NBA playoffs: Bulls, Spurs win opening games in conference semifinals

Monday night, Chicago defeated the Miami Heat. San Antonio needed two overtimes to best the Golden State Warriors in their respective Eastern and Western Conference semifinal opening games.

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    Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) shoots over Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem (40) in the second half during Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference semi-final basketball playoff in Miami, Florida May 6, 2013.
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Nate Robinson comes up big in extinguishing the Heat

Nate Robinson scored 27 points, including three three-pointers to lead the visiting Chicago Bulls to a 93-86 victory over the Miami Heat in the first game of their Eastern Conference semifinal Monday night at the American Airlines Arena. Robinson joined four teammates in double-figure scoring and was the spearhead for a relentless, yet balanced Bulls offensive attack.

Miami, led by newly minted four-time MVP LeBron James, allowed Chicago to rack up 35 points in the fourth quarter, erasing a seven-point deficit – and were themselves held to only 1 point in the last three minutes of the game. Robinson, who required 14 stitches to his lower lip after a collision with James while diving for a ball in the first half, left temporarily, but made his presence known both on the perimeter and inside the lane in the last two quarters.

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Starters Marco Bellinelli, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler, along with bench specialist Taj Gibson, scored a combined 56 points to supplement Robinson’s performance, and outrebounded the Heat, 46-32 – led by Butler’s 14 (12 of them defensive). The Bulls’ tenacity was particularly striking when one considers they were without star guard Derrick Rose and big man Luol Deng – two perennial difference-makers for Chicago come playoff time.

Some have referred to the Heat as “rusty” for having been inactive for more than a week following their first-round shellacking of the Milwaukee Bucks. But playing at home in front of a capacity playoff crowd, the Heat could only manage two players with more than 10 points – James with 24 and Dwayne Wade with 14. In fact, the Heat’s big three (James, Wade and Chris Bosh) could only manage 47 total points in addition to getting soundly beaten on the glass.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who previously was a top assistant to Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, was not taking any victory laps afterward: “I think when you're facing adversity, you have to be mentally tough … But this is just one game. We have to play a lot better in our next one.”

San Antonio Wins a Thriller Over Golden State

It seems an annual ritual – the coast teams get most of the glamour and the media attention, and the San Antonio Spurs, situated firmly in the middle of the country among the jackrabbits and tumbleweeds, just keep on winning. Monday night at the AT&T Center, the Spurs, led by their own ageless big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, defeated the no-less-impressive Golden State Warriors, 129-127, in double overtime in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

This game was a scoring bonanza, with six Spurs scoring in double-digits – including four of their starters. Ginobili, along with Gary Neal, came off the bench to add a combined 26 points – with Ginobili hitting the game-winning three-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining in the second overtime. In a remarkable fourth-quarter turnaround, San Antonio, who was down 16 points with just four minutes remaining, went on an 18-2 offensive run to tie the score at 106 at the end of regulation. Tony Parker led all Spurs with 28 points, followed by former North Carolina star Danny Green’s 22 and former San Diego State Aztec Kawhi Leonard’s 18.

The Spurs scoring assault was just too much for Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who turned in the performance of his career, scoring 44 points (22 of them in the third quarter) and adding 11 assists. Though they out-rebounded the Spurs 55-45, the Warriors also committed 21 turnovers. Golden State also hurt themselves on the free throw line, hitting only 58% (14-24) against San Antonio’s 85% (24-28). Fundamentals mean everything in playoff competition, and the Spurs in this instance were just more solid all-around.

Ginobili, who tallied 16 points for the game, has always been a “gunslinger” of sorts at crunch time for the Spurs, to the occasional exasperation of head coach Gregg Popovich. Afterward, Popovich said “I went from wanting to trade him on the spot to wanting to cook breakfast for him tomorrow morning. That’s the truth. When I talk to him and say, ‘Manu,’ he goes, ‘This is what I do.’ That’s what he’s going to tell me. I stopped coaching him a long time ago.”

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