Chicago Bulls 99, Cleveland Cavs 92
Jimmy Motherfucking Butler. LeBron can huff and LeBron can puff but LeBron can’t blow Jimmy Butler’s house in. Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler.
Mike Dunleavy decided to imitate Klay Thompson to open the game, hitting three from deep that splashed cleanly through before the Cavs knew which way to turn. Bulls 21, Cavs 7. Dunleavy smoking.
As expected, Cleveland knocked the rust off and jumped back into the game in the second quarter, but never got over the hump. Rose, Gasol and Butler counter-punched throughout. After the Cavs tied things up to start the third, the Bulls rampaged and that vaunted Cavs defense (oh wait, they aren’t known for their defense) couldn’t stop a 15-0 run. Bulls 68, Cavs 53.
Kyrie Irving single-handedly (or should I say ambidextrously?) kept the Cavs within range early in the 4th, crossing every which way and finishing with his trademark spinning lay-ups (reminiscent of peak Tony Parker).
As the Bulls bench (Brooks, Hinrich, and Dunleavy) floundered, the Cavs pulled to within 3 (83-80) with 8:30 remaining.
Thibodeau came back with his starting crew, the defense picked up, while LeBron and Kyrie were forced into desperation heaves from beyond 25 feet. Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler, and Jimmy Butler.
And one big jumper from Pau and Rose to ice the cake.
Los Angeles Clippers 117, Houston Rockets 101
Wow. No Chris Paul, and no energy from Houston. The Rockets were brutal. McHale’s coaching interview mentioned being “stuck in the mud.” The Rockets may as well have played without sneakers, because there was no ball movement, no cutting, no sharp screens, and no hustle outside of Dwight Howard (22 / 10 / 5 blocks) and Trevor Ariza.
Austin Rivers didn’t have to replace Chris Paul, so much as hit a few corner three-pointers, play decent defense and try not to turn the ball over when it was actually in his hands.
Blake was Superman while Dwight Howard was left on an Island by his teammates
Blake Griffin (26 points, 8-10 free-throws / 14 boards / 13 assists) was spectacular in distributing again, as he has been throughout the playoffs, with the exception of a few late-game lapses against San Antonio. Griffin and the surprising Matt Barnes (20 points on 11 shots! / 4 steals / 2 blocks) more than rose to the occasion as the Rockets looked shocked that they weren’t blowing the CP3-less Clippers out.
Here’s a question that goes beyond Xs and Os but to the heart of the difference between these two teams: one of them has incredible talent as well as heart, while the other has swagger and talent.
Is Kevin McHale to blame for the Rockets playing with such little motivation? Or is it impossible to keep the fire lit in the bellies of James Harden (6 free-throw attempts and 9 turnovers) and Josh Smith (3 of 12 and only 5 boards in 29 minutes)?
This was a psychological test for Houston, and they failed miserably.
Why was it psychological?
1. No Chris Paul for the Clippers invites a let down from the opponent.
2. Gear Shift. Dallas defense is much like regular season defense. Houston barely turned the ball over against such sad attempts at deterrence. The way the Clippers have been playing defense is nothing like what they faced for the first five games of the playoffs. This was like driving on a flat, straight country road and suddenly facing rush hour traffic in mid-town Manhattan. In the second-half, once the Clippers found their second wind (remember, they just finished a brutal 7-game series with the Spurs and were without Chris Paul), the Rockets simply couldn’t match them. They were not mentally ready.
Kevin McHale has always seemed like a nice guy. I like Kevin McHale. He let his team get too high on themselves. It was a problem on Monday. Wednesday will be different, but the home court they worked for all season is gone.
Third quarter scoring: Clippers 37, Houston 27 (Blake Griffin collects 6 dimes)
Fourth quarter scoring: Clippers 34, Houston 24 (Blake Griffin with 4 more assists)
In the second round of the playoffs, well-rested, playing at home, against a team that was without it’s maestro at the point, the Rockets gave up 71 points in the second half. Wow. Blake Griffin as distributor. Austin Rivers and Matt Barnes filling in. Unexpected.