Thunder have the Mavs where they want'em

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Thunder have the Mavs where they want'em

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki was hoping for the same kind of friendly bounce that allowed Kevin Durant to put the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead in their first-round playoff series. When Nowitzki didn't get it, the Dallas Mavericks could only settle for another frustratingly close loss and an uphill climb to survive in their first postseason since winning the NBA title. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points, Durant added 26 in an off-shooting performance and Oklahoma City clawed out a 102-99 victory over Dallas on Monday night to take a 2-0 series lead. The Mavs led in the final minute of both games in Oklahoma City but couldn't even manage a split as the Thunder gutted out two wins by a total of four points. "That's what the playoffs are about," Westbrook said. "Toughness." Durant hit two free throws with 50.4 seconds left to give Oklahoma City a 98-97 lead, and James Harden hit four more foul shots to close it out for the Thunder. Jason Terry missed two 3-point attempts from the left wing in the final 5 seconds that could have tied it and set up overtime. "We come away from these two games disappointed but not dismayed. You tip your hat to the fact that they have made some big time plays," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Now, we've got to go home and do the same." Game 3 is Thursday night in Dallas. "We're just a couple bounces away from being up 2-0," said Nowitzki, who led Dallas with 31 points but missed both his shots in the final 75 seconds. "It's tough and it's frustrating, but we're going to keep coming. We're not going to lay down. If they beat us, we're going to make them earn it." Durant put the Thunder ahead to stay after salvaging two key points with Oklahoma City inbounding the ball with only 2.6 seconds left on the shot clock. He grabbed the inbounds pass from Harden while headed toward the sideline, and Terry was called for a foul for bumping him. Durant hit both foul shots, and Nowitzki missed his chance to answer with a fade-away 12-foot jumper from the left side. He compared it to Durant's foul-line jumper -- on which he later admitted he couldn't even see the rim -- that hit the front rim and backboard before falling in with 1.5 seconds left to win Game 1. "I've made it 100 times. It bounced, hit every part of the rim and bounced off," Nowitzki said. "That's kind of the way our season's been going. "They get that bounce last game and we don't get it, so that's frustrating." After that, the Mavs were fighting from behind. Shawn Marion fouled Harden on the rebound, and the league's top scoring reserve -- only eight days removed from a concussion suffered as the result of Metta World Peace's elbow to the head -- also converted both free throws. He hit two more with 15.6 seconds left after Terry got the Mavs within one with a driving layup. "We've just got to continue to take that punch from them and do a great job of sticking together," Durant said. "Games like this in the playoffs, they're going to get chippy and we know that. So, we've just got to play through it. This one nearly came to blows, literally. The tension escalated quickly after Serge Ibaka tried to block Nowitzki's jumper midway through the first quarter and smacked him in the left eye on his follow-through, without getting called for a foul. Nowitzki hit another jumper along the baseline on Dallas' next possession before he got shoved in the back by Kendrick Perkins while jockeying for rebounding position on a made 3-pointer by Durant. Perkins followed Nowitzki for a few steps before Nowitzki bumped him away, and Perkins responded by taking a swing at Nowitzki's head with his open hand. Official Zach Zarba stepped in front of Perkins and backed him away, and both were assessed technical fouls. "He tried to bully me and I bullied back a little bit and talked about some stuff, and moved on," Nowitzki said. The Thunder erupted a few minutes later, scoring the final nine points of the first quarter -- all within an 82-second span -- and then carrying over the momentum to build a 46-30 lead with 5:55 left before halftime. When Nowitzki and Perkins finally got back on the court together, the Mavericks' All-Star exacted some revenge while getting his team back in the game. He went on a personal 10-2 run, with all of the points coming while he was matched up against Perkins, to get the deficit down to 50-47. "It's playoff basketball. It's physical. We don't like the cheap shots when they give them, and they don't like them if we give them. That's the nature of competition," Carlisle said. "I love hard-played, clean, competitive playoff series. You throw the ball up and may the best team win. "The dirty (expletive) has got to stop. We don't want anybody getting hurt out there, either way." Notes: After going back and forth responding to each other's comments on how Oklahoma City's defense on Nowitzki was officiated in Game 1, Brooks insisted any dispute with Carlisle wasn't personal. Years ago, the two roomed together while playing in the Continental Basketball Association. "He was a good roommate. He didn't snore," Brooks said. "That's all it takes. Buy me a meal every now and then and not snore, you're a perfect roommate." He later playfully retorted: "If you want it to be personal, I was a better player. How many years did I play in the league? How many years did he play? I played over a decade. He played three." ... Marion hadn't made a playoff 3-pointer since 2007 before making two in Game 1. He had another in Game 2. ... Ibaka, who tied his regular season best with 22 points in the first game, got into foul trouble and scored only two.

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

If you haven't heard, the Bears are in the market for a quarterback.

It's no surprise that finding a long-term solution at the position will be at the top of GM Ryan Pace's to-do list as it's likely Jay Cutler has played his last game in a Bears uniform.

The Bears have a bevy options this offseason as they're saddled with the No. 3 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and have over $54 million of salary cap space — before roster cuts and an added $8 million in roll over money.

Having the 3rd overall pick, the opportunity is going to present itself for the Bears to nab one of the draft's top quarterbacks or add to their young defensive core with a player like Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting in his latest mock draft) or LSU's Jamal Adams (Kiper Jr. also has him as a possibility for the Bears).

If quarterback is the choice, that's where the real debate begins.

The 2017 draft marks one of the rare years where there isn't a consensus No. 1 quarterback. The four signal-callers likely to hear there name called within the first two rounds are UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

Who comes off the board first? That may change 100 times between now and Thursday, April 27.

Despite only starting one year at Chapel Hill, Trubisky has the strongest case to be the first quarterback taken. Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 308 yards on the ground and five rushing scores in his first full year as a starter in 2016.

If the Bears have their eyes set on Trubisky, they may have to pull off a trade as Kiper Jr. doesn't see the former Tar Heel lasting to the third pick. In his conference call on Thursday, Kiper Jr. said it's Trubisky's dream to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, and sees him in play for both the Browns at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

Would the Bears pull the trigger on Watson if Trubisky is off the board? Kiper Jr. believes Watson would be a stretch for the Bears at No. 3 and right now he sees Watson as a fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10. Kiper Jr. had a second-round grade on Watson before he shined on the big stage in the College Football Playoff. Watson's stock catapulted back into the first-round mix after he torched Alabama for 463 yards and four touchdowns en route to leading Clemson to a National Championship.

By selecting a defensive player at No. 3, the Bears could still have the opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future in the second round. Kiper Jr. believes both Mahomes and Kizer will be available on Day 2 where the Bears hold the 34th overall selection in the draft.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What happens if the Bears don't come away with one of the draft's top quarterbacks? They could look toward free agency or the trade market.

The downfall of the free agent market is that the best available option is former Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon — he hasn't started a game in almost three years. You can cross Kirk Cousins off the wish list because there's a better chance of Brett Favre coming out of retirement and leading the Browns to a Super Bowl in 2017 than the Washington Redskins letting Cousins walk in free agency. The Bears also could elect to bring back two of their own unrestricted free agents in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but neither would provide an ample long-term fixture at the position.

One of the most intriguing players available on the trade market is New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The connection between him and the Bears runs deep as Garoppolo starred at Rolling Meadows High School in the Chicagoland area and played his college football at Eastern Illinois — the same alma mater as Pace — before he was selected by the Patriots in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In limited snaps backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has shown potential to be an above-average NFL quarterback, but unless the Patriots step down from their rumored asking price of a 2017 first-round pick and more, trading away the No. 3 pick would be too high of a price for the Bears to pay.

The Bears could explore the possibility of trading for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to serve as a stopgap and help groom a young quarterback, but bringing in the veteran Romo — just four starts since 2014 due to various injuries — would be a lateral move, and the Bears would likely be better off keeping Cutler for another season.

With less than two months until the start of free agency on March 9, we'll finally get our first clue then as to which direction the Bears will go at quarterback this offseason. 

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Grab a pocket pack of tissues for this one.

Bears icon Charles Tillman released an emotional tell-all article on The Players' Tribune Thursday.

He starts off discussing how often he moved around as a kid with his dad in the Army and little things like learning cursive before delving into growing up in Germany and learning to communicate through sports.

It then moves on to the NFL Draft and coming up through the Bears with Lance Briggs, then jumping to the Super Bowl and what it was like to cover Calvin Johnson and Marvin Harrison.

Tillman even provides a fascinating take on how being a new dad affected his play on the field because he was so tired and stressed.

It was refreshing to hear a player talk like that. In everyday life, you hear all the time about first-time parents being exhausted and stressed, but now one of the most elite athletes in the world — whose job is exclusively in the public eye and his performance is dissected weekly by millions — is saying the same thing.

He discusses how he got past that stress and at this point, you're nearly halfway through the article and it's easy to think this is just like any other athlete's story.

But then Tillman gets serious and the story turns heart-wrenching.

The man affectionately known as "Peanut" takes us into the hospital room as he and his wife are told their young daughter, Tiana, may not make it through the night.

Tillman recounts the gripping tale behind how his family very nearly fell apart and how they climbed back to where they are today.

Give it a read. It's a fantastic snapshot into the career of one of the best Bears players ever, but also into the life of one of the truly great people to ever put on the orange and navy.