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Bulls pass final preseason test, top Pacers at Notre Dame

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Bulls pass final preseason test, top Pacers at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IND. With these two teams, the location (the campus of the University of Notre Dame, alma mater of Bulls executive vice president John Paxson, former Fighting Irish star), the host team (despite taking place in Indiana, it was a Bulls home game, which was reflected by the mostly partisan crowd) or time of year (last seasons preseason opener was a dogfight) doesnt matter.

Central Division rivals Chicago and Indiana gutted it out until the end Friday evening, resulting in a hard-fought 97-90 Bulls win in the preseason finale.

The Bulls jumped all over the Pacers from the outset, with Joakim Noahs (12 points, nine rebounds) hard-charging style leading the way and his teammates following suit. Rip Hamiltons (12 points, six rebounds, five assists) potent mid-range game, in either half-court or transition, was clicking, while Nate Robinson (21 points, eight assists) set the table in the absence of Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng (17 points, seven rebounds) was his typically versatile self.

For the Pacers, All-Star center Roy Hibbert (17 points, eight rebounds) was an offensive force early leading to Noah picking up two quick fouls, though veteran backup Nazr Mohammed picked up the slack, in a continuation of strong preseason but couldnt stifle the Bulls singlehandedly, resulting in Indiana facing a double-digit deficit. After a period of play, the Bulls led, 28-16.

Taj Gibson (nine points, 11 rebounds), who was inserted into the contest after starter Carlos Boozer (13 points, six rebounds, three steals) picked up his second foul, displayed his normal high activity level on the glass, while Deng, in his role of go-to guy with the second unit, carried much of the offensive load, including showing as a post-up threat, a little-used wrinkle.

The reserve backcourt of inexperienced rookie Marquis Teague and veteran newcomer Marco Belinelli, both of whom had struggled throughout the exhibition campaign was solid, as Teague showed poise in directing the offense against his hometown Pacers and the slumping Belinelli hit some contested, high degree-of-difficulty attempts.

Despite the contributions of Indiana reserves Ian Mahinmi and Gerald Green, the Bulls maintained their comfortable winning margin and when Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau came back with his regulars, they continued to hold the Pacers at bay. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 52-43 advantage.

Although the Pacers picked up their intensity after the break, the Bulls didnt wane, as Boozer picked up his game, Noah remained a major factor and Robinsons underrated playmaking helped set up his teammates. It was a physical affair, but as the well-balanced scoring of the Bulls who placed all five starters in double figures on the nightpersisted, the gap between the two teams remained.

Robinsons abilities to distribute and take care of the basketball was significant to the Bulls effort, though the teams defense left something to be desired, regardless of the fast tempo and transition opportunities for both sides in the period. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were ahead, 78-66.

A Pacers run to begin the fourth quarter sparked by the inside play of Mahinmi and Greens aerial acrobatics made it a ballgame again, infuriating Thibodeau, who called a timeout to restore order. Whatever he told his players during the stoppage of play apparently worked as did reinserting his regulars, sans Gibson, who made a major impact on the glass, into the lineup as they raised their level of play and for the time being, staved off Indianas threat behind a more scoring-oriented stretch from Robinson.

But the Pacers refused to fade away quietly into the night, capitalizing on errant Bulls shot attempts with timely buckets of their own, making it a one-possession game, 93-90, after a traditional three-point play by power forward David West with 1:09 remaining. But a baseline jumper by Rip Hamilton with under a minute left gave the Bulls some breathing room and a improbable fadeaway by Robinson sealed the deal with 18.6 seconds on the clock.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: How should Hawks mentally approach getting back into playoff race?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: How should Hawks mentally approach getting back into playoff race?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk podcast, Adam Burish joins Pat Boyle to discuss the three-game losing skid the Hawks are experiencing, the problems on the power play and how they should mentally approach getting back into the playoff race.

The guys also discuss Corey Crawford’s first public sighting, trade rumors and Burish shares his favorite Original 6 story.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here:

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

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USA TODAY

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Weird things tend to happen in New Orleans. Things filed under “unbelievable” or “unexplainable.”

The Bulls’ double-overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans doesn’t exactly fall under either, but the circumstances leading to it certainly do.

Justin Holiday, the reliable 84 percent free throw shooter missing the last of three freebies that would have ended the game in regulation after being fouled with 0.3 seconds left?

Unexplainable.

“Could’ve won the game with a free throw,” Holiday said, dismissing the notion of nerves. “Thought it was cash, it just didn’t go in. Wasn’t meant to happen, I guess. I was hyped. You get that opportunity, I don’t miss free throws. When you get an opportunity like that, that’s what was on my mind.”

Holiday raced to the 3-point line after the Bulls fell behind 114-112 with three seconds left, drawing a whistle on Darius Miller as the buzzer sounded—giving them a chance to win a game they had no business losing in the first place.

“He made the hard ones, which the first one is the hardest,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He made a great play to be fouled in the first place to even get himself to the line.”

It seemed so unlikely the Bulls would find themselves in their wildest game of the year after seemingly driving the Pelicans to insanity and frustration, taking a 17-point lead with 5 minutes left.

Zach LaVine looked comfortable in his fourth quarter minutes, while Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic hit big shots to extend the Bulls lead—ignoring the irritated atmosphere at the Smoothie King Center as the Pelicans fans felt their team had gotten an unfair whistle.

Then the Pelicans—and their maddeningly talented star DeMarcus Cousins—got mad and took all his frustration out on the Bulls in a historic performance. He needed every bit of the 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists to put the Bulls away, as he bullied the game inside and finessed things from the outside (five 3-pointers) as his teammates finally caught up to his intensity in those frenetic five minutes.

His numbers put him in the company of Wilt Chamberlain—not surprising considering he did everything down the stretch including bringing the ball upcourt as if he were the world’s biggest point guard.

Unbelievable.

“It’s cool to be in company with a guy like Wilt (Chamberlain). He’s a guy that’s put up videogame numbers his entire career,” Cousins said. “Just to have a little game like his, that’s pretty cool.”

His alley-oop to Anthony Davis with 1:39 left in regulation gave him a triple-double and cut the Bulls lead to 110-107, and the Bulls seemed to be in full panic mode. Davis fouled out in the first overtime but not after inflicting 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists of damage in 43 minutes.

“The inability to get a rebound late cost us,” Hoiberg said. “Their pressure, getting into us, really lost all of our pace that we did a good job of for the most part all game. It really slowed us down. That’s what got their run started.”

Jerian Grant, who had performed solidly in Kris Dunn’s absence, then became a target for the Pelicans defense as they harassed Grant, taking the Bulls’ offense out of its rhythm.

Grant had six turnovers in 47 minutes and was visibly bothered by the pressure employed by the Pelicans’ defense, nearly negating his 22-point, 13-assist, five-rebound performance.

“I thought we had really good flow,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Jerian had a really good game. But the pressure really did bother us. Gotta do the things that got you the lead we had. A lot of pace, a lot of movement. A lot of good things.”

The good things certainly included Lauri Markkanen holding his own against Davis and making big defensive plays in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Pelicans foolishly tried to switch Markkanen onto their guards.

But Markkanen kept his composure, moved his feet and was never exploited. Although he shot just 5-for-12 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, Markkanen took steps forward defensively as he finished with 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Robin Lopez went at Cousins on the other end, as both were exhausted at the end of the marathon. Lopez scored 22 points in 39 minutes, his only regret likely getting stripped by Cousins at midcourt during the Pelicans’ comeback, leading to free throws.

“We just decided to play defense,” Davis said. “It was tied up going into the fourth quarter. They went on a crazy run. There was like eight minutes left, we just said we going to play defense. Play defense one possession at a time and we are going to be able to come back here.”

Jrue Holiday, Justin’s younger brother, was the main irritant late, along with former Bull E’Twaun Moore, giving just enough support for Cousins and Davis. The Pelicans’ Holiday scored just 12 points with six assists, but had big baskets in the first overtime after Davis fouled out.

“They turned it up, physically,” Justin Holiday said. “My brother started guarding full court. They all starting pressuring us a little more. Sometimes, it’s tough. When they turn the pressure up like that and we have the lead, we don’t necessarily want to be in a rush to score. Then they’re scoring on the other end. We gotta get stops.”

It was hard to ignore how the pressure affected the Bulls. The composure and poise they’ve played with over the last several weeks gave them a level of confidence in hostile environments, but missing Dunn meant they were without a critical part of their offense.

“I don’t wanna say trouble but it bothered us for sure,” Holiday said. “We kinda got sped up. Forget about the offensive end but if we get stops and rebound, we win the game. Again, they have all-stars and things like that, supposed to do their job.”

Even then, though, everyone walking away from the Smoothie King Center knew they witnessed a historic, unbelievable performance as well as an unexplainable collapse.