Bears

Bulls' defense dominates in record-setting win

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Bulls' defense dominates in record-setting win

ORLANDOSans Derrick Rose, the Bulls continue to find different methods to win, but Monday nights rout of the Magic was a return to a familiar formula. Well, Carlos Boozer also played a major role in the 85-59 victory at the Amway Center, but a stifling effort on the defensive endnot to mention timely scoring from new fan favorite John Lucas III early and lateone that set a new franchise mark for holding opponents to the fewest points in a regular-season game, earned Tom Thibodeau his 100th victory, setting an NBA record for being the head coach to accomplish the feat the fastest.

After starting the contest on the wrong end of a 5-0 run, the Bulls (38-10) got their act together quickly, using ball movement and sharp cuts to the basket to reap easy scoring opportunities.

Boozer (24 points, 13 rebounds) was the visitors offensive focal point, but in addition to scoring, the power forward also displayed his underrated passing ability and rebounding prowess in the early going.

Orlando (29-18) recovered from the Bulls onslaught and bounced back, going to newly re-committed All-Star center Dwight Howard (18 points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots)the subject of intense trade speculation at the deadline before informing the Magic of his decision to return for another seasonon the interior for high-percentage shots.

However, their guests struck back behind reserve point guard John Lucas III (20 points), who drained a trio of long bombs to help the Bulls take a 22-14 lead after a quarter of play.

Chicagos Bench Mob, with starter Luol Deng (14 points) also in the mix, maintained the momentum at the outset of the second period, as Omer Asiks interior defense, Taj Gibsons work on the glass and Dengs all-around talents kept the Magic off balance and allowed the gap between the teams to swell to double digits.

Upon Boozers reinsertion to the gamealong with Noah, in place of Gibson and Asikthe much-maligned big man went to work once again and with the Bulls transition game clicking, the defense forcing turnovers and stellar ball movement, the visitors remained in firm control.

Magic face-up power forward Ryan Anderson stretched the defense with his outside marksmanship and point guard Jameer Nelson, a former All-Star, overcame some early struggles to briefly spark the hosts, but as has become commonplace, the guests simply increased their defensive intensity and made adjustments to counter those developments.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, Boozer and Deng continued to excel, assisting the Bulls in taking a 48-33 advantage into the intermission in front of a dissatisfied Orlando crowd.

The games pace slowed a bit after the break, but the Bulls continued to have the edge in the contest, mostly due to their stout defensethough two Howard interior baskets, sandwiched by an Anderson putback, raised Thibodeaus ire enough for him to call a timeout, in order to refocus his squadas both teams initially had issues scoring the ball.

Orlando chipped away at the deficit, briefly making it a single-digit affair and getting the home fans back into the game.

Boozer, however, had other plans, knocking down his mid-range jumper with remarkable accuracy and again, combined with the Bulls intense defense, ensuring the lead ballooned enough to become a comfortable winning margin, following a 6-0 spurt.

Though the close of the period evened out a bit, the visitors maintained a 60-48 edge through three quarters of play.

The final stanza began as a defensive battle, with each team not giving an inch, yet unable to score proficiently, meaning each basket was that much more crucial and magnifying the importance of the diminutive Lucas high-arcing pull-up jumper over Howard, the three-time reigning league Defensive Player of the Year.

A thunderous Joakim Noah dunk over Glen Big Baby Davis, plus the foul and ensuing free throw raised the Bulls lead to 20 points and although Nelson knocked down a three-pointer on the subsequent possession, the damage was done.

Lucas, though, wasnt done putting the finishing touches on the road win, as his instant-offense scoring was even appreciated by the Magics fans, who had long begun to exit the arena.

Noah, after being mostly dormant throughout the night, also got his offense going late and by the time the contest wound down, the only question was if the Bulls would set a new mark for holding opponents to the fewest points in a regular-season game, which they did, eclipsing the mark set against Milwaukee in 1997.

Under Center Podcast: Bears still searching for an identity after loss to the Packers

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Bears still searching for an identity after loss to the Packers

Laurence Holmes and the Football Aftershow crew of Lance Briggs, Matt Forte and Alex Brown discuss the 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

5:21 - Expectations have significantly dropped for Mitch Trubisky this season.

9:36 - Ryan Pace needs to build a better roster for his coach.

15:19 - Bears need to draft another quarterback immediately.

22:53 - How should the Bears prepare with no chance of making the playoffs

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Under Center Podcast

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Bears defense bends, breaks, then fights back in loss to Green Bay Packers

Bears defense bends, breaks, then fights back in loss to Green Bay Packers

In a bend-but-don’t-break season, the Bears' defense played a bend-but-don’t-break game in the team’s last contest of significance — a 21-13 road loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Bears' first half energy was palpable. And how could it not be? On Sunday afternoon, the front seven, the defense and the team, en masse, regained one of its preeminent talents and preeminent leaders in Akiem Hicks.

“It was everything,” Hicks said, of being able to return. “My defensive linemates saw the energy and they were excited for me to be able to go back out there, because they know how much I miss it.”

“It was huge, man,” Eddie Jackson said of Hicks’ impact. “He gets us fired up.”

For a time, that was enough. At the half, the Packers led 7-3, but had only 129 total yards (29 rushing on 3.2 ypc) of total offense, had punted twice and turned the ball over on downs twice. Their only score came as a culmination of a four-play, 35-yard drive on a field shortened by a questionably-called kick-catch interference penalty on Cordarrelle Patterson.

But signs of the Packers’ eventual offensive breakout were abundant. On the first play of the game, Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a would-be 70-yard touchdown after roasting Prince Amukamara in coverage. Davante Adams burned a sagging Buster Skrine for a score on a 4th-and-6 play later in the first quarter. Even only 11-of-21 with 100 yards at the break, Aaron Rodgers faced little pressure in the game’s first 30 minutes.  

There’s the bend.

The break came fast and hard on the Packers’ opening two drives of the second half. On the first, Rodgers gashed the Bears twice — once through the air on a 34-yard dart to Adams, then on the ground with a 17-yard scramble. Aaron Jones finished the job with a 21-yard touchdown run from there. Then, after a Bears’ three-and-out, Green Bay snapped off a five-play, 66 yard touchdown drive that featured a 49-yard Josh Kumerow catch-and-run. 

Coverage breakdowns and missed tackles abounded. The Packers led 21-3.

“Nobody anticipated coming out of the half and having them rally that way,” Hicks said. “So we just kept fighting.”

As the Bears’ offense gradually came to life over the game’s last quarter-and-a-half — eventually cutting the deficit to 21-13 — the defense held tough. Eddy Pineiro opened the fourth quarter with a 27-yard field goal. From that point on, the Packers didn’t get a first down.

“Guys stepped up. You could see the fire in guys’ eyes, because we felt that,” Hicks said. “We stayed in the game. It’s impossible not to have a good deal of respect for these guys because there’s no quitters.”

But that last, over-the-hump moment eluded the Bears. After drawing within eight points, the offense failed to push the ball deep into Packers territory until the last play. On the drive directly after an Anthony Miller touchdown made the score 21-13, the defense nearly flipped the game’s script with what appeared to be a forced fumble on Rodgers at the Packers’ 20-yard line. After replay review, officials ruled Rodgers’ elbow down.

Last season, a play like that might have swung the Bears’ way. But not tonight — a night when, it should be noted, the defense sacked Rodgers only once and didn’t force a turnover. The D was solid, but the big plays were lacking, as they have been all year.

“We always wanna get [big play turnovers], but right now they’re not there. That’s something you feel as a player,” Jackson said. “You know, a lot of stuff changed from last year to this year, just with the type of play calls and everything. But that’s expected. Everybody’s still getting used to everything, finding your finesses, your disguises, things like that.”

Of course, the offense will be decried for not putting up more than 13 points in a must-win game. And the defense, playing without multiple starters for the majority of this season, will be criticized for the lack of takeaways. There's ample criticism and explaining away to go around. Ultimately, the Bears’ locker room was ripe with disappointment over the result of this game and this season, but the confidence in each other and the emphasis on finishing the final three games on a high note remained.

“Just finish man. Just finish. You just lay it all on the line. That’s it,” Jackson said. “You gonna see who gonna stand up, you gonna see who gonna lay down.”