Bulls

Butler saves Bulls win after Rose leaves with ankle injury

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Butler saves Bulls win after Rose leaves with ankle injury

With Derrick Rose, everything comes with a caveat, even an encouraging, complete offensive performance.

After his most efficient showing of the season, compiling 23 points with six assists on 9-for-18 shooting, one bad step brought the United Center crowd to a murmur when he came up lame after being fouled on a drive by Monta Ellis.

He tried to shake off the left ankle sprain, staying in the game for the next two possessions, but soon went to the bench and to the locker room for the final five minutes of the Bulls’ 96-95 win over the Indiana Pacers.

He walked to the locker room under his own power, showing an evident but not heavy limp. And all could’ve been lost considering the air had been sucked from the Madhouse, feeling more like a sad house until Jimmy Butler stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

[MORE BULLS: Paul George adds another chapter to comeback tour with Pacers]

Butler had been chasing around a red-hot Paul George for most of the night, and with 5.1 seconds left George had a chance to complete a late comeback with a fadeaway jumper at the free-throw line.

But George couldn’t increase his 27-point night, due to Butler’s outstretched arm that disrupted the last chance for the Pacers, leaving George on the floor complaining and frustrated, sealing the Bulls’ win.

“Just knowing where it’s coming,” Butler said. “PG’s a hell of a player, a tough guard for anybody in this league. I was right there to contest it.”

Butler, in the argument with George and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio) for the best two-way player in the game not named LeBron James, didn’t necessarily win the individual battle with George, as George added seven rebounds and five assists to his ledger compared to Butler’s 17 points, four assists and three rebounds.

“Paul made a strong move into the lane and made a great move to get open,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Butler also made a great play defensively. I don’t think there was a foul, he just made a good defensive play."

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Butler did hit a late jumper to put the Bulls up three with 1:23 left, temporarily holding off the late charge when the Bulls’ free-flowing offense slowed to a crawl late, scoring just 17 in the fourth.

Making just 20 of 32 free throws contributed to the struggles, as well as Rose’s absence.

“We got stagnant,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We had some time of possession errors. I thought our flow was good all night, we had good pace. Just those last eight minutes we shut it down from the paint. We have to push out the lead and continue to do that.”

Rose’s best all-around performance of the season buoyed the Bulls to an early 13-point lead, as he made both of his 3-point attempts, his last in the fourth quarter when the Bulls were reeling.

“His tempo and his shot was really good,” Hoiberg said. “You could tell that first 3 was going in as soon as it left his hands. He’ll keep getting in better shape. I thought he played terrific.”

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Rose was the key to the high-octane, efficient offense, and he displayed his most efficient basketball of the season. He played fast but under control, got to his sweet spots and followed a trend he began in last spring’s playoffs, using the glass on mid-range shots.

After dominating the game early, taking a 13-point lead due to Rose’s aggressiveness in the first quarter, the Pacers climbed back into the game, mostly due to the shooting of C.J. Miles and George.

Miles hit five triples on the way to 19 points, leaving Hoiberg no choice but to sit Nikola Mirotic, Miles' primary defender, after just 19 minutes.

It left a bit of a hole offensively as the game evolved late, but the defense played off some muscle memory when it counted.

“It was a dogfight,” said Taj Gibson (nine points, 11 rebounds), the only player to play the entire fourth quarter on either side. “We had a lot of plays on offense we usually make. A couple of ins and outs, that didn’t deter from my defense. We got some tough stops late, and that’s the ball game.”

The Bulls shot just 32.5 percent in the second half, and were out-rebounded by the smaller Pacers, 26-23, in that span, all playing a part in the comeback along with George and Ellis catching fire. Each scored 14 after the half, and Ellis finished with 20.

But even Rose’s minor injury couldn’t dampen the optimistic spirit afterwards, as the Bulls reminded themselves they still have a defensive mindset that won’t disappear overnight.

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

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USA TODAY

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.