Bulls

Bobby Portis' big fourth carries the Bulls to five in a row

Bobby Portis' big fourth carries the Bulls to five in a row

The Bulls didn’t own any face cards and certainly don’t carry anything like a big joker in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo or even a small joker like Khris Middleton, a budding All-Star.

But sometimes Jacks can walk across a table, and Bobby Portis strutted all through the BMO Harris Bradley Center Friday night for his best game as a pro.

He flexed, he preened and for the second straight fourth quarter, he gave the Bulls the ultimate pick-me-up in the form of 13 of his career-high 27 points as they continued their improbable run with a 115-109 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

If you’re counting, it makes the Bulls the first team to have a five-game winning streak immediately following a double-digit losing streak as that 10-game march to the bottom of the Eastern Conference’s ocean feels like worlds ago.

Friday’s win proved to be perhaps the toughest during this streak, against a team that wants to be the future of the East and employs the future’s most devastating prospect in Antetokounmpo.

But Portis showed why 25 teams were interested in his services while he served his eight-game suspension nearly two months ago, and also why the Bulls had no desire to move him.

“I thought Bobby was the difference in getting that game turned around,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We did not come out sharp.”

The Bulls trailed by 10 in the opening minutes when Portis entered and within five minutes, the deficit was erased and the Bulls owned a 28-22 surplus. There wasn’t much breathing room in the fourth quarter before Portis went to work on the offensive glass—and on Antetokounmpo in the post.

“We’re very confident, we’re all playing on one accord, playing for each other,” Portis said. “I feel like our unity is at an all-time high.”

“Everybody knows their role. We’ve had a whole new team, starting the season off with everything, it takes time. Everybody knows their independent roles and it’s been big for us.”

And Portis’ role has evolved into being a go-to guy and a source of confidence that was missing when the Bulls were losing 10 straight while having their energy and fervor questioned.

“It’s been fun up until this point, playing the game I love,” Portis said. “I think it’s my first time winning five straight games since I’ve been in the league.”

Portis was only slightly off, as the Bulls won six straight games in Portis’ rookie year of 2015-16, also Hoiberg’s maiden run with the franchise.

But now Portis and even Hoiberg look like seasoned veterans, comfortable in their own skin, attacking the night and circumstances to turn matters into a win-win.

Every time the sluggish Bucks seemed to get it together, Portis had an answer, with a putback or an elbow jumper, or drawing enough attention to clear the lane for a Kris Dunn layup.

“It’s what it’s all about, responding when you’re challenged,” Hoiberg said. “We knew it would be a physical, tough game against a blue-collar team. Just a really good, gritty win. I saw a lot of growth in our guys.”

If there’s anyone who represents the level of gritty on the Bulls roster, David Nwaba would win that without much protest. So it’s no surprise Hoiberg sicced the undersized Nwaba on Antetokounmpo to start the second half in place of Denzel Valentine.

Giving up at least seven inches to Antetokounmpo, he took the task with pride and knowing it’s the best way he’ll stick on this team or any team in the NBA is by doggedly taking the toughest covers and making their lives miserable.

“He’s a tough guard, an All-Star and a great player,” Nwaba said. “I did the best I could, I try to be aggressive as much as possible.”

Antetokounmpo only took two shots in the fourth quarter while finishing a point below his average with 29 points and 16 rebounds. Nwaba and the Bulls kept the Bucks out of the paint in the fourth quarter and had them playing from behind through most of it.

“We thought David was the only guy that had a chance of even slowing him down a little bit,” Hoiberg said. “You’re not gonna shut him down but David, I thought, made him work for everything he got in that second half.”

Middleton matched Antetokounmpo with 29 points but the Bucks’ bench couldn’t match the Bulls’, with Portis and Nwaba pacing things. Nikola Mirotic continued his personal streak, scoring 22 points with eight rebounds as he started again in place of Lauri Markkanen, who didn’t make the trip due to his back spasms.

Robin Lopez scored 18 with eight rebounds—including six on the offensive end that kept the Bucks from getting out on the break and unleashing Antetokounmpo in the open floor.

“I have really good confidence in myself. I struggled in the beginning,” Mirotic said.

The old Mirotic would’ve been useless for the rest of the game, pump-faking himself into oblivion. But he admitted he’s heard the calls from the media and fans to ditch the pump-fake, to play definitively.

“I tell myself, ‘Don’t worry Niko, just play it simple’,” Mirotic said. “If the shot isn’t falling, try to make the extra pass.”

The extra pass wasn’t necessary in the second half, especially when he hit a triple with 2:42 left to give the Bulls a 109-104 lead, three of his 16 second half points. When he made a tough catch for a layup and foul, the first person yelling in joy and hitting him with a chest bump was Portis.

“Wow, it’s been crazy to be honest,” Mirotic said. “We did play last year a little bit together but it’s not the same now. We both step up and I think we learn how to play with each other. We need to give credit to Fred for that. From my side, I’m just wishing that we continue what is best for the team.”

Mirotic was asked for any more predictions and he replied with a quick smile.

"Six-and-(zero)," he said, with the Philadelphia 76ers coming to Chicago Monday.

Someone alert Joel Embiid, this could be fun.

Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

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Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

Over the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the "Posterized: The Chicago Experience by Jim Beam" event celebrated the rich history of Chicagoland high school hoops by honoring an "all-time starting five," featuring five Chicagoland preps legends, voted on by Chicago sports fans. Fans had from February 6 to February 10 at 9 pm to vote for their top five from a list of names that included Candace Parker, Derrick Rose, and the late Benji Wilson. The final results were revealed on February 14th, at the Chicago Sports Museum & Harry Caray's 7th inning stretch restaurant.

At Posterized the event the Chicagoland all-time starting five was revealed: Derrick Rose (Simeon), Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph), Dwyane Wade (Richards High School), Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter), and Antoine Walker (Mount Carmel). I was able to speak with the host of the event about the experience and the final list, NBC Sports Chicago's Jason Goff. Below is the Q+A with Goff on the event: 

 

Q: How was your experience at 'Posterized: The Chicago Experience' and what ultimately led to your interest in hosting the event? 

It was a terrific experience. Joy Glover and her team put together a really cool experience for locals and people who aren't from Chicago. All things party, Chicago basketball appreciation; and All-Star weekend rolled into one event. When Joy reached out through a mutual friend, I didn't hesitate. The idea was cool and the execution during the busiest time I've seen in quite a while was excellent. 

Q: The All-Time starting 5 selected by the fans was: Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker. Ultimately, do you think the fans got it right? Was there anyone you were shocked didn't make the final cut? 

There are so many names that were on the list that deserve recognition. We're all prisoners of whatever generation of basketball we grew up in. Quinn Buckner, Mark Aguirre, George Mikan, etc. Just to name a few. Also, the women's game could've received a little more gratitude by our voters as well. Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter; and many others have had just as much success inside and outside of this city as anyone. 

Q: Who in your opinion had the best high school career out of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Of the ones named? Probably Derrick Rose [at Simeon]. But nobody has done more winning than Quinn Buckner (a member of undefeated Thornridge High School team in 1972, one of the best HS teams ever.)

Q: When it's all said and done, who do you think will have the best NBA career of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Unless Anthony Davis wins a few titles, it'd have to be Dwyane Wade with Isiah Thomas as a close second.

Between the five players that make up Posterized's all-time starting five, there are six NBA Championships, an NBA MVP, and 17 All-NBA appearances. Below are some of the accomplishments of this illustrious group:

Isiah Thomas:

High school (St. Joseph-Westchester): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Indiana (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Detroit Pistons): Five-time All-NBA, Two-time NBA Champion (1988-89, 1989-90), 1989-90 Finals MVP, Hall of Famer

Derrick Rose:

Simeon (High school): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Memphis (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons): 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, one-time All-NBA, 2010-11 MVP

Dwyane Wade:

Richards (High school): Led Ricards to the Class AA sectional finals in his senior year

Marquette (NCAA): First-team All-American (2003), Conference USA Player of the Year (2003), No. 3 jersey retired by Marquette

NBA (Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers): Eight-time All-NBA, Three-time NBA Champion (2005-06, 2011-12, 2012-13), Finals MVP (2005-06)

Antoine Walker:

Mount Carmel (High school): Chicago Tribune 1994 Boys All-State Basketball Team, First-team Parade All-American (1994)

Kentucky (NCAA):  SEC Tournament MVP (1995), First-team All-SEC (1996), NCAA Champion (1996)

NBA (Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves): 15,647 career points, 1996-97 All-Rookie, three-time All-Star, 2005-06 NBA Champion

Anthony Davis:

Perspectives (High school): First-team Parade All-American (2011), Jordan Brand Classic co-MVP (2011)

Kentucky (NCAA): 2011-12 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 SEC Player of the Year, Naismith Award, Wooden Award, NCAA Champion (2011-12)

NBA (New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers):  2012-13 All-Rookie, three-time blocks leader, three-time All-Defensive team, three-time All-NBA

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Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Cameron Johnson had just been selected by the Phoenix Suns with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. At the time, the move was a surprise — Johnson was projected to fall into the middle to late first round, despite averaging 16.9 points and shooting 45.7% from 3 in his last year at North Carolina.

So, elation was a natural response for all close to Johnson. And nobody displayed that elation more authentically — nor more publicly — than Johnson’s teammate, roommate and ‘little brother’ Coby White (who had been picked by the Bulls just four slots earlier). You remember the clip:

That familial bond was grown over many nights bunking together on the road during White’s one and only year at UNC. It all began on a week-long trip to the Bahamas in advance of last season.

“Coming in, I'm the type of dude where if I don't really know you, then I don't talk a lot,” White said. “And then Cam was like ‘Why you so anti(-social)?’ and then it kinda started from there. He became a guy I could always go to if I ever needed something, on or off the court.”

“You know, seniors pair with freshmen, make sure they're everybody they need to be on time,” Johnson, a fifth-year in 2018-19, said. “But he was, like, a mature, easy, no-drama freshman. His composure was at a very high level, his maturity was at a very high level.”

White scoffed at that, saying he got a similar rep (of being ‘mature’) in his first weeks with the Bulls. “I was like nah just trust me,” he said. “And now I'm like that little brother that's annoying them.”

Still, Johnson and White became fast friends over their overlapping year in Chapel Hill. Though it’s been tough to keep in touch amid the rigors of their first NBA seasons, they each agreed competing against each other was a fun change of pace.

“It was great seeing him, I hadn't seen him in a long time, so it was great seeing him,” White said. “We talk here and there, but because we're so busy — it's one of those things, like, you know no matter what we're gonna have each other's backs, we always gonna be there for each other when we need each other.”

“I love that kid, man. I tell you, most of the time when we talk it’s just saying what’s up and just reminding each other that we love each other,” Johnson said. “That’s my guy and I went over and gave him a big hug before I went on the court today.”

 

What ensued come gametime was special for all. In the contest — a 112-104 Suns victory — White poured in a career-high 33 points and canned seven 3-pointers, shooting 11-for-22 from the field. Johnson notched 11 points and three 3-pointers, and made all of them count.

“It was fun, but I hate him so much,” White said of Johnson, who hit two of his three 3-pointers in the game’s fourth quarter. “I just know whenever he shoots if he gets any type of open look it's going in. So every time he shot it in my head, I'm like mad cause I'm like, he's the one you just can't leave him open. The ball just kept finding him in open space.”

But then, with a smile: “But obviously it's all love. After the game, I talked to him, he told me he was proud of me and whatnot. He's like a big brother to me, so it means a lot.”

There’s just something about these Tar Heels. With Roy Williams at the United Center on Nov. 12, White set a Bulls record for 3-pointers in a quarter with seven in the fourth against the Knicks. Tonight, lined up across from Johnson, he scored the second-most points in Bulls franchise history by a rookie off the bench.

He, Johnson and Bulls fans everywhere, will be counting down the days until the team visits Phoenix on April 5.

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