Bulls

Fred Hoiberg: Bulls' win over Thunder 'really shows the guys care'

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Fred Hoiberg: Bulls' win over Thunder 'really shows the guys care'

The timing couldn't have been worse.

Two days after posting their worst defensive performance since before the Tom Thibodeau era, Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls welcomed an Oklahoma City Thunder team also looking to bounce back to the United Center. That would be the same Thunder team with two of the league's top scorers and the second most efficient offense in the NBA, a far more dangerous opponent than the Hornets squad that had miraculously dropped 130 points on them Tuesday night.

Tuesday's woes carried over early on. The Thunder opened the contest 8-for-10 and appeared well on their way to a 30-point quarter, something that happened in all four stanzas against the Hornets. The energy that Jimmy Butler promised would be on display after the lackluster performance in Charlotte was non-existent, as the offense settled for jumpers, missing nine of their 13 attempts.

But Oklahoma City's nine-point lead wouldn't last. And after the Bulls' 104-98 victory over Kevin Durant and the Thunder, it's as if that first six-minute stretch never happened. For whatever reason Hoiberg's group flipped a switch, limiting Oklahoma City to 40 percent shooting the rest of the night and showing that promised energy on their way to a third straight home win to begin the year.

[MORE: Thunder still 'figuring it out' under Donovan]

"It showed that those guys care. It’s a bunch of competitive guys in that locker room that all, I think, felt a little embarrassed probably with the way the last game went," Hoiberg said after the game.

Tuesday's contest was of course an outlier - the Bulls hadn't allowed that many points since March 2010 - but it also wasn't indicative of how Hoiberg's group had played up until that point. Though the preseason talk of Hoiberg implementing a run-and-gun offensive philosophy dominated headlines, this was largely the same Bulls group that ranked among the NBA's elite defensively. Tom Thibodeau or no Tom Thibodeau, the talent was still there for the Bulls to defend well.

It also came as no surprise that the two players leading the charge were the players largely responsible for creating the Bulls' defensive identity. Joakim Noah showed as much energy and bounce as he has all season, logging a game-high +16 in 12 minutes off the bench. The Bulls went from trailing 17-13 to leading 41-34 in his first stretch, and the Bulls closed the half holding the Thunder to three points in the final two minutes after Noah checked back in.

"He was awesome just getting after it," Hoiberg said of Noah, who finished with four points, seven rebounds, four assists and a block. "Jo’s out there making plays, he’s a great defender, he’s a rock down there, he’s so emotional. He just puts out the overall energy."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Noah got the ball rolling in the first half, while Jimmy Butler took care of the rest.

Though Durant finished with 33 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter that allowed the Thunder to tie the game late, he needed 29 shots to get there. Butler hounded the 2014 MVP relentlessly, setting the tone in the opening quarter in which he picked up two fouls. That aggressiveness didn't cease when Butler returned early in the second quarter, with Hoiberg rolling the dice that the man who made the promise for energy would do it without fouling.

He did. Butler forced Durant to shoot over his out-stretched arm, with a hand in his face coming off every down screen. Durant hit his fair share, as the league's best scoring forward is prone to do, but missed two of his last three as the Bulls ended the game on a 10-4 run.

"(Durant) is something else and Jimmy did, I thought, as good a job as you could do to get a body on him, make him take tough shots," Hoiberg said. "He’s just one of those guys that’s a special, special talent."

Thursday could have gone just like Tuesday did. After all, if Jeremy Lamb and Al Jefferson gave the Bulls trouble, no one would have blamed them if Durant and Russell Westbrook did, too. But Westbrook was limited, by his standards, to 20 points and 10 assists, Durant shot under 50 percent for the first time since opening night against the Spurs, and Serge Ibaka had just six points after halftime. Though it's still a work in progress for Hoiberg's group, Thursday was a promise kept to show fight and energy on the defensive end against a team that rarely finds itself outplayed.

"The way our guys defended and battled and stuck with the game plan even though (Oklahoma City) hit some shots early on in the contest," Hoiberg said, "I thought was huge."

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.