Bulls

Bulls show obvious slippage, shot-hunting in ugly loss to Raptors

Bulls show obvious slippage, shot-hunting in ugly loss to Raptors

The Bulls have seemingly washed away the memory of Jimmy Butler from the United Center, but his oft-frustrated words seemed to ring through the mouth of Fred Hoiberg after their third straight loss, a 124-115 decision to the Toronto Raptors.

“We didn’t guard anybody,” Butler would usually say.

Hoiberg borrowed the phrase, as the Bulls’ obvious slippage on defense that had been masked by previous offensive excellence through their recent resurgence.

Granted, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan was already on a Central Division tear, having just dropped 52 points on the Milwaukee Bucks, so it wasn’t difficult to foresee him delivering in a similar manner, giving the Bulls a 35-point showing.

Previously allergic to the 3-point line, DeRozan has shown an adaptability to the new way the game is played, adopting the long line into his complete offensive package.

Over the course of 48 minutes he made the Bulls feel like orphans, hitting 5 of 8 from deep, including his usual helping of attacks to the basket, going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.

The Bulls had given up over 100 in five of their last six games but have been able to outscore opponents late, but with Kris Dunn having a 1-for-8 night, they didn’t have his usual burst in the fourth quarter.

And they needed something to combat DeRozan getting hot in the second half, as they opened the floodgates to a Raptors team that scored 103 points in the final 36 minutes.

All he needed was a little help, especially as backcourt mate Kyle Lowry was struggling a bit to get going. DeRozan found it on Delon Wright, whose energy matched the player he was drafted two picks in front of in 2015, the usually bouncy Bobby Portis. Scoring 15 of his career-high 25 in the first half, Wright infused the Raptors with his energy, often climbing amongst the trees inside for some of his career-high 13 rebounds.

He added five assists and four steals to complete the dominant performance, as the Raptors often went to a three-guard setup to stymie the Bulls. If not for his second quarter, there wouldn’t have been a competitive game in the fourth for the Raptors to wake up and take control of the game.

“The bench really saved us tonight,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They came in and gave us energy. We couldn’t get our mojo going with our first unit. Delon came in, had a career-high and I really like the way he’s going up for rebounds.”

The Bulls’ second unit? The one that seemed to buoy them over the past couple weeks with energy and movement, overwhelming defenses? It devolved into a bunch of shot-hunting in the second quarter as the Bulls coughed up control of the game and a 10-point lead within minutes.

“The biggest thing we talked about is coming out with a defensive edge,” Hoiberg said. “We did it, but didn’t sustain it.”

The numbers will say the Bulls shot a respectable 52 percent in the period, but the eyes say guys were looking to get theirs, abandoning the ball movement that had become so fruitful recently.

“We were hunting shots,” Hoiberg admitted, as if he could lie about what was obvious to anyone watching. “And when they went on their run, we got to move it, and get good solid possessions. We were coming out and jacked up contested shots with zero or one passes. And you can’t have that.”

Amazingly, this bunch hasn’t yet turned on itself, and Wednesday could be an anomaly—this was their third game in four nights and if one is keeping track of the schedule, the start of another three-game in four-night stretch with a back-to-back in Dallas and Indianapolis looming.

It could be easily written off or the Bulls could’ve been playing with fire this entire time, free-wheeling and aggressive, scoring well into the 110’s and 120’s for the past several weeks.

Freedom has its benefits, within structure and the Bulls seemed to be a little too liberal with it, especially since they didn’t defend for the third straight game dating back to their New Year’s Eve loss to the Wizards where they surrendered 31 in the fourth quarter followed by 29 in the fourth to a Damian Lillard-less Trailblazers squad.

Portis wasn’t his usual self, and energetic David Nwaba played 16 nondescript minutes, being a team-worst minus-18 in his time.

Nikola Mirotic stayed aggressive in his 25 minutes, going seven for 17 to score 20 points. Eleven of those came in the fourth after the Raptors used a 16-4 run to turn a tie game into a 106-94 spread, and the Bulls never seriously threatened after.

“We just didn’t have enough grit tonight,” guard Justin Holiday said. “We let them score 103 points in three quarters and that’s not good. Defensively we didn’t do our job. Hats off to them. They have great players, but we didn’t do a good job defensively. That’s pretty much it.”

Holiday did his best to match DeRozan, scoring 26 and hitting six triples of his own, including multiple four-point play opportunities—which is becoming a quiet hallmark.

Lauri Markkanen had his way with Serge Ibaka, scoring 22 with 12 rebounds, often scoring inside early on switches with smaller guards and then later taking Ibaka off the dribble for smooth, veteran-like midrange jumpers.

But it wasn’t nearly enough, as the Bulls don’t have the margin for error to go shot-for-shot with more talented, experienced teams.
It bit them in the behind.

“The fourth quarter comes down to—you have to have your winning mentality,” Hoiberg said. “They were the team that came out and threw the first blow, and we never recovered.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.