Bulls 'show some character' in home victory over Hornets


Bulls 'show some character' in home victory over Hornets

Revenge was on the Bulls’ minds but the Charlotte Hornets had no desire in being willfully ignorant, putting themselves in position for another shocking win, this one more definitive than the blowout affair from a week ago.

Capitalizing after every turnover, the Hornets found themselves right at the precipice of another upset, even as the Bulls put forth the effort they claimed was missing in Charlotte.

But it wasn’t until Jeremy Lamb’s corner three bounced off the front rim with the Hornets trailing by three before the Bulls could exhale, slightly, and when Jimmy Butler’s perimeter jumper rolled around and down, a hearty breath was taken by the United Center crowd.

Butler’s jumper with 5.4 seconds left put the capper on a 102-97 win Friday, as he completed a 27-point night where he struggled early but finished making eight of 16 shots from the field and went to the line 14 times, including one trip where he fell on his left wrist and was shaking it on the subsequent free throws.

“I’m fine. If I would’ve dunked the basketball, I wouldn’t have fallen on my wrist,” he joked.

After his 2-7 start, he received necessary encouragement from Derrick Rose, who refused to let him be discouraged by the slow start.

“That’s my point guard telling me to stay aggressive and keep shooting,” Butler said.

As for the late jumper, which hit the glass before sliding in, Butler said, “Shooters’ touch. It’d better went in, that’s what I was thinking. Definitely (a relief).”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Butler finished what was started by Joakim Noah, who in his return from a one-game knee-induced sabbatical, grabbed 18 rebounds and passed out six assists in 23 minutes, including guarding Hornets center Al Jefferson and helping hold him to six points and five rebounds.

“Just wanted to bring some energy tonight,” said Noah, playing with a heavy heart on the heels of the attacks in Paris, where he lived for 10 years. He checked with family members before the game to ensure their safety.

“It was an important game for us, especially the last time we played this team. We showed some character tonight.”

Noah was part of a bench brigade that brought the energy, along with Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore after the starters weren’t producing.  And now, especially with Nikola Mirotic back struggling, one has to wonder if Noah will make a return back to the starting lineup given his affect on the club.

“Taj I thought defended great. You always know you’ll get energy from those two guys (Noah and Gibson),” Hoiberg said. “(Noah) had great pop. He had bounce. He was out yelling and screaming at everybody.”

They had trouble tracking Hornets guard Nic Batum, who made his first five triples but missed one with less than a minute remaining in one of their final attempts to make the Bulls do more than sweat.

But the Bulls had to get out of their own way after a disastrous third-quarter where they shot just seven for 22, which accompanied their anemic night from the 3-point line where they hit just four of 16 while the Hornets made 15 of their own, single-handedly keeping the contenders within striking distance and giving them a slight lead at the start of the final stanza.

“Charlotte shot the 3-ball great,” Hoiberg said. “We tried to play tight D. A lot of them were contested. Just a few of them we got lost out there.”

[RELATED: Animal Planet creates incredible fish tank for Jimmy Butler]

They didn’t make things worse by getting pounded in the paint as they did in the first drubbing, and controlled the boards 57-47 to offset not creating many turnovers and giving up so many 3-pointers.

From there, Moore and Rose keyed a quick run to give them an 82-77 lead, as Moore finished with 11 points and five rebounds, playing key minutes as part of a defensive-minded unit.

Rose missed 10 of his 14 shots but had a key layup late and dished out eight assists, including one to Pau Gasol for a jumper late in the fourth, as Gasol had 19 points and 13 rebounds.

But another slow start almost derailed things until Noah entered midway through the first, and he immediately made an impact, tipping in a Butler miss and displaying his trademark emotion.

Led by Batum, Marvin Williams and Kemba Walker, the Hornets did more than keep things interesting down the stretch, refusing to turn the ball over and playing with poise until the jumpers finally stopped going down on the final possessions.

The Bulls some semblance of payback, but it came much harder than they anticipated.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.