Bulls avoid meltdown, defeat Suns in double OT


Bulls avoid meltdown, defeat Suns in double OT

Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010
Updated 2:18 AM

By Aggrey Sam

PHOENIX Listening to the jubilant U.S. Airways Center visitors locker room, you would think divine intervention was the reason for the Bulls thrilling 123-115 double-overtime win over the Suns.

God was on our side, I guess, opined a thoughtful Joakim Noah.

Were blessed to get this win, remarked Derrick Rose.

In reality, the higher power in the triumph was the teams chemistry.

After starting the game down 25-6 to a Phoenix squad that appeared to be reliving its 10 seconds or less contender heyday with NBA playmaker emeritus Steve Nash (14 points, 16 assists) serving as maestro and former Bull Hakim Warrick burning his old team for 23 first-half points (although he would go scoreless afterwards) the shellshocked Bulls knew they had an uphill battle to fight.

And fight they did.

Nash, hes the best pick-and-roll player in the NBA. Hes an unbelievable player and I think by switching, you make him more of a one-on-one player and take away all his little bounce passes. Hakim Warrick was really killing us in the first half until we started switching out. It worked for us tonight, said Noah, who came up with 17 points, 15 rebounds and an especially significant five assists in the absence of usual tag-team partner Taj Gibson, who was sidelined with a right ankle injury.

One thing about this team is you can really look at yourself in the mirror and say, win or lose, we make mistakes, but were giving everything weve got to try to win and thats a great feeling, Noah continued.

We just kept fighting. It wasnt going our way, but were the type of team thats grimy and were never going to stop, said Rose, who finished with a game-high 35 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists before fouling out. We can be down 20 points, 30 points we never want to be in that situation, but we were forced to be in that situation by the way that we were playing were going to come back.

We knew that we could go out there and play better. Not to say anything bad about them, but we knew we could come back on that team. We always played hard throughout the whole game, except in the beginning when we gave them the lead, and we never turned around, continued Rose, who attributed the teams sluggish start to fatigue from the back-to-back game sequence, as they lost a hard-fought contest to the Lakers the previous night on the continuation of the teams seven-game road trip.

A strong effort from the second unit sharpshooter Kyle Korver broke out of a single-game funk, rookie center Omer Asik played his usual stout interior defense and even seldom-used second-year forward James Johnson may have earned his way back into the regular rotation with his energetic effort and timely contributions propelled Chicagos gradual slicing of an initially overwhelming deficit.

When youre down like that, you just start playing free. Our second unit came in and played really hard, said Korver, who scored 24 points coming off an uncharacteristic 1-for-6 outing the previous night in Los Angeles and also contributed five rebounds and three steals. Obviously last night, some guys played a lot of minutes, it was a late night and we came out a little bit tired. The second unit came in, played well, kind of picked us up a little bit.

Despite the best efforts of Suns veterans like Grant Hill (team-high 27 points, eight rebounds), Jason Richardson (20 points, seven rebounds) and Channing Frye (16 points, seven rebounds), the Bulls made a furious comeback or two, as their initial push to make the game a single-digit contest was thwarted, leading to yet another charge prior to the games stretch run to turn the tables on Phoenix, shocking the home crowd.

The play of Rose and Luol Deng carried the Bulls offensive load late in regulation, with the former living up to his growing national profile and All-Star status by hitting two clutch free throws to match a pair of Nashs on the previous possession and send the game into its first overtime.

Coach always says hes preparing us, said Deng, who poured in 26 points and snatched 10 rebounds to break out of a slight offensive slump, of Thibodeaus foreshadowing. We practice so hard. Since Ive been in the NBA, Ive never been on a team that practices so hard and thats what prepares you for nights like this.

A back-and-forth first extra session appeared to be going the Suns way the home team was up two points and only 4.3 seconds remained, despite the Bulls owning possession of the ball out of a timeout but Noah, in the high post, would patiently find a cutting Rose backdoor for a reverse layup with just 0.1 seconds on the clock to tie the contest.

Derrick Rose reacts after fouling out in the second overtime vs. Phoenix Wednesday night. Rose scored 35 points, pulled 12 rebounds and dished out seven assists to help the Bulls earn the victory. (AP)Actually, I was supposed to run off the screen. Kyle Korver set a screen for me, but Grant Hill was playing the top side, so I just cut and I was wide open, explained Rose. Jos a good passer, Im good without the ball, he just threw me the ball and I guess I made a good layup."

That was nice, added a smiling Noah he claimed he never looked at the waning seconds on the clock when asked about the play. I think me and Derrick, were pretty good at that. Its a good play because they dont want Derrick coming over the top and getting the ball in his hands, so its all about reading the defense.

In the second and final overtime, Chicago clearly had the momentum although Rose fouling out of the game put some doubt into that theory but another pivotal play by Noah, this time a theft of Nash, the ballhandling magician, would play a major part in sealing the deal.

It was a huge win. It feels good to win right now. The thing that sucks about the league is we cant celebrate it for a week. That would have been great, to be able to celebrate a win like this for a week, offered Noah, whose youthful spirit belies his poise under pressure. Its not a week, but Ill eat some turkey tomorrow.

Things arent always going to go our way. Were going to miss shots, but its all about controlling what you can control and defense is something that you can control, and adjustments and just being aware of the play call that Coach calls when theres a minute left in the game and its tight and the whole crowd is going crazy, Noah, who said while he felt beat up physically, but 150 percent mentally, went on to say.

You get lucky sometimes, but youve got to go and look at film and clean up some things, Rose, at just 22, mature beyond his years, keenly observed. We dont want to be in this predicament again.

For now, they can just give thanks.

That would be the appropriate thing to do Thursday, wouldn't it?

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls


LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls

It look a little longer than perhaps LeBron James expected—or maybe not, given the recent woes from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But it happens in a flash—no matter if it is a fadeaway jumper, darting pass through multiple defenders or a swat into the third row for an unsuspecting Cameron Payne, who acted like he hadn’t seen James’ movies.

It took an almost Herculean effort from the game’s best player to put away a pesky Bulls team, 114-109 Saturday at the United Center. James was without several regulars, including Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver—and his coach, Tyronn Lue, didn’t join the bench in the second half after getting ill.

The no-look passes, the easy drives to the basket, it’s hard to realize he’s playing in his 15th season but he’s at a level few can match, even if his team struggles to keep up.

Whatever he’s lost in athleticism, he’s gained in mastering the game and making sure it’s played at his pace.

Of course, we can quibble with his indifference to defense at times and make note of how that permeates to the rest of the team, as they let the Bulls back in way too many times.

But when you say that, it’s just as easy to see his passing makes his teams unselfish. The Cavs routinely swing the ball from a good shot to a great shot, even if it’s facilitated by James himself, as they had 25 assists on 44 field goals.

“Right now the game is effortless,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “LeBron wants to be a passer first and that’s where he was hurting us early. And then he got loose and got to the rim.”

James led them with 12 in addition to his 33 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes, and the Cavaliers needed every bit of his production as the Bulls emptied the reservoir with four of their five regular starters out.

“I just want to get healthy,” James said. “It’s unfamiliar territory for a lot of guys, going in and out the lineup and having six guys out…I think it was a good (road) trip for us.”

The Bulls were missing Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez for various reasons.

Denzel Valentine filled in admirably for a career night and luckily, didn’t throw a cringing behind-the-back pass to the expensive seats. Buoyed by a lax defense from the opposition, he led the Bulls with 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists, hitting eight of 11 from long range in 34 minutes.

If it wasn’t for a late foul on Jordan Clarkson when the Bulls improbably tied the game at 105 with 1:41 left, the Bulls would’ve made things very interesting. But he made contact with Clarkson in the corner and the Cavaliers took a four-point lead.

James got a steal on the next possession and hit a fadeaway to complete his night, his 15th triple-double of the season.

“As soon as I went in a little bit he threw it out there,” Valentine said of James. “And I went to close out and boom. It’s just a learning moment.”

Valentine has earned praise from Hoiberg for filling a leadership void while Lopez and Justin Holiday have taken a backseat due to the organization’s wishes to evaluate young players for the rest of the season.

In the meantime, Valentine hopes he’s proving to be a starter at this level, not just a plug-and-play role player.

“I believe I’m a starter in this league,” Valentine said. “I believe I can be an important piece of an NBA team. But whatever my role on the team is that they want me to do, the organization wants me to do, I’ll do. But personally, I believe I’m a starter and I can contribute in major ways. I just got to keep working and keep getting better.”

Whether he’s a fringe starter or valuable piece off the bench, Valentine has at least shown to develop a consistent jump shot—which in today’s game puts him as a fit on any team. Shooting 39 percent on the season means if the Bulls make him available this offseason, they will have callers.

“It just shows what I’m capable of,” Valentine said. “I believe in myself even when I’m out there playing bad. But I put the work in no matter what happens, if I’m playing well [or], if I’m playing bad.”

His fearlessness, along with Bobby Portis and Cameron Payne, pulled the Bulls back from the brink after the Cavaliers took a 17-point lead before halftime.

Sixteen of his points came in the third, sending the United Center into a frenzy despite the fact a loss would be more beneficial for the franchise considering the New York Knicks destroyed the Charlotte Hornets, paving the way for the Bulls to slide back into eighth in the lottery standings.

Payne did his best to undermine the tank, with a career-high 10 assists go to with 13 points on five of 11 shooting. Portis was solid with 15 points and 15 rebounds, but had a late dunk blocked by Jeff Green.

And combined with Antonio Blakeney getting his shots up anytime he touched the ball, including on fast breaks when the Bulls had multiple-man advantages, just enough was done to give the Cavs the necessary room to end their 13-day road trip on a high note.

“We’ve got a lot of guys in positions they haven’t been in all year,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Cam was unbelievable pushing the pace, especially early in the game.”

Green added 21 and Clarkson came off the bench to score 19. All can thank James for their night—along with a fan he threw his armband to afterward, who was left in tears.

And had the Bulls actually won this game, both James and the Bulls fans would’ve been in tears.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Vincent Goodwill, and Kendall Gill discuss the concern over Zach Lavine’s inconsistent play, plus is it smart for the Bulls to offer him a max contract? Kendall also explains why the Bulls need to be careful not to lowball Lavine, like the Hornets did with him early in his career. Plus the trio discuss the early exit for Oklahoma and Trae Young. He’s likely to be there when the Bulls make their first pick, should they take him? And Vincent shares who the consensus top 5 picks are after talking with several NBA talent evaluators.