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Rose, Butler show up late to save Bulls in win over Kings

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Rose, Butler show up late to save Bulls in win over Kings

With the closest thing to a full deck the Bulls have had seemingly all season, they had a chance to right some of the wrongs from early in the season by way of beating an under-.500 team.

And with the tumultuous Sacramento Kings coming to town, the stage was set for the Bulls to win their third straight game, re-establish themselves with playoff positioning and inject some much-needed confidence, something they’re seemingly on the brink of.

Or they could give it away.

“Early in the year, I’m not sure we would’ve won this game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, as his words illustrated what 20,000 people in the building were thinking Monday night.

But the Bulls max players wouldn’t let such a thing happen, as Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler combined to do it in different ways when times got direst, leading to a 109-102 win at the United Center.

It felt more like a decision than a win, but considering Pistons’ center Andre Drummond was tipping in a win for the team breathing down the Bulls’ necks just as the Bulls were giving it away, it seemed appropriate the Bulls’ players with the pedigree stepped forward to secure a win.

Because boy, it was dire.

[MORE BULLS: Pau Gasol's return to Bulls lineup a success in win over Kings]

After blowing a 12-point lead in the third quarter and watching Rudy Gay, Caron Butler and former Bull Marco Belinelli storm the United Center, Rose and Butler re-entered with the Bulls trailing by three and 8:40 remaining.

It went to five and held at 95-90 with 6:33 left, then the Bulls woke up.

“The guys got themselves in a big huddle and played the most important part of the game,” Hoiberg said.

With the Bulls flailing away, Rose hit two jumpers to spark a 10-0 run, shutting down the Kings’ opportunistic offense. His last gave the Bulls a 98-95 lead with 3:49 remaining, finishing with 18 points and four assists.

“Just taking what they’re giving me. I’m reading the play,” Rose said. “It was my teammates giving me the ball in position to actually do something.”

Butler didn’t have a banner night by any stretch, but his work on the offensive glass, tipping home a miss, getting a steal underneath the basket and then feeding Mike Dunleavy for a triple — his eighth helper of the night — to give the Bulls a 105-97 lead.

“We need to have that urgency for a longer stretch if we want to be successful,” Hoiberg said. “We played well for six minutes, luckily it was the last six of the game.”

[MORE BULLS: NBA Power Rankings: Leonard, Spurs go toe-to-toe with Warriors]

The stars showed up late after the bench players carried them early in Pau Gasol’s return.

Taj Gibson had another workman-like performance with 18 points in 33 minutes, as he found himself guarding virtually every position on the floor.

Doug McDermott sparked the Bulls yet again, hitting four triples for 16 points, most of them in the first half as the Bulls appeared to gradually pull away from the game Kings. Justin Holiday hit three triples of his own, and Bobby Portis added some energy before the group faltered in the fourth.

“We’ve had games where we let that slip, where we got blown out being down by that much,” Rose said. “Hopefully we’re learning from it. But when we have a team down like this we have to keep them down.”

Luckily as Butler struggled to a 3-for-10 finish, they didn’t turn the ball over much, with just nine giveaways and tallying 28 assists while hitting 12 3-pointers.

With Butler’s struggles, they needed every bit of what Gasol could offer in his return after a four-game absence.

Gasol played 24 minutes and scored 14 points with 14 rebounds, while being tagged as being a primary defender on the best center in the game, DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins scored 19 with 17 boards, but he wasn’t the main reason the Kings got back in the game after falling behind 69-57 on a Dunleavy triple.

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The Bulls couldn’t bully the biggest bully in the game, but they could sure bother him. They double-teamed him and doubled him hard, forcing eight turnovers and taking him out of his rhythm, making him get his offense by going to the glass and doing unconventional things, like taking rebounds end to end for layups.

“Pau was great,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he guarded Cousins as well as anyone can play him, and he still got 19.”

In his stead, Gay and Caron Butler began hitting jumpers to keep things close, and surprisingly the Bulls’ perimeter defense started taking plays off, allowing the relentless Rajon Rondo and reserve guard Darren Collison to get to the basket almost at will.

Gay scored 18 with five rebounds, while Collison scored 19. Rondo scored 14 with five assists and four rebounds, while Butler added 10.

“Where before, if we had a lead, it got cut and we would go on a downward spiral,” Hoiberg said. “The urgency is finally helping us.”

But surprisingly, as things got tough, the Bulls buckled down a bit and showed something many weren’t sure they possessed.

Character.

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.