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    • BOSTON — Twenty-five minutes after the final buzzer sounded on the Chicago Bulls’ 108-97 Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, the hits kept coming for Jimmy Butler inside a depressed visitors locker room at TD Garden.

      “Hey, Jimmy, ain’t no hot water, bro,” Bulls guard Dwyane Wade yelled as he made his way to his locker.

      “Word?” asked Butler, still dressed in full uniform, with a stim machine attached to his knee sending energy jolts through his tired body.

      “It’s freezing in there,” Wade said.

      Wade was referencing the cold water streaming through the Bulls’ showers, but his words could have explained the team’s performance in the final 12 minutes of a winnable, series-altering game. After playing the Celtics so tough in front of a raucous crowd for three quarters, the Bulls unraveled both emotionally and physically in the waning moments as the Celtics outscored them 29-16 in the final stanza.

      Butler, who has carried the Bulls so many times throughout a dominant individual season, managed just two shots in the final 12 minutes and missed both of them. After it was over, he explained that his passiveness was due, at least in part, to the fact that he was taking a backseat to Wade.

      “I liked getting everybody involved,” Butler said. “If somebody else got it going, then we got to feed him — him being Dwyane Wade. But I just feel like you got to let the game come to you. Wherever you are on the floor, when it’s your opportunity, you got to take that. I’m cool with everybody, myself included. We got to be better on Friday.”

      For as much determination as the Bulls showed throughout much of Wednesday’s game, Butler is the one who must be better than everyone else on Friday if the Bulls are to bring the series back to Boston for Game 7 on Sunday. Butler has set such a high bar for himself this season that it’s rare to see him go just 6-for-15 from the field, as he did Wednesday. He’s usually the player who can will the rest of his teammates to a higher level.

      On Wednesday, he was the player the Celtics were determined to slow down. Celtics swingman Avery Bradley hounded him all over the floor.

      “We run a lot to Jimmy, so it’s not about the shot selection,” Wade said of Butler’s struggles. “Obviously, if he didn’t shoot, it’s because he didn’t want to shoot. We put the ball in his hands a lot. I’m sure he’ll see a few things [on tape], we’ll see a few things. But at the same time, they’re keying on him. He made the right plays, and guys got open shots. That’s all you can do, so he did what he was supposed to do.”

      But as the former go-to guy with the Miami Heat for years, Wade also understands that there are times in games, especially playoff games, when players must demand the ball and take over. Butler has shown that ability throughout the season, and he did so throughout Game 4, in which he went to the line 23 times and scored 33 points. He repeatedly said his knee was fine, and he refused to use the wear and tear of the season as an excuse, but he was not his usual, aggressive self late in Game 5 — and his teammates and coaches knew it.

      “Wade had it going,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “And we went to Dwyane a lot of times with that small-small ball screen. We had Jimmy on the other side. They trapped it. We got the ball out of it. But I thought our guys for the most part made the right plays. Jimmy, he’s a guy that’s carried us a lot in fourth quarters. We need to do a better job of getting him the ball.”

      Wade echoed similar sentiments, saying the Bulls had “to do a better job of putting him in different places on the basketball floor” while discussing the nagging pain Butler must be dealing with in his legs. It’s up to Hoiberg and his staff to find those hot spots on the floor to get their star rolling again before Friday.

      But more than anything else, it’s up to Butler to impose his will on his opponent, the way he has so many times this season. If Butler wants to take another step in his superstar progression, he will find a way to do so again, even though his body isn’t feeling its best.

      “Win at all costs,” Butler said of his mentality heading into Friday. “Win. Because if you don’t, then you got to go home. That should be motivation in itself. Motivation enough to know that if we don’t win this, we ain’t playing no more this season.”


    • SAN JOSE, Calif. — Before Joe Thornton heads into an uncertain offseason where he could be a free agent and leave San Jose after nearly 12 years, he had more pressing business.

      Thornton underwent surgery on a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee Monday to repair an injury that sidelined him less than two weeks before he returned to play the final four games of a first-round series loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

      “I’ve been in this business a long time,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “You see a player play with that type of injury tells you all you need to know about him.”

      Thornton downplayed the injury before the team announced the severity of what he played through and the surgery, calling it simply “the normal stuff that hockey players deal with” at this time of the season.

      But his willingness to play four playoff games on basically one leg at age 37, and record two assists, was just another example of how important he is to San Jose and why the team wants him back this summer before he can become a free agent.

      “Basically his knee is floating there,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “It was as courageous an effort, him doing what he did, as I’ve ever seen. And I didn’t see a drop off in his game. I know the point production wasn’t there. I think there’s some answers for that, including power play and fatigue and some things like that. Until his level drops where he has to take a reduced role, that’s not even on my radar.”

      The futures of Thornton and teammate Patrick Marleau are the biggest questions for San Jose headed into the offseason. The two have been the face of the Sharks for years, with Marleau joining as the second-overall draft pick in 1997 and Thornton coming in a trade from Boston in 2005.

      “I want to come back,” Thornton said. “I think this is a Stanley Cup-caliber team and I think I’m a little bit older and I realize how good this team is. Of course, I’d like to come back. But we’ll have to see. I’m sure we’ll be talking.”

      They have been two of the league’s most prolific players during their tenure, with Marleau scoring his 500th career goal this season and Thornton recording his 1,000th assist.

      Thornton’s production fell a bit this season. His 50 points were his fewest in a non-lockout season since he was a teenager in Boston in 1998-99. Thornton was also a key part of a power play that was ranked 25th in the regular season after years of being at the top of the league.

      Marleau scored 27 goals this season and played a stronger overall game as evidenced by his improving plus-minus from negative 22 to four.

      Both players will turn 38 before the start of next season, raising questions about how long San Jose will want to commit to them.

      “Guys like that aren’t growing on trees,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “Both those guys, you hear about the age stuff, those guys are both in great shape. Every day they put the work in. They’re elite players. Age doesn’t matter.”

      Wilson called both players cornerstones of the franchise on and off the ice and seemed interested in them coming back. Both players also publicly expressed the same desire but the sides must come to terms on length and value.

      There have been no talks yet between the parties and it is extremely unlikely any deal would be finalized before the expansion draft in June.

      The other key questions for the Sharks headed into the offseason are who they will protect in the expansion draft and will they be able to reach long-term extensions with goalie Martin Jones and shut-down defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

      Both players are eligible for free agency in 2018 but can sign extensions after July 1. Wilson said he would like to get those deals done before training camp.

      “Both of them are extremely important to get under contract,” Wilson said. “Those are priorities.”


    • ST. LOUIS — Blues forward Paul Stastny skated for the first time in a month on Tuesday after missing the past 13 games with a lower-body injury.

      Coach Mike Yeo said Stastny is day-to-day. St. Louis is up 3-0 in its first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, with Game 4 at home Wednesday night.

      Stastny, who has 18 goals and 22 assists in 66 games this season, was injured against Colorado on March 21 after being hit in the foot on a shot by Vladimir Tarasenko.

      On Tuesday, Stastny worked on a line with Vladimir Sobotka and Zach Sanford in Alexander Steen’s normal spot. Steen hasn’t been practicing, but Yeo said he will play Wednesday.

      Stastny also worked with the No. 1 power play unit.


    • The opening game in the first-round playoff series between the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks included moments when Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris, and then John Wall and Dennis Schroder, talked some smack and exchanged words.

      But after the Wizards won 114-107 on Sunday, Millsap indicated that the Wizards turned the game into something closer to WWE’s SmackDown.

      “The difference in the game was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA,” Millsap told reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They were physical. When the game is like that, we have to match their physicality. But again, we’ve got to go get some moves and bring them back to the court.”

      Wizards star guard John Wall sprinted his way to a playoff career-high 32 points plus 14 assists. Wall was a blur at times, scoring 15 points in a third quarter that proved to be the knockout punch for Washington in Game 1.

      But Millsap felt the officials let the Wizards get away with overly physical play, despite the fact that Atlanta made 32-of-39 from the line while Washington went to the free throw line only 17 times, making 16.

      Morris played Millsap physically from the start and helped set a tone for the Wizards at home. After Millsap was called for a shooting foul on Morris near the end of the first half, the two players had a brief exchange before both teams went back to the locker rooms.

      Millsap called it “just two guys playing hard — just two guys playing hard.”

      Morris’ play was a major boost for Washington; he had 21 points and 7 rebounds in his first career playoff game, while Millsap had 19 points and 2 rebounds.

      “The ball is like gold now — every possession counts,” Morris said of his play. “I’m just going headfirst every play. It is what it is. If we gonna jostle the whole series, then that’s what it’s going to be.”

      Millsap looked frustrated at times after driving inside and drawing contact while officials let both teams play. At one point in the fourth quarter, Marcin Gortat dunked on Millsap before shoving the Hawks forward and drawing a technical foul with 3:08 left in the game.

      Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer credited Washington for attacking and putting the Hawks on their heels in the third quarter. The Wizards blew open the game with a 30-13 run to turn a 48-45 halftime deficit into a 75-61 lead.

      “I thought they were more aggressive than us in the third quarter on both ends,” Budenholzer said. “Usually the aggressor is rewarded. We have to remember that and take that forward.”

      The Hawks have a few days to make adjustments before Wednesday’s Game 2.

      “I just want to reiterate that it’s a long series,” Millsap said, according to the Journal-Constitution. “They did what they are supposed to do. They won home-court advantage and they got this first game. They did their jobs tonight. I think it’s important that we come out and get this one Wednesday and take it back to Atlanta.”

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    • AFTER 19 ELIMINATION GAMES, 37 NBA Finals games and 220 playoff games over two decades of NBA play, by April 13, 2016, Kobe Bryant knew every trick in the book to summon the fire when the stakes are high.

      Instead of all that, he spent much of the afternoon at his office in Newport Beach, California, on his laptop, writing, editing and working on the projects that would make up his post-NBA life — until about three hours before tipoff.

      He didn’t use his most diligent preparation on this day, because by many measures, there just wasn’t much at stake. With 16 wins and 65 losses, his Los Angeles Lakers had been eliminated from playoff contention more than a month earlier. The Lakers would host the Jazz, who had beaten the Lakers every time they had played that season. The game would be aired nationally on ESPN2 — the main channel would show what everyone thought would be the NBA’s story of the night: the Warriors attempting to win a record 73rd regular-season game. Kobe’s farewell had been going all season, and coach Byron Scott had long since handed the reins to younger players. The Lakers hadn’t won a game in two weeks.

      As Bryant climbed aboard the helicopter that would take him from Orange County to Staples Center for his 1,346th and final regular-season contest, he was well-aware of his many physical limitations: “I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m going to rest up and come out here and have this monster game.’”

      From his first NBA game to his last, the earth had circled the sun 20 times, and one year ago this Thursday, just 48 minutes of game time separated the Lakers icon from retirement. His head coach vowed to let Bryant burn through as many of those minutes as he pleased — and to use them however he desired. But Bryant says he aimed for nothing too taxing, not for a 37-year-old with 57,000-plus total NBA minutes on the odometer, whose past three seasons had ended early due to injury, who battled daily — with the help of a personal army of specialists — just to stay upright during his last campaign.

      He entered Staples Center at 5:11 p.m. The plan, as much as there was one, was to delight some fans while avoiding any more serious injuries. “Give them a couple plays, take them down memory lane a little bit,” Bryant tells ESPN. And that would be that.

      “HE NEVER CHEATED US AS FANS,” Lakers icon Magic Johnson said as he addressed fans before the game. “He has played hurt, and we have five championship banners to show for it.”

      After the speeches, tribute videos and standing ovations, and with a celebrity-packed sellout crowd and nearly 500 media members from 16 countries looking on, referee Monty McCutchen tossed the ball up. And Bryant realized in those first few minutes that however he’d imagined that night, it would be far crazier. The Black Mamba, known for his intense solemnity, was starring in a raucous party. Fans roared every time the ball touched his hands, urging him to shoot. His teammates kept passing to him, urging the same.

      “After the first couple minutes, I was like, ‘Oh, s—,’” Bryant says. “It became apparent really, really quickly that this night was not going to go down with me just playing OK. It was either going to have to be an epic one or the worst one ever, because they were just going to keep throwing me the damn ball and the crowd wanted me to shoot every time — almost to the point where I felt bad for my teammates, because if they took a shot, the crowd was ready to boo. So it was like, ‘Oh, s—. I gotta go.’”

      Bryant laughs now at the irony of that sentiment, noting how funny it was that he went through 20 seasons of everyone screaming “Pass the ball!” before a night when they screamed “Don’t pass it!” But his finale did not begin well. He opened the game by missing his first five shots.

      What unfolded from there would mark not just one of the most memorable games in Bryant’s career, but in all of sports.

      AT THE 5:11 MARK in the first quarter, Bryant drains a rainbow pullup near the left block. Less than 30 seconds later, he connects from 16 feet, around the left elbow. An and-1 reverse layup. A baseline jumper, right corner. A 3-pointer, right wing. A trio of free throws — 15 straight points to end the first.

      He rests for half the second quarter, and then, 4:56 before intermission, he adds a driving layup along the right baseline — one that he would’ve dunked not too long ago but now lays in softly with two hands. After splitting a pair of free throws, Bryant fakes a defender and sinks a contested 3-pointer from the left wing. Just before the half, a free throw gives him 22 points.

      With 10:33 left in the third, Bryant opts for midair acrobatics to elude two defenders and finish a layup. He nails a contested 9-foot jumper in the lane and follows that with another two-handed layup which years ago would have been something thunderous.

      At the 5:35 mark, he finishes a hanging layup. Up next: a “classic Kobe” right baseline jumper in the eye of his defender, a contested 3-pointer near the right corner, and, at the 1:00 mark, another layup in traffic to give him 37.

      Nineteen seasons down, one quarter to go.

      With 9:30 left in his career, Bryant splashes a deep 3-pointer near the left wing, then heat-checks a contested 3 from the top of the key that rattles through. With 5:41 left, he’s surrounded by three defenders in the lane, rises up and swooshes a short jumper: 45.

      About three minutes from retirement, Bryant starts left, fakes a defender and adds another layup. With 2:36 left, the Jazz go up by 10, but 20 seconds later, with the crowd chanting “MVP!” Bryant drains two free throws to keep some life in the game.

      Somehow, the Jazz do not score another point. But Bryant does. With 1:45 left, Bryant bulls toward the hoop and kisses a high-arching shot off the glass for 51. He slices through two defenders near the 3-point line and pulls up around the free throw line. Swish. With just over a minute left, the Lakers are within four.

      The “KOBE! KOBE! KOBE!” chants are deafening as he brings the ball across half court. He veers left and, with a defender in his grill, launches an impossible shot from 26 feet — and buries it. Then Bryant navigates around a screen from Julius Randle, starts left, cuts back right, sneaks inside the arc near the right wing, rises from 20 feet, and gives the Lakers the lead with 31 seconds left.

      And with 14 seconds left, a breathless Bryant, surrounded by breathless fans, finishes his scoring torrent at the same place where he scored his very first NBA point: the free throw line, swooshing both.

      Bryant had scored 60, a total he hadn’t reached since a 2009 game at Madison Square Garden. The output is by far the most in NBA history in a career-ending regular-season game (the previous record was 29, by John Havlicek) and the most for any player 37 years old or older (Michael Jordan held the old mark, with 51 on Dec. 29, 2001).

      Bryant’s go-ahead jumper was his 62nd career go-ahead field goal in the final minute of a fourth quarter or overtime, the most for any player over the last 20 seasons. By himself, he had outscored the Jazz 23-21 in the fourth quarter, marking the 11th time in his career that he scored at least 20 points in the fourth, the most for any player over the last 20 seasons. He had scored 15 of the Lakers’ final 17 points and had played 42 minutes, his most since 2013. He launched a career-high 50 shots, the most by an NBA player in about as many years.

      And after it was over, Bryant stood at midcourt, addressing the fans.

      “What can I say?” Bryant said with a huge smile. “Mamba out.”

      A NIGHT THAT LOOKS MAGICAL on video was, Bryant says now, laced with fatigue. During timeouts, he sat with eyes straight ahead, chest heaving, like someone who’d narrowly escaped drowning. “I was tired as hell, man,” he says.

      In his 20th season, Bryant missed games due to Achilles strain, shoulder soreness, general soreness and fatigue. He prioritized playing against longtime rivals, in nationally televised games and arenas he’d never visit again, but he tried to avoid schedule land mines, such as the tail ends of treacherous back-to-back sets. All along, he tried to keep just enough in the tank for his finale, but late in the second half, he faced a real issue, something far simpler than the dozens of major injuries he had endured leading up to that point: getting his legs to work at all.

      He compares the sensation to finishing a grueling series of maximum-effort dead lifts, squats and lunges, and then finding that merely standing up is nearly impossible, thanks to legs that, fighting numbness, refuse basic commands from the nervous system. “That’s what you battle with,” he says. “Because when that point comes, I can’t get it back. It’s done.” So that was the mission in timeouts, or in stolen moments of rest on the court. He says it was about lungs helping legs, “trying to breathe life back into them, somehow.”

      Yes, when the montages and messages from celebrities and former teammates aired throughout the game, Bryant sneaked an occasional peek, but on dead balls he says his focus was mostly on trying to find the energy to finish the game, especially as the Lakers started to rally from a 15-point hole.

      “When we got back into it, I said, ‘OK, I’ve got one more push here,’” he says, “and the shots started going in toward the end and the game got closer and it was like, ‘OK, I can’t feel my legs, but I’ve got to have enough to knock one more down.’ And then I knock one more down, and it’s like, ‘OK, I’ve got to have enough to knock one more down.’”

      The shot he’ll remember from that night, he says, was the contested 3, from the left side, with about a minute left, to bring the Lakers within a single point. “That 3, I swear to God, I thought it was short as f—,” Bryant says. “Like, really, really short. I couldn’t even feel my legs when I jumped. As soon as I started going up, they disappeared. [I was thinking], ‘Oh, f—.’ Then I thought it was going to be short and left. So you see me kind of holding that follow through, trying to lean that m—–f—– in. You see it go through, and it kind of swoops in. So I was like, ‘Holy s—, it went in.’”

      The crowd erupted, and Bryant managed a simple kind of celebration dance. On local TV, the commentator saw it and noted, “He’s so tired he can barely pick his feet up!” As Bryant passed by longtime Lakers fan Jack Nicholson, the actor stood at his courtside seat, clapping and raising his hands to the heavens, moving as if he were many years younger.

      “Yeah, we both were,” Bryant says.


    • SAN ANTONIO — The great rest debate skidded to a denouement in San Antonio on Saturday, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saying “nobody’s going to rest” in the final two games of the regular season on the heels of a 98-87 loss to the LA Clippers.

      The brief change seems to run counter to San Antonio’s normal philosophy, as it has rested six players this season for a total of 23 games.

      “Our execution at both games, defensively and offensively, was very poor,” Popovich said. “Nobody’s going to rest. Everybody’s going to play. We already rested everybody, and we have days in between now. It’s like the playoffs, kind of. There’s no back-to-backs. There’s no bad travel or anything like that, so it’s time for rhythm and that sort of thing. Hopefully we’ll play better next week.”

      Fighting for home-court advantage in a first-round Western Conference series against the Utah Jazz, the Clippers reeled off their fifth consecutive win with an aggressive and physical brand of ball the Spurs couldn’t match, according to Popovich.

      “They were more aggressive than we were,” Popovich said. “They wanted the game more. We were aggressive, got into them and showed the physicality and communication necessary to win against a good team for about six minutes of the third quarter, and that was that. We didn’t have enough physical toughness to compete with them.”

      Popovich wants to keep the Spurs active and get in a rhythm during the final two games against teams still fighting for playoff seeding. San Antonio faces the Portland Trail Blazers, who are fighting for the eighth seed, on the road Monday before closing out the season Wednesday in Utah against the Jazz, who are tied with the Clippers for the home-court edge in a first-round series between the two.

      With San Antonio firmly entrenched as the 2-seed, it will face a physical seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies squad in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Spurs swept a Grizzlies club riddled by injury 4-0 last season, but this season, the teams tied the regular-season series 2-2.

      Clippers coach Doc Rivers joked that even though Memphis is “trying to shoot more 3s and spread the floor more,” it is still “the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

      “At the end of the day, they are trying to punch you in the mouth and beat you up,” Rivers said. “You’d better remember who they are.”

      That’s certainly what the Spurs plan to do as they prepare to close the season and embark on what they expect to be a physical first-round matchup.

      “It’s toward the end of the season, we’re getting ready for the playoffs, so guys have got to turn up the toughness, the physicality out there,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 18 points and took just five shots in the second half. “I think we didn’t bring it tonight, and they did. No excuses. They came in here, and they wanted to fight for home court. So they played harder than us tonight. I thought guys competed, but it’s time to turn it up another level, for sure.”

      Chris Paul lit up San Antonio for 19 points and “sliced and diced us,” Popovich said. DeAndre Jordan chipped in 17 points and 17 rebounds as the Clippers outscored the Spurs 48-32 in the paint.

      Kawhi Leonard, who led the Spurs with a game-high 28 points, said the Spurs will benefit from playing the final two regular-season contests with a full squad.

      “Playing Portland, them being in the eighth seed trying to secure their position, that’s going to be tough playing them at home,” Leonard said. “These are the types of games we want to play. We just don’t want to walk over teams. We want teams to give their full effort, and we need to as well. It’s going to be a great last two games for us.”


    • CLEVELAND — LeBron James still has a ways to go to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring mark, but on Tuesday, the King managed to one-up the Captain in one measure of point production.

      James scored his 10th point of the night on a fast-break layup to tie the Cleveland Cavaliers 49-all with the Orlando Magic in the second quarter. It was James’ 788th straight game in which he scored in double digits, moving him past Abdul-Jabbar (787) for the second-longest streak of that kind in league history.

      Michael Jordan is first with 866.

      The last time James didn’t score at least 10 points was Jan. 5, 2007, against the Milwaukee Bucks, when he had eight points.

      James came into the night ranked seventh on the all-time scoring list with 28,674 points. Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) is first. Jordan (32,292) is fourth.

      Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who was teammates with Jordan, was less than impressed by James’ mark of consistency.

      “They should be able to score 10 points,” Lue said. “I averaged 10 points for four years. They ought to be able to score 10 points. I mean, the best player in the world, he better be able to score 10 points.”

      Lue averaged 8.5 points per game for his career, topping the 10-point plateau in four of his 11 seasons.

      Just how easy is scoring 10 points for James in Lue’s estimation?

      “I mean, 10 points? That’s one bucket a quarter and then one free throw a half,” Lue said. “I mean, come on, man, if you can’t do that then we shouldn’t be sitting here talking. That’s it. What we talking about? Ten points?”

      When a reporter suggested that James’ streak has been in jeopardy of ending several times in the past three seasons since he returned to Cleveland, Lue scoffed at the notion and suggested 10 points is automatic for someone like James.

      “Come on,” Lue told the reporter. “Ten points? You might get eight. Especially against us, you might be able to get eight.”

      For the record, Lue’s longest streak of scoring 10 points or more was 12 games in the 2006-07 season when he played for the Atlanta Hawks.