Rise of Taj: Big game sparked by Tim Floyd?


Rise of Taj: Big game sparked by Tim Floyd?

Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010
Updated 2:22 AM

By Aggrey Sam

DALLAS Talk about redemption.

After two miserable outings in a row, Taj Gibson propelled the Bulls to an 88-83 victory over the Mavericks with a 17-point, 18-rebound effort, while backup point guard C.J. Watson emerged with a breakout night off the bench, including several clutch second-half shots.

It feels good, it feels real good. It just shows we have a solid team with a bunch of solid players from the point all the way to the top, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. Were a good team.

We came and fought. We had a chance to win the Spurs game, but we let it slip, chimed in Derrick Rose. Tonight, it was almost the same thing, but we adjusted to it and made a nice comeback.

Chicago made a concerted effort to get the ball into the slumping Gibson in the post in the early going and after traveling on the Bulls first trip, the second-year forward converted his next two shots.

Rose was also aggressive in the early going his ever-burgeoning confidence in his perimeter shot is becoming a broken record at this point aiding the visitors in gaining an early advantage.

It just shows how much high regard the coaching staff has in himI can do a lot of different things. I can put it on the floor, I can post, shoot. Coach Thibodeau told me, Just dont rely on your jump shot, the 15-footer. He said, Even though youve been working on it and its been great so far, dont just fall in love with it and that was my goal, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. I was going to try to do other things, get on the glass like Coach Tim Floyd (the former Bulls head coach and Gibsons college coach at USC) said. He told me, If things arent going your way, get it off the glass. That was one of the main things I wanted to do coming in tonights game and Coach just went to me early in the post.

Gibsons confidence back intact, his offensive output was key for the Bulls initially although he had his hands full with Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki on the defensive end until picking up his second foul midway through the first period. The home-standing Mavericks would cut the deficit a bit, but both teams proceeded to settle for outside jumpers, with accuracy a rare commodity.

The score would remain 17-13 for approximately three minutes of action, as each squad was woefully offensively inept and stagnant. Chicago led, 19-13, after a quarter of play, following a Joakim Noah putback at the buzzer originally ruled good on the court apparently being waved off by the officials.

Scoring on both ends increased immediately in the second quarter, as better ball movement facilitated easy opportunities. Reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer was the beneficiary of sharp passes by Noah and sharpshooter Kyle Korver two underrated passers; Noah would also find Rose for a lefty reserve layup on a backdoor cut, on which the third-year point guard exhibited his usual tremendous body control and Chicagos cohesive play led to a Dallas timeout in an attempt to stem the tide.

Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisles adjustments worked some of Dallas improved play could be attributed to their deep bench; superior reserves with fresh legs always helps as the Bulls were on the wrong end of an 8-1 run, leading to a subsequent timeout called by Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau to quell the flurry.

In a bit of symmetry, a mostly-reserve unit got it going for the Bulls, with Korver, C.J. Watson and a still-aggressive Gibson reeling off three straight baskets, prompting Carlisle to call for a 20-second refocusing session.

C.J. came in and really played well for us, Kyle was very good and we had a lot of guys do good things, said Thibodeau. Theyre Chicagos bench getting more comfortable, theyre playing well, it gives us a chance to rest people and were getting a different guy to step up every night. On the road like this, its important. Im confident in our bench. We have a very good bench.

Watson, in one of his better stretches of the season, was a catalyst for Chicago, whose bench held up their end of the bargain in maintaining the Bulls slight cushion toward the end of the half, at which the Bulls took a 39-35 lead into the locker room.

As in their previous outing against San Antonio, the Bulls permitted their opponent to get off to a quick start in the third quarter, with their slim winning margin evaporating almost instantly. Dallas slowly built their own semi-comfortable lead assisted by Chicagos inefficient offense by going on a 15-2 run after halftime.

We started out the game great. We came in at halftime, the main focus was starting the third quarter the first five minutes and punching them in their mouth. But in the NBA, youre going to get knocked back on your heels and they did that right in the third, recounted Gibson to CSNChicago.com.

Then Coach said, Dont worry. Youve been in this situation before. Dont panic. Just stay the same course. We got back in it. The fourth quarter was our big chance. We understood that everybody had to play a solid game in the fourth and we just brought a defensive intensity and we got stops.

Nowitzki would put his stamp on the game with 12 points in the early portion of the third quarter, but far bigger culprits for the Bulls were careless turnovers and forced, errant outside jumpers, leading to a double-digit Mavericks lead. The Bulls would quietly go on an 8-0 spurt of their own to get back within striking distance, with a more determined offensive mindframe to get into the lane.

Noahs hustle the fourth-year center would keep several loose balls alive, make a living on the offensive glass and finish with authority and Roses swashbuckling drives to the rim led Chicagos push to get back into the contest. By the end of the period, the Bulls trailed by a much more manageable 59-56.

I felt like our energy was kind of low and sometimes when youre playing in the game and youre feeling routine in the game weve got to be gritty in the game, were a 48-minute team, said Noah. When we started the third quarter, our energy level was low; I just tried to bring energy.

Im just trying to affect the game the best way that I can. Im not really happy with the way I was playing the last two, three games and I think its important that when Im out there that I give 150 percent, he continued. I just cant go through the motions. I just have to keep going after the ball every time.

When he plays high energy like that and really goes after the ball, to me, there might not be a better guy in terms of activity. Taj has 18 rebounds, Jo has 17 you can win the game with your rebounding, said Thibodeau about Noah. He made some good plays. He had five assists, he was in motion, he was sprinting into pick-and-rolls. When were holding onto the ball and were standing and were watching guys go one-on-one, thats not us; we cant score like that. For us, its got to be guys moving, the ball has to move, the players have to move, we have to play high energy. Thats Jos strength.

A rapid scoring explosion by the red-hot Nowizki to start the fourth quarter allowed the Mavericks to create some separation between them and their guests from the Windy City.

However, in this my turn-your turn affair, the Bulls would methodically turn a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead midway through the final stanza a Watson triple was the go-ahead basket despite Rose having to leave the game twice to tend to a bleeding cut on the bridge of his nose suffered when he was raked across the face by Nowitzki on a driving layup earlier in the period.

Dirk when I went to the basket he hit me right across my nose, said Rose afterwards. At that time, I was angry. I hate coming out of the game in those types of moments, but my teammates came through, made some great plays.

Its kind of deep, but they said I didnt need any stitches. I wasnt going to get them anyway. They would have found a way to get it together, he continued. My swag is a little down right now; you can see. I dont like getting my face touched. Im just mad right nowIm easy on the eye.

The thing about Derrick is, he drives the ball extremely hard. I thought he went a good part of the game where he didnt get to the line at all, but it didnt discourage him; he kept attacking, said Thibodeau. Thats the mark of his greatness, too. He kept going harder and harder, and ultimately, he ends up with nine free throws.

Now it was the Mavericks that were disjointed; the visitors were transformed into a cohesive, aggressive, determined and scrappy bunch that gradually widened their lead by virtue of hustle, an attacking mentality, timely scoring, capitalizing on Dallas miscues and some good fortune. Of course, that didnt last for long in this back-and-forth game, with Dallas quickly knotting the contest up at 74 with four minutes to play.

Chicagos foul difficulties Noah and Gibson, who hit a miracle 3-pointer (his first, at any level of basketball, he would say afterwards) at the end of the shot clock to put the Bulls back ahead after the Mavericks briefly snatched the lead away, in particular were rapidly mounting (a Thibodeau pet peeve, especially in late-game situations, as Dallas was getting free opportunities due to poor body-position defense), but with neither team clearly taking control of the game, it was basically a seize-the-day mentality down the stretch.

I shoot them 3-pointers all the time in practice, but it all comes with confidence, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. I just looked at the shot clock, I just stepped in and just shot it with confidence, and I was lucky to have a good roll and it went in.

A huge Gibson offensive board led to a deep Korver deuce that put the Bulls up, 81-79, with two minutes to play, in what looked to be a pivotal moment. Chicago seemingly got to every loose ball, but after Rose hit two clutch free throws following a hard fall, after which he needed extended time to get off the floor Gibson would foul out on an overexuberant defensive play, ending his bounce-back night at an inopportune time.

Just working through whatever my bodys been telling me. Just working through all the injuries, the foot problem just working through all that staying on top of it and just having heart, Gibson told CSNChicago.com Playing those last few games really affected me because I really felt I let my team down, always relying on the jump shot instead of doing other things rebounding, blocking shots, defense things Im accustomed to doing. Its just one of those things; youve got to learn from it.

A pretty amazing job, the way he played tonight. The rebounding effort, real aggressive to start the game with his post-up, said Thibodeau. I wanted to establish inside and I thought he had gotten into a lot of jump-shooting and were confident in his jump shot, but hes one of our best low-post scorers, so we need to do a better job of getting him the ball in there.

A wild sequence ensued with the Bulls up three Nowitzki split a pair of foul shots and less than a minute to go, as Watson missed a triple, ended up with his own board (Luol Deng kept the ball alive) and was eventually sent flying into Carlisle and over the Mavericks bench by Dallas small forward Caron Butler with 15.3 seconds left. Watson drained both of his free throws and on the next possession, Chicago would get a defensive stop.

We just got Watsons confidence up for this game. Coach told him that he was going to play, he made the right moves in the game, made the right decisions and thats what we need, Rose said of his backup, who was paired with him in the backcourt for much of the games stretch run. Its fun, knowing that I can just sit on the side, watch him run pick-and-roll.

Its fun being away from the ball and catching it with a live dribble, he went on to say. He came in and gave us a lot of energyhe came out and played a complete game.

I thought his defense was good, added Thibodeau about Watson. He allowed us to put the ball in his hands and bring Derrick off some baseline screens, so it was a different look and he hit some big shots.

Obviously it worked pretty well since we won. I just tried to go out there and play ball, and pick up the tempo when I was out there, explained Watson. Im getting a little bit more comfortable each game. Im still trying to get used to Coach and used to his system.

Thats real big, to get minutes in the fourth quarter. It means a lot because hes putting confidence and trust in me, he continued. I believe it CJ and Derrick definitely can work. We proved it tonight.

Rose missed one of two free throws after the inevitable Dallas foul and Mavericks sixth man Jason Terry hit a quick 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game again, 86-83. The Bulls sharpshooter, Korver, knocked down a pair from the charity stripe with six remaining, however, putting the game away for the Bulls.

I thought the defense was very good, I thought the rebounding was outstanding and then we turned the ball over more than we would like. But I also thought we got the ball inside and I thought we were unselfish. If we do those things, were going to be in position to win, concluded Thibodeau. It doesnt change anything for us, other than after the San Antonio game, we wanted to learn from the game and then move forward and get ready for this game. I thought we had a good meeting Thursday, I thought we had a good shootaround today; we made improvement.

Were a team that we fight. Even in San Antonio, I think that we fought hard. Were not going to give up, said Noah. We were resilient tonight. We played real tough. It just feels good to win one of those games, one of those real close games that shows our hard work. We executed down the stretch pretty well. Tajs shot was huge. Kyles corner two-pointer and we got a few stops, and thats the game.

It feels really good. Were just going to enjoy this one and get ready for the Lake Show.

Tonight, we won because of heart, defense, we played hard and a little bit of luck, added Rose. Theres nothing you could say about it the game. Be grateful that we got this win. Next is L.AI think that we finished this little Texas thing kind of good.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.