Thibodeau's Bulls can't solve his former team


Thibodeau's Bulls can't solve his former team

Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010
Updated 12:36 AM

By Aggrey Sam

BOSTON If pulse-pounding action, dramatic comebacks and extra periods werent involved, it just wouldnt be the Bulls and the Celtics.

The return of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Boston fan favorite Brian Scalabrine were overshadowed by a thrilling affair, in which visiting Chicago was just about left for dead, until an uphill battle against a seemingly-safe Boston lead left a raucous TD Bank North Garden crowd stunned.

Eventually, critical errors by a still-gelling Bulls squad and clutch moments from a veteran Celtics group would seal the visitors 110-105 overtime demise.

We couldnt get stops when we needed them. We made a lot of mistakes. Its always frustrating to lose, Bulls center Joakim Noah told reporters following the loss. Were not there yet, but were pretty close and were only going to get better. And when we do, its going to get real ugly for everybody thats talking real crazy. All the trash that people are talking right now, its going to come back and haunt them because when it counts, were going to be ready.

Behind its boisterous crowd, the Celtics initially threatened to run the Bulls out of the gym or so it seemed, as Boston point guard Rajon Rondo pushed the pace and created defensive havoc in his customary manner, while veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen complimented his backcourt mate with his typical smooth scoring.

To complicate matters, Chicago (2-3) had issues both protecting the ball and finishing at the rim, although the visitors did appear to make a concerted effort to get the ball inside. A brief pattern of Boston (5-1) going on a mini-run, followed by the Bulls storming back was established with Taj Gibsons patented baseline jumper, Noahs activity level inside and Derrick Roses usual strong penetration all serving as catalysts. By the end of the first quarter, the tide had turned, and Chicago held a 23-19 advantage.

The familiar issue of the Bulls reserves being unable to maintain the momentum established by the starters persisted, as the Bulls were held scoreless until midway through the second period. Bostons offense wasnt exactly prolific with its second unit in the contest, but reserve swingman Marquis Daniels provided a major spark, as his versatile and unorthodox game gave Chicago defenders fits.

Both squads regulars would eventually return to the game, but the Bulls remained out of sync, turnover-prone, lacking ball movement, facing foul trouble and unable to adequately suppress the Celtics attack. Bostons Kevin Garnett and his backup, Glen Big Baby Davis, went to work in the low post, contributing significantly to a 24-3 extended run to begin the quarter in which the Bulls were doubled up, 30-15. Noah (26 points, 12 rebounds; both were game-highs), Rose and Luol Deng made valiant efforts to get Chicago back into the game before halftime, but the Bulls would trail, 49-38 at intermission.

Each game, were finding out more and well continue to look at different combinations and see what works best for the team, observed Thibodeau about his bench. You have to see who functions well together and right now, were still searching and I think were capable of playing better.

Boston is a tough team. Theyre excellent defensively, they make it hard on you, theyve got great length, Rondos activity will really bother you. In the first half, we held onto the ball, we went one-on-one, you cant do that against this teamin the second half, we made quality decisions, we got better shots. Thats what you have to do against a quality team, continued the coach, who was particularly bothered by his teams 19 turnovers.

They have a lot of weapons, theyre experienced, they know how to work the game and theyre hard to guardthe thing that gets overlooked about them is not only their individual greatness, but their collective greatness and their willingness to share with each other. So that ball moves through that balls always hopping and that puts an enormous pressure on your defense. Your defense isnt allowed to set and thats something were striving for. We want to get to be like that.

A technical foul called on Noah as the first half ended appeared to have some carry-over to the third quarter, with the Bulls center and Garnett getting into some verbal posturing on the floor. However, while both Garnett and fellow preps-to-pros and South Carolina native Jermaine ONeal were effective inside for the Celtics, Gibsons youthful energy reigned supreme (Noahs ability to get to the line regularly and convert was also key) in the early portion of the second half, as his offensive efforts helped Chicago cut its deficit to single digits.

The Bulls still werent flowing offensively and though Gibson (18 points, seven rebounds) enjoyed a surprising advantage over the cagey Garnett (16 points, 10 rebounds) at power forward, his teammates scoring was intermittent and their frustration over this fact was apparent. Meanwhile, ONeal and Allen were the primary load-bearers for Boston, which maintained a safe distance from the Bulls. Despite Rose (18 points, nine assists) aggressively willing in a few buckets late in the period, Chicago was behind by a 72-64 margin after three quarters of action.

Ive got to get used to double teams. Every time I come off picks, its a double team. Theyre making me pass the ball, said Rose, who was hounded by not only the defensive-minded Rondo, but Bostons post players, who sacrificed open mid-range jumpers by Noah and Gibson in order to harass Chicagos point guard. Im not used to it, so I know Thibs is going to have something for that and were going to be ready next game.

How do we respond to the ball being forced out of Roses hands? Try to make plays. Obviously Derricks our scorer and Derricks our playmaker, and theyre trying to get the ball out of his hands, explained Noah. I think it should work to our advantage. When theres two defenders on the ball like that, especially when theyre trapping at halfcourt, its on us as big men to get the ball and make the play from there.

A promising beginning to the final stanza reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer finished off a nifty give-and-go with a dunk resulted in the Bulls trimming the Celtics winning margin to a two-possession game early in the period. Brewer, whose stint in Chicago thus far has been mostly uneventful, also contributed an open-court theft of Ray Allen, leading to an easy transition finish.

With mostly reserves on the court for both teams, the Bulls continued to chip away at the lead, closing to within two points approximately halfway through the quarter following a Brewer pull-up jumper and a dunk from rookie center Omer Asik. A three-pointer by backup point guard C.J. Watson like Brewer, an offseason acquisition who hadnt found his stride yet put Chicago ahead for the first time since early in the second quarter.

Suddenly, it was a back-and-forth affair, with Rose and Rondo exchanging successful forays to the rim and the games intensity fitting of the arenas festive environment. Out of a Bulls timeout, Kyle Korver committed a costly turnover, resulting in a Ray Allen transition layup plus a foul to make it a two-possession contest. While the floodgates didnt completely open, the momentum definitely shifted to the home team, who teetered on the edge of putting the game away once and for all.

But a resilient Chicago squad wouldnt let up, and after a pair of Deng (20 points, six rebounds) long bombs, the count was evened at 96 apiece. With 34.2 seconds to play and the score still gridlocked, a remarkable hustle play by the always blue-collar Keith Bogans he would dive after a deflected loose ball in the Celtics backcourt and call timeout gave the Bulls a final possession in regulation.

A final play a clear-out for Rose, defended by Rondo was drawn up, but after making his initial move to the basket, the Bulls All-Star point guard was jostled by Rondo (10 points, 11 assists, four steals), lost the ball and the Bulls were unable to get off a final shot.

I lost the balltheres nothing I could say to change that. I guess I couldnt get a shot off, said a dejected Rose. I dont know what it was, but the refs thought it was clean, so theres nothing I can say about it. I guess they made the right call.

We wanted to get the last shot. They were crowding Derrick, so we wanted to just go 1-4 flat and give him a chance to win the game, explained Thibodeau. It was a tough play. I havent seen it, but it looked like Rondo made a good play. There was some contact, it looked like it could go either way. It didnt go our way this time. We have to do better next time.

In the extra period, Bostons Paul Pierce who had a quiet game after surpassing the 20,000-point mark for his career in the Celtics previous outing, another overtime thriller against Milwaukee started the scoring with his trademark foul-line pull-up jumper. Gibson would counter with one of his own. A scoring exchange between the teams ensued, with Bostons Davis (15 points) knocking down a jumper, Korver hitting a huge three-pointer and Allen answering back in similar fashion, before a Rose drive resulted in a foul and two free throws.

This neck-and-neck action turned in the Celtics favor after another Pierce jumper, then a Bulls turnover that made the situation bleak for the out-of-towners, particularly after an explosive Allen (team-high 25 points) dunk over Korver that made it a two-possession contest. However, a Deng tip-in gave the Bulls hope, making it a 108-105 game with under a minute to play. Chicago would get a defensive stop on the next possession, but after a Noah rebound, the centers subsequent push up the court was poked away by Garnett, sealing the deal for Boston.

Garnett was behind me, so I couldnt see himI was trying to make a play. Big mistake. He reached on the rebound and I thought we had the numbers in transition and I should have slowed it down. We should have got a shot up in that situation, recalled Noah. Theres a lot more basketball to be played and as long we come with the right mindset every day and work on our defense, and work on what we need to work, were going to be tough.

Said Thibodeau: We would rather have Derrick with the ball, but Noah has made several plays very effectively like that. In that situation sometimes particularly against a defensive team like that your best look is going to be in transition. Youre not allowing their defense to set. Now, wed much prefer Derrick to handle it and make the decision, but those are things well work on and get better at.

We have high character on the team, theres a lot of toughness and theres a lot of fight in them. Were still not playing up to our capability. Defensively, I think we could do a lot better; offensively, were scoring the ball. Im not as concerned right now about our offense as I am about out defense.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.