Bulls

Bulls walk the walk, demolish rival Pacers

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Bulls walk the walk, demolish rival Pacers

So much for that budding rivalry, at least Monday night, justifying the letter, if not the spirit, of Tom Thibodeaus pregame declaration.

After some barbs were exchanged through the media, the Bulls (32-8) backed up their words, demolishing the Central Division rival Pacers (23-13) at the United Center, 92-72, thanks to a huge second half, balanced scoring that saw five players reach double figures and as usual, a stifling defensive effort, for the teams seventh consecutive victory.

Indianas a terrific team and it comes down to multiple-effort plays, and when things arent going your way, youre not shooting well, youve got to find other ways to help your team win and I think we have a lot of guys on our team that do that, said Thibodeau. Our defense and our rebounding. The rebounding was huge. They play hard. Theyre a hard-playing team. they missed some shots that they normally make, but I like the way that our team hung in there. We just found a way to win in the second half.

With all of the build-up prior to the affair, it wasnt surprising that neither team was exceptional at the outset, but it was unexpected that a significant piece on each team would exit the contest early on. One of the featured players in the pregame war of words, Pacers center Roy Hibbert, picked up two quick fouls, and was forced to leave temporarily, while Rip Hamilton appeared to tweak his right shoulder and after heading to the locker room, was replaced by Ronnie Brewer (12 points, seven rebounds), who made an immediate impact with his energetic play.

Indiana wings Danny Granger and Paul George (game-high 21 points), as well as veteran power forward David West, made their presences felt for the visitors, but the Bulls kept pace with Joakim Noah (nine points, 17 rebounds) and Luol Deng (team-high 20 points, six rebounds, four assists) carrying the scoring load, as Derrick Rose (13 points, nine assists), named the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, focused on distributing and playing more of an all-around game.

At the conclusion of the opening period, the hosts held a slim edge, 22-20.

With C.J. Watson out due to a sprained left ankle, John Lucas III (13 points) assumed the backup point-guard role and the never-bashful diminutive reserve not only got on the board, but dominated the scoring action in aiding the Bulls some breathing room.

Thats whats so good about our team. Everybody goes in focused and you stay ready, said Lucas. Like we say, Were all weve got, so one of our teammates goes down, somebodys got to step up.

Thibodeau chimed in: John Lucas did a terrific job filling in, he was ready to go and that gave us a big lift.

Concurred Rose: John is someone that gave us a little bit of energy in the first half and during the second half, just pushing the ball, feeding the bigs and I think everyone just fed off of him.

However, the Pacers had their own backcourt sparkplug off the bench, in the form of offseason acquisition George Hill (17 points), a combo guard and Indianapolis native, who displayed his ability to score in bunches, which he earned a reputation for in San Antonio.

A balanced Pacers attack continued to be effective against the Bulls, though neither team shot the ball particularly well in the defensive-minded second quarter. The hosts were afflicted by ball-security issues and Carlos Boozer, Deng and Rosewho did excel as a playmaker, if not a scorerall struggling with their shooting. However, partially thanks to Brewer and fellow reserve swingman Kyle Korvers outside marksmanship, the Bulls only trailed by a slight margin, 43-42, at the intermission.

We did a good job of rebounding the ball. We played with a lot more energy in the third quarter. Jo was tremendous rebounding. It wasnt really going our way to begin withmissing a lot of shots, guys werent shooting welland in the second half, we just found a way. Got stops, started going out and running, did a good job of rebounding, said Deng.

When we came in at halftime, no one talked about missing shots. We really didnt talk about it at all. We just said we know weve got a lot of guys who can score. It doesnt happen often when everyone is not shooting. Someone is going to get it going. We just really talked about our defense, kind of playing with a lot of energy, like we did in the third quarter and going out and running, getting easy baskets.

Echoed Thibodeau: We made some shots and our defense picked up. Just our energy overall was much better in the third quarter. You have to bring it for all four quarters. We like to count on our defense and our rebounding. Some nights youre not going to shoot as well as others.

Added Noah: We had a great third quarter. Derrick shot the ball very well, Lu shot the ball very well, we played good defense and rebounded the ball well, and it just opened up the game.

After the break, behind Rose beginning to assert himself as a scorer, Brewers energy and scoring and Noahs dominance on the interior, the Bulls gained some separation from the visitors early in the third period.

Additionally, the hosts started clamping down on the defensive end of the court and Deng found his outside touch, leading to a double-digit advantage for the home team, whose fans showed their boisterous appreciation.

Between Rose and Deng, the All-Star duo knocked down five three-pointers in the quarter and with Noah, Brewer and reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots) playing in typically high-energy fashion on both ends of the floor to augment the pairs contributions, as well as stout defense limiting Indianas offensive opportunities, it appeared that rout was on, as the lead continued to balloon.

Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls had earned a robust 75-56 advantage.

Our biggest thing was shutting down the paint and I think that we did a pretty good job of that, just making sure they shot contested twos or whenever they shot, making sure someone put a hand up. Theyre a good team. We just tried to make it hard on them tonight, said Rose of the Bulls approach. We just tried to push it a little bit more when we got the rebound and put a little pressure on them on the defensive side.

Deng added: We were just making silly mistakes with our assignments. Certain plays, were supposed to show on the screen. Certain plays, were supposed to blitz, fronting the post. Stuff like that, just little mistakes and we just locked in, and went over the game plan, just did a good job of doing that.

Defense was again the name of the game in the fourth quarter, as the Bulls completely smothered their guests, maintaining their comfortable lead.

Thibodeau rode his reserves for the bulk of the period, before inserting Noah and Dengthe latter actually saw some time at the beginning of the frame, but admitted, When we kept losing the lead, I knew I was going back in, so I stayed ready, while Thibodeau acknowledged that Rose was warming up in the bullpen and instructed him to stretch in preparationbut the outcome had already been decided well in advance, as the Bulls were on cruise control for the extended garbage time, which featured late appearances by rookie swingman Jimmy Butler and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine, who scored the teams final points of the evening.

It was a good win for us, just coming off a back-to-back. We played very hard tonight. We were excited about this game, said Noah. We handled our business, we played hard tonight and it feels good to win in that fashion.

We played with a lot of passion tonight. Its a good feeling to be playing well, especially because we have a tough stretch coming up and we know whats at stake. To be playing good basketball right now, its rewarding, he continued. The whole team, were on the same page. Were about the right things. Just got to keep it up. I know the citys proud right now. The NBAs all about highs and lows. Just got to keep representing and well be all right.

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.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”