Rose sits as Celtics end Bulls' streak, trip with loss


Rose sits as Celtics end Bulls' streak, trip with loss

BOSTON Minus their starting backcourt due to injury, the Bulls (23-7) valiantly tried to close out their nine-game road trip with a win but came up short, falling to the Celtics (15-12), 95-91, Sunday afternoon at TD BankNorth Garden, snapping a five-game winning streak. A late comeback threw a major scare into the home crowd, but the visitors ultimately didnt have enough firepower and return to Chicago with a 6-3 record on the arduous swing part of their 20 games away from home in the seasons first 30 games in addition to questions about Roses long-term health.

We got out-competed tonight, so well play them again on Thursday. Well be ready, said a dejected Joakim Noah afterwards. Our energy just wasnt very good. We fought at the end, but overall, weve got to play better. Our togetherness wasnt great and they shot a high percentage throughout the game, they ran the floor better than us. I think, overall, they just wanted it more.

Echoed Carlos Boozer: I thought they were ready to play us. I thought we did a good job of weathering their storm, fighting back at the end of the game. It seemed like we were a play away of taking the lead all game long. Just couldnt get over the hump.

Without the reigning league MVP in the lineup, the Bulls came out of the gates slowly, allowing the home team to get out in transition and score via fast breaks. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (32 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds), perhaps taking advantage of Roses absence, was extremely aggressive as a scorer from the outset, sparking a double-digit Boston lead, despite Noahs (16 points, nine rebounds) strong play early.

I knew they would come out like that, coming off their last two games. They were very aggressive. I thought they got some easy baskets early, which gave them confidence. I think they had 28 in the first quarter, which is too much, particularly when youre on the road. We were a little careless with the ball. Not that we had a lot of turnovers early, but they were costly ones. I believe we had six in the first half and they converted on all of them, so it gave them a cushion, they played from a lead and thats a tough thing to do against a quality team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. I thought that we never really forced them to go against our set defense and for us, the floor balance has to be better. Youve got to take the easy baskets away. I thought that was the big difference.

Concurred Luol Deng: With our defense, when were set, we do a good job and I thought we did a good job on their guys tonight. Just the fast break really hurt us.

But the Bulls recovered, going on a 10-0 run led by Carlos Boozer (22 points, seven rebounds), who knocked down multiple mid-range jumpers and closed the gap to make it a close-knit game. Behind the inside play of Noah and Boozer, Chicago trailed, 28-23 at the conclusion of the opening period.

The visitors depth was on full display in the second quarter, as third-stringer John Lucas III provided instant offense while backup big men Omer Asik and Taj Gibson were tough on the glass. While Rondos playmaking with veteran Chris Wilcox (11 points, nine rebounds) and fellow big man JaJuan Johnson (12 points), a rookie and burgeoning fan favorite, being the prime beneficiaries propelled the hosts, the Bulls stayed within striking distance, with an opportunistic C.J. Watson (22 points, six assists), who replaced Rose, leading the way.

The brilliance of Rondo, however, along with veteran Kevin Garnetts (13 points, 12 rebounds) timely scoring gave the Celtics a boost, creating some separation before halftime. But despite Chicagos inaccurate shooting the guests shot 34 percent for the first half, compared to Bostons 56.8 percent mark, though the home team committed nine turnovers the Bulls went into intermission with only a five-point deficit, 48-43.

Guarding Rondo wasnt really difficult, said Watson. I just kept trying to go under screens like coach was saying and thats what we wanted him to do. We wanted him to shoot, but tonight, he was making it.

Added Thibodeau: Rondos a great player and even if youre defending him well, he still has the ability to make great plays and that team is very experienced, and I think theyre playing at a very high level.

The fast-breaking Celtics continued to push the pace, as Garnett and Rondo set the tone for their success, though inside scoring from Boozer and Noah ensured the gap didnt grow too large immediately after the break.

Noah is playing with a lot of energy, making multiple efforts. I thought he was the one guy who started the game very aggressively, said Thibodeau. I thought Carlos got going as the game went along.

The post tandem had to be effective, as Watson struggled in Roses place and starting wings Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng (10 points, five rebounds, four assists) who did solid jobs of blanketing counterparts Ray Allen (11 points) and Paul Pierce defensively contributed little in way of scoring, especially with the latter playing with a heavy bandage on his tender left wrist.

They did a good job of just shrinking the floor and I settled for a lot of jumpers early. I had good looks, Ive been shooting the ball well, but to give them credit, theyre a good defensive team, said Deng about the matchup with his All-Star small forward counterpart. No matter how my game is going or how Im playing out there, Im always going to play hard defensively, and I just know how important it is for our team to defend someone like that and I just try to see what theyre trying to do, and where hes trying to get his shots and just take that away from him.

Added Thibodeau: Youve got two fierce competitors going at it. Its one of those games. They did a good job of getting back, so we didnt get as many easy baskets as we normally get and their team defense is very good. Its just one of those things.

Its just normal. Some days are going to be better than others, but I dont think it was his Dengs hand.

Watson fought through his struggles and an improved Chicago defense managed to keep the game close as the third period waned on, as the pass-first Rondo was thrust into the role of primary scorer for Boston. Once again, Lucas made valuable contributions to keep the Bulls afloat but through three quarters, the Celtics led 72-66.

An ugly start to the final stanza, in which neither team was efficient on offense and turnovers were an issue for the hosts, seemed to benefit the Rose-less Bulls. But Allen began to catch fire for the Celtics and they started to open up a wider winning margin, putting their guests, who had difficulty finishing around the basket and scoring in general, in peril midway through the period, particularly after Pierce knocked down a three-pointer to give Boston a double-digit lead with under eight minutes to go.

Poor shot selection, rushed possessions and general frigidity doomed the Bulls comeback attempts and when the Celtics extended their advantage on back-to-back fast-break flushes by Wilcox and Johnson, courtesy of Rondo, it appeared to sign Chicagos death warrant. As the game entered its stretch run Boston fans chanted for an appearance by former Garden favorite Brian Scalabrine, but unlike other arenas, they used it as a taunt the Bulls climbed back into the contest, trimming the deficit to single digits behind pressure defense that induced turnovers, as well as the scoring of Watson and Boozer.

A Watson jumper made it a two-possession game with under two minutes left and Deng was subsequently fouled on a defensive rebound, then split a pair of free throws before a Pierce free-throw line jumper gave the Celtics a 91-86 lead with 1:32 remaining. Deng was fouled by the smaller Rondo, who was caught on a switch, and made it a three-point game, then Pierce turned it over on a drive on the following possession.

Watson missed on a tough drive in traffic with under a minute, but the Bulls forced a turnover and called timeout with 27.6 seconds, leading to Watson taking a contested triple that was off the mark and Rondo being fouled, then knocking down a pair of foul shots.

Thats the way the play is set up. Thats the first option if you get a good look at it. I want him to be aggressive with. It didnt work out, Thibodeau explained about the play, which came out of a timeout and led to Watsons game-tying attempt. For C.J., he makes those shots, so Im not going to second-guess that. I want him to be aggressive when he comes off and he was, and if its there. If not, theres another option to it, so I didnt have a problem with that. We were down timeouts because we had to burn them to sort of stem the tide there for a while.

Inexplicably, Watson was fouled on the next possession, but missed his second attempt from the charity stripe, which was snared by Rondo who notched a triple-double with the board who then made two free throws to seal the deal.

We fought back and the stretch at the start of the fourth that sort of set us back again, but we climbed out of that hole. But you cant keep climbing out of holes and you dont have enough to finish it at the end, said Thibodeau. Like every game, theres good and bad. I was disappointed with some things that I thought allowed them to get some easy baskets, but I liked the way we fought at the end to come back and put ourselves in position, and weve got to do better.

Said Noah: Just losing, losing in this building. We feel like we didnt play the way we should have played, didnt rebound the way we should have, our energy was bad from the start and just disappointing loss.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”