Bulls notes: Hamilton productive in exceeding minutes limit


Bulls notes: Hamilton productive in exceeding minutes limit

BOSTON - Since he tore his left plantar fascia, Rip Hamilton was supposed to be on a minutes limit -- typically around 20 minutes a game -- but after Luol Deng had to leave Friday night's overtime win over Boston, Bulls head coach leaned on the veteran shooting guard, who scored a team-high 20 points on the evening.

"You know what's crazy? After the third quarter, usually I'm done. But with Luol going out, there was probably a chance that he would put me back in the game and 'Griff' Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin came up to me in the fourth quarter. He was like, 'Hey, man. Stay ready because Coach is going to put you back in the game,' so it was just one of those things where we didn't expect it going into the game, but with the circumstances, with Lu going out, he put me back in," Hamilton explained afterwards.

When asked by a Boston reporter about soaking his foot in an ice bucket postgame, Hamilton quipped, "Thibs...that's the reason why I'm doing it, because of Thibs. Thibs' practices."

"I can play heavy minutes. That's not a problem. That's just something that Thibs wants to do. That's one of the things that he talked about when I first came back. He asked me and I was like, 'Yo, I can play. I'm good,' and he was like, 'Hey, you know what? I'm going to keep your minutes down,' so I was just like, 'Hey, whatever you need me to do, that's what I'm going to do," Hamilton said.

Thibodeau was complimentary of Hamilton's play afterwards, though he didn't hesitate to mention the starter's high minutes, which totaled 32 on the night.

"Rip was very good. He scored the ball for us," he said. "He probably played a few too many minutes, so that led to a couple of turnovers - we've got to get the turnovers down - but I liked the way he played."

Key defensive play symbolizes Bulls' philosophy

With 9.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah trapped Boston's Paul Pierce, forcing a held-ball situation with the Celtics ahead, 88-86.

Noah won the ensuing jump ball, which eventually led to Kirk Hinrich's game-tying jumper with two seconds remaining in regulation, sending the game into overtime.

Afterwards, the Bulls discussed the significance of the sequence, which went exactly how Thibodeau diagrammed it in the timeout leading up to it.

"Well, there's a few things you're trying to get done. But before you just get to the foul part, you want to see if you can make a play. Sometimes, there's a bobble, a slip, so you're looking for that," Thibodeau explained. "Joakim and Jimmy are pretty good in those situations and we almost had the one before that, and Marquis just missed it."

When asked about the Bulls' strategy, Butler added: "When they throw it in, make them throw it my way. Then, Jo just trapped, don't foul.

"Literally, the play happened exactly like Thibodeau drew it up. Make them throw the ball towards the corner, and me and Jo go and trap. Jo went and trapped, and won the jump ball," he continued. "It's crazy because we worked on situations like that. Jo being an aggressive defender, myself being an aggressive defender. I felt like it was bound to happen."

Referring to Pierce, a seasoned veteran, Noah chimed in: "Veteran or rookie, in that situation, when you're trapped in the corner with time running out, it's not an easy situation to get out of, no matter who it is."

"It was a huge play, I think the basketball gods were definitely on our side. It was a competitive game. We got a few bounces to go our way, but the great thing is a lot of people stepped up tonight and we competed as a team the whole way, so it was a great game to be part of."

As for Hinrich, who fouled in the overtime period, he downplayed his big shot, telling CSNChicago.com, "It just rolled to me and I just let it go."

Robinson excited about return to Boston

Bulls backup point guard Nate Robinson was a member of the Celtics when Boston returned to the NBA Finals in 2010, losing to the Lakers.

Still, he regards that period of his career as a special time. Prior to Friday night's Bulls win, Robinson told CSNChicago.com that the contest was his first game back in the TD BankNorth Garden since the Celtics traded him to Oklahoma City in 2011.

"They made sure they had my Finals jersey...

"It was great memories, man. The fans here were always great. They were always nice, cheered, supported. For me, this is my first game back since I got traded from the Celtics. For me, it's going to be fun to be out there. It's going to be interesting to see how the fans react to me coming back, but it's not about me. It's about us getting a win," he told CSNChicago.com. "It helped me a lot with Doc and when Thibs was over there. They helped me out with preparing myself properly for the game. It's been helping me in the last few years of my career and hopefully, it can take me to an even higher level with my game as a player, as a person and on top of that, as a competitor. Right now, Coach has been on me in making sure that I know where everybody is on the court and being more of a leader, and to me, it's making me more of a better player."

Robinson contributed 11 points Friday, but before the game, he was ecstatic that the Celtics equipment managers left his NBA Finals jersey in his stall in the visiting locker room.

Celtics' Garnett, Rondo praise Bulls' Deng, Noah

Although the Bulls and Celtics have a fairly intense rivalry, there's a lot of respect between the two squads. That was evident before Friday night's overtime thriller, as Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett cited Bulls teammates Joakim Noah and Luol Deng as worthy of All-Star Game consideration.

"Luol's always played to a top notch. I think Noah's play is starting to increase. I think he's getting better," said Garnett, who also mentioned the injured Derrick Rose. "Those are the people who stand out right away."

Rivers added: "You named them Deng and Noah all. You're doing my job for me.

"But yeah, I think both of them deserve it, especially with their record. I'd be surprised if both of them are not on it," he continued. "Carlos Boozer is playing well, but I think the first two are the two that I honestly have my focus on."

Rivers went on to talk about the dinner he had Thursday evening with Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau on the night of his former assistant's 55th birthday.

"Well, I had to pay last night because it was his birthday and our new deal is if it's in Boston, I pay. If it's in Chicago-uh, uh-he pays. That was the old deal. I paid both places, but now, he picks up in Chicago. Now, I've got to get him to pick up the phone when he's in Chicago," he quipped. "I think he's done an exceptional job. We went to dinner last night. The first thing I told him was, 'By the way, your team's pretty good without Derrick.' I said, 'That's No. 1,' but he is their best player and when you take off the best player off the team, and they still do what they're doing, that says a lot about Thibs, in my opinion, and obviously, the players, too. They can't do it without him, but I think his intensity and his belief that you're going to win with a man down has to spill over to them. All he cares about is winning and I think they feel that."

The ever-secretive Thibodeau insisted he didn't do anything for his birthday - "Got ready for the game" - but then joked, "It sure is a boring birthday, but that's me."

NBA issues statement on Bulls-Raptors game

The league issued a statement Friday about the ending of Wednesday night's Bulls win over the Raptors in Toronto: "With one second remaining in overtime of the Chicago Bulls-Toronto Raptors game on January 16, officials called a foul on Chicago's Joakim Noah as Toronto's Amir Johnson gathered the ball while driving to the basket. The officials ruled the foul was on the floor but upon review at the league office, the video replay confirmed that the foul should have been called a shooting foul with Johnson receiving two free throws."

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation


Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'


Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”