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Bulls survive scare in Detroit for holiday split

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Bulls survive scare in Detroit for holiday split

Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
Posted 7:56 PM Updated 10:02 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

AUBURN HILLS, MICH.A day after a disappointing finish to a former heated rival, the Bulls (19-10) took on another ex-foe and in a down-to-the-wire ending, played a game much more fitting of traditional warfare, holding off the Central Division rival Pistons (10-20) in overtime, 95-92, Sunday night.

Possessing a lot of offensive firepower and performing better in their past few games, Detroits offensive attack seemed ready to give the Bulls a challenge in the early going. To counter, Chicago went with a steady diet of Carlos Boozer (31 points, 11 rebounds) in the early going and the power forward delivered.

Boozer used his arsenal of offensive weaponspost moves, powerful finishes and a soft touch from the perimeterto score at will, as well as rebound the ball at a high level.

Carlos, hes such a threat, even when hes not getting the ball. Hes pulling so many people toward him, so often times, that opens up other things that are easy. That might open up a driving seam for Derrick, said Thibodeau. They start leaning one way to keep the ball out of the post and he can hit the paint on the attack without the defense being quite set. As he continues to get more comfortable, I think in transition, we might be able to get him in the paint more, too.

You look at the matchups, you look at how things are going. I thought it was easier for them to maybe double team Carlos going straight post-up, so we tried to spread them out a little bit. They were putting two on Derrick, so we were trying to get Carlos going.

Concurred Boozer: Im starting to feel more comfortable out there. Im feeling the game a little bit quicker. The games slowing down for me, so I can make my moves and at the same time, I can react a little bit quicker.

I just tried to be aggressive, back-to-back nights on the road. Every team looks for guys to feed off of and on this team, they look to me and D-Rose for that. I just tried to be aggressive and make baskets to make it easier for them. I thought we did a good job early of attacking.

Although nobody else was truly proficient scoring the ball, the visitors held a 23-15 advantage after a quarter of play.

Chicagos bench maintained its cushion in the second period, with backup center Omer Asik providing an unexpected lift, including a monstrous dunk over two Pistons, which drew rave reviews from his teammates on the bench. Unfortunately, Asik couldnt sustain the positive effort, but the second unit did its job, holding down the fort until Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserted his regulars.

The starters extended Chicagos winning margin, as Derrick Roses (23 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists) jet-quick jaunts to the rim were too much for Detroit to contain. The home team, however, made a brief late-quarter surge, but the Bulls led, 40-34, at the half.

Chicago was on the wrong end of a 7-0 run to open the second half, giving the Pistons the lead. Turnovers, poor shot selection, defensive lapses and generally uninspired play enabled Detroit to seize momentum of the game behind strong play from Tayshaun Prince (17 points, four rebounds, six assists), Richard Hamilton (15 points) and Rodney Stuckey (16 points, five rebounds, four assists).

The thing is, they went small. We had some matchup problems and offensively, I thought we had some good looks. The ball sometimes doesnt go in, but weve got to stay inside-out. I thought we had some drives that maybe we have to drive it a little but harder, I guess, explained Thibodeau.

The visitors snapped out of their malaise, tightening things up on the defensive end and executing better offensively, with a surprise contribution from Keith Boganswho hit a pair of long bombspart of a 17-4 Bulls run that gave Chicago a double-digit lead. While the Bulls didnt necessarily keep their foot on the gas, led by Boozers inside dominance and Roses all-around play, they took a 68-57 lead into the final stanza.

Improved play from Taj Gibson (five points, nine rebounds) and a solid effort from reserve point guard C.J. Watson buoyed Chicagos attack at the outset of the fourth period, but Detroit battled back against a unit of mostly reserves, with former All-Star swingman Tracy McGrady (15 points)now a reserve, but still capable of producing pointsexperiencing a mild flashback, making the deficit it faced more manageable. Upon Thibodeau reinserting Rose into the contest, however, the South Side native took all of the air out of the Palace with multiple moments of individual brilliance, both subtle and flashy.

But the Pistons exhibited qualities of resilience as the games stretch run approached and coupled with either Bulls miscues or misfortunedepending on ones point of viewthe visitors lead gradually dwindled to a too-close-for-comfort margin. McGrady mustered up more heroics, hitting a triple with 1:10 to play, slicing Chicagos lead to four.

Theyre talented. McGradys healthy, so he puts a lot of pressure on you, said Thibodeau, who conferred with McGrady, his former player in Houstonwhere he was a Rockets assistantafter the game. I thought it was a good game for us.

A Rose turnover on the ensuing possession opened the door for Detroit and after Prince followed his own miss with a layup. Rose missed a jumper on the Bulls next trip, the Pistons rebounded the ball with 18.4 seconds remaining.

It was officially a ballgame. After a timeout, Detroit had three cracks at either a win or a tieMcGrady missed a deep two, Hamilton missed a three, then a leanerbut on their third offensive rebound of the possession, forward Charlie Villaneuvas (12 points, 10 rebounds) tip-in with 0.6 seconds on the clock evened the score at 85 to extend the contest past regulation.

Get a rebound! Thibodeau said he told his team afterwards, before overtime started. It was a scramble play. Youve just got to find a way to come up with it, but I have no complaints.

Said Boozer: Obviously we wanted to get that last rebound in regulation and when we missed it, they got a nice layup.

We played much better in overtime.

In the games extra session, Prince and Boozer exchanged jumpers on each teams initial possession. Following a Chicago stop, Boozer picked up a charge on the Bulls subsequent trip, then a foul the next time down on defense, giving him five for the game and the visitors a one-point deficit after a Pistons free throw.

The Alaskan put the play behind him, finding reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer for a layup, then making a steal on the next possession. On Chicagos next trip, Boozer missed a bunny, but it was tipped in by grizzled veteran Kurt Thomas to give the Bulls a 91-88 lead with 1:33 left in the abbreviated period.

Thomas followed that play with by stripping a driving Prince, who avenged his error by subsequently making a steal on Boozer and finding Stuckey in the open court for a layup. Chicago went back to the well, with Rose going to Boozer inside and a strong finish giving the Bulls a 93-90 advantage with 40.8 to go.

Out of a Pistons timeout, Villaneuva scored from point-blank range to cut the lead to a single point. Rose missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, but when Detroit couldnt convert on the other end, Luol Deng secured the rebound at the 4.7-second mark and Chicago called timeout.

Thibodeau put it in a shooter-heavy lineup and after sharpshooter Kyle Korver was fouled, he drained a pair of foul shots to put the Bulls up, 95-92. Villaneuva once again had an opportunity to send extend the game for another five minutes, but was errant on a 3-point attempt.

Well take the win any way we can. It was ugly tonight, but sometimes on the road, youve got to win ugly and we did, said Boozer. On the road, youre not always going to get the calls you get at home. Youre not always going to hit the shots you usually hit.

Sometimes youve got to win ugly, even if it has been a couple on this trip. Well take the win any way we can get it.

Added Thibodeau: I thought we played hard the whole game and things werent going our way. We werent shooting well. We just kept grinding. I thought our defense was good, I thought our rebounding was good.

Well take it. It was a hard-fought game and we hung in there at the end. I thought our rebounding was great all night, until that last one and it was the most important one. We didnt come up with it, but the thing I liked, we didnt hang our head in the overtime. We kept fighting and we did what we had to do to get the win.

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.

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.