There wasn't much fanfare when the Chicago Bulls signed E'Twaun Moore to a partially guaranteed two-year contract back in September. During his three-year NBA career, the 25-year-old Purdue product hasn't exactly been a major headline producer; his stints with the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic were more agate -alike, really. But despite Chicago already boasting a backcourt filled with more decorated names — Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks — Moore looked at the Bulls and saw opportunity. [DraftKings: FREE $20k Fantasy Basketball Contest with First Deposit. Draft your team now. ] "I knew I was coming to a great team, and I knew we had a deep team," Moore told returning champion Craig Sager. "I just wanted to come in and try to contribute any way I could — defense, offense, you know. Just be ready to play." I think it's safe to say that Moore was ready on Thursday. I'm not sure, however, that the Oklahoma City Thunder were ready for him. Pressed into duty after injuries to Rose and Butler , Moore not only found himself on the court in the closing stages of Chicago's nationally televised meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder and their rampaging MVP candidate, Russell Westbrook. He found himself taking, and making, the biggest shot of the night. With the Thunder holding onto a 105-104 lead and just 4.9 seconds remaining in a pretty fantastic contest, Chicago forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. prepared the inbounds pass. Westbrook trailed Moore as the Bull broke to the near corner, but cheated away to shade toward big man Pau Gasol, who had already put 21 points and 12 boards on Oklahoma City and had good post position on Thunder defensive ace Serge Ibaka. Dunleavy lofted the pass to Gasol, but Westbrook didn't leap into the air for the sort of soaring interception he'd pulled off earlier in the frame; instead, he just turned to face Gasol, his hands down at his sides. The 7-foot Spaniard saw Moore uncovered and made a perfect one-touch pass to the corner, where Moore collected, fired and splashed through a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining, giving Chicago a 107-105 lead and sending the United Center — including a certain red-furred denizen — into hysterics. [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball ] After a timeout, Oklahoma City did have a chance to respond. This time, though, Westbrook couldn't pull another miracle out of his hat mask . Pressured along the sideline by Moore and Bulls center Joakim Noah, Westbrook stepped out of bounds: ... which led the normally stoic and reserved Noah to explode, and an equally excited courtside fan to, um, spank the reigning Defensive Player of the Year: Westbrook fouled Nikola Mirotic on the ensuing inbounds pass. The rookie made his first free throw before missing his second, draining away the final tenths of a second on the clock and sealing an impressive 108-105 Chicago win . Moore played active, aggressive, frenetic defense throughout, and finished with a career-high 19 points on 9-for-10 shooting to go with four rebounds, two steals and a block in 22 minutes off the bench. He scored 13 of those points on a perfect 6-for-6 mark in the fourth quarter — he combined with Mirotic (14 of his Bulls-high 26 in the frame) to outscore Oklahoma City 27-26 over the final 12 minutes — with none bigger, of course, than those last three. "Coach [Tom Thibodeau] drew up a good play," Moore told Sager. "It was for Pau to go inside, but he read it and, you know, just finished off the game." And, in so doing, finished off Westbrook's run of four consecutive triple doubles. It wasn't exactly an off night for the Thunder superstar, who scored 43 points (making him the first player in Thunder franchise history to go for 40 or more in three straight games) while grabbing eight rebounds, dishing seven assists and snagging two steals in 38 minutes. He teamed with Ibaka (25 points, 12-for-19 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks) to carry a Thunder side that was playing the second game of a back-to-back on the road and is still missing injured reigning MVP Kevin Durant and starting center Steven Adams. He made sweet feeds, like this early alley-oop to Andre Roberson: ... and carved his way through the heart of the Bulls defense: ... and made some tough jumpers in big moments: But after Westbrook exploded for 19 points in the third quarter to stake Oklahoma City to a 79-72 lead heading into the fourth, the Bulls were able to slow him down just enough in the last stanza — seven points on 2-for-9 shooting — to give themselves a chance to complete the comeback in a game they once trailed by 16 points. "Just trying to make him shoot tough shots," Moore said in describing Chicago's approach to defending Westbrook. "He's a great player. He was on a streak for the triple-double — I know he wanted it tonight. But you know, we needed the victory." It wouldn't have gotten him the triple-double, but you couldn't help but wonder in the moment if Westbrook might wind up kicking himself for passing up this opportunity to feed Ibaka, who'd been draining deep jumpers all night, on the second-to-last Thunder possession, with Oklahoma City up by one: This was the play with Westbrook not trusting. Had Ibaka wide open in the pick-and-pop: pic.twitter.com/JgdNMwq9UV — Royce Young (@royceyoung) March 6, 2015 Instead, Westbrook pulled the ball back out, went one-on-one against Mirotic on the cross-match, and wound up air-balling a 22-footer. Thunder trade-deadline acquisition Enes Kanter caught the ball under the basket and attempted to put it in, but since Westbrook's shot never touched the rim, the shot clock never reset, forcing a 24-second violation and giving Chicago the ball back, setting the stage for Moore's heroics. After the game, Westbrook copped to the error and expressed regret: Russ: "My job is not to come out & try to play for triple-doubles. My job is to come out & try to do whatever it takes to help us win games" — Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) March 6, 2015 Westbrook on his final shot: "I should have passed it to Serge. That was a bad decision on my part. He was wide open." — Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) March 6, 2015 Dunleavy scored 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including a 3-for-6 mark from downtown, in 37 1/2 minutes. While he scored just four points, the resurgent Noah grabbed 12 rebounds (putting him over 5,000 in his career) and dished nine assists without a turnover in 31 minutes for the Bulls, who improved to 39-23 and moved into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers. D.J. Augustin (10 points, all in the fourth quarter) was the only non-Westbrook-or-Ibaka member of the Thunder to crack double figures. Oklahoma City now sits at 34-27, only a half-game up on the New Orleans Pelicans — who just got Anthony Davis back, and he looked gooooood — for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. More NBA coverage: - - - - - - - Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YourManDevine Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL , "Like" BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.
Read the full post »
Wednesday night's matchup between the Boston Celtics and surging Utah Jazz featured 47-plus minutes of so-ugly-only-a-mother-could-love-it offense, but man, did those last few seconds make up for it. [DraftKings: FREE $20k Fantasy Basketball Contest with First Deposit. Draft your team now. ] Boston held an eight-point lead after an Isaiah Thomas jumper with 2:17 to go, but the Jazz stormed back, ripping off a 9-2 run to draw within one at 83-82 in the final minute. Celtics swingman Jae Crowder saw a potential cushion-providing layup swatted at the tin by Utah monster Rudy Gobert, but Jazz point man Trey Burke couldn't convert a short runner that would have given Utah the lead with 9.6 seconds remaining. But Utah retained control after the ball went out of bounds, giving Quin Snyder's crew another chance to take the lead. [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball ] The first-year head coach put the ball in the hands of his max-money forward, and Gordon Hayward made a play: Hayward took the inbounds pass, shook pitbull defender Avery Bradley with a behind-the-back dribble to create space, then attacked Celtics center Tyler Zeller off the screen, pulling up for a tough midrange jumper that he splashed over Zeller's outstretched arms to give Utah an 84-83 lead. There was just one problem: the Celtics, led by Hayward's former college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens, had 1.7 seconds and a timeout left. Snyder elected to have the 7-foot-2 Gobert guard inbounds passer and newly minted Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Marcus Smart, and the Celtics' play call took advantage of that cross-match. Zeller, guarded by Utah power forward Derrick Favors, raced from the top of the key to the basket as Crowder cut from the left block to replace him and Bradley cut from the right elbow to the far corner. All those cuts along the free-throw line worked as de-facto screens, which Utah switched, leading to Zeller finding himself one-on-one with rookie Jazz swingman Rodney Hood. Smart lofted a perfect lob pass over Gobert and Hood, connecting with Zeller under the basket. He stayed down long enough to allow a helping Hayward to fly by, and just barely got the ball up in time — two-tenths of a second remaining on the game clock, just past the hand of the hard-charging Gobert — to watch it bounce off the window, carom off the rim and fall softly through the net, giving the Celtics an 85-84 victory that finished in far more thrilling fashion than anyone could have predicted for the lion's share of the proceedings, and afforded Zeller some sweet redemption after failing to stop Hayward on the other end. "It feels great, especially after going down there, you know, giving them a bucket," Zeller told Comcast SportsNet New England's Abby Chen after the game. "It's great to be able to win this one." In the aftermath of the play, some observers wondered whether Snyder might have been better off letting someone else guard the inbounder and having shot-swatting marvel Gobert stationed in the paint to protect the rim. But as NBA TV's Brent Barry pointed out, the Jazz might have still come away with the victory had Gobert — who finished with 10 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks, three assists and a steal in 36 minutes — pressed up tighter on Smart at the point of attack: @GwashburnGlobe yes Gary but ball pressure on the passer was a lesson for him to learn, pass never gets there in that way if he is on it... — Brent Barry (@Barryathree) March 5, 2015 Whatever Utah's shortcomings on the final possession, you've got to tip your cap to the Celtics for executing in a tight spot. Zeller, who finished with eight points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, one steal and one assist in 30 minutes of floor time, credited his final-play patience and presence of mind to a teammate's intervention. "Actually, somebody walked up to me right before it and said I got time for one shot if I can go up," he said. "It worked great." (That sage Celtic? Little-used Italian shooter Luigi Datome , who came over from the Detroit Pistons in the three-way trade deadline deal that shipped out Tayshaun Prince and Marcus Thornton while also importing Thomas and Jonas Jerebko. Nice work, Gigi.) As smooth as the finished product looked, though, this wasn't quite how Stevens drew it up in the Celtics' final huddle. "It was actually supposed to get a post-up for a move," Zeller said. "But [Hood] fronted me, so [Marcus] just threw it up over the top, and made it a lot easier on me." And, in the process, made the evening miserable for the Jazz, who lost for just the second time since the All-Star break despite holding Boston to a 37.5 percent shooting mark from the field. Thomas led the way with 21 points on 6-for-12 shooting, seven assists and three rebounds in 26 1/2 minutes off the Celtics bench. Fellow reserve Crowder added 18 points, four boards, two dimes and a block in 33 minutes for Boston, who bounced back after a brutal blowout at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday to score their fourth win in six games and improve to 24-35, drawing within two games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Favors and Burke each scored 16 to lead the Jazz, while Hayward added 13 points, three boards, three assists and the near game-winner. After the final buzzer, Butler products Hayward and Stevens shared a brief embrace ... joined, somewhat awkwardly, by the Celtics' Crowder: Brad Stevens, hugged from behind by Jae Crowder while telling Gordon Hayward that he's proud of him. pic.twitter.com/xbUAZ3Lkn5 — Josh Zavadil (@JoshuaZavadil) March 5, 2015 It was, perhaps, the perfect ending to a game that was almost uncomfortably close throughout. - - - - - - - Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YourManDevine Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL , "Like" BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.
Read the full post »