Bulls

Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

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Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Posted 8:34 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ATLANTAThis was one you had to see to believe, but not in a good way.

Even as things unfolded, it seemed impossibleespecially with such a tough-minded, consistent bunchbut somehow, it happened. After leading for the entire contest, Tom Thibodeaus 48-minute foreshadowing came true, as the Bulls were overtaken by the Al Horford-led Hawks in the games final minute Wednesday night and improbably dropped an 83-80 affair at Phillips Arena.

Perhaps Joakim Noah put it best: We tricked it tonight.

Even without being up on the latest slang, Noahs statement is easy to interpret. Chicago blew the game.

The visitors jumped out of the gatesCarlos Boozer (11 points, seven rebounds) was particularly aggressivewith a 10-0 start in the first three minutes, punctuated by a Derrick Rose (12 points, 12 assists, six turnovers) steal and dunk that led to a Hawks timeout. Not that the half-empty Phillips Arena crowd minded, as the majority of attendees seemed to be Bulls fans, many of whom chanted M-V-P for Rose.

The lead eventually extended to 14-0, as another Rose steal led to a textbook give-and-go fast break, resulting in a Keith Bogans layup as the typically light-scoring shooting guard scored eight first-quarter points. Atlanta finally got on the board with nearly five minutes elapsed in the contest.

If anything, however, the Bulls could have further capitalized on their early advantage. Instead, the Hawksled by Noahs (13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) college teammate Al Horford (31 points, 16 rebounds) and sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (12 points, four assists)closed on their guests as the opening period wore on and while Chicago, aided by the scoring contributions of the ever-active Taj Gibson, didnt completely squander their seemingly insurmountable lead, they held a 28-19 lead after a quarter in a suddenly more competitive affair.

Despite their hot start on both ends, the Bulls struggled with turnovers and general mishandling of the basketball, even when they made hustle plays, kept rebounds alive and made strong defensive efforts. As if they were locked in step with the typically late-arriving crowd at the Highlight Factory (as the Hawks home arena is nicknamed), the games pace slowed to a lull early in the second period, with neither team immediately able to find a rhythm.

When we got the big lead, I thought we got real loose at the end of the second quarter, carried over to start the third. Youve got to play 48 minutes. You dont do that, youre not winning in this league, said Thibodeau afterwards. Youve got to play tough with the lead.

Chicago gradually rebuilt their winning margin to a double-digit level, as the visitors held their hosts to 31.7-percent shooting, while Atlanta doled out only five assists in the first half. Although their red-hot marksmanship to begin the contest cooled, the Bulls got sporadic easy opportunitiessuch as an uncontested Rose double-pump dunk after he grabbed his own offensive rebound of a three-pointerand with their stifling defense, as well as Luol Deng (15 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals) bouncing back after struggling early and Noah impacting the game with his energetic interior play, they took a 50-33 edge into the break.

Atlanta started the third quarter on a 6-0 run, increasing their defensive intensity, employing full-court pressure (a key aspect of which was keeping the ball out of Roses hands), forcing turnovers and influencing Thibodeau to put a brief halt to the proceedings. The game became a single-digit affair, with the home crowd fully engaged and the visitors out of sync.

I think the effort was there. We just came out too loose in the second half. This loss stings, its a tough loss, but our schedule doesnt get any easier and we can learn a lot from this game. Tough way to lose, but it just shows, youve got to play the game for 48 minutes, said Noah. I take full responsibility for not coming out with the right juice at the beginning of the third. They kind of got whatever they wanted to start that third quarter and weve just got to bounce back quick.

Crawford told CSNChicago.com: We felt like we were never out of it. Even though they got up big, they couldnt hit shots and we couldnt either. We felt like at some point, wed start hitting our shots and Al had a heck of a game.

Horfordthe competitive undersized center was the Hawks saving grace early and showed his fiery side in a near-skirmish after taking exception to a hard Boozer foul in the second quarterwreaked havoc on the Bulls interior defense with his ability to not only stretch the defense, but drive to the basket against his close acquaintance Noah, prompting Thibodeau to later call for the defensive-minded duo of Gibson and rookie Omer Asik (nine rebounds, two blocked shots).

Horford played great. He was hitting a lot of shots from deep, said Noah of his former teammate. I think he played very well tonight. Great rebounding, running the floor hard as hell. Just an overall great performance.

Still, timely baskets from the forward combination of Deng and Boozer enabled Chicago, which displayed outstanding offensive balance, to maintain a slight cushion over Atlanta for the time being.

A Rose turnover, however, led to a Horford follow-up dunk in transition late in the period, making the contest a one-possession game, much to Thibodeaus ire.

This game was definitely on me, but I think Im definitely going to learn from it and get better from it, said Rose, who shot 5-for-21 from the floor and committed an uncharacteristic six turnovers. Ive got to take care of the ball. Shots werent going down like they normally do.

Careless. Thats on my part. Im the one with the ball the majority of the time, he continued. We let one escape.

Concurred a hoarse and frustrated Thibodeau: They did a good job on Rose. He had a hard time getting going. I thought he had some shots that he normally makes, that he couldnt put down. Thats going to happen sometimes. Then, hes got to do other things.
Al Horford tied a career-high with 31 points, 22 coming in the second half to help Atlanta erase a 17-point halftime deficit. (AP)
Asiks offensive rebounding aside, there wasnt much to be pleased with from a Chicago perspective, as the Hawks cut it to 63-58 with one frame remaining and all the momentum on Atlantas side, despite leading scorer Joe Johnson (12 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) experiencing a poor shooting outing.

Asiks energy, defensive presence and offensive rebounding sparked the Bulls in the fourth quarter, giving them multiple possessions and getting the starters to applaud his effort from the bench. Chicago was able to stave off the home teams charge for the time being and Thibodeau reinserted his regulars into the tight-knit contest with the games stretch run approaching.

Horfords dominant effort continued to bring Atlanta to the brink of overtaking Chicago, but every time the Hawks seemed poised to seize the lead, the Bulls managed a timely contribution from any number of players. However, when Marvin Williams (10 points, four rebounds) blocked a Rose dunk attempt, leading to a Hawks fast-break bucket (aided by a Deng goaltend), it felt like the games turning point.

Kyle Korver, the teams designated sharpshooter nailed a three-pointer with under two minutes to go, but Williamswho had been dormant most of the evening answered with his own corner triple.

We believed in each other. We believe in our coaches and we believe in each other as players. Weve been down before and guys didnt hang their heads. We just kept plugging away, plugging away. Finally the tables turned in our favor and we were able to get a win, Williams told CSNChicago.com. We kept creeping closer and closer and closer. We just kept chopping away at the deficit. I think every bucket that we got and every stop that we got gave us more confidence.

After the Bulls failed to convert on the other end, Noah fouled Horford while attempting to grab an offensive rebound. With the score 79-78 in Chicagos favor, Horford split a pair of free throws to tie the game with 56.9 seconds left. On the Bulls next trip, Rose penetrated the defense and dropped the ball off to Noah, who was also fouled and made one of two attempts from the line to give the visitors an 80-79 advantage with 37.1 seconds remaining.

Out of a timeout, Crawford found Horford cutting to the basket off a pick-and-roll for a powerful dunk, thrilling the crowd and giving Atlanta its first lead of the contest, 81-80, with 29.4 seconds to play. Following a Bulls timeout, a bungled exchange between Boozer and Rose resulted in a Johnson steal and subsequent transition dunk over Rose.

I think he hit me in my head. I think I was trying to take off too quick, Rose explained. Just one of those games for me.

Chicago rushed to get off a late three-point attempt to tie the game, but Rose missed a tough look over Horford. Although Noah got the offensive board and the ball made its way to Korver via Boozer, the long-ball specialist airballed a wide-open look with all zeroes on the clock.

It was the kind of shot you want. It actually felt kind of good leaving my hand, Korver told CSNChicago.com. I was really shocked that it went short, but you get ready to shoot the next one.

Thibodeau refused to place the blame on a singular playat least on the offensive endfor the loss.

We couldnt get stops and we couldnt score. Beat ourselves at the end, said Thibodeau. But the game was lost way before that.

By then, we were struggling so much. We didnt have a good rhythm. Those are miracle shots, he continued. Theyre a good team. We should be able to count on our defense when were not making shots and all we had to do was get a shot at the end of the game there. We had the lead. You get a stop, its your game. We couldnt do that, so we lose.

Summed up Noah: Its on us. Its always tough to lose that way we lost, but I know that we were up 19 points and we got loose. We cant play that way and at the end of the day, the positive about is we know that were a lot better than that and well bounce back because thats what we do.

You learn from your experiences. Losing like thiswe havent had a loss like this all yearbut it hurts and you know what, itll make us tougher in the long run.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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.

Joakim Noah has a new look and it's, uh, interesting

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USA TODAY

Joakim Noah has a new look and it's, uh, interesting

Joakim Noah played in only seven games for the New York Knicks this season, having last appeared in action on Jan. 23. A few weeks later, Noah was granted an indefinite leave of absence by the team.

So what's the former Bull up to now?

Well, apparently he's attempting to audition for one of the latest wild life survival shows.

In honor of Earth Day, Noah showed off his new look on Instagram:

Jah bless the earth

A post shared by Joakim Noah (@stickity13) on

"God bless the Earth and the trees and the sun," he says in the video.

No. God bless you, Joakim.

Why the Bulls should draft Deandre Ayton if they win the Lottery

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USA TODAY

Why the Bulls should draft Deandre Ayton if they win the Lottery

Something special occurred on the campus of Oregon University in late February. The Arizona Wildcats were in town, 24 hours removed from an ESPN report that claimed head coach Sean Miller had discussed paying $100,000 to land blue-chip prospect Deandre Ayton. The report shook the college basketball world, Miller took a leave of absence from the team and the Wildcats, ranked 14th in the country, became the lead story on sports talk shows for all the wrong reasons.

And the 19-year-old Ayton found himself at the center of the turmoil. Heading into Eugene, a place the Ducks were 31-3 at over the last two seasons, the Oregon student section mercilessly heckled Ayton all night, chanting “wi-re tap” and “hun-dred thou-sand” at the freshman star. The 7-foot-1 Bahamian could have crumbled in the moment. No one would have blamed him if he had.

Instead, Ayton dominated. He took over the game for 44 minutes, resting for 66 seconds in the first half before playing the final 26:37 of the overtime thriller. His final line – 28 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks – somehow didn’t do the performance justice. He made 11 of 15 shots, including 17-foot jumpers, offensive rebound put-backs, low-post moves and transition dunks. In a season of extraordinary for the Pac-12’s eventual Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year, that Saturday night may have been his most impressive, all things considered.

And it’s one of many reasons why, if that 5.3 percent chance becomes reality, the Bulls can’t pass on Deandre Ayton with the first pick in June’s NBA Draft.

Let’s begin with the raw stats. Ayton joined Duke’s Marvin Bagley as the only freshmen since 1993 to average 20 points, 11 rebounds and shoot 60 percent from the field. What’s more, only 10 others – regardless of year – had accomplished the feat, last done by Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin in 2009. Four of those 10 were drafted first overall (Michael Olowokandi, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and Griffin). So, spoiler alert, there’s precedent for a dominant big man being selected first overall. Ayton certainly could join that list, which we’ll note has a respectable success rate.

Those offensive numbers were compiled in impressive fashion. Ayton has been blessed with a remarkable skill set for a 19-year-old. Per Synergy, his 1.16 points per possession (PPP) ranked in the 98th percentile, and he did while playing out of position most of the season; Miller insisted on playing Ayton alongside 7-footer Dusan Ristic, which clogged up the offense at times. He’ll have more freedom in the NBA.

There’s no denying the 260-pound Ayton was a force around the rim, using his NBA-ready frame to overpower opposing frontcourts; he shot 76 percent from inside 5 feet (200 of 263) and ranked in the 90th percentile in post-up situations (1.05 PPP). But his game, like his frame, is NBA-ready, too. Ayton displayed an above-average jump shot, shooting 38 percent on 104 possessions; Kentucky’s Anthony Davis shot 34 percent on just 67 possessions in 2012. Ayton also spent more time as a pick-and-roll roller (14.6% of his possessions) than Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid in their respective college years.

He also expanded his game out to the 3-point line, attempting 35 triples in 35 games. That may not seem like much in “today’s game,” but consider: Joel Embiid (1-for-5), Karl-Anthony Towns (2-for-8) and Anthony Davis (3-for-20) combined for fewer made and attempted 3s than did Ayton in one year; Towns shot 42 percent from deep this past NBA season, Embiid made 66 triples with the Sixers and Davis has increased his made 3s each of his first six NBA seasons. Shooting can be taught, and Ayton is already ahead of schedule, even if he’s going to earn his money 15 feet and in. Ayton will jell in an NBA offense from Day 1. His game was made for the NBA.

That physically imposing frame made him a terror around the rim. Ayton stands 7-foot-1 and weighs 260 pounds; only six NBA players were listed at that size or taller/heavier. Ayton is as physically ready a rookie as we’ve seen in a handful of years.

It also makes some of his defensive metrics perplexing. Ayton’s block percentage, per KenPom.com, was 6.1%; Towns, Davis and Embiid all had double-digit block percentages. Ayton was also a liability defending the post, ranking in just the 34th percentile (allowing .919 PPP). And though some of these ugly numbers can be attributed to playing out of position, his motor has come into question and he looked out lost at times on that end of the floor. It’s certainly an area he’ll need to improve upon; it’s not enough to say he’ll roll out of bed and score 20 points. He’s got the easy part down, standing 7-foot-1 with a 40+-inch vertical. A strong defensive-minded coach will do Ayton wonders early in his career.

So why the Bulls? Well, as you’ll read a lot in this series, the team needs an injection of talent. Team need isn’t going to come into play much after Cristiano Felicio averaged 17.8 minutes per game. The Bulls need talent, and Ayton defines that. It also fits that Ayton would make for a near-perfect 1-2 punch with Lauri Markkanen, a fellow Wildcat. Ayton saw significant time as the “hi” man of Arizona’s hi-low sets with Ristic. With Markkanen maneuvering the perimeter, Ayton would be free to work 15 feet and in where he’s at his best. Having Robin Lopez as a mentor for a year would only improve Ayton’s game, and his pick-and-roll numbers would improve with Kris Dunn, who made even Felicio look serviceable.

Ayton is the best prospect in the class. There isn’t much else to say. As the series progresses we’ll need to make stronger arguments for prospects, but not with Ayton. He’s the best center prospect since Karl-Anthony Towns, and his offensive game is ahead of any frontcourt prospect with two eyebrows the last decade. Prospects like Ayton come along once every few years (Towns, Embiid, Davis) and he’s as close to a sure thing as there is in this draft. If, 10 years after the Lottery gods smiled down on the Bulls, lightning strikes twice, Deandre Ayton is the man to lead the Bulls back to contention in the Eastern Conference.