Bulls

Toothless, lifeless Bulls dominated by Pacers

Toothless, lifeless Bulls dominated by Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bulls had the look of confusion on defense, again.

They failed to get back after misses and allowed wide-open 3-point shots, again.

Too many times they tried getting in the passing lane and compromised their defense for guard penetration or easy opportunities, again.

So it should be no surprise, again, to see the Bulls lose their third straight game, this time at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, a team they beat at home one week ago by a decisive margin.

The payback was served cold at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a 111-94 Pacers win, making it three straight defeats for the Bulls, bringing them back to a .500 mark after they were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA with a 3-0 mark.

Not even Paul George’s ejection late in the third quarter would be nearly enough to spark a team playing in quicksand on the second day of a back-to-back, coming off the heels of Friday’s emotion-filled loss to the New York Knicks.

“I thought tonight we looked like a tired basketball team right out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They opened up with a 16-point lead and that’s a tough hole to dig yourself out of.”

George lightly booted a ball into the stands after being called for a foul against Jimmy Butler near the basket stanchion. The ball found its way to the face of an unsuspecting fan with less than two minutes left in the third quarter with George immediately walking over to the fan to apologize. The two hugged and exchanged pleasantries but the damage was done as the officials sent George to the locker room with two technical fouls.

[RELATED: All-Star Paul George ejected against Bulls for kicking ball and hitting fan]

Before that even took place, Saturday looked like an instant replay of Friday in terms of the slow start. The turnovers piled up along with the defensive miscues that are either gameplan mistakes or a matter of effort, although it’s probably more of the former than latter.

Switching on defense seems to throw them out of whack, leading to too many opportunities for other teams to exploit. The Pacers racked up 31 points and had a 17-point lead as they shot 58 percent.

“I think we do. Some guys switch who aren’t supposed to switch,” Butler said. “That’s not in the gameplan, I can tell you that. I know who’s supposed to switching and who’s not supposed to be switching.”

A bigger issue has been the lack of execution on offense, which could possibly lead to the ineffectiveness on the other end. In the first three games, the Bulls jumped on their opponents early. Now, the tables have turned and it puts the responsibility squarely on the starters.

“We do have to play better, start better,” said Dwyane Wade, who missed his first eight shots after a 35-point night Friday. “The starters have to do a better job, the onus is on us individually. Once you get down like that versus teams in this league, it’s hard. You give guys confidence and it’s a wrap.”

Wade finished with four points in 21 minutes. Butler and Bobby Portis scored 16 each, although Portis’ production came essentially in garbage time.

Butler believes he has to take more of an aggressive role to prevent the Bulls from taking the first punch. He had his hands full with George, who made all four of his shots in the first for 10 points — most of them in transition.

“It comes to me leading the charge when it comes to coming out with the right energy, making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on both ends,” Butler said. “I can’t come out lackadaisical.

“I don’t think I’ve started out as aggressive as I should. I should be the most aggressive one coming out the gate. That’s what I was the first two games.”

The damage was done with the Bulls playing catch up the rest of the way, not making the Pacers sweat even when George was tossed after scoring 13. And the player who took his place on the floor continued having a banner night. CJ Miles hit a couple more triples before the end of the quarter, and hit a couple more for good measure, giving himself 20 points on the night.

Second-year center Myles Turner scored 16 and former Bull Aaron Brooks scored 10 off the bench.

“It starts with turning the ball over,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going out there and imposing your will as that ball is thrown up for the opening tip and we’re obviously capable of doing it.”

Jeff Teague had a miserable night when the two met a week ago, and he made up for it in spades, dominating his matchup with Rajon Rondo. Teague helped control the pace, as the Pacers hit 11 triples and shot over 50 percent for the entire night.

The ball movement wasn’t as prevalent as even Friday night against the Knicks, as the turnovers kept coming from everywhere and the smoothness with which the Bulls played has disappeared.

“It’s kind of what happens when you get down, it’s a will game that we play,” Wade said. “It’s the nature of us, to will it. When you’re moving the ball it becomes contagious and when you’re down early on, you wanna make the play instead of trusting the game. We’re all guilty of that, not just this team but other teams I’ve been on. The ball stops. The blueprint’s there, we just gotta get to it.”

In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Bulls committed seven turnovers and were never really competitive throughout, missing on defensive gambles and showing very little in the way of actual fundamentals.

If last Saturday was the best played game of the Fred Hoiberg era, chalk this one up amongst the look of last season as the Bulls go back to the drawing board, back at .500.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

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.