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Round 1: Bulls wrestle series away from Pacers

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Round 1: Bulls wrestle series away from Pacers

Tuesday, April 26, 2011Posted: 10:00 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

This was more like it.

Even with Derrick Rose ailing, the Bulls got back to the formula that won them 62 regular-season games and put the eighth-seeded Pacers in their place, mauling them, 116-89, Tuesday night at the United Center to win their first-round series, 4-1.

The important thing is just getting the win. We try not to get caught up in all the other stuff, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We knew we were capable of playing better, but when you look at the series, to be up 3-1, youve got to do a lot of things well, too.

In the playoffs, every win is hard to get. Youve got to earn them. I liked our mentality today.

WATCH: Thibodeau's postgame comments

Recovering their regular-season mojo, the Bulls jumped out to a 12-2 start, blitzing the Pacers with the transition game that had been missing the entire series.

While Joakim Noah (14 points, eight rebounds) played a major part in the early run and other starters also contributed, a heartening sign was the bounce of Rose (25 points, 3-for-8 three-point shooting, six assists), who slashed his way to the basket and pushed the tempo for his team as if his sprained left ankle wasnt an issue.

"Thats what I love about him," Noah said. "Hes just a competitor and he wants to win more than anythingmore than the MVP and everything thats thrown at himthats the beauty of it.

At the end of the day, hes somebody that you never have to worry about competing. Thats a beautiful thing because I dont feel like every superstar player in the NBA is like that. I think thats a rare thing and hes got it. Thats why hes a special kid.

Although Indiana didnt let the lead balloon further, Chicago maintained its early intensity, particularly Noahhis grandfather coming in from Cameroon to attend the game might have been a factorwho was a whirling dervish throughout the first quarter and sparked his teammates collective hustle with his constant energy, underrated offensive capabilities and inside presence.

It feels amazing, man. I feel really lucky to be in this position right now and Im very happy, but Im not satisfied, said Noah. They dont have places like the UC where his grandfather, Zacharie Noah is from.

Just having him around and just being able to spend a little time with him, it means so much.
Joakim Noah: I'm cherishing every moment

Fellow starter Keith Bogans, who hit two first-quarter three-pointers, thought the Bulls came out with a lot of fire.

We had a lot of energy tonight," he said. "We fed off of Jo tonight. he came out hyped up, ready to play and the crowd was in it.

Aided by the complementary scoring of Luol Deng (24 points, 3-for-5 three-point shooting, six rebounds, seven assists), the Bulls regained their double-digit edge to lead, 36-25, after the opening period.

You cant say enough about Luol. Just put him in the book every night, praised Thibodeau. You can count on him. Hes the glue of the team, he keeps us together through everything.

Despite some early foul troubleBoozer picked up two quick fouls and both backup Taj Gibson (10 points, seven rebounds) and Noah were also saddled with a pair eachthe Bulls kept a firm grip on the games momentum in the second quarter, as the Pacers only consistent offense against Chicagos stingy defense came from leading scorer Danny Granger (20 points, six rebounds).

WATCH: Mak Legend's 'Madhouse on Madison' featured in Game 5

Still, it wasnt all smooth sailing for the Bulls, as both Boozer and Noah accumulated their third fouls midway through the period and the Pacersspecifically Windy City villains Tyler Hansbrough (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Jeff Fostermanaged to do damage on the offensive glass.

Early in the second quarter, Boozer suffered a right-toe injuryduring the sequence in which he scored his only basket of the nightadding to a frustrating series for him individually.

Well just see how it goes every day, try to get the pain out of it. Great deal of pain, but well work on it and Ive got until the next round, said Boozer, who said a postgame X-ray was negative for the injuryhe said he didnt know what its called, but didnt object to it be described as turf toe by reportersand only played limited minutes after getting into further foul trouble early in the second half.

I said to Thibodeau, If you need me, Ill be out there and Ill try to gut it out for the rest of the game.

Overall, however, this was the Bulls team fans were accustomed to seeing, with stifling defense, a variety of offensive weapons, crisp execution and opportunistic tendencies, especially when transition chances presented themselves.

We kept our pace up, played a more up-tempo type game, guys were getting to their spots quicker, knocking down shotsKyle and Keith, Lueverybody, said Rose. Jo, with his emotion, got us excited and we tried to use that to win this game.

Even with the development of Rose netting a charging foul, his third, late in the period, Chicago went into the break with a 54-46 advantage.

After the underappreciated Bogans (15 points, 5-for-7 three-point shooting) got the Bulls off to a solid start after the intermission, Roses fourth foul came quicker than expected and things quickly derailed for the home team. A 7-1 Pacers run cut the deficit from double digits to a two-possession game, forcing Thibodeau to make Roses stint on the bench a short one.

Boozer didn't help matters, picking up his fourth foul, but Roses reinsertion turned things around almost immediately, as the likely MVP knocked down a pair of three-pointers to help Chicago again push the lead to a comfortable margin.

I really had to get the feel of the game. I really didnt go on the court for like two daysdidnt touch a ball for two daysso just getting my rhythm back, explained Rose. My confidence wasnt down. I knew if I had the open shot, I was going to shoot.

No, I wasnt surprised, continued Rose, when asked about Thibodeau subbing him back into the contest. I was actually happy. I told him I wasnt going to foul anymore, but they called one more on me and Im grateful my teammates were able to pull out the game.

Concurred the coach: We just felt like it was going the wrong way and Derrick can play with fouls.

He hit those big shots and basically took it over from the middle of the third to the end of the third.

Rose taking over a game is nothing if not familiar at this juncture of the season, but the fashion in which he did ithitting a trio of third-quarter triples, diving on the floor for loose balls and sacrificing his body, all on a gimpy ankleinspired teammates like Gibson and Bogans to similarly pick up their games.

Meanwhile, Indianas level of frustration grewafter Granger had to be separated from Gibson following a tie-up, backup Josh McRoberts was ejected from the game for going after Noah, who constantly exhorted the raucous United Center crowdand distance between the two teams continued to grow, with the Bulls taking an 84-65 lead into the final stanza.

This series has been hard-fought, said Thibodeau of that confrontation, as well as one just after the final buzzer, when Granger attempted to confront Noah. Heat of the battle stuff. Those guys competed so hard.

The fourth quarter began on a down note for Chicago, as Rose picked up a ticky-tack fifth foul to start the period, making it a question of whether the Bulls could maintain the sizable margin without their leader.

The turnover-prone and scoring-devoid visitorsoutside of Granger and Hansbrough, only veteran reserve swingman Dahntay Jones (10 points) could provide an offensive spark for Indianawere unable to capitalize on the All-Star point guards absence, however, as Deng, Gibson and Kyle Korver (13 points) all helped pick up the offensive slack.

The game waned on and the onslaught continued, as the Bulls refused to let up and the offense kept clicking on all cylinders under the guidance of backup point guard C.J. Watson (six points, seven assists), further confounding and angering Indiana .

By the time Thibodeau filtered out his regularsall to huge ovationsfor the likes of little-used Rasual Butler, the United Center was a celebratory zone, with a late alley-oop converted by high-flying Ronnie Brewer sating the appetites of the giddy audience.

In the end, the game that clinched Bulls first trip to the second round since 2006 satisfied the curiosity of observers who foolishly believed their regular-season dominance wasnt legitimate. The only questions that remained at the evenings conclusion were What ankle? and Who do the Bulls play next?
Check out Rose's postgame comments here

Im speechless right now, said Rose. I really cant believe it and its a great accomplishment.

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.

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

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AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”