Bulls

Brewer a willing and able replacement for Deng

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Brewer a willing and able replacement for Deng

Whether its filling in for Rip Hamilton at shooting guard, being the de facto backup point guard when Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson were simultaneously sidelined or his current role, starting at small forward in place of the injured Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer is ready.

Thibs prepares you by telling you to come in with the early group and learn every position, Brewer, who started at small forward Monday and will start again Wednesday, when the Bulls host the Central Division rival Pacers, said following the teams morning shootaround. He tried to throw me in at the point guard position a few times, Rips been out a few times and now, Lus out, so youve got to be ready whenever your name is called and thats what Ive been trying to do all season long.

However, while Thibodeau is certainly confident in Brewers abilities, the Bulls head coach admitted that he loves having the versatile swingman come off the bench, as the second-generation NBA player has great chemistry with the fellow members of the Bench Mob, the teams second unit.

Well see. Well see how it goes, said Thibodeau, when asked if Brewer would be a permanent starter during Dengs absence. What Ronnie has shown, whether hes starting for Rip or starting for Luol and hes started a number of games in this league is that he can handle starting. He handles coming off the bench. I thought last year him coming off the bench was a great asset. I value greatly what a guy like that can bring coming off the bench, so in some ways, I do miss what he brings coming off the bench. But I also like what he does as a starter, so its a tribute to him and his versatility.

Brewer explained the difference mentality required to start a contest.

Coming off the bench, you get to watch and see the flow of the game, and the pace and analyze things. As a starter, youve got to be ready to go from the tip, so its a little different, but at the same time, youve got to be ready to play, he said. I feel like I can play off those other guys. D-Rose has so much attention, Luol got a lot of attention when he was out there, learning to play off Rip, knowing Booz playing with him my whole career, Im able to cut on the baseline and Joakims such a great passer, so its easy to fit in with the starters and I played all last year with the Bench Mob, so I was able to learn all their strengths and weaknesses, as well.

Hamilton, the teams lone new starter this season, has fit like a glove, Boozer predicted early on in his new teammates tenure. Brewer, who started at shooting guard when Hamilton was out with a groin injury, explained that hes quickly adjusting to the veteran shooting guards game.

Watching him, it allows me to learn a lot being able to move without the basketball and get your shot off a little quicker and its making the game a lot easier. Hes a seasoned vet and youve got to be like a sponge, and learn as much as possible from him. He draws so much attention coming off double screens, single screens. Guys opposing defenders have got to stunt to him, double to him and hes such a great player, hes making a lot of easy plays for other people and getting them involved, so hes making the offense flow a lot smoother, he said. It shows the work he puts in because he sat out so many games, then he comes back, he fits right in. Hes shooting the ball phenomenally, hes dishing the ball and guys every practice, every game are learning to jell a little bit better with him.

While playing against starting shooting guards in the NBA is no piece of cake, Brewer also faces a new challenge in matching up with small forwards, one of the leagues most high-profile positions, featuring the likes reigning scoring champ Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the latter two normally the primary responsibility of Deng, one of the top perimeter defenders in the game hell face on the Bulls upcoming road trip.

Its fairly the same position, just a little bit bigger guys. Sometimes the twos start lower, the threes start higher, vice versa. Working with Thibs and the early group, Ive been able to learn the plays at both positions. Its not going to be any easier playing the three than it is the two. High-caliber players every night that youre going to face, so youve got to be ready for the test, said Brewer. Well see. Im going to have to do what Ive been trying to do since Ive been with the Bulls and thats hustle on both ends of the court, run the floor, be a tougher defender. Tonight, we have a tough matchup, trying to guard Pacers small forward Danny Granger. These upcoming games, we have a lot of tough guys that were going to face, so Ive just got to come in there, try to do my part and be an energy spark for this team.

Its going to be tough. Whenever you have a guy of Lus caliber out hes one of our leaders vocally and by his playhes definitely going to be missed. A lot of different guys are going to have to step up and bring something different if its on offense, defense, assists because he does a lot of things for this team, so somebodys going to have to step up, he continued. We have a lot of guys on this team who can step up and make plays on either offense or defense. When we had D-Rose out, we had C.J. Watson come in and John Lucas III and Mike James. When C.J. was out, John Lucas came in there and stepped in. Weve got a lot of guys who come in and make plays. Thats what you expect from a deep team and weve got a lot of depth on this team.

Although Brewers skill set arent an identical match to Dengs, the players do have a lot in common. Both are versatile, willing passers, aggressive slashers, move well without the ball and defend at a high level. But like Deng, Brewer is also a much-improved shooter, something the modest wing refuses to toot his own horn about.

It goes back to my teammates. D-Rose makes a lot of plays and has enough confidence in me to find me when Im open and Ive got to reward him by knocking down the shot. He gets so much attention, it makes the game a lot easier for him, so Ive got to continue to work hard, continue to work with the coaches and in the game, try to knock down as many shots as possible.

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

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.

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made serious history on Monday night in New Orleans. And no, it wasn't that he played 52 minutes and didn't commit a technical foul.

No, Boogie put together one of the most impressive statlines in NBA history in the Pelicans' double-overtime win over the Bulls. Cousins finished with 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists in win. He became the first player with a 40-20-10 line since Wilt Chamberlain did so in 1968 playing for the 76ers. Chamberlain accomplished the feat four times, and Oscar Robertson did it once in 1965 with a 42-21-10 night for the Cincinnati Royals. 

In 1968 Chamberlain had himself a mammoth night, playing all 48 minutes and going for 53 points, 32 rebounds and 14 assists. In fact, in Chamberlain's four instances of accomplish the feat he averaged 44 points, 27 rebounds and 12.2 assists.

Back to Cousins, he did his damage all over. His wild night included 13-for-29 shooting, five 3-pointers, and he went 13-for-14 from the free throw line. He added four steals and a block and was a +13 in what turned out to be a four-point game.

Cousins played the final 18:36 (minus seven seconds late in the fourth on an offense-for-defense sub), entering the game with 8:36 to play in the fourth quarter and never coming out again. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Pelicans rallied back down 17 points to force the extra periods.

In the first overtime Cousins had four points and three rebounds, but it was assumed Cousins was going to be the focal point the rest of the night when teammate Anthony Davis fouled out with 2:05 to play.

In the second overtime Cousins gave his last burst, scoring the first five points of the second additional period to give New Orleans a lead. He wound up missing his next and final four shots, but his free throws with 8 seconds left iced the game and gave the Pelicans a four-point lead.

It's no wonder Cousins will start in next month's All-Star Game alongside Davis, who had 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists himself before fouling out in 43 minutes.

Combined the two All-Stars had 78 points, 31 rebounds and 15 assists.