Bulls

Taj Gibson leads short-handed Bulls in surprising win over Wizards

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Taj Gibson leads short-handed Bulls in surprising win over Wizards

There was Tony Snell, playing assertively and strong, not hesitating on 3-point attempts.

E’Twaun Moore hitting triple after triple and staying in front of the speedy John Wall, and finally, a determined Doug McDermott, taking the baseline around Wall and then the elevator over Markieff Morris for a surprising dunk.

It prompted the predictable reaction after the unpredictable production: Who are these guys?

A tough bunch is what they looked like and played like, responding to their coach’s call for “nasty” after two straight wins and made it a third with a inspiring, inspired 109-104 win over the Washington Wizards.

They looked like they discovered some identity in the face of adversity, as they sensed the Wizards were content on showing up and not earning a win — as one could make the argument the Wizards did their usual Jekyll-and-Hyde routine of failing to appear for this appointment.

[MORE BULLS: Watch a replay of the Bulls' win over the Wizards]

Pau Gasol was the only Bull whose production looked familiar, though he played with flu-like symptoms, coming up an assist short of a triple-double with 10 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists while doing his part in keeping Marcin Gortat and Nene from dominating as they’ve done recently in this matchup.

“I was really proud. Pau did not look good all day, and I asked him to show up and see what he could give us,” Fred Hoiberg said, as Gasol was a gametime decision, his status not announced until right before tipoff. “Our guys fought and battled.”

Perhaps it took the Bulls being completely exhausted of all their usual options, being without Derrick Rose as a late scratch in addition to the already suited-and-booted Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic.

Rose’s right hamstring tendinitis made him decide to sit this one out, being the first in a three-games-in-four-night stretch. And his teammates picked up the slack, being a ball of activity and running Hoiberg’s ball-movement system to perfection, each taking turns.

Snell scored 10 of his 14 in the first half, Moore scored eight of his 17 in the fourth and McDermott scored all 12 of his in the second half.

“They have to, with the guys we had out there,” Hoiberg said. “I thought guys did a good job of reading certain situations and executed it really well.”

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It produced 26 assists on 50-percent shooting, as all five unlikely starters hit double figures and Aaron Brooks and McDermott did damage off the bench. Finding their balance without the stars could bode well for when the team returns en masse.

Taj Gibson has garnered attention with his mouth lately, trying to take the mantle of being a more vocal player, but Wednesday, his effect was tangible as his play did the talking.

Saying before he was sick of the way things were going, he played like a man possessed, grabbing every rebound and loose ball, hedging on screens defensively and setting solid ones offensively, scoring 17 with seven rebounds and seven assists in 30 minutes.

“Our guys did a great job of finding him, especially early,” Hoiberg said. “He really carried us. We had 55 (points) in the paint. Taj was a big part of that.”

It was enough to keep them in the game early, but how long it would stay afloat while the Wizards sleepwalked was the question.

Getting a lot of scores off secondary offense just by pushing the ball and taking advantage of a lagging team that played the night before gave the Bulls their biggest advantage.

“Like I said before I gotta do better,” Gibson said. “I learned from a good coach you gotta put more into it when it’s not going your way. Them young guys are putting more into my game. I’ve been patient ... and being ready when it’s my time to score.”

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The Bulls led by 15 with 3:05 to play after a McDermott dunk, but the Wizards clawed back. The Bulls, though, decided to play with a little toughness for the first time in a long time.

Moore torched Wall late, most of them critical run-stopping plays.

Wall scored 16 with seven assists but didn’t have the effect he usually does. Bradley Beal came off the bench to score 19 but took 19 shots, and Ramon Sessions again torched the Bulls for 16 off the pine.

The Bulls’ longtime tough guy had his juice rub off on his guys for once.

Gibson’s play encouraged his teammates to follow suit, as McDermott’s jumpers finished what Gibson’s emotions started, and the Bulls’ defense did more than enough late.

Just when you think this Bulls team has next to no life, they emerge from the ashes to show they have a little more than a faint pulse.

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.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”