Bears

Bulls out-duel Celtics

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Bulls out-duel Celtics

Apparently the cure to what ailed the Bulls (43-13) during their two-game losing streak was playing an opponent they had some animus for, as the team with the NBAs best record got back to their winning ways Thursday evening with a 93-86 win over the Celtics (30-24) at the United Center.

Matching up with surging Boston might not have been an ideal bounce-back game, but a strong second-half defensive performance and a big night from All-Star Luol Deng (26 points, six rebounds) enabled the Bulls to survive a late scare from the Celtics to get their first win of April.

Without Derrick Rose for the 12th consecutive game, the Bulls turned to the other half of the starting backcourt they expected at the seasons outset, Rip Hamilton (nine points in 20 minutes), in the early going and received mixed results. Hamilton was active and showed some defensive versatility in guarding Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (10 points, 12 assists), but was clearly rusty and couldnt find a rhythm.

Behind Rondos top-notch playmaking ability and fellow All-Star Paul Pierces (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) scoring prowess, Boston gained a slight edge early in the opening period, as the Bulls tried to counter with the inside duo of Joakim Noah (17 points, nine rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (12 points, 14 rebounds), which proved effective on the glass. At the conclusion of a quarter of play, the Bulls trailed, 22-18, mostly due to mediocre marksmanship from the field.

A battle of both teams reserves including Celtics sharpshooter Ray Allen (14 points), who came off the bench for emerging second-year guard Avery Bradley didnt yield much for the Bulls, although Deng got his offense going, as the primary scorer when paired with the Bench Mob. The hosts defense clamped down and limited the visitors offense, but still struggled to find point production of their own.

However, role-playing Celtics like Brandon Bass (15 points, five rebounds) began to exploit scoring opportunities, while Rondos playmaking and Kevin Garnetts (12 points, 14 rebounds) all-around abilities helped Boston open up a double-digit lead late in the period. Despite C.J. Watson (15 points, eight assists) providing an offensive boost, the Bulls went into the intermission facing a 49-38 deficit, as Pierce again heated up late in the half.

A 6-0 Bulls run immediately after the break brought the Bulls within striking distance, as the home team started to get easier scoring opportunities through solid ball movement and aggressive penetration from the likes of Watson.

The hosts continued to plug away and reduced the deficit, buoyed by Noahs frenetic energy the charismatic center, known for being an irritant, drew an offensive foul on Garnett, which led to a subsequent technical from the veteran, who graduated from high school in the Windy City and the versatile Dengs hustle play.

But it was Watson who truly sparked the Bulls, as he tied the game, then gave his squad its first lead since the opening period with three-pointers on consecutive possessions. With the United Center crowd in a frenzied state, the Bulls headed into the games final frame with a 67-66 advantage.

Deng, again on the floor with the Bench Mob, handled both playmaking and scoring duties not to mention defense, as he was tasked with guarding Pierce and was the primary reason the Bulls built a slim cushion early in the fourth quarter, though timely scoring from Taj Gibson and John Lucas III also helped the cause.

The hosts survived a flurry of scoring from both Garnett and Bass and with Deng continuing to carry them offensively, entered the contests stretch run with some breathing room.

From contested pull-up jumpers and fast-break layups to offensive rebounds and creating off the dribble for his teammates, Deng put his All-Star skill set on full display and saved his best for last, with lockdown defense on Pierce, clutch shots and setting up Boozer for a dunk to give the Bulls a 10-point lead with under two minutes remaining.

Boston, however, wasnt quite finished putting up a fight and after an Allen jumper originally ruled a triple, then reversed after video review cut it to a five-point game with 42.3 seconds left, but the Bulls were able to endure the attempted comeback.

Under Center Podcast: Bears trounced by Saints, and questions abound

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USA Today Sports

Under Center Podcast: Bears trounced by Saints, and questions abound

Laurence Holmes is joined by Olin Kreutz, Matt Forte, Lance Briggs, and Alex Brown to break down the Bears' highly dispiriting 36-25 loss to the Saints at Soldier Field. The guys discuss why the loss was so disappointing and frustrating (2:00), the lack of progress for many players since last year (5:00), the possibility of somebody other than Nagy calling plays (10:00), whether the Bears can save their season and still make the playoffs (14:00), and the massive problems in the run game this season (22:00).

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Another lackluster return from Mitch Trubisky leaves the Bears offense in a state of panic

Another lackluster return from Mitch Trubisky leaves the Bears offense in a state of panic

Given Sunday’s parallels to the Bears’ 2018 clunker against the Rams, the spotlight on QB Mitch Trubisky may have been even brighter against the Saints than it usually is – which is saying something. 

Four quarters, 250 yards and one blowout loss later, the only thing that’s changed is that the Bears no longer have the luxury of hiding another subpar performance from their franchise quarterback behind a monstrous, game-changing defense. Trubisky’s numbers against New Orleans look better on paper, but the eye test told a much different – or similar, technically – story. 

“It's hard to pinpoint it,” he said after the 36-25 loss. “Just frustrating, ugly. Couldn't swing momentum in our way – couldn't really get going. Just sputtered out. We've just got to find ways to stay on the field, especially after 3rd down and move the chains and get going."

“I want to go back, watch and see like progression-wise [how he did],” Matt Nagy added. “I know there's one there early in the game where we missed a corner route on 3rd down, and Mitch knows -- he knows that he can connect on that. We've connected on it a lot in practice.” 

That specific miss sums up much of what’s plagued Trubisky through his time in Chicago. On 3rd-and-6, with Taylor Gabriel finding separation on a 20-yard corner route, the QB rushes through his throwing motion and misses an easy first down. 

“I'm going to go back and watch it because that's one of my favorite throws,” Trubisky said. “And I hit that every single time this week in practice, so why it didn't translate to the game is really frustrating for me. I felt like that's an easy throw that I make easily, and I just wasn't on the same page and didn't put it in the spot to give my guy a chance.” 

Another miss – this time overthrowing Anthony Miller on a seam route – provided a great example of the communication issues that have plagued the passing game. Miller had a step on two defenders, but according to Nagy and Trubisky, cut in on the route when the play directed that he cut out. 

“That's one of Anthony's really good routes that he runs,” Trubisky said. “And he separates and gets open, and I just felt like I had to get the ball out within that time because they created pressure up front. Someone slipped through, and from what I can remember, he just went inside, so I tried to throw a tight seam and give him a chance. But I was on the ground after that, so I'm going to have to go back on the film and watch it and correct it.” 

“Those are plays that you look at and you just -- you'd like to convert on those and connect.,” added Nagy.

The coach also conceded that Trubisky looked rusty on some throws, but was quick to credit the quarterback for making others (he didn’t specify which). Still, silver linings were little consolation to the Bears on Sunday night, and will continue to mean less and less as the season goes on. For being a team that supposedly has great weeks of practice, plenty of questions remain about where all that goes on Sundays. 

“Why it's not translating, I don't have a theory,” Trubisky added. “All I know is, go back to work and make sure that you put in all that work during the week to make sure it translates.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.