Bulls

Pau Gasol not forcing the offense against Bucks' double teams

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Pau Gasol not forcing the offense against Bucks' double teams

The ball softly left the sure hands of Pau Gasol, falling off the rim before the Spaniard tipped once and tipped again as the ball finally reached its destination in Game 2 against the Bucks, followed by Gasol yelling in relief and satisfaction.

But like everything else with Gasol in this series, there was a drawback—his final tip was waved off because of a loose ball foul he wasn’t involved in, negating his basket and the frustrating energy he used to score.

Gasol has been public enemy No. 1 on Jason Kidd’s defensive scheme, running double-teams so fast and furious at Gasol that he probably sees them in his sleep.

But despite shooting just 31 percent through the first two games this series, he hasn’t lashed out in frustration or tried to force his own offense. Whether it’s John Henson or Zaza Pachulia or the long-armed Giannis Antetokounmpo running at him, facing single-coverage hasn’t happened at all this series.

“The double teams, if they continue, so be it,” Gasol said. “I'm not worried about making the right play and being unselfish. If they're doubling me, there's a guy who's gonna be wide open with a better shot than I would. I'm prepared if that stops.”

They’ve made the decision that Gasol will not be the one to beat them, and even though they’ve given Derrick Rose more attention when he has the ball, they haven’t lightened up on Gasol, perhaps the greatest sign of respect. He’s used to getting doubled-up on, but it’s usually after getting off with a few easy scores and a defense adjusting to stop him.

“I just attract two defenders, which I like to do anyways,” Gasol said. “For the most part that takes sometimes you get going and score a few buckets then they make adjustments but it's been continuous and automatic since the start of the series. If that continues, I'll continue to make the right play. Even though I haven't been in a very good rhythm, somebody else will get a good shot and that's good offense.”

[PLAYOFFS: Mirotic ruled out for Game 3, could miss Game 4 with injury]

While the Bulls are up 2-0 and poised to take a real stronghold on the series if they can weather the emotions and energy of the Bucks tomorrow night, they haven’t been a fluid offensive group, heavily dependent on Rose and Jimmy Butler.

Rose, a player who’s never been afraid to attack double teams and force up a few shots at times, admires Gasol’s patience.

““It says a lot about his character as far as he’ll do anything to win,” Rose said. “He knows that they’re coming right away, he’s not complaining about shots, he’s not worrying about playing so many minutes. He just wants to win the game, so it rubs off on everyone. You’ve got a player like that, that’s giving himself up the way he does it shows a lot.’’

The Bulls often speak about what “the game gives you”—which sure sounds like a “Thibs-ism” or Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich saying to “play the right way”. Either way, Gasol makes it a habit of having his unselfishness lead by example.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s great having him,” Rose said. “With the way that they’re double-teaming him, they’re not even allowing him to get a good shot off. They’re coming right away, so it’s easy basketball. Two swings to an open shot, that’s the easies shot that you can get when they’re double-teaming like that.’’

They shot just 38 percent in Game 2, and one can expect the screws will be tightened even more with Nikola Mirotic out. Gasol may have to be more aggressive—and Tom Thibodeau will probably have to put Gasol in situations where he’s on the move and can score before the double teams come.

“If I can, yeah. If I can, if I get opportunities I'll be more aggressive,” Gasol said. “I'm not discontent with my level of aggressiveness, I just try to make the right play. See if I can make a couple more shots and see if I can be good.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

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USA TODAY

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

Jimmy Butler won't be facing the Bulls a second time this season.

Butler suffered a non-contact knee injury on Friday night in Houston. The initial X-ray only revealed he didn't have any broken bones, but the MRI had to wait until Saturday.

The Timberwolves announced that the MRI revealed a meniscus injury in Butler's right knee. There is not yet word on how long the All-Star guard will be out of action, but if it wasn't already assumed that he wouldn't play against the Bulls, it's now certain.

Avoiding the ACL tear means avoiding the worse case scenario, but this is likely still going to cause Butler to miss a significant amount of time with about a quarter of the regular season remaining. An update from Shams Charania of The Vertical said Butler could return for the postseason.

The Bulls take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night. Butler dropped 38 points at the United Center in his return to Chicago exactly two weeks ago, but the Bulls won 114-113.

Butler posted on Instagram a reaction to the injury.

Saturday's game will be the returns of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Minnesota after they went the other direction in the Butler trade on draft night last June.