Bulls

Deja Vu: Pacers make it tight, but Bulls win out

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Deja Vu: Pacers make it tight, but Bulls win out

Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 11:35 p.m. Updated: 2:06 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

An underwhelming performance for three quarters and change. Derrick Rose keeps the Bulls afloat before taking over the game down the stretch late to rescue the Bulls. Throw in a late Kyle Korver three-pointer for good measure. Repeat.

Apparently thats Chicago s strategy in its first-round series against Indiana , as it took another dominant outing from Rose and a bounce-back game from Carlos Boozer to survive the feisty Pacers, 96-90, Monday night at the United Center . The Bulls lead the series 2-0 with Game 3 looming Thursday in Indianapolis .

Im fine with it. As long as were winning, Im not worried about that. My teammates are winners. As long as I keep passing them the ball, telling them to shoot, were good, said Rose, when asked about his ability to shoulder the load. The only thing we can do is get better. We played, I think, our worst and were blessed to get these two wins.

WATCH: Thibodeau on taking care of the ball

Echoed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Hes a leader, I think hes earned everything that hes gotten, he runs our team great and I think he wants the challenge.

A genuine energy filled the United Center from the outset and even though it wasnt initially an aesthetically-pleasing outing, the renewed hustle of Joakim Noah and improved effort of Boozer (17 points, 16 rebounds) were on full display. Noah played with his former level of intensity, something he struggled to regain through his various rehabilitation processes, while the much-maligned Boozer looked to be more assertive offensively.

Boozer was more aggressive because of not being in foul trouble. His rebounding was great, said Thibodeau. I thought he got off to a good start offensively. We probably should have searched him out more in the post in the second half.

Explained Boozer himself: I just tried to play off my teammates. I thought in the second half, they paid a lot more attention to me, rotating.

The tandem together was a force on the boards, dominating the visitors, although that was mitigated by the Bulls unforced errors on offense, resulting in a low-scoring contest and made more difficult for the hosts when Rose (36 points, six assists, eight rebounds) accrued two early fouls.

WATCH: Rose says Bulls will walk through the fire together

While Boozer scored effectivelydespite uncharacteristic 3-for-7 foul shooting Chicago trailed after the opening period, 18-17.

Behind reserves like Mike Dunleavy and A.J. Price (13 points), Indiana gradually opened up a gap between the two squads, as the Bulls were absolutely frigid from the field and unable to prevent the sweet-shooting Pacers from knocking down deep jumpers. But upon the return of Rose, the Bulls played at a faster paceand with more passion in generalmaking it a close-knit affair.

Once again, however, the visitors withstood Chicago s push and opened up another comfortable margin, but suffered a major loss when point guard Darren Collison injured himself by crashing into baseline photographers after completing a fast-break layup, resulting in a sprained left ankle.

I just remember going up for a layup and I think I rolled on it wrong, Collison recalled. Ninety percent of the time, if I have an injury like that, Id go right back out there and play on it, but its just frustrating because I cant even jog on it.

Right now, I think its day-to-day. Most likely, Im going to try to be back for Game 3.

It an X-ray was negative. Right now, its just real sore and swelled up pretty bad, but well see.

Said Pacers interim head coach Frank Vogel of his floor general: Hes a big part of what we do.

You always miss your leader, just from a cohesiveness standpoint and everything.

The Bulls turned up the defensive pressure late and by virtue of forcing turnovers, the home team climbed back to cut the deficit to 47-44 at halftime.

As the Bulls are prone to do, they stormed back after the break, going on an 11-3 run to open the third quarter.

WATCH: Deng says playoffs are never pretty

Luol Deng (14 points, six rebounds) came alive to complement Roses effortsnot only as a scorer, but as a distributorand Boozer continued his ownership of the glass, as well as his low-post scoring. Suddenly, Indiana was on its heels and Chicago again resembled the unselfish, defensive-minded, 62-win team it was during the regular season.

Everybody contributed to the Bulls third-quarter chargefrom veteran role players Keith Bogans and Kurt Thomas to primary scorers Boozer and Rosebut it was the improved team defense that truly led the way. Thibodeaus bunch got back to its active, help-side ways, enabling them to create easy opportunities via the transition game.

Still, behind go-to scorer Danny Granger (19 points), the Pacers didnt fade away quietly and aided by some careless Chicago miscues, tied it 67 apiece following a successful T.J. Ford half-court prayer at the third-period buzzer.

The final stanza started inauspiciously enough for the Bulls, as it became clear that Indiana was more than eager to engage in the grind-it-out style of play that worked so often for the hosts in the regular season.

With the Pacers also getting timely outside shooting, strong play off the bench and a physical, active defense, the guests had all the momentum.

Every fan, member of the media, team employee and player in the arena knew where the Bulls would turn to bail them out: Rose, who delivered in his typically cold-blooded fashion, knocking down jumpers and careening past Indiana defenders like a pinball for a remarkable finish, a trip to the charity stripe or both.

The game dictates that. Hes a primary scorer, the balls in his hands a lot and we need him to score, so hes done it, said Thibodeau. But Im comfortable with his decision-making, too. Hes going to make the right play. I dont think you see the impact he really has by his assist number.

Added Boozer: We got the ball in the MVPs hands and he took over, which is normal for us. I know we keep talking about it every day like were surprised, but we shouldnt be surprised anymore, right?

Rose provided Chicago with a slight cushion and when the young Pacers couldnt respond, he once again found Korver, the teams designated sharpshooter for a clutch three-pointer, making it a 90-85 game in the Bulls favor with 1:04 to play.

WATCH: Noah says Rose is "big time"

We did a great job on him all night. Hes a great player, said Vogel. He made key plays down the stretch to win the game for them

Were just trying to give him some different looks. Give him a steady diet, he picks you apart, he continued. We tried to trap Rose out at halfcourt, as opposed to him drawing our whole team and then finding him.

Our guys played their hearts out. Cant ask for anything more than that.

The game seemed in the bag for Chicago, but despite Indiana not being able to capitalize on some fortuitous opportunities in the waning moments, Rose proved he was both a giver and taker after fouling Price on a three-pointer with 23.4 seconds left, a call that earned the scorn of the home fans.

Price drained the trio of free-throw attempts to make it a two-point game, but Bulls sealed the deal by navigating the inevitable end-game foul scenario and subsequent foul-line parade with success.

These games are definitely tough. It takes a punishment to keep going in there and keep getting beat up. Tonight, I just tried to mix up my game, shoot jump shots a little bit. But Im going to still attack, play the way that I playaggressiveand that opens up my teammates, said Rose. The only thing Im worried about is my turnovers. Of course, I had six of them. That definitely changed the game. If anything, I can learn from it and do better next time. With the team, weve got to come out with an edge, got to take their confidence and we didnt do that tonight. it was still a pretty close game, all the way until the end.

WATCH: Korver on cleaning up some things

Were very happy to be here, of course. We wouldnt take anything back, but our play has to get better. Weve got to be more smooth, more efficient, especially on the defensive end, where weve got to try a lot harder. But I feel like were going to get things together pretty quickly.

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.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.