Bulls

Belinelli leads Bulls to thrilling win

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Belinelli leads Bulls to thrilling win

BOSTON-As with seemingly every matchup between these two teams in recent memory, Friday evening's matchup between the Bulls (23-15) and Celtics (20-19) was a physical, nip-and-tuck and dramatic affair almost all the way through.

In a game that saw Luol Deng go down with an injury in the third quarter, three players foul out and the Bulls permit the Celtics send the contest into an extra session after leading from nearly wire to wire, backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli was the unlikely hero, as he hit an off-balance jumper with 3.1 seconds left in overtime to give the visitors a 100-99 victory at the TD BankNorth Garden, a day after New England native and former Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau's 55th birthday.

Carlos Boozer's (19 points, 20 rebounds) remarkable play during the month of January carried over, as the power forward, coming off his best point total in a Bulls uniform during the team's previous outing, Wednesday night's overtime win in Toronto, was effective on the interior as a scorer and rebounder, knocking down his first four shot attempts from the field.

Fellow veteran Rip Hamilton (20 points) also got off to a solid start, helping the Bulls acquire some early breathing room, though the Celtics narrowed the gap, cutting the deficit from double digits to a more manageable margin, mostly due to the visitors' ball-security issues.

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (30 points), named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter Thursday evening, was the main catalyst for the hosts, who went on a 10-2 run to make the contest a close-knit affair as the opening period waned on.

Propelled by Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 rebounds), the Bulls regained their composure late in the frame, however, and despite committing eight turnovers-Boston had six miscues of its own-they held a 23-19 advantage through a quarter of play.

The guests held on to their tenuous lead early in the second quarter, though the Celtics remained on their heels into what had evolved into a defensive-minded contest, as offense was hard to come by.

But the Bulls stayed afloat, as the contributions of Boozer and various second-unit players, such as ex-Celtics point guard Nate Robinson (11 points)-Noah and Deng, after playing the entire first quarter and beginning of the second, both rested; the latter was a game-time decision after injuring his right hamstring Wednesday-were enough to keep Boston at bay for the time being.

That changed, though, as the rebounding of rookie Jared Sullinger (15 rebounds) and more significantly, Rondo's playmaking and ability to get into the paint or transition for layups, as well as keep the defense honest with his willingness to take his much-improved mid-range jumper, allowed the Celtics to again decrease the separation between the two teams.

At the intermission, the Bulls still managed to cling to a 45-39 lead, behind Boozer's continued play and the timely efforts of Robinson, whose fearless, aggressive nature, despite questionable shot selection, was a boon for the visitors.

After the break, Boston's backcourt of Rondo and Leandro Barbosa-starting in place of injured starter Avery Bradley-led the way for the hosts, who were countered by the Bulls' offensive balance, starting with Hamilton and Boozer.

Besides Rondo, Brandon Bass was also effective for the Celtics, as the starting power forward's mid-range game and ability to finish above the rim were another reason why the game remained tight.

Noah made his presence felt with quietly solid interior play, including stifling defense on Boston counterpart Kevin Garnett (16 points), an All-Star starter, as well as his typical effort on the glass, as both the Bulls center and Boozer, his low-post partner, notched double-doubles.

Hamilton , who exceeded his usual minute limitations, shouldered much of the offensive load as the third quarter waned on, but hings took a turn for the worse for the visitors when Deng had to exit the contest-the small forward, who was largely dormant throughout the night, strained his right hamstring upon pulling up lame on a transition layup attempt with 1:56 to go in the period-but they managed to head into the final stanza ahead, 68-62.

Without Deng in the lineup, the Bulls relied on Robinson to manufacture offense and the Celtics, buoyed by Rondo and Sullinger, who was a force on the boards, continued to challenge their guests.

Boston gradually made their push and at the 7:03 mark of the period, the game was tied at 74 apiece on a Rondo layup, prompting the contest to go into back-and-forth mode for the next few minutes, before Rondo, who reached a season-high point total on the evening, gave the Celtics their first lead of the night, 80-79, on a free throw.

Heading into the stretch run, the tension in the game was thick-symbolized by Noah and Garnett, two players with no love lost, getting tangled up and being whistled for double technical fouls with 2:20 remaining-as neither team would give an inch and scoring was hard to come by.

With 36.6 seconds left, Rondo knocked down an open pull-up jumper to give the Celtics an 86-84 lead, prompting a Bulls timeout, after which Boozer was fouled on a drive with 22.5 seconds to go, splitting a pair of attempts from the charity stripe to make it a one-point game.

Following a Boston timeout, Garnett was fouled with 20.1 seconds on the clock; Kirk Hinrich was fouled on the subsequent trip and also made one of two foul shots, putting the Bulls in an 88-86 hole with 12.1 seconds remaining and no timeouts, though the Celtics called one at that point, giving the visitors a chance to strategize.

Remarkably, with 9.4 seconds left, Noah tied up Paul Pierce (13 points) after Boston inbounded the ball and after the Bulls secured the jump ball, Hinrich knocked down a jumper with two seconds to go, tying the game at 88 all.

The Celtics had a final opportunity, but Garnett's deep fadeaway was off the mark, leading the game to head into an extra session, the Bulls' second in as many games.

As one might expect, overtime didn't start out as a scoring bonanza and with both teams initially struggling to produce points in the tightly-officiated contest, the importance of every basket was magnified.

For the Bulls, an unexpected source of offense, Jimmy Butler, who replaced Deng after the starter's injury, scored six consecutive points, including two crucial finishes at the rim and then, a pair of free throws-the second-year wing tripped by Rondo, who was disqualified on a loose-ball foul-to give the Bulls a three-point lead, 96-93, with 1:16 remaining.

But a Garnett jumper with 1:08 to play made it a one-point contest again, prompting a Bulls timeout on the subsequent possession, with 59.6 seconds left.

On the next two trips, the teams exchanged player disqualifications-Sullinger and Hinrich both fouled out, with reserve Belinelli and Pierce going to the line-and free throws and after a fruitless Bulls possession that saw Belinelli threw up a wild attempt, the Celtics came away with the rebound, called timeout and with 20.6 seconds to go, had another opportunity to overtake their guests.

Boston sixth man Jason Terry knocked down a mid-range jumper with 12.5 seconds remaining, giving the hosts a 99-98 lead and after a Bulls timeout, the visitors had a dishelveled possession, ultimately resulting in an improbable Belinelli game-winning fadeaway.

The Celtics' Courtney Lee got off a final attempt, but it harmlessly grazed off the backboard, allowing the Bulls to escape with a victory and in a silenced arena, Belinelli, the night's hero, being mobbed by his teammates at midcourt.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.