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Rose, Bulls bash Boston; magic number is one

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Rose, Bulls bash Boston; magic number is one

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 9:52 p.m. Updated: 11:46 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After a close-knit first half, drama was an afterthought Thursday night at the United Center, as the Bulls cruised to a 97-81 victory over the Celtics in the highly-anticipated, late-season showdown between the two Eastern Conference powers.

A stellar all-around performance by Derrick Rose and stout defense led the way for Chicago (58-20), which reduced its magic number to clinch home-court advantage in the East to just one game.

It was one of our better games. I thought we played hard, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was a hard-fought game, but thats what we anticipated. Theyre a tough team, theyre a physical team.

We were attacking on both ends. Usually, when you hear attack, people think offense. But I think you have to attack both ways, continued the coach, whose team doubled Boston, 44-24, in points in the paint. Offensively, weve been pretty good for about 10 games now, but defensively, weve been sporadic.

Tonight was more of a complete game for us.

Concurred Joakim Noah: This is exactly what we needed. This puts us one step closer to where we want to be and this is just a big win. Great atmosphere in here tonight and it always feels great to beat Boston.

WATCH: Noah thinks Bulls can play even better

This was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere. I know Boston, they played hard as hell. We did, too. Got the job done, he added. We just turned it up a notch.

Boston (54-24) started the game by hitting its first four shots from the field, putting the Bulls on their heels with solid execution and prompting a timeout from Thibodeau. Chicago immediately countered with a 7-0 run with a balanced offensive attack, featuring all five Bulls starters getting on the board.

All indications early on were that the game would be a defensive struggle, so timely scoring contributions from the likes of Keith Bogans the much-maligned starting shooting guard hit two three-pointers in the opening period were more important than usual.

Tight officiating forced forwards Luol Deng (23 points, six rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (14 points, 12 rebounds) to the bench with two fouls apiece, and forcing Thibodeau to alter his rotation.

But when Celtics leading scorer Paul Pierce (15 points) picked up his second foul followed by a technical for arguing the call it appeared to ignite the Bulls, who built a brief double-digit lead, capped by Roses (30 points, eight assists) crowd-pleasing drive past All-Star point guard counterpart Rajon Rondo and subsequent circus layup finish. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls led, 26-18.

Nothing came easy for either team at the outset of the second, as the two stifling defenses forced contested looks. Celtics reserve forward Jeff Green and guard Delonte West were offensive catalysts for the visitors second unit, using their versatility to create matchup problems and provide scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates.

Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest and upon his reentry, Rose took it upon himself to carry the scoring load, resuming his offensive aggressiveness from the first quarter by getting into the lane and finishing at the rim or with finesse floaters. Having established himself as a scorer, the unselfish playmaker went into facilitator mode in an attempt to get his teammates in the offensive groove.

WATCH: Rose finds attacking Celtics easier without Perkins

Meanwhile, the Bulls defensive game plan to force Rondo into becoming a shooter was effective the gifted floor general was scoreless in the first half but the All-Star forward duo of veterans Kevin Garnett and Pierce, forced to manufacture their own offense, picked up the slack for Boston. Still, the Bulls held a 48-43 advantage at the break.

After the intermission when a bust of Scottie Pippen was unveiled inside the United Center a refocused Celtics team got back into the contest quickly, as Rondo utilized his speed to get to the basket and lead a Boston run that gave the visitors a brief 49-48 advantage.

Chicago countered with a spurt of its own, capped by a Deng fast-break dunk over Pierce that gave them a slight cushion midway through the third quarter.

Luol was tremendous in the second half, praised Thibodeau. He came out, he played great and he played with fouls. He came up with a lot of big plays.

Rose chimed in: This year, hes got my MVP vote. Hes been the most consistent this year.

Poor Bulls defensive transition, however, allowed Boston to get back into the contest, with Rondo leading the Celtics fast-break opportunities to get easy baskets and keep pressure on the Bulls, much to Thibodeaus displeasure.

But the Bulls increased their level of urgency, as varied scoring from Deng and blue-collar inside play from Boozer helped the home team increase its edge. Following a Rose 3-pointer on Chicago s final possession of the third, the Bulls led, 71-60.

Thibodeau kept starters Rose, Deng and Boozer in the game to start the final stanza and the move paid off, as Boozer, in particular, continued to have the hot hand, aiding the Bulls in increasing their double-digit lead.

From the moment the ball got tipped up to the end of the game, we shared the ball offensively, but more importantly, our defense was back, Boozer observed. We struggled on defense the last three or four games and tonight, you saw our Bulls defense and we needed it. The way we played the first half set the tone for the second half.

Bostons frustration and the games overall physicality manifested itself early in the period, when veteran Kurt Thomas and Celtics sixth man Glen Davis the powerful pair had been getting chippy since they were first matched up in the contest got tangled up, with Davis earning a loose-ball foul for pulling down (and falling on top of) Thomas, and Thomas receiving a technical for his subsequent gestures toward Davis.

Soon afterwards, both teams hit a scoring drought much more costly for Boston, as the Bulls had plenty of breathing room midway through the quarter, and when Rose knocked down a triple from the wing to put Chicago up 17 points, the uphill battle for Boston became that much more formidable as the games stretch run approached.

We finally played defense toward the end of the game. I think we stepped it up, guys made an extra effort to contest everybodys shot and when were rolling like this, were pretty hard to beat, said Rose. Were not worried about clinching or anything. Were just trying to get better every game.

We know that we could meet them, so when we came out, we wanted to play hard, play aggressive on both ends and move the ball because theyre a good defensive team, and make it tough on them the whole night, he continued. Usually, theyre a great defensive team, but tonight, they just had trouble with it.

The Bulls didnt look back and now stand on the brink of earning home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.