Bulls

Lifeless Bulls fall to Cavaliers in series-clincher

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Lifeless Bulls fall to Cavaliers in series-clincher

Whether it was surprising or shocking, the Bulls’ season ended with a dud in a manner nobody expected, allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers to dance over their home floor for the better part of the second half in a desperation game.

After telling anyone who would listen they were one possession away in the last two losses, the Bulls left no doubt in their season-ending 94-73 loss at the United Center Thursday night, in perhaps their worst home showing of the season.

Now the speculation begins about everybody’s future, starting with coach Tom Thibodeau, as many expect he and the Bulls to part ways this offseason—and the season ended with the Cavaliers exercising tenets that used to be a hallmark of vintage Thibodeau squads.

It wasn’t a LeBron James classic game or classic finish, nor did Kyrie Irving hobble around after hitting kill shot after kill shot. It was “the others” who led the way for the Cavaliers, the players who did all the little things many believed Bulls would be better at.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Like effort, which produces extra possessions or unknown heroes like Matthew Dellavedova, whose 19 points was good enough to outscore every Chicago Bull except Jimmy Butler—and Butler had to take 22 shots to get that.

Dellavedova, who was nothing more than a nuisance after Game 5 due to his scrum with Taj Gibson, became a Cavaliers folk hero as he helped put the Bulls away.

Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and James Jones hit three triples each, while the Bulls mustered just four as a team.

“I thought their bench played really well,” Thibodeau said. “When you couple the bench with LeBron, he’s going to make you pay.”

They barely had enough life to produce more than a spark, but nobody expected their most lopsided effort when they needed it most. They scored 31 in the first quarter, but only combined for 29 in the next two quarters, shooting 32 percent while the Cavs ran away with it.

The turnovers and missed opportunities added up, coupled with the mistakes of allowing standstill shooters to beat them doing the only thing that makes them useful on a patchwork Cavaliers roster.

The game-turning fouls at the most inopportune times, illustrated by Nikola Mirotic unnecessarily clotheslining Cavaliers forward Iman Shumpert with 5:19 left in the first half and the Bulls trailing by one.

[MORE: LeBron lauds Dellavedova's, Thompson's effort in Game 6 win]

It riled up Shumpert, who scored the next two possessions after his flagrant foul free throw, and led to the Cavaliers rushing the Bulls for a 20-2 run to end the half. All with Irving on the bench after injuring his left knee early in the second quarter and James returning to Earth after his superhuman effort in Game 5.

“The 2nd quarter has been a problem for us the whole series,” Thibodeau said. “That (sequence) took a lot out of us, but I thought the fight was in there in the third.”

When your opposition scores five points in the first seven minutes of a quarter you have to win, yet extend their lead, it’s no wonder the Bulls are going home. Same goes for allowing Tristan Thompson to muscle his way up, around and through Bulls defenders for 17 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

Derrick Rose started out fast, as he did in game 5 but sputtered afterwards, finishing with 14 points and six assists. Pau Gasol gave the Bulls a temporary boost by his presence, but it was nothing more than ceremonial as his teammates didn’t show up.

“I want to say this about Derrick: This was a long year for Derrick,” Thibodeau said. “The good thing is, I think he has regained his confidence. You have to remember, he hasn’t played in three post-seasons. Getting this experience is really good for him.”

[ALSO: Shumpert hitting his stride in unexpected role for Cavs]

James, a fixture in not only the postseason but is becoming the face of June, orchestrated things to the tune of 15 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, while Irving only played 12 minutes before injuring his left knee.

He wasn’t needed, and the Bulls enter into an offseason with a meek effort that saw them get outrebounded by 21, shoot 37 percent from the field while allowing 12 3-pointers from the visitors.

With no doubt being left by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, they can enter into an offseason with nothing else but clear directives on what’s to come—starting with the man on the sidelines.

“Until they tell me I’m not, I expect to be here,” Thibodeau said.

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.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”