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MVP? Rose's best lifts Bulls past NBA's best

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MVP? Rose's best lifts Bulls past NBA's best

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
Posted 9:46 p.m. Updated 11:37 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

When it comes to the leagues contenders, the Bulls (38-16) have either dispensed with them in businesslike fashion or avenged a previous defeat.

The visiting Spurs (46-10) were treated no differently, as the NBAs top team fell to Chicago, 109-99, Thursday night at the United Center, behind a career-high scoring effort from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (42 points, eight assists, five rebounds, one turnover) in the Bulls final game before All-Star weekend.

WATCH: Rose all smiles after win

Both coaches marveled at Roses outing afterwards.

Hes something, huh? That was some performance, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was great leadership. He got us off to a great start.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was even more effusive in his praise.

That point guard whats his name? I didnt know his name before the game; maybe I should have checked wow. Wow. He was something. We scored 99 points, shot 49 percent, made seven threes and youd think wed have a pretty good chance to win, but he negated that. He did a hell of a job, quipped the dry-humored coach.

What do you want me to say? Good-looking kid, great demeanor, doesnt beat his chest, class act, on top of his phenomenal play. All those qualities are going to serve him well.

When informed of Popovichs complimentary statement, Rose took his typical humble route.

I really dont know how to take that, but for a coach to say that, especially him, it means a lot, said the Chicago native, who was still smarting over his alma mater, Simeon Career Academy, losing in the city playoffs the previous night. I was just trying to win the game, doing whatever it takes to win and tonight, I guess it was scoring the ball.

San Antonio used the formula that earned them the leagues best record through the All-Star break heavy doses of backcourt stars Tony Parker (26 points, four assists) and All-Star Manu Ginobili (16 points, three assists) at the games outset, with Ginobilis herky-jerky game and Parkers uncanny finishing ability setting the pace.

Unfortunately, that didnt leave much room for other Spurs including future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan (14 points, nine rebounds, three assists) to get involved, resulting in the home team running out to the lead.

A comparatively more balanced Bulls attack paved the way to an early advantage, as the team seemingly made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside, with Carlos Boozer (15 points, six rebounds) being the main beneficiary in the opening period, connecting in all four of his field-goal attempts.
Rose to compete in All-Star Skills Challenge

Rose, however, was the protagonist, as usual, slashing and dashing flawless playmaking acrobatic finishes, the norm with Rose, highlighted his efforts his way to the bucket in his point-guard duel with Parker and with Luol Deng (19 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots) getting more involved offensively, Chicago held a 30-25 winning margin after a quarter of play.

Twenty-six-year old rookie sharpshooter Gary Neal (16 points, 4-for-5 three-point shooting) sparked San Antonios second unit early in the second quarter, enabling the Spurs to narrow the gap, despite the cohesiveness and defensive play the length of Taj Gibson (six points, six rebounds, two blocks) and Omer Asik posed problems for the visitors, while swingman Ronnie Brewers (nine points, three rebounds, two assists) high activity level provided an offensive boost off the Bulls bench.

While Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus reinsertion of Boozer gave the team a lift on offense, Duncan became more involved and the return of Parker allowed the Spurs to overtake the home team midway through the period. Soon afterwards, Thibodeau brought back Rose and Deng both of whom made immediate impacts, regaining the lead for Chicago and the Bulls built a slim cushion late in the quarter, going into the intermission with a 58-51 advantage.

Rose picked up where he left off when play resumed, melding his oft-overlooked passing abilities with his supreme scoring skills and Deng also maintained his high level of play from the end of the previous half, prompting Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout. Regardless of Roses simple pleas that he was just doing what was needed to secure a Bulls win, he revealed that some pregame motivation also factored in.
Derrick Rose went 18-for-24 on field goals inside the three-point line and said a pregame talk from head coach Tom Thibodeau got him more pumped up than normal. (AP)
Coach told me to come in his office, gave me a speech about being aggressive. A motivational speech. I love a coach like that, where hes showing emotion even before the game. Its just me and him talking and hes showing emotion. I wanted to get up and yell with him, but I kept quiet and tried to take that out on the court, he recounted.

When you have Coach being emotional like that, its going to make you want to play hard, especially me. You cant be too nice as a coach. Youve got to have some meanness in you and hes definitely that coach, where hes hard on players at certain times and its working.

When asked about whether he could ascertain Thibodeaus motivation, Rose didnt profess to have an answer, but simply told reporters, It worked.

His teammates also noticed Rose, always a fierce competitor, appeared to be even more keyed up for the contest.

Me and Derrick spoke before the game, and we just spoke about how big this game was. I knew right away he would be ready. Ive been playing with him for a while now, said Deng. When he had it going in the second half, I just told him, Keep shooting, especially when they went under on the screen because his shot has improved so much.

Added Boozer: D-Rose just took the game over. All we had to do was get him the ball and play defense. We recognized it early. They really couldnt stop him. I just said to him, Keep attacking until they stop you. Hes playing phenomenally and he played great again tonight.

But steady San Antonio regrouped, led by Duncan asserting himself offensively and Parker continuing to affecting the game with his ability to penetrate the Bulls defense, finish shots in the lane and make plays in transition.

Neither side gave an inch and mistakes were magnified in this affair, as a premium was placed on both offensive execution and defensive matchups, and while the veteran Spurs were able to slice into the deficit, Rose displayed his takeover mentality down the stretch run of the period. Through three quarters, the Bulls maintained their lead, 83-75.

Stout defense by the home team marked the beginning of the final stanza, as Chicagos second unit played with energy and sustained the Bulls lead, with blocked shots and dunks Gibson, who will represent the team this weekend in Los Angeles in both the Rookie Challenge and Shooting Stars competition, made one of each thrilling the United Center audience.

A Deng three-pointer eventually gave the Bulls a double-digit advantage and while it appeared that they were clicking on all cylinders on offense (Rose specifically), the Spurs (Neal specifically) remained lying in the weeds.

Parker continued to stay active in his tete-a-tete with Rose, but the Eastern Conference All-Star starter left nothing to chance, with a fading jumper to beat the shot-clock buzzer with under three minutes remaining perhaps sounding San Antonios death knell.

Chicago cruised down the stretch, heading to victory behind Rose, who, perhaps spurred by the ever-present M-V-P chants from the crowd, kept pouring in the points until Bulls could safely claim the win.

I really couldnt tell, Rose said of notching his career-high point total. We were just trying to hold them off. We just tried to keep the lead, as if they were ahead.

Thibodeau downplayed the significance of beating the Spurs, while simultaneously praising the Bulls opponent.

The statement is they did a good job getting ready to play, said the coach. To me, the bigger challenge is looking at your improvement. I think weve gotten better as weve gone along. But we cant be satisfied and theres a lot of work to be done. The really good teams continue to get better. And you can use San Antonio as an example. Theyre the model franchise over the last 10 years. Theyve been so consistent and play so smart and find different ways to win. Each year, theyre in the thick of it.

Unlike their coach, his players admitted to being excited about not only the win which avenged their November loss in San Antonio, giving them at least one win over all the teams regarded as the NBAs elite but the squads momentum heading into the extended weekend vacation.

So far this season theyve been the best team in the NBA. Its good for our team, to go into the break with that kind of mindset, beating such a good team, said Deng. Last time when they got us, we didnt have Carlos and at one point, we were up 17.

Concurred Rose: I think that we get up when we play those teams, where everybodys on the same page. We fought our way back in some of those games. Its exciting. It gives us a challenge. Its our measuring stick. Coach says every game is that, but this is the game that says how good we are, especially because we lost to them back in the beginning of the season.

Weve got a lot of confidence right now, knowing that we can beat some of the best teams in the NBA, he continued. When we come back, weve just got to stay focused and weve got to work even harder... weve still got a goal and thats to win a championship.

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.

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

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AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”