Bulls pass test, hold off Spurs behind Rose


Bulls pass test, hold off Spurs behind Rose

SAN ANTONIO - Prior to Wednesdays game, in the midst of complimentary comments about his opponent that evening, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau foreshadowed the battle of wills that would ensue.

This league, its a test. Its going to test your will, your toughnessboth mental and physicaland everybody has the situations like this, so you have to be able to get through those things and youve got to play tough on the road, and hopefully we can do that.

His Bulls (29-8) passed their first major exam after the All-Star break, holding off the Spurs (24-11), 96-89, at the AT&T Center, behind a typically brilliant performance from Derrick Rose, pushing the teams record to 18-0 when holding an opponent under 90 points.

We knew it would be a tough game. Theyre a great team and theyve been great here all year long, Thibodeau said afterwards. I thought our guys did a great job, the bench, in particular. They provided a big spark for us.

As the Spurs did when they hosted the Bulls at home last season, the veteran squad pushed the tempo from the games outset, leading to transition opportunities and putting the guests on their heels, as they started the game in a 9-2 hole. All-Star point guard Tony Parker (11 points, nine assists, six rebounds) was the orchestrator for San Antonio, using his speedone of the few floor generals in the league to rival Rose in that departmentto create for himself and his teammates, getting all five Spurs starters on the board in the early going, though the Bulls quickly battled back to narrow the deficit.

Meanwhile, Rose (29 points, four assists) shouldered the offensive load for the visitorswith adequate support from Joakim Noah (10 points, 13 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer, who were active on the glassbut gave the Bulls fan base (not to mention the crowd at the AT&T Center; a hush fell over the arena) a scare after he banged knees with Parker and writhed in pain on the floor.

I didnt want to look, quipped Thibodeau. Like anytime he goes down, but the same holds true for any player. It was a bang-bang play, but usually he bounces up pretty quick, so I was a little concerned.

Rose himself confirmed that he was fine afterwards.

When I first hit him, it was a lot of pain, but after laying down there for a little bit, I got up. I was good, he recounted. Its just basketball, where youre going to bump each other. A little sore, but I was able to play through the game.

At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed 22-20, as the Rose-Parker matchup (the latter picked up two fouls in short succession toward the end of the first quarter) took center stage.

Every point guard Im playing against, its fun. I love the challenge. Hes a very point guard, knows all the moves, plays great for that team, one of the leaders for that team and me and my teammates just tried to hold him, Rose said of Parker, who, along with Noah, attracted a large contingent of French media to the game.

Its my teammates, man. Its hard sticking people like that one-on-one. We just tried to make him play in a crowd, contest all his shots. Hes a great point guard, tried to take some things from him, but its too hard. Youve just got to put all your attention on him when he has the ball.

Thibodeau added about his point guards performance when facing a more experienced All-Star counterpart: I think hes got to read the game. Things werent going well for us early on and I thought defensively, he played very hard.

A less-heralded point guard, C.J. Watson (12 points, four assists), was the star of the show early in the second quarter, as the backup came out in an offensive-minded fashion, aiding the Bulls in overtaking their home team and building a slim cushion by the periods midway point.

C.J., hes the leader of that group and he came out real aggressive tonight, said Thibodeau. I thought he ran the team great and I think that was a big part of the game, the second quarter.

San Antonio, however, didnt wilt, and with contributions from the likes of role players low-profile starters DeJuan Blair and Danny Green, reserve sharpshooter Gary Neal (21 points), second-year swingman James Anderson and Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, as well as future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan (18 points, 10 rebounds), kept the contest close, despite an uncharacteristically high number of turnovers on both sides.

Thibodeau gradually reinserted his regulars and behind Roses scoring, the visitors once again obtained some breathing room, as an advantage on the boards and tremendous individual hustle plays helped give them momentum. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 50-42 lead, hoping to extend their undefeated streak when leading at the half on the road to 15-0 on the season.

The two squads threw haymakers at each other immediately following the break, but the Spurs soon took the upper hand, as Duncan was a direct beneficiary of Parkers playmaking, including the aging veteran running the floor for a fast-break dunk. Chicagos shooting grew cold, perhaps partly as a result of San Antonios defense, but also due to settling for outside jumpers, as opposed to the strategy that reaped their first-half lead.

Duncan got going in the second half, said Thibodeau. He was terrific in the second half, so it put a lot of pressure on us.

Behind Duncans savvy and scoring, the hosts stormed back to overtake the Bulls, who couldnt find any consistent scoring beyond Rose -- who continued to knock down shots off the dribble, finish aggressively at the rim and get to the charity stripe. But the offensive efforts of the leagues reigning MVP alone werent enough to prevent the Spurs from taking a 66-65 edge into the final stanza.

Commented Thibodeau on the stretch: We were sort of running low on energy at the end of the third, so we went to the bench earlier and they were great at the end of the third, start of the fourth, so they did their job.

Rose chimed in: Sometimes our bench wins games for us. Tonight was an example of that.

Both coaches utilized all-reserve lineups to begin the fourth quarter and the Bench Mob held serve, propelled by Watson and Taj Gibson, ensuring the Bulls starters reentered a contest that remained even halfway through the period. After acquiring some separation, despite Neals repeated successful forays into the paint, Chicago maintained its advantage, as timely contributions from previously dormant Luol Deng (10 points, nine rebounds) and Ronnie Brewer, as well as expected clutch play from Rose, held off the Spurs as the game entered its stretch run.

Thibodeau was impressed with Neal, a 27-year-old second-year Spurs find via Europe after a high-scoring college career: I dont know if hes under the radar because everyone knows how tough he is. I think hes improved. He had a great year last year. I think hes even better this year. Can hit the three, but hes also added that runner. He can put it on the floor, if youre closing hard to him and hes got a great demeanor about him, too. You can see hes very confident, but thats also the mark of their team.

Following a Bulls turnover, Neal knocked down a huge triple to make it a one-possession game with just over two minutes remaining, but Rose responded with a floater off the glass. San Antonio answered back, as Duncan scored over Noah in the post, but once again, Rose countered with a contested pull-up jumper to silence the raucous crowd, giving the visitors an 89-84 lead with 1:10 to play.

We sort of got stagnant and then down the stretch, hes got the capability of making big shot after big shot, and then he made the right play, said Thibodeau of the 23-year-old wunderkind. That was a great play where he hit Ronnie in the corner, Ronnie touched it to Lu, big three right there. A lot of big plays down the stretch.

After a timeout, another Neal bucket extended the Spurs chances, but on the ensuing possession, Deng, the Bulls other All-Star, drilled a clutch shot from distance to put Chicago up, 92-86, with 39.6 seconds on the clock.

I felt like it was one of those games where I didnt have a lot of shots. I wasnt sitting down, thinking, I shot bad. I just felt like I didnt have a lot of looks. Thats how it goes sometimes, said Deng of his thought process. I missed some shots, I knew I didnt get a lot of looks, but I knew when it comes down to the fourth quarter, I was going to get some looks and I knocked them down.

Thibodeau concurred: His shots were not falling, but he had the mental toughness to stay with it and he wasnt rattled, and he made two big shotsone off the pick-and-roll and the three off the touch pass by Ronnieso when we needed him the most, he came through.

A subsequent parade to the free-throw line ensued, as the home team was forced to send the Bulls to the charity stripe, in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to catch up.

Were definitely proud. Coming here, theyre a team where they play great here, play with a lot of energy up here and we played together, stuck through it and came up with a good win, said Rose. The intensity in the crowd and the players, how each team came out and just started playing, you could tell thatyou never know, this matchup can be in the Finals or whereverso just try to play hard against them.

Right when we came in, we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. When you come in, its like a playoff atmosphere. Every time you come in the building, the fans are great. Our fans come support us a little bit. Theyve got great players, a great coaching staff. We just tried to come out and play a complete game, he continued. Their goal is the same as ours and thats to win a championship, do whatever it takes and thats just what I tried to do out there, do whatever it takes to win that game.

We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We believe. I know the coaches are extremely happy with us. Were extremely happy with ourselves, playing this team on a back-to-back.

Concluded Thibodeau: When youre on the roadyou have to play that way in every gamebut in particular, on the road, its just you and your teammates and your coaches, thats it. So, you have to have resiliency, you have to have toughnessphysical toughness, mental toughnesscourage. You need all those things and youve got to persevere when things arent going your way to keep marching forward, and thats what our guys did."

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.