Bulls

Rose's heroics rescue Bulls from King-free Cavs

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Rose's heroics rescue Bulls from King-free Cavs

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 8:34 PM Updated 11:03 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

CLEVELAND -- Tom Thibodeau's morning shootaround stance of "I'm very concerned" seemed like politically correct pregame posturing at the time, but proved to be valid.

As if they believed the fierce pregame snowstorm in Cleveland would cancel the contest, the Bulls (12-8) sleepwalked through the majority of Wednesday evening's game, narrowly beating the Cavaliers (7-15), 88-83.

"We'll take any win we can get. We didn't play our best, they played very well and in the end, we did some things to put ourselves in position to win," remarked the prophetic Bulls head coach.

A sparse home crowd -- caused by a downtown snowstorm -- apparently was a bad omen for the Cavaliers, as the Windy City visitors started out the game with 10 straight points on two jumpers apiece from Luol Deng and Derrick Rose (both 3-pointers) before Anderson Varejao stopped the early bleeding.

Cleveland, however, decided to compete, heeding Cavs head coach Byron Scott's pregame wishes, and quickly got within closer contact of Chicago, much to the displeasure of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Scott shook up his rotation, giving early minutes to seldom-used reserves like Manny Harris, Ryan Hollins and Jawad Williams.

"Well, I thought the start of the game, we started out fine and I thought to their credit, they kept playing. They changed their lineup, so it was more of a pick-and-roll game," said Thibodeau. "I didn't like us offensively. I thought we played a low-energy game, so we didn't get into transition and we didn't get any easy scores. When we did get opportunities, we didn't convert."

Despite Scott's liberal experimentation, Cleveland was unable to overcome its errant shooting and finished the opening period behind, 21-15, even with the aid of five first-quarter Bulls turnovers.

Cleveland didn't exactly pose Chicago's most formidable challenge, but whether it was the team's extended commute to the "Q" (due to the inclement weather conditions) or the trap-game scenario Thibodeau fervently denied would occur, the Bulls weren't just sluggish or out of sync, but downright sloppy. Still, the Cavs' poor marksmanship and lack of ball security enabled the visitors to maintain a tenuous lead.

After repeatedly threatening Chicago's slim advantage, Cleveland briefly overtook the visitors in the latter stages of the second quarter, taking advantage of the Bulls' uninspired play. The home team's lead was short-lived, as the Bulls immediately played with much more urgency, going on an 8-0 run to end the half with the score 41-35.

Chicago found themselves in an actual dogfight with the Cavs after the intermission, with Cleveland quickly playing catch-up, then the contest evolving into a back-and-forth battle.

Rose (29 points, eight assists) and Deng (13 points, six rebounds) remained the only Bulls who could find the range consistently, with power forward Carlos Boozer and center Joakim Noah -- although his work on the glass was outstanding -- having immense trouble scoring or even finding opportunities against a Cavaliers team not known for its suffocating defense.

Varejao (17 points, 12 rebounds) and veteran scorer Antawn Jamison led the charge for Cleveland, aiding the Cavs -- along with the Bulls' porous defense, sloppy ballhandling and poor shot selection -- in taking a slim winning margin into the final stanza, 68-60, after point guard Mo Williams' (13 points, 10 assists) buzzer-beater.

Once again surging to begin a quarter -- an 8-2 spurt to begin the final period -- the Bulls didn't have quite enough to get over the hump and regain the lead from Cleveland. Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver (12 points) provided Chicago with a spark, but gritty play from Varejao and timely scoring from swingman Anthony Parker and Jamison kept the Cavs in front.

Seemingly after each time the Bulls looked to pull ahead -- or just break even -- Cleveland answered or Chicago simply failed to convert on its opportunities.

Down the stretch, Thibodeau's small-ball lineup -- reserves Korver and Ronnie Brewer, along with starters Rose, Noah and Deng -- paid dividends, as the Bulls, buoyed by several key plays from Brewer (nine points, eight rebounds), tied the game at 80 with a little over a minute left in the affair.

Rose, Chicago's established closer, put the Bulls up, 82-80, on a driving layup with 46.5 seconds to play.

"I'm kind of getting used to it," said Rose afterwards. "I'm just taking whatever they give me. My teammates and the coaching staff have confidence in me, just like if they have the ball, I have confidence in them."

Added Korver: "He does it time and time again. He wants those moments. He doesn't just say, 'All right, I've got to try to do this again.' He really relishes it and he's done it with jump shots, he's done it with threes, he's done it driving to the basket, he's just showing that he can do it all."

On the subsequent Cavaliers possession, however, a play out of a timeout for Varejao worked to perfection, with the Brazilian finding himself wide open at the rim and tying the game with 26.2 seconds remaining.

Following a Varejao free throw (he missed the first of two attempts after securing a Rose miss and getting fouled) and a Chicago timeout, Rose went to work again, finishing a layup with contact and hitting the ensuing foul shot to give the Bulls an 85-83 advantage with 19.6 seconds left. Cleveland would get a chance to even the score, but couldn't convert.

Noah (13 points, 14 boards), still the subject of the Quicken Loans Arena crowd's scorn after his disparaging remarks about Cleveland in last year's playoffs, secured the rebound and knocked down a pair of free throws with 6.2 seconds on the clock to finalize things. For good measure, Brewer stole the inbounds pass and was fouled.

"It feels good to win, but we're playing with fire, man," said Noah, who laughingly called it an "understatement" when a reporter insinuated the team didn't play up to its potential. "It was definitely a low-energy game and we definitely didn't play our best basketball, but they played hard as hell. We've got to play with better effort.

"There's no denying it. We didn't play our best basketball tonight. Against the elite teams in the NBA, that's not going to get it done. But like I said, we're very happy that we won on the road. That's a tough thing to do in this league," he added.

While Rose was glad the Bulls pulled out the victory, he wasn't pleased with the way it happened, with him in the familiar role with savior at the conclusion.

"Hell no, I don't like that. Hell no. If it was up to me, I wouldn't be in it. I like winning games comfortably," quipped Rose when asked about his repeated game-saving performances. It hurts -- like I said, we won, but it still hurts -- right now, just thinking what happens if we would have lost.

"We're playing terrible right now, letting teams come back. But hopefully, we'll learn from it in the right way, where we'll end that way we're playing like that -- nonchalant -- very early," continued Rose, obviously not content with just a win. "If not, we're going to lose. It's going to hurt us very bad."

A teacher at heart, Thibodeau himself hopes his pupils retain the lesson from the close call by not taking the competition or an early advantage for granted, while making more of an emphasis of forcing the style of play he's tried to instill down opponents' throats from the outset.

"You have to bring energy every game. You have to prepare yourself well. We should have had fast-break opportunities because we were able to get stops for a good part of the game. Our rebounding was okay -- not great -- but our conversion on the break wasn't what you'd like it to be. When you convert those and get those easy scoring opportunities, I think everybody's confidence goes up and it allows you to execute a lot better," said Thibodeau.

"It was one of those games. You were struggling at different times, but there was a lot of fight at the end to do whatever we had to do to get the win and I was pleased with that."

In the end, one characteristic Thibodeau's brought to the team was their saving grace. Oh, and of course, Rose's determination.

No snow days in the NBA

While the constantly swirling snowstorm outside the arena -- but reportedly only in Cleveland's downtown area, not in the surrounding suburbs -- caused the Bulls to be delayed coming to the arena and definitely affected the game's turnout, the team refused to let that be a reason for their lackluster play.

"We're basketball players. There's going to be games like that, where people aren't going to come in until the end of the game or some people are never going to come. We've still got to go out there, put teams away early, especially a team that's down like that. We've got to keep them down because if it was us, they'd try to do the same," said Rose.

Added Noah: "There's no excuses. This is part of it. You can make excuses all you want, but this is part of basketball. Nagging injuries, four games in five nights, snow, the environment, problems at home. You can find an excuse almost every night, but that's why winning is difficult in this league. You try to not worry about the distractions and really focus on what needs to be done to win. That's what good teams do."

Korver chimed in: "It took us like 35 minutes to get here to get five blocks before the game. A lot of us got cut short with our pregame routines, but I'm sure a lot of people had a hard time getting to the game, too. Downtown was a mess. It was a mess getting here. Anyway, I played in Philly for a few years, so I've played in a couple of those arenas where you've got to kind of create your own energy."

Boozer on the bench late

After the game, Thibodeau explained the fourth-quarter absence of Boozer, attributing it to Cleveland's shooter-heavy lineup.

"We were spread out. I liked Lu at the four, just because I thought it gave us another perimeter guy and it would allow us to do some more switching. That was the main reason for that and they did a good job on Boozer with their double teams," said Thibodeau.

"We should have been able to do a better job in transition to get him deep post catches, where they couldn't get the double team there quite as quick, but we played at a slow pace, forced us into a halfcourt game and when we went to him, they forced the ball out of his hands. It was tougher on him, but we've got to do a better job with that."

Added Thibodeau: I thought it gave us an opportunity to put more shooting on the floor and also I liked it better defensively for us. Jamison, he spreads you out and he has the ability to shoot the three, but also put it on the floor and he's very clever with his shots and different types of shots that he can get off."

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.

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.