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Thibodeau's Bulls can't solve his former team

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Thibodeau's Bulls can't solve his former team

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

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

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.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Raptors in season opener

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Raptors in season opener

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' season opener against the Toronto Raptors tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Pace and Space

The Bulls offense had a distinctly different feel to it this preseason than in years past. Yes, the lack of Jimmy Butler certainly had something to do with that. But it’s evident that Fred Hoiberg is getting closer to coaching the brand of basketball he’s most comfortable with. The proof is primarily in the 3-point shooting. To put it lightly, the Bulls have been chucking from deep.

Here are some of the raw numbers. The Bulls averaged 32.8 3-pointers per game in the preseason, which ranked fifth in the NBA. And it wasn’t just one or two players taking outside looks. The Bulls had seven players attempt 3.4 triples or more per game. They ranged from point guard (Grant) to shooting guard (Valentine) to small forward (Zipser and Holiday) to power forward (Mirotic, Portis and Markkanen). These long-distance shots are coming from all over.

That could be a reason that the Bulls’ pace was way up from last year’s regular season. Now, pace (how many possessions a team averages per game) doesn’t necessarily mean a team is running fast breaks and hoisting shots at the earliest opportunity. But what it does mean for the Bulls is they’re getting quick open looks from beyond the arc. Their pace in the preseason ranked 12th in the NBA, but at 105.2 possessions it was much quicker than a year ago (97.72). It’s still preseason, so all paces are up around the league, but you can tell this Bulls offense looks different.

2. The Holiday Season

You’ll probably be sick of “holiday” puns by the end of the month, but it’s Opening Night so let us slide by just this time. There was optimism when the Bulls signed Justin Holiday that the 28-year-old could be a rotation player and a fill-in while Zach LaVine recovered from ACL surgery. Never an efficient offensive player, the Knicks were much better defensively with him on the floor last season, and on a Bulls team losing Butler there was a need for a wing defender.

And if the preseason proved anything it’s that Holiday is going to be more than a rotation player. That’s not saying all that much on a Bulls roster void of premier talent, but Holiday is likely the Bulls’ best healthy player at this point. He was stellar in the preseason, averaging 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He shot 57 percent from beyond the arc and averaged a team-high 29.3 minutes. Holiday simply looked the part.

Expect Holiday to lead the Bulls in field goal attempts most nights, and expect him to defend the opposition’s best player (DeMar DeRozan tonight). Again, this isn’t to say he’s necessarily a building block for the future or is going to make fans forget about Jimmy G. Buckets. But it’s nice to know the Bulls seemed to have hit on a free agent this offseason. Holiday enters the regular season with plenty of confidence.

3. Looking for progress

Unless he explodes in a good way, it’ll be too early to tell this year whether Lauri Markkanen is a piece of the future. He’s 20 years old and needs to put on muscle and learn the NBA before we decide what he’ll be. The same can’t be said for the other Bulls’ first-round picks.

Valentine is just in his second season, but he’ll also be 24 years old in less than a month. Drafting a college senior in the first round means he needs to be ready to play right away. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Valentine had an up-and-down preseason: He made 46.2 percent of his 3-pointers, but he only took 16 2-pointers in 112 minutes, showing a lack of diversity to his game. The speed just isn’t there. Perhaps Kris Dunn’s injury will allow him to facilitate some. Defensively, he still needs to show improvement. This will be a big year for the second-year guard. Now is his time to show he can be part of the rebuild.

Lastly, Jerian Grant wasn’t a Bulls first-round pick but when you deal Derrick Rose (albeit the non-MVP version) you need to have something to show for it. Grant looked the part in preseason and probably would have won the job over Dunn even if Dunn didn’t dislocate his finger. But Grant, as a combo guard, could be part of the team’s future as a reserve that gives Hoiberg options in the backcourt going forward. He was good in the preseason and will get his chance to shine in a starting role. What he does with it will be something to watch for, and he gets a big test tonight against Kyle Lowry.

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

It was supposed to be an uneventful and culture-resetting season for the Chicago Bulls, but that ended the moment Bobby Portis’ hand connected with the sweet spot on Nikola Mirotic’s face.

Now a light is shining on an unwilling franchise and rightful questions are again being asked about what led to the event, rather than the result.

Mirotic will be out four-to-six weeks with facial fractures and a concussion to boot and Portis was suspended for the first eight games of the season, leaving rookie Lauri Markkanen to man the power forward spot against the likes of Serge Ibaka and LaMarcus Aldridge his first two games.

Welcome to the NBA, kid.

It’s likely he received his wake-up call when he saw his teammates exchange friendly fire, though, considering the witnesses said Mirotic and Portis had been at it for awhile before Portis took one swing to conclude matters.

“Both players owned responsibility in the incident itself but only one player threw a punch. And that punch connected. For us, that is inexcusable,” Bulls Vice-President John Paxson said. “It’s not who we are.”

But when there is no discernable identity, and there’s a coaching staff who’ve witnessed these two go at it for well over two years you have to ask if this is who the Bulls are.

Not in the way of fighting but a team that collectively stands by idly while a situation builds and builds before it explodes, then is forced to clean up the carnage while having to explain and react to an unnecessary event.

Jimmy Butler, gone. Ditto for Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau? Dumped too before he picked up what the Bulls didn’t want in Butler on draft night, jump starting this process of the Bulls headed to Parts Unknown.

All have been blamed at some point for the state of affairs. Rose’s knees, Butler’s mouth, Thibodeau’s unwillingness to bend.

Butler took a tongue-in-cheek shot directly across the bow of his former franchise when asked about the incident involving his former teammates, saying “All I know is I’m not to blame for this one”, a nod to the narrative surrounding his trade to Minnesota.

Now who’s left to blame and what happens from here is anybody’s guess.

“When’s the right time to step in? I saw it on the best teams I played on, where you had that competitive spirit,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to have it to have any chance at all. So sure, looking back on it, would we have handled the situation differently? Maybe. I don’t know.”

Both Paxson and Hoiberg expressed the rightful disappointment in Portis while also saying Mirotic had a hand in what occurred. Portis will ultimately bear the responsibility, with his eight-game suspension coming at the worst possible time as his option for next season hasn’t been picked up yet, as it’s hard to see he and Mirotic sharing the same space in a locker room whenever Mirotic returns.

And if he is still around, it’ll be on the players to keep a team from splintering — as if the expected losing won’t be depressing enough.

“As teammates, we're certainly supporting Bobby and supporting Niko,” said Robin Lopez, a de-facto leader on a young roster. “We're going to let them know that what they did, the way they messed up, wasn't right, but we're definitely supporting them.”

Lopez, along with many others, said the confrontation has been brewing for some time, that the pushing and shoving wasn’t anything new. From a human standpoint it’s understandable to sense tension as Portis has been itching for playing time for two years after playing behind veterans, anxious to cement himself on a team that drafted a player at his position four months ago.

Mirotic came in as a golden boy of sorts, handed a starting spot by Hoiberg two years ago and given every chance to snag a starting spot last year before Taj Gibson aggressively stepped in.

His up-and-down performances were rewarded with a $12-plus million deal this offseason and although players usually don’t count each other’s money, they take note of who’s favored and who isn’t.

Mix in competition and ego days before the season began and it’s not surprising something was on the horizon.

But it’s up to a coaching staff to step in, as assistant coach Randy Brown did before the parties were separated in the hope things would settle down.

They didn’t, and now Hoiberg will start yet another season having his aptitude to coach a professional team questioned before he can call an official play or lay out a rotation — because Portis laid Mirotic out on the Advocate Center floor.

Hoiberg desperately wants to change the narrative surrounding his first two years, eager to prove his system can work and that he’s capable of commanding a team that plays hard and organized on a nightly basis.

Whether this is an omen or a random event, it certainly doesn’t bode well for Hoiberg to his detractors.

He stood to the side while Paxson addressed the media, appearing both bewildered and shocked he was having to address such a rare situation a little more than 24 hours before his season-opening cleanse was to occur.

“I’m very disappointed in what happened,” Hoiberg said. “Now, my job is to not let this moment derail us. My job is to get these guys prepared to go out and fight and play as a group, and I’m confident our guys will do that. They’ve shown that going all the way back into late August.

“I’m confident our guys will rally around each other. I’ve seen how much these guys care for each other, and we’re going to go into Toronto tomorrow as a group. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to grow from this. We’re going to compete, I promise you that.”

It’s clear the Bulls want to extricate themselves from the past couple years and now recent events, but when things are swept under the rug they have a funny way of reappearing at the weirdest times.