Hoiberg: Bulls 'have yet to find' killer instinct to close out teams


Hoiberg: Bulls 'have yet to find' killer instinct to close out teams

The Bulls are a veteran team, but apparently they like learning their lessons the hard way and squandered another opportunity to put away a win at home this season, capitalized by Phoenix Suns Mirza Teletovic crashing the glass after a Jon Leuer miss for a soft jumper to give the Suns a 103-101 win at the United Center.

It was the 41st and 42nd points scored by the Suns in the fourth quarter, a shocking development after the Bulls surrendered a season-low 10 in the third quarter, looking reminiscent of a defensive DNA established many moons ago.

And more importantly, it leaves the Bulls searching for answers after blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It left their coach seething and their leaders unable to figure out why putting away teams is so difficult to do.

“We had them where they didn’t want to play anymore,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “That’s what happens in this league if you let teams stay close. They have that confidence where half of their bench was in and they still came back. We have to find ways to close out teams.”

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Instead of quitting, the Suns felt emboldened to make a comeback, knowing the Bulls would leave the door cracked just enough for them to make a run. It didn’t seem possible in the third when the Bulls swarmed the Suns all around, forcing six turnovers and hitting just four of 20 shots, pleasing everybody on the Bulls’ sideline as if their troubles were behind them.

An easy win seemed likely if they could push a 16-point lead to 20.

“That’s what you have to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have that have that killer instinct. We have yet to find it this year.”

In this up-and-down season, the highs were followed by extreme lows, as Rose missed a floater that could’ve put the Bulls up with 16 seconds left and the Suns galloped downcourt, eager for a chance to earn a win they probably felt they had no business in anyways.

“This game’s all mental,” Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. “When you get a double-digit lead you’re supposed to build on it. We don’t do that. Are we strong mentally? I think so. But at times we have lapses.”

Rose tried to quell the Suns’ run in the fourth, scoring six while Brandon Knight played at a speed that seemed dangerous on his way to a 17-point quarter. Knight finished with a team-high 21 points for the Suns.

“He played great,” Rose said. “He knocked down shots, kept shooting. As a leader for a team, that’s what you have to do. He stayed in the game and the shots went in towards the end.”

The Bulls created a fast-moving monster that was relentless in the final minutes, unable to stop whatever the Suns threw at them after keeping them somewhat at arms’ reach for most of the night.

Tony Snell had a spurt to start the first quarter, hitting triples and even driving to the basket for a dunk, while Butler played an efficient game on both ends, scoring 19.

“We tried to let the group that started the fourth stay in there, since they finished the third well,” Hoiberg said. “Our defense wasn’t the same. They got comfortable and in a rhythm. When we did get a stop they got the rebound.”

[WATCH: Mirza Teletovic's wild shot stuns Bulls at the buzzer]

The Suns scored 28 second-chance points, and even though they were outrebounded by eight and committed 19 turnovers, they were desperate for a comeback.

Butler was asked when he felt like things were slipping away and apparently, he saw the storm clouds coming rather early in the final 12.

“Whenever they started digging into our lead, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “It happens entirely too often. We keep talking about it. Eventually we’ll have to fix it or we’ll keep finding ourselves on the losing end.”

It wasn’t Knight, or Eric Bledsoe, the man who played on speed in the last six minutes to keep the Suns’ intensity high but Teletovic, who scored 20, put the finishing touches on a shocking win that will again leave the Bulls bewildered.

He went over Rose’s back to grab the offensive rebound but the benefit of the doubt is usually given to the aggressor at that point. And the Bulls had that sapped out of them well before the final possession.

“We couldn’t find a way to get a rebound,” Hoiberg said. “We played our best defensive quarter of the year and followed it up with our worst defensive quarter of the year.”

Pau Gasol scored 22 with 10 rebounds and six assists, as his jumper with a little over two minutes remaining pushed what was once at 16-point lead back to five, leaving many to think ordered had been restored.

But the Bulls were outhustled, outmuscled and outplayed when it mattered most, and if its not panic, it’s time for concern with a team that can’t do anything consistently except be inconsistent.

“Just a bad loss. Things like this, with a team as talented as we are, it just shouldn't happen,” Gasol said.

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


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.