Bulls

Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

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Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

BOSTONAfter going up by a seemingly insurmountable margin, the Bulls (11-2) watched the Celtics (4-6) charge back in the second half, cutting a 20-point game to a single point, before Derrick Rose, playing on a injured toe, took over late Friday night at the TD BankNorth Garden. Chicago won, 88-79, by virtue of solid defense, a balanced offensive effort from its starting lineupall five reached double figuresand a finishing touch down the stretch from one of the NBAs top closers.

I said before the game we would need everybody and we did, and I thought our starters played terrific. Carlos, Jo. At the start of the game, I thought our defense was very good. The ball movement was great to start the game, so I think thats what allowed us to build the cushion. We could play from a lead. Things got tough at the end of the third, start of the fourth, but we hung in and we found a way to win down the stretch, evaluated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. With Derrick, you almost expect that from him. He let the game come to him. He didnt try to do too much and then in the second half, when it was time, he made big play after big play, which weve grown accustomed to.

An ailing Rose played a facilitating role early on, allowing the frontcourt of Luol Deng (21 points, 16 rebounds), Carlos Boozer (12 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Joakim Noah (10 points, 12 rebounds) to benefit as scorers, complementing their dominant work on the glass, as well as solid defense. The visitors jumped out to an early double-digit advantage, due to errant Celtics shooting, as only point guard Rajon Rondo (14 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists)using his speed against a hobbled Rosewas able to create against the Bulls.

The toe feels all right. It feels good. I kept playing tonight. My teammates did a great job with making shots, playing defense. I was just feeding off of them, said Rose, who was wearing a precautionary walking boot afterward, as he had in the days since suffering the injury. First quarter, I would say, I didnt know how to take off or worried about me taking off and that went away around halfway through the first quarter.

Boozer was particularly effective as a mid-range shooter, while Deng was back to being both aggressive and efficient after a subpar shooting night in his last outing and the fifth starter, Ronnie Brewer (12 points, four rebounds, four assists), showed his hot early-season shooting was no fluke. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls led, 26-13, following two Rondo free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining.

Dengs strong all-around play carried Chicago at the outset the second quarter and while the Boston backcourt of Rondo and sharpshooter Ray Allen (16 points) attempted to get the home team back into the contest, Brewers shooting and reserve power forward Taj Gibsons typically energetic play helped maintain the visitors comfortable cushion. The Celtics own backup big man, well-traveled veteran Chris Wilcoxseeing more action with starting center Jermaine ONeal injured; usual reserve power forward Brandon Bass (10 points, nine rebounds) started in his place, with Kevin Garnett sliding over to center, though ONeal would come off the benchgave Boston a boost of energy, however, throwing down two monstrous fast-break dunks, while go-to scorer Paul Pierce (13 points) started to gradually find his rhythm.

But Boozers accuracy on his jumper, dominant team rebounding and overall stingy defense helped keep a wide gap for the TD BankNorth Garden guests, who kept the usually rowdy Boston crowd in alternating states of silence or displeasure for most of the first half. Chicago took a 52-33 advantage into the break, but not before the distribution-minded Rose threw down a vicious cock-back dunkoff one step and an injured toe, no lesstoward the end of the period.

I loved the way Jo was so active tonight, blocking shots, going after the ball and then his offense started coming around, so when he plays like that, its good for us. And what you could say about Luol? I mean, every night, hes on the board, he gives you points, he plays great defense, hits every big basket for youcant say enough about himand then the bench, they allowed us to get some rest in the second quarter. They came in and did a good job, said Thibodeau. The rebounding was the key, the last two ballgames. If you defend and rebound, and you keep your turnovers down, youre going to be in position to win. We know that works for us.

After the intermission, continued stellar play from Deng kept the Bulls afloat early in the period, but the Celtics stormed back, trimming what was once a 20-point lead. Boston received contributions from the likes of the high-energy Bass, sharpshooting Allen, scoring-oriented Pierce and playmaking Rondo, energizing the faithful Garden audience.

The visitors were further disadvantaged by Boozer picking up his fourth foul and Roses clear lack of consistent explosion, but Bostons continued push was the real difference, as the Bulls would seemingly staunch the bleeding with a Noah tip-in or Gibson jumper, for example, only to see bit contributors like reserve swingman Mickael Pietrus and ONealwho appeared to be rejuvenated back to his All-Star form of old for a brief stretchmake timely buckets. At the end of three quarters, the Celtics cut the deficit to single digits, 67-59.

We talked about it. Weve got to get better at not giving up leads. We knew they werent going to go down easy. We knew that they were going to come down and make a run. Were just a little disappointed that we allowed them to make that run, but once again, just answering their run, said Deng. I thought we did a great job, even though the fans got into it. We just came back and guys made big plays. Derrick made big shots, Ronnie made a big three and we just kept going.

Chimed in Rose: For sure. Like I always say, we never want to be in a situation like that. When we get the lead on someone, we want to definitely put them away, but I guess we didnt learn that yet.

Weve been in situations like that. Thats when we tend to play defense. Were better backwards. We tend to play defense a little bit bad throughout the whole game, then the fourth quarters like that. But people stepped up at the right time.

Bostons barrage didnt let up at the beginning of the final stanza, as the Bulls miserable shooting continued and the hosts remained hot, scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter to cut the gap to a single point, 67-66, before Thibodeauwho rode his starters through the games stretch run, unlike the Bulls past two contests, in which he used backup big men Gibson and Omer Asik in place of Noah and Boozercalled a timeout to restore order in the arena so familiar to him. Whether Rose was directed by his coach to shoulder the load moving forward or simply took it upon himself, after the stoppage, the reigning league MVP went to work, sandwiching a slashing layup and an open three-pointer between a pair of free throws.

Jo got a big offensive rebound, Derrick got a couple open looks, so it worked out for us and youve got to be ready for that. Theyre a tough defensive team and its another element that you have to prepare for, said Thibodeau. I was waiting for that one. Not enough, too much, whats next? Hey look, we really feel the strength of the club is the depth up front and even tonight, as well as Carlos and Jo played, Carlos picking up that fourth, you need quality bigs to hold the fort and Omer and Taj, every time, you call on them, theyre ready. Theyre hard guys to score on.

Added Noah: It feels good to get this dub tonight. It always feels good to win in this building. Just competed hard. It was a great team effort.

The strength of our team is our depth, and we cant forget that, so anybody can step up on any given night and thats our strength, so its important for guys to get frustrated when its not their turn, continued the center, who also blocked four shots on the evening. O Asik and Taj were playing great, and Coach rides with them. Thats the way he does things. Im just trying to control the things that I can control, and it felt good to be out there tonight.

Their leaders inspired play seemed to spark a fire under his teammates, as Deng and Noah battled for tough boards on the interior, while timely buckets from the likes of Brewer quelled any hopes of Boston making another comeback attempt. Rose continued to make big, crowd-silencing baskets, causing the Garden to gradually empty down the contests stretch run, though the fans that remained did find pleasure with the late entrance of former Celtics fan favorite and Bulls deep reserve Brian Scalabrine.

I was missing shots before that. I think shots that I normally hit, I was missingI guess taking that day off, Ive got to get my timing back and at the end of the game, they were falling, explained Rose. They were giving me the shot. I probably was out a little bit further than I normally am, but they didnt come and contest and I was just shooting. My teammates have confidence in me. They see how hard I work on my shot and at the end of a game like that, when one of those situations happen, theyre going to give me the ball.

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.