Rose, Bulls top Suns in battle of point guards


Rose, Bulls top Suns in battle of point guards

Tuesday, April 5, 2011Posted 9:40 p.m. Updated 11:40 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam

Tuesday night's game at the United Center seemed in the bag as the Bulls built up a seemingly insurmountable lead, but let up and allowed the Suns to claw their way back into the game, before escaping with a 97-94 win.

The late heroics of Derrick Rose were Chicagos saving grace, as the All-Star point guard hit clutch shots to hold off Phoenix and maintain the Bulls three-game Eastern Conference first-place lead over both Miami and Boston.

We got the big lead, we got loose, we stopped defending and they hurt us on the boards, so we were fortunate in the end, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We didnt play well and you have to give the Suns credit. They played well. They played hard, they played smart, they were unselfish and we didnt play tough with the lead. Our shot selection hurt us, our defensive transition hurt us. Were fortunate in the end to get the win, but weve got to do a lot better. Weve got to clean up a lot of things.

Overall, 94 points54 in the second halfthats not good enough.

With both teams welcoming back key players to the lineupBulls center Joakim Noah (12 points) returned after a four-game absence caused by a sprained right ankle; Phoenix point guard Steve Nash (16 assists) got over the flu in time for his annual visit to the Windy Cityeach squad was raring to go and the up-tempo style play early on favored the visitors.

As offensively capable as the Bulls (57-20) have occasionally proven to be with their full complement of players, the Suns (37-40) are regarded as the NBAs masters of run-and-gun basketball.

Behind a bouncy and active Noah, Roses newfound ability to get to the charity stripe, balanced scoring amongst the supporting cast and collectively buckling down on defense, Chicago slowed down Phoenixs rapid-fire attack.

I just came back from injury, so Im very happy to be out there, said Noah. I love this. This is great. Playing for the Chicago Bulls, No. 1 seed right now, about to go to the playoffs, playing in the best building in the world to play basketball in and trying to improve with a great group of guys, and be as good as we can be. I feel pretty good right now.

Despite the efforts of 38-year-old Grant Hill (13 points)a day younger than Bulls veteran Kurt Thomasand Nashs playmaking, the home team clung to a narrow 25-24 edge at the conclusion of the opening period.

The contest remained a close-knit affair early in the second quarter, but the Bulls Bench Mob, led by the high activity levels of Taj Gibson (10 points, nine rebounds) and Ronnie Brewer (10 points, six rebounds, four assists), managed to build a slim cushion by forcing turnovers and playing the gritty, selfless style of basketball Chicago fans have come to expect from the second unit this season.

The aforementioned pair continued to slash their way inside for easy buckets and coupled with the outside marksmanship of Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson, as well as solid transition defense, the Bulls' reserves extended the lead to double digits.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau eventually went back to his regulars and the Bulls ran their offense through Carlos Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) while others, such as Luol Deng (18 points), also got involved as the squad found a balance between solid defense and pushing the pace. At the halftime break, the Bulls maintained a 53-40 advantage.

Chicago was clicking on all cylinders early in the third quarter, as Noah continued to excel as an interior scorer and Rose began to assert himself as a scorer, prompting the Bulls lead to balloon to over 20 points.

Nash, however, was at his playmaking best and while he didnt look to be a scoring threatin some part due to Roses improved defensehe set up his teammates for open jumpers and easy finishes at the rim, causing the Bulls to incur the wrath of the intense Thibodeau, who was clearly unhappy with his teams slippage on the defensive end.

Explained Rose: Offensively, youre going to miss shots. defensively, we let them get in a groove shootingpick-and-pop, Steve rolled coming off screens, floaters, layupsand we cant let players like that get confidence.

After a timeout for instructional purposes, the Bulls widened the gap to previous standards. But Phoenix once again fought back, trimming the deficit via transition opportunities, many of which were created by Bulls turnovers.

Capped by a time-machine alley-oop by former All-Star swingman Vince Carter (21 points), the Suns closed to within 81-70 through three quarters.

Phoenix continued its charge early in the final stanza, battling within single digits behind a small-ball lineup that spread the Bulls out and then took advantage by ducking inside for easy buckets or corralling long rebounds and turning broken plays into ultimately successful possessions.

Carter was the Suns catalyst, scoring in variety of ways that harkened his Half Man, Half Amazing heyday and putting the visitors within striking distance, as it became a two-possession game midway through the period.

Defensively, we had to do a much better job than we did. Once we started coming up with stops, obviously we could get in the open court and run, said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. We have to play the way we played the second half when the game is even, not when were 22 down."

The visitors continued to test Chicagos mettle as the contests stretch run approached, as the two teams were separated by a single basket with two minutes remaining.

Rose, the favorite for this seasons MVP award, gave his team some breathing room by a converting a traditional three-point play with 1:52 to go, to the delight of his hometown fans.

I was just trying to attack, said Rose. They did a good job of containing me the whole game, just making sure I didnt get a lane. I saw a hole and just tried to penetrate.

Both Gentry and Hill both disagreed with the callRose, however, drew contact, but didnt go to the line on several previous second-half drives, perhaps to compensate for the frequency of his trips to the charity stripe in the first halfand voiced their opinions afterwards.

Grants done a good job and Steve did a good job on him. We tried to stop his dribble penetration and then, when he did, we tried to step in front of him for charges, to see if we could take a charge on him, said Gentry, emphasizing the word charge each time to show his disagreement with the blocking foul called on Hill.

Disputed Hill: I thought I was there and Derricks the MVP at home. Its not the first time that an MVP in this building down the stretch got that type of call, but it shouldnt come down to a play like that.

One of those calls that go either way.

But the Suns werent done just yet, as jump-shooting big man Channing Frye (13 points, nine rebounds) knocked down a triple with 1:41 left, making it a 94-92 game and prompting a Bulls timeout.

Rose again displayed nerves of steel, taking his man off the dribble and draining a pull-up jumper from the elbow with 33.2 seconds left, giving his Bulls a four-point lead.
Joakim Noah returned from his ankle injury to mixed reviews from head coach Tom Thibodeau. Noah knows he needs to focus on helping the Bulls improve their rebounding and continue to find chemistry with Carlos Boozer down low. (AP)
Im just trying to do whatever it takes to win, said Rose. At the end, if its me making a shotI never want to be in that position where I have to make a shot like thatif anything, Id rather win by 20 or 30 points, but Ill do whatever it takes to win.

Following a Suns timeout, Carter was efficient in hitting a driving layup on the ensuing possession, leaving 26.7 on the clock and a two-point deficit for Phoenix, plenty of time if the visitors played their cards right.

Chicago attempted to milk the clock before Korver was eventually fouled and while he surprisingly split a pair of free throws to leave the door open, the Suns were unable to get off a potentially game-tying three-point attempt, giving the Bulls a narrow escape.

We cant mess up at practice, we cant come in sluggish at the games, cautioned Rose, who appeared dissatisfied with the quality of the win, given Phoenixs near-comeback. We just cant do that right now.
Noah focused on rebounding in return

Noahs return after a four-game absence caused by a sprained right ankle was certainly a sight for sore eyes, but after missing nearly half of the season due to various injuries, its no surprise he wasnt completely on point.

Offensively, I thought, pretty good. Defensively, I think you could see his timings not quite there, said Thibodeau. Hes hurting a little bit.

Noahs 12-point, four-rebound, four-assist effort showed that his shooting touch and even court awareness offensively was there and while the fact that he guarded Suns face-up big man Channing Frye took him away from the basket some of the night, his rebounding and defense werent up to his usual standards.

Im concerned that he hasnt been able to get into rhythm because hes missed so much time. Hes missed almost half the season and he was just starting to come around, and he was getting his timing back, and then he sprains his ankle. Thibodeau explained. But we need his rebounding. For us to be the type of team we want to be, hes got to rebound big.

Noah himself acknowledged his rebounding could improve; in fact, so could the team as a whole. After dominating opponents on the glass throughout much of the season, the Bulls have come back to Earth, a fact illuminated by a finesse Phoenix team outrebounding them Tuesday.

We have to do a better job rebounding. Thats definitely on everybodyon meto step it up, said Noah. My rebounding is a little down right now, but Im going to work as hard as I can to get it back to where it used to be.

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.

LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls


LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls

It look a little longer than perhaps LeBron James expected—or maybe not, given the recent woes from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But it happens in a flash—no matter if it is a fadeaway jumper, darting pass through multiple defenders or a swat into the third row for an unsuspecting Cameron Payne, who acted like he hadn’t seen James’ movies.

It took an almost Herculean effort from the game’s best player to put away a pesky Bulls team, 114-109 Saturday at the United Center. James was without several regulars, including Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver—and his coach, Tyronn Lue, didn’t join the bench in the second half after getting ill.

The no-look passes, the easy drives to the basket, it’s hard to realize he’s playing in his 15th season but he’s at a level few can match, even if his team struggles to keep up.

Whatever he’s lost in athleticism, he’s gained in mastering the game and making sure it’s played at his pace.

Of course, we can quibble with his indifference to defense at times and make note of how that permeates to the rest of the team, as they let the Bulls back in way too many times.

But when you say that, it’s just as easy to see his passing makes his teams unselfish. The Cavs routinely swing the ball from a good shot to a great shot, even if it’s facilitated by James himself, as they had 25 assists on 44 field goals.

“Right now the game is effortless,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “LeBron wants to be a passer first and that’s where he was hurting us early. And then he got loose and got to the rim.”

James led them with 12 in addition to his 33 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes, and the Cavaliers needed every bit of his production as the Bulls emptied the reservoir with four of their five regular starters out.

“I just want to get healthy,” James said. “It’s unfamiliar territory for a lot of guys, going in and out the lineup and having six guys out…I think it was a good (road) trip for us.”

The Bulls were missing Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez for various reasons.

Denzel Valentine filled in admirably for a career night and luckily, didn’t throw a cringing behind-the-back pass to the expensive seats. Buoyed by a lax defense from the opposition, he led the Bulls with 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists, hitting eight of 11 from long range in 34 minutes.

If it wasn’t for a late foul on Jordan Clarkson when the Bulls improbably tied the game at 105 with 1:41 left, the Bulls would’ve made things very interesting. But he made contact with Clarkson in the corner and the Cavaliers took a four-point lead.

James got a steal on the next possession and hit a fadeaway to complete his night, his 15th triple-double of the season.

“As soon as I went in a little bit he threw it out there,” Valentine said of James. “And I went to close out and boom. It’s just a learning moment.”

Valentine has earned praise from Hoiberg for filling a leadership void while Lopez and Justin Holiday have taken a backseat due to the organization’s wishes to evaluate young players for the rest of the season.

In the meantime, Valentine hopes he’s proving to be a starter at this level, not just a plug-and-play role player.

“I believe I’m a starter in this league,” Valentine said. “I believe I can be an important piece of an NBA team. But whatever my role on the team is that they want me to do, the organization wants me to do, I’ll do. But personally, I believe I’m a starter and I can contribute in major ways. I just got to keep working and keep getting better.”

Whether he’s a fringe starter or valuable piece off the bench, Valentine has at least shown to develop a consistent jump shot—which in today’s game puts him as a fit on any team. Shooting 39 percent on the season means if the Bulls make him available this offseason, they will have callers.

“It just shows what I’m capable of,” Valentine said. “I believe in myself even when I’m out there playing bad. But I put the work in no matter what happens, if I’m playing well [or], if I’m playing bad.”

His fearlessness, along with Bobby Portis and Cameron Payne, pulled the Bulls back from the brink after the Cavaliers took a 17-point lead before halftime.

Sixteen of his points came in the third, sending the United Center into a frenzy despite the fact a loss would be more beneficial for the franchise considering the New York Knicks destroyed the Charlotte Hornets, paving the way for the Bulls to slide back into eighth in the lottery standings.

Payne did his best to undermine the tank, with a career-high 10 assists go to with 13 points on five of 11 shooting. Portis was solid with 15 points and 15 rebounds, but had a late dunk blocked by Jeff Green.

And combined with Antonio Blakeney getting his shots up anytime he touched the ball, including on fast breaks when the Bulls had multiple-man advantages, just enough was done to give the Cavs the necessary room to end their 13-day road trip on a high note.

“We’ve got a lot of guys in positions they haven’t been in all year,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Cam was unbelievable pushing the pace, especially early in the game.”

Green added 21 and Clarkson came off the bench to score 19. All can thank James for their night—along with a fan he threw his armband to afterward, who was left in tears.

And had the Bulls actually won this game, both James and the Bulls fans would’ve been in tears.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Vincent Goodwill, and Kendall Gill discuss the concern over Zach Lavine’s inconsistent play, plus is it smart for the Bulls to offer him a max contract? Kendall also explains why the Bulls need to be careful not to lowball Lavine, like the Hornets did with him early in his career. Plus the trio discuss the early exit for Oklahoma and Trae Young. He’s likely to be there when the Bulls make their first pick, should they take him? And Vincent shares who the consensus top 5 picks are after talking with several NBA talent evaluators.