Bulls

Goodwill: Game 3 provides Bucks, Bulls playoff lessons

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Goodwill: Game 3 provides Bucks, Bulls playoff lessons

Playoff lessons are excruciating, painful and often illuminating, schooling that takes no prisoner and no one is held captive.

Many times, you’re in school without the slightest idea you’re the next student, which can be the beauty and curse of it all. Historically, the Bulls’ Game 3 double-overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks will likely be Exhibit A for their playoff education for the young Bucks, a group of 20-somethings with nothing to lose—except they lost a game they could have easily won.

But this was the rare occasion where a game doled out disparate lessons to both combatants, as the Bulls are still learning about each other, pushing their collective selves to limits with unknown endings.

“We’re playing against a hungry team, they’re pushing us,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “Tonight was a great example with how hard they play. They’re forcing us to play, which we needed that. Finding ways to win games, that’s why you gotta love the playoffs because every game is gonna be different.”

Bucks coach Jason Kidd has been on both sides of this, as both the steady hand guiding a team through the storm and also the wide-eyed youthful player who had to sip from every cup the playoffs had to offer.

He wasn’t exhausted after the game; Instead, while he was obviously disappointed in the outcome, he looked like a man who wouldn’t get caught in the moment, knowing “my pups” are dealing with such an experience for the first time.

“I think they all did. It’s just understanding the time and the moment,” said Kidd when asked if his players tried to do too much individually. “This group has to go through it. I thought they handled themselves well being down, executing. Sending the game to overtime, they gave us a chance to win. This was a good game for us to learn.”

[RELATED: Vintage Rose propels Bulls to Game 3 victory]

Most times, games like these are a demerit against a veteran club because it indicates a lack of seriousness, taking an opponent lightly in their environment, as the Bulls fell behind early by 18 to an emotional Bucks team ready to charge its way back into the series.

Blown defensive assignments were plentiful, as even Rose was about to run a play midway through the second quarter when Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was barking for a timeout after the Bucks’ onslaught put the Bulls in “critical condition.”

“We were fortunate to dig our way out of the hole,” Thibodeau said. “We were back on our heels a little bit, then I thought our reaction to the ball (was slow), we didn’t finish our defense.”

The Bucks were relentless, exploiting every opening the Bulls gave them. When Joakim Noah lost his man on defense, Jared Dudley slipped behind him for a layup. When Pau Gasol didn’t box out John Henson, the young big man took the elevator up three floors—and over three Bulls—for a left-handed putback dunk that sent the Bucks section of the BMO Harris Bradley Center into a lathered frenzy.

It was alarming for the Bulls.

That, and their inability to close with an eight-point lead with a little over 90 seconds remaining will give Thibodeau the kind of nightmares between now and the end of spring, as he’ll somehow believe more preparation is necessary for such an exercise.

“To build the lead I thought was really good, correcting the rebounding,” Thibodeau said. “And then losing that lead down the stretch was disappointing.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The missed free throw from Derrick Rose, the one he lamented with a seven-letter word not fit for publication, that missed assignment that resulted in the second of back-to-back 3-pointers from Bucks marksman Khris Middleton, it was ugly.

But it was necessary, the kind of medicine you don’t like taking, but the ‘tussin made you better.

“I was ready. You learn from your mistakes,” Rose said. “We were up. When Middleton hit the first three, I switched onto him. I knew what play they were running, I just didn’t act on it. It led to overtime so just learn from my mistakes. I’m happy to be here and happy that my teammates believe in me.”

They followed him, and Jimmy Butler provided more fire in the second overtime, playing free safety for a steal and dunk that finally signaled the Bulls had learned their lesson on this night—that their wake-up call merely came 30 minutes after the game began, that they’re developing competitive character through experience they don’t have as a group.

“It shows the kind of team we are,” Rose said. “Offensively, we can get things clicking very quickly. We definitely didn’t want to be in that type of situation early in the game, giving them momentum. We were only down four at halftime. Just talking to each other in the locker room, to tighten up, make them work a little bit harder.”

For the Bucks, it’s important for next year.

For the Bulls, it’s important for the next two weeks.

Because they can’t afford these lapses against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And Thursday was another step in the “Getting to know you” phase of their relationship with each other—with Judgment Day approaching faster than they want it do.

It makes the ‘tussin go down smoother.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

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ESPN

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

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.