Bulls

Rose's return powers Bulls to victory

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Rose's return powers Bulls to victory

One player cant win a game alone, but if that one player is Derrick Rose, he certainly makes a big difference.

Roses return to the court Monday afternoon was a successful one, as the Bulls (26-8) bounced back from a lackluster outing Saturday and held off the Hawks (19-13), 90-79, at the United Center.

We just couldnt wait to play, said Carlos Boozer. Weve still got a long way to go, but we played much better than we did the other day.

Atlanta jumped out to a quick start, as All-Star snub Josh Smith (17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and shooting guard Willie Green got it going early, but after a quick timeout to regain focus, Tom Thibodeaus defense got back to its smothering ways.

The first few minutes, we didnt start off well and in the timeout, we kind of spoke about our defense a little bit, Luol Deng revealed. Once we played defense, we really got a lot of easy baskets.

After missing five consecutive games due to lower back spasms, Rose (23 points, six assists, five rebounds) wasted no time showing that he was the same as ever, knocking down two early triples and displaying his typically fearless nature on swashbuckling drives to the rim.

His explosion was there. His drives were there. Conditioning-wise, hes not where he normally is. But thats to be expected. Overall, Im very pleased. He said he felt real good out there, Thibodeau observed. The big thing was making sure he was 100 percent and pain-free. Then he had to be cleared medically. Then he had to feel very good about playing. We went step by step with him. He did his rehab. Then we did non-contact stuff. He didnt have problems with that. Then we went to contact and he didnt have problems with that. Who were playing didnt have anything to do with it. He felt he was 100 percent and could go. Well just go from here. He said he felt well out there.

You dont want him to change who he is. Thats the nature of the game. Guys are going to be aggressive and attack. Youre always concerned about health. But a guy could get hurt in practice or shootaround. Thats part of the game. Hes done a good job with his rehab. Our trainers have done a great job with him. We felt comfortable. As long as hes pain-free and feels 100 percent, we felt good with him playing. He met all the criteria that we were looking for him to meet before he played again. So were good with it.

Added Boozer: Thibs called a great 20-second timeout and Pooh just picked the pace up for all of us. Next thing you know, it was drive to the bucket, and-one, free throws, jump shot. It was awesome to watch. He did the same thing in second half. Came out, was super-aggressive and his scoring ability got everybody in the right spots. His poise down the stretch gave us a great calm out there.

Ronnie Brewer (13 points, six rebounds), who has struggled as of late, was productive at the outset, while Deng (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists), back in the role of secondary scorer and ballhandler after shouldering more of the load during Roses absence, also made a quick impact on both ends and Joakim Noah (16 rebounds) pounded the glass, as is his custom.

An emphasis on transition offense made easier with Roses return, though when he exited the contest, veteran point guard Mike James picked up right where he left off, tough driving finishes and all and efficient halfcourt offense propelled the Bulls to a 35-17 at the conclusion of the opening period.

James continued his solid play early in the second quarter, playing aggressively on the offensive end, though he had his hands full on defense with Chicago native and erstwhile Bull Jannero Pargo (19 points, five rebounds).

Still, the hosts maintained their double-digit edge over the Hawks by virtue of stout defense and dominant rebounding, most of which Noah was responsible for, as well as contributions from a variety of sources.

I thought his energy was good. He played extended minutes, made great effort. His defense was good. They were small at times, so that puts pressure on you. He made multiple efforts on several plays. That was encouraging, Thibodeau said of his center. Id like to see his offense come back around, get some easy baskets and I think he can do that.

Boozer chimed in: Jo was a monster tonight. Hes been a monster every night, really.

You saw how aggressive Jo was. He was awesome today.

Taj Gibson came off the bench to give the Bulls his usual boost of energy on the interior, while Deng Thibodeaus ironman didnt leave the court in the first half displayed his versatile all-around game, blanketing Hawks All-Star swingman Joe Johnson (12 points), helping out on the glass and distributing the ball.

Upon his return, Rose continued to dominate as a scorer, due to his familiar explosiveness off the dribble and much-improved outside touch, aiding the Bulls in taking a 55-37 advantage into the intermission.

The home teams huge cushion remained stable after the break, as a steady diet of Rose scoring and playmaking, a persistent effort on the boards and Carlos Boozers (16 points, five rebounds) emergence, highlighted by accurate mid-range shooting, led the way.

Although Johnson began to find his rhythm for Atlanta, the visitors didnt get much from his supporting cast, something assuredly exacerbated by the Bulls stingy defense.

The lead continued to balloon as the third period waned on and perhaps the Bulls, going with a mix of regulars and reserves, got a bit too comfortable because Pargo got hot and aided the guests in cutting the deficit to single digits with his outside marksmanship. The Englewood native and Robeson High School product knocked down a trio of long bombs to trim the Hawks deficit to 73-64 through three quarters of play.

Theyve got guys who can score. Theyve got guys whove proven they can score in this league and they made their run. Weve got to do a better job of defending those guys, Deng said about the Hawks, referring to his former teammate, Pargo, in particular. He played great for them. We all know JP. He can really score.

Thibodeau echoed: You have to play tough with a lead, especially with the three-point shot. A guy like Pargo, if you let him loose in a minute, he can make three threes. I know you think all leads are safe. But in a minute, three 3s can erase a 10-point lead. Its funny, every time I see him I think about it, particularly when Im coaching against him. Ive seen Tracy McGrady (Thibodeau coached the former All-Star, now with the Hawks, in Houston) score 13 points in 35 seconds. That always sits in your mind. You can never relax against a good NBA player.

In striking distance heading into the final stanza, Atlanta continued to be on the Bulls heels, even after Thibodeau reinserted the likes of Rose and Deng into the contest, though he kept third-stringer John Lucas III (10 points) in the game, pairing him with the reigning league MVP to utilize their speed in the backcourt and allowing Rose to play off the ball at times.

I feel we have four really good point guards. When Derrick plays, hes going to gobble up most of those minutes. C.J. is the backup. John and Mike, depending in the matchup, said Thibodeau. John has played terrific for us all year. Hes got a lot of confidence, not afraid to take the big shot. Defensively, he knows what were trying to get done.

Noah concurred: Those guys have been huge for us, especially Mike. Mike he just comes inwe havent seen him in three weeks and he gives us everything. Hes been huge for us, so were happy to have him back.

Said Lucas: I just bring energy, man. I love the game of basketball, so I just come out there and play hard every possession. I just want to win. I hate losing, so whatever I can contribute for us to win, whether its defensively, offensively or even in there just to foul somebody so we can put them to the free-throw line, Im with it.

My role is just to take pressure off Derrick. When you have two PGs in there, if theyre trying to pick him up full court, he doesnt get as tired. Now, you have somebody else bringing the ball up and also, I think theres more pick-and-rolls out there for us. Nobodys holding the ball, you have two ballhandlers who can create for others and get to the paint.

Lucas was effective as an instant-offense scorer, but the adjustments made no difference to the Hawks in the grand scheme of things, as they kept the pressure on the Bulls, though the game didnt get closer than a two-possession affair through the quarters midway mark.

As the contest headed into its stretch run, timely buckets from Lucas, Deng and Boozer gave the Bulls some breathing room and Rose's foul-line jumper with just over two minutes remaining gave the hosts their first double-digit cushion of the final frame.

It was all academic in the end, as Atlanta ran out of steam Johnson had to leave the game due to a knee injury and couldnt challenge the home team.

Were not in rhythm right now. Its real choppy. Part of it is not having the repetitions youd like to clean that up, your timing, spacing and screening. We have to correct that, remarked Thibodeau. These guys have played well together at times. Would you prefer to have the same group? Yes. But were capable of doing a lot better and weve shown that. We have to be careful not to be taking shortcuts. We have to execute, make the extra pass and do it for 48 minutes.

Deng concluded: We think were better than we played, but its a long season and at the end of the day, its about winning these games. Its not about how you won them. We want to play better.

The aftermath of Kris Dunn's terrifying fall now includes a concussion

The aftermath of Kris Dunn's terrifying fall now includes a concussion

At first, it had appeared that Kris Dunn had somehow avoided a concussion in his scary fall late in Wednesday's Bulls loss to the Warriors.

But that is no longer the case, as Dunn has been diagnosed with a concussion:

The Bulls confirmed it the day after Fred Hoiberg said he wasn't sure if Dunn had suffered a concussion. The Bulls announced his two dislocated teeth have been stabilized and were splinted with braces.

Dunn took "a good little chunk out of the floor" with his teeth. He did not lose teeth when he fell face-first into the floor after he dunked and got caught on the rim just enough to throw his landing out of whack:

The 23-year-old point guard had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 30 minutes Wednesday night while defending Steph Curry. Dunn is averaging 13.7 points, 6.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game on the season.

It is not yet known how much time Dunn will miss, but he is currently not traveling with the team as they embark on a three-city road trip beginning Saturday in Atlanta.

Being a 'little slow, a little late' costs Bulls against Curry, Thompson and Warriors

Being a 'little slow, a little late' costs Bulls against Curry, Thompson and Warriors

The margin for error in playing against even a half-focused Golden State Warriors team is thin.

Wire-thin.

And as the Chicago Bulls took their litmus test against the defending NBA Champions following their recent success, an understated quote from the HBO series “The Wire” comes to mind as character Avon Barksdale looks at his brother in a hospital bed, locked in a vegetative state.

“The thing is, you only got to (mess) up once,” he said. “Be a little slow, be a little late, just once. And how you ain't never gonna be slow, never be late? You can't plan for (stuff) like this, man. It's life."

While Barksdale certainly wasn’t referring to Golden State sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the words apply to defending them and this Warriors team in the middle of a dynastic run, winning their 14th straight road game with a 119-112 win over the Bulls at the United Center Wednesday night.

Curry and Thompson are at the peak of their powers, with Thompson scoring 38 and Curry 30 as they combined for 13 triples. The two put on a show during the decisive third quarter after the Bulls took a shocking 66-63 lead into halftime.

Thompson hit three in a row out the gate where the Bulls lost track of him away from the ball and Curry followed up with a quick five, giving the champions a seven-point lead.

"If you're a split second late, you're dead,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Each scored 11 in the period, reaffirming how dangerous they are when sensing opportunity.

“They were on fire, both of them, at the same time,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But yeah, it was an old school ‘Splash Brothers’ game.”

It was during that period where the Bulls went cold for an extended stretch, nearly seven minutes between scoring after putting up 72 points in the game’s first 26 minutes—not a shocker considering how the Bulls have played and the Warriors being without defensive mainstays Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

“Our defense picked up,” Thompson said. “They got a lot of wide open threes in the first half. And they were able to space the floor and get to the basket after that. We guarded much better and communicated much better than we did in that first half.”

By the time Jerian Grant’s layup ended the drought with 2:47, the Warriors had sprinted out to a 17-point lead and were seemingly on cruise control.

“We lost our minds out there,” Hoiberg said. “We weren’t hitting shots, then we couldn’t get back to get matched up. We relaxed. We stood up. We got caught on screens. We lost our spirit.”

It wasn’t that the Warriors’ collective will smothered the Bulls; they merely waited until they saw an opening, exerted themselves and took control. With the United Center at a fever pitch, the Warriors can’t match the nightly desire of their opponents, their energy and motivation to beat the champions.

What they’ve mastered in the last two seasons is staying afloat long enough before someone gets hot, then they run away and hide before the 48 minutes expires.

“There’s a balance of understanding, every game isn’t gonna be playoff intensity,” Curry said after the morning shootaround. “We’re not gonna play playoff minutes during the course of the regular season. The things we can focus on, will mentally prepare us for the playoffs. No matter if it’s playing Boston with the next best record in the league or playing whomever is at the bottom of the standings, it doesn’t matter.”

They focus on the tenets the Bulls hope to make theirs: defense, rebounding and taking care of the basketball (11 turnovers), which is obscured by their dynastic scoring and shooting.

It initially looked over in the first 12 minutes, when Curry scored 12 points on a “too late, too slow” Kris Dunn and the Warriors had a 12-point lead. But the Bulls scored a remarkable 20 points in the last 3:11 of the period to tally their best opening stanza of the season and taking a 40-38 lead.

“A hard-fought, energetic first half,” Hoiberg said.

Perhaps the Warriors were a little shell-shocked after Jordan Bell exited in the first 24 seconds following an ankle injury, playing with unusual emotion before settling in and allowing the Bulls to display the emotion that has become their trademark in the last several weeks, buoying them to an unlikely finish before the half.

And they did it without the contributions of Zach LaVine, who struggled in his third game, going two for 12 in his mandated 20 minutes to score just five points.

The Bulls had six players in double figures while Nikola Mirotic provided the scoring as early and late when the Bulls made their comeback to make the score interesting, while the Warriors only had three in double figures: Curry, Thompson and Kevin Durant, who was an afterthought of sorts with 19 points on six of 15 shooting.

On this night, it was Curry and Thompson doing the heavy lifting.

“We got sped up and they knocked down more shots than we did,” LaVine said. “We’re trying to match them at their game. They’re the gold standard. You can’t play that game. You have to get some stops.”

LaVine was tasked with chasing Thompson around screens, highlighting a step he needs to take in improving his off-ball defense.

A little slow, a little late.

“He’s extremely hard to guard,” LaVine said. “Especially when you have KD and Steph doing splits as well. Pachulia is good at screening. You gotta have your head on a swivel.”

Figuratively and emotionally, LaVine’s statement rings as the Bulls don’t have the talent to truly compete with the Warriors—and there truly isn’t a team that can say it does—they have to rely on emotion and execution to stay within arm’s reach of the champions.

“I don’t want to necessarily say we got lazy defensively, but we didn’t tighten up defensively,” said Justin Holiday, a member of the Warriors 2015 title team. “(Later) we did what we were supposed to do. I think we did a pretty good job, we just didn’t close it at the end.”

Dunn started to get going after a porous three quarters where he missed 10 shots in a row during a stretch, getting into the passing lane for a steal and uncontested dunk with 2:55 left to bring the Bulls close at 112-107—but fell on his face after letting the rim go and drawing blood from his mouth.

“He didn’t lose teeth,” Hoiberg said. “He’s being evaluated right now (for a concussion). There’s a good little chunk he took out of the floor. Tough kid.”

Tough kid, and tough team the Bulls have turned into from the last time they saw the Warriors when they played Washington Generals to the Warriors’ Globetrotters on Nov. 24 during a 49-point beatdown.

Mirotic has returned, and was a plus-25 in 27 minutes, scoring 24 points and hitting four triples. Bobby Portis continues to be an unsung catalyst with his style, and he battled veteran David West all night, scoring 12 points with four rebounds in 17 minutes.

David Nwaba came off the bench to guard Curry late, forcing turnovers and missed shots when the Bulls needed to do everything right to overcome a 32-12 third quarter.

“A guy like Curry and Thompson, any space you’re giving them, they’re shooting it,” Nwaba said. “They’re constantly on the move and I have to stay with them the best I can.”

When Nwaba was asked whether it was more important to stay with them on the ball or off, he sighed and said “Both. You can’t relax.”

And there’s the rub. No easy answer on this team, although the Bulls showed some character and moxie in picking themselves off the mat for the final 12 minutes to make it interesting.

“We’d like to play a perfect game,” Curry said. “But as I always say, the other team gets paid too and you’ve just got to find a way to win. Over the course of 48 minutes, we try to impose our will.”

Because sooner or later, you’ll be a little slow or a little soon—and it’ll be June, and we all know how that movie ends.