jo was very rusty in the first game but willed it, and I thought he willed it again tonight and we needed every bit of it,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “To me, it’s obvious we’re a much better team with him on the floor.”

A couple Joe Johnson threes and a Watson layup brought it within four, but it wasn’t enough. Chicago opened up the lead to eight with a minute to go, and the game slowly ground down to a halt. It’ll surely grind right back up again in Chicago for Game 3 on Thursday night.—Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

Clippers 93, Grizzlies 91 (Clippers lead series 2-0)

With his spectacled Cliff Paul likeness dotted throughout the stands via State Farm fatheads, Chris Paul put in serious work on the hardwood, banking in a lovely four-foot floater as time expired to lead the LA Clippers over the Memphis Grizzles 93-91 on Monday night, taking a 2-0 lead in their first round series.

Following a timeout with about 14 seconds left, Jamal Crawford found Paul near half court and CP3 was able to muscle by Memphis guard Tony Allen, fighting off the aggressive defender for enough daylight to sink the beautiful banker before Memphis post Darrell Arthur could help in time.

“We got the ball in and what we tried to do was get Mike Conley to switch off,” Paul explained at the post game presser. “So, that’s why I screened Jamal. Obviously, Tony is their best defender. They switched for a second, and Jamal threw it back to me. Tony came back to me and played as good of a defense as you could have. I looked up at the clock at thought to myself, ‘I’d better get the shot off.’ So I just tried to attack and luckily I made the shot.”

Paul finished with 24 points and 9 assists, immediately removing his mouth piece in celebration after the game-winning bucket and being mobbed by Blake Griffin and fellow teammates. The officials reviewed the shot and added one-tenth of a second to the clock, but Memphis whiffed on their tip in attempt and LA had held serve. Allen was despondent in the visiting locker room afterwards. “I was supposed to send him back to the left and he got right,” Allen explained. “That’s what he does, he closes games. I definitely let my team down.”

At one point in the fourth, Memphis was down 12 points but fought back thanks to the excellent play of point guard Mike Conley who led all scorers with 28 points (9-of-18). Conley’s drives to the basket, and a wild 5-0 run by Arthur in the closing minutes had Memphis on the brink of stealing game two, but CP3 hit three critical buckets in half court down the stretch. “To go back to Memphis 0-2 against a team like this is very tough, so now we have to take care of business at home,” Conley said.

Memphis didn’t come out flat like they did in game 1, attacking the rim often, leading to an early 17-11 lead. But the Clippers answered back by feeding Griffin in the post and the dazzling bench play from Crawford. Jamal put together one of his best mixtapes of the season, freaking the crowd with nasty dribble drives and bank shots, finishing the night with 15 points. Griffin added 21 points and 8 rebounds.

Marc Gasol had 17 points for Memphis and Allen added a strong 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Grizzles struggled at the two-guard spot with Tayshaun Prince and Jerryd Bayless combining for 3-of-14 from the field.  Zach Randolph struggled with foul trouble for the second straight game and finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds. “We had a chance to win the game and didn’t get enough defensive stops,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “Chris Paul made three buckets including the winning one and we missed too many free throws. “

Game 3 is Thursday night in Memphis.–Nima Zarrabi