Slow start, quiet finish doom Bulls in loss to Hornets


Slow start, quiet finish doom Bulls in loss to Hornets

From the 9-minute mark of the first quarter to the 2-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Bulls played well enough to win. Unfortunately that five-minute stretch Saturday against the Charlotte Hornets also counted in the final tally, with a lackadaisical start and quiet finish proving costly in the Bulls’ 102-96 loss Saturday at the United Center.

A Doug McDermott 3-pointer from the top of the key tied the game at 94 with 2:06 remaining, and the Bulls were given consecutive chances to take the lead at home after a pair of errant shots from Nicolas Batum, the game’s leading scorer with 24 points.

And while the Bulls got the looks they wanted – first Derrick Rose ran the pick-and-roll with Pau Gasol, playing in his 1,000th game, and got the center an open look from 15 feet that went long; then McDermott had a look from the right wing that went halfway down before popping out – execution was an issue down the stretch, as they made just five of their final six shots after McDermott’s game-tying triple.

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The Hornets, ranked fourth in the NBA in efficiency, wouldn’t give the Bulls any more chances. Cody Zeller hit a pair of free throws and Kemba Walker connected on a stepback jumper after Jimmy Butler’s 3-point try from the right corner rimmed out to essentially put the game out of reach. Where the Bulls struggled in the closing moments, the Hornets scored eight points on their final five possessions to seal the victory, their second in three tries against the Bulls.

“We missed some shots we thought we hit. But we’ve got to get stops,” McDermott said after the game. “We didn’t do a job. Batum kind of had it rolling in the second half and we couldn’t really cool him off. It’s tough but we’ve got to bounce back, we’ve got more coming at us. We’ll be able to bounce back.”

That the Bulls had a chance to win in the closing minutes was a surprise in itself, considering they put themselves in a 12-3 hole to begin the game. Energy was lacking, the defense appeared to be a step behind Charlotte, winners in six of their last eight, and the offense wasn’t clicking, missing six of their first seven like they did to end the game.

Nikola Mirotic, who returned after suffering a concussion in Wednesday’s win over Denver, scored seven points on 3-for-4 shooting in the opening period. But aside from him, the other four starters combined to shoot 5-for-15.

“We know what it takes to win and having high energy from the gates, truthfully that’s on the starters,” said Butler, who missed his first five shots. “Definitely on the guards, on myself and Derrick for letting it happen. The bench did their job. They came in high energy, got us back into this game. It’s on us. The starting five has to go out there and start with energy.”

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A gutty performance from the second unit included a 16-4 run that gave the Bulls a three-point lead, but the Hornets responded on the backs of Batum and Kemba Walker, who finished with 17 points, to take a two-point halftime lead. 

The Bulls appeared to be rolling in the third quarter, with Butler and Rose showing off that energy by each scoring nine points, while the Hornets were limited to 20 points and committed six turnovers, which turned into eight points for the Bulls. That looked more like the defense that entered Saturday leading the league in field goal percentage defense, though it faltered late when the offense couldn’t respond. 

The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team leading by more than one possession from the 9:45 mark until less than a minute remaining, with Walker’s jumper putting the Hornets up four, 98-94, with 28.9 seconds left.

Taking out the first 3 minutes and final 2 minutes, the Bulls outscored the Hornets, 91-82. In the remaining 43 minutes they shot 35-for-77, a respectable 45 percent.

But those other five minutes counted in the final tally, and despite the Bulls getting the ball in the right hands – they had 29 assists on 37 made field goals – the slow start felt as though they were playing catch-up all night, even when they took the lead in the third quarter.

“We just weren’t playing with pace. Coming out the gates they came out playing harder than we did as a whole on both ends of the floor,” Butler said. “When we play like that we’re not a good enough team to just play lazy and expect ourselves to outscore people.”

Scoring in general has been a difficulty for the Bulls of late. Though ranked in the top-10 in pace, they’ve now gone six straight games without scoring 100 points. There were signs of more progress – Derrick Rose scored 19 points and made three 3-pointers, half his season total entering the game, and McDermott looked good with 13 minutes and got late-game minutes – and now the challenge for Hoiberg is to get his players to show that consistency for 48 minutes. It didn’t happen at the start or very end Saturday night, and the result was the Bulls’ second home loss this season.

“I thought we missed some really, really good looks. I thought even Doug and Jimmy at the end had great looks that hit every part of the rim and bounced out,” Hoiberg said of the late-game struggles. “Our movement’s getting better and just we have to sustain it, we have to do it for 48 minutes.”

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.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.