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.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.