Bulls' chemistry on full display in blowout win over Nets

Bulls' chemistry on full display in blowout win over Nets

NEW YORK -- It felt like a home game for most of the night, as Dwyane Wade jumpers and spin moves were met with wistful cheers from the Barclays Center crowd, appreciated the way Hall of Famer should be.

“I always get great support when I come here to Brooklyn,” said Wade, as if he needed it on this night, as he was cheered every time he touched the ball in a laugher of a fourth quarter.

“It feels like a home. I didn’t even know if they cheer for me like that at home when I get the ball, so it was great to be out there in that environment.”

And more importantly, the Bulls played Monday night’s game with the proper appreciation that they weren’t going to toy around with an opponent who had no business being on the same floor with them for another big win.

It was an instant replay of Saturday’s thrashing of the Indiana Pacers, as the starters jumped on the Brooklyn Nets from the start and cruised to a 118-88 win in Brooklyn on Monday night.

For those counting, the Bulls are off to their first 3-0 start since the 1996-97 season, a year that saw the Bulls win 69 games and the NBA title.

The Bulls were a picture of efficiency yet again, hitting the 100-point mark midway through the fourth quarter as there was plenty of garbage time to go around for the second straight game.

“Our intensity has been really good,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “(Rajon) Rondo set the tone for our team by getting out, playing with pace and making simple plays.”

If Saturday was the bench players taking a star role, the starters took center stage against the backdrop of Broadway.

They pounced on the Nets early, taking an 18-point lead into the second quarter as they compiled nine assists, with Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson the main recipients. Butler led the Bulls with 22 points on just 10 shots, and Gibson went 7-for-9 for 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Nikola Mirotic came off the bench to score 16 points with 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, and Wade scored 12 in 29 minutes.

“I give our veteran leaders a lot of credit for the way we continue to put our foot on the gas and continue to extend leads as opposed to letting up and allowing our opponents to get back in the game,” Hoiberg said.

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More than a few times last year, the Bulls got up for the big games but let the novices of the NBA prevent them from making the playoffs. Seeing this team develop any kind of killer instinct should be viewed as a positive sign—especially considering Hoiberg was telling the team and the media before the game about how dangerous the Nets were, that they should be 3-0 instead of 1-2.

But minutes in, it was obvious the Nets couldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight as the Bulls’

“It’s fun. It’s a fun way to play when you’re sharing the ball,” Hoiberg said. “The ball’s not sticking in guys’ hands.”

The ball movement continued, accompanied by pretty plays and passes that displayed the Bulls’ athleticism and speed. Wade connected on a touch-pass alley-oop with Butler after a Rondo look-ahead pass that brought the visiting crowd out of their seats in the first half.

“It’s contagious, a trickle down effect. It starts with the first unit,” Rondo said. “Every team will fight back. We’ve been able to keep our foot on the gas. We figured out how to keep the lead above 20.”

Rondo only had four assists but the Bulls had 26 as a whole, many of them the swing-swing variety. Five players had three assists or more, with Isaiah Canaan leading the way with six to go along with his 15 points in 22 minutes.

“If we win by 20, I’m happy I didn’t have to play the fourth two games in a row,” Rondo said. “To start a season like that, it’s big for us. It’s fun. I love passing. It’s fun to watch.”

Subsequently, the Bulls have been able to make up for the fact that they shouldn’t be a strong 3-point shooting team by their ball movement. Doug McDermott went off from the line against Indiana but didn’t hit one against the Nets; However, it was Mirotic and Canaan who went off against the Nets, combining to hit seven of the Bulls’ 11 3-point makes.

They hit 11 against Boston in the opener and nine against Indiana Saturday.

The Bulls are almost flawless at hitting the open man from double-teams or off dribble penetration, playing with a chemistry that’s almost too good to be true this soon in a season with so many new players.

“I’m not surprised. I think whenever you buy into it and you hang out as much as we do and we know each other the way we do, I think it helps,” Butler said. “Me and D-Wade were talking about it earlier, how this locker room camaraderie, it really shows on the floor.”

It’s a stark contrast to what they displayed last year, when many began to wonder if Hoiberg’s system could fit with this team. But it’s been embraced by the team, and the players are embracing each other.

“You wanna be out there. You know the ball is coming to you,” Butler said. “You don’t know when, but you know whenever you’re open you’re gonna be in a position to score. Everybody wants a chance to score. That’s the reason you play.”

But a reserve player became center of attention for all the wrong reasons as Michael Carter-Williams injured his left knee early in the second quarter, limping off but not returning as the Bulls termed it a knee sprain and scheduled an MRI for Tuesday in Boston.

But aside from that major deterrent, the Bulls weren’t deterred in any facet, aside from the old bugaboo of turnovers rearing its ugly head for a few minutes in the third quarter, when a 25-point lead was cut to 18.

“We gotta cut down on the turnovers, we had 20. That’s too many,” Hoiberg said. “We gotta build habits for the long haul, for this long season.”

If that’s the most of Hoiberg’s issues, he’ll take it.

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


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.