Bulls

New All-Star game format brings competitiveness that does NBA, city of Chicago proud

New All-Star game format brings competitiveness that does NBA, city of Chicago proud

Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 157-155.

Team LeBron’s charity, Chicago Scholars, won $400,000. Team Giannis’ charity, After School Matters, took home $100,000.

Kawhi Leonard won the first Kobe Bryant All-Star game MVP award.

Another winner? How about the sport of basketball, the NBA and critics of All-Star games everywhere?

Thanks to a new format that featured charities benefitting by whichever team won each quarter, plus the first usage of an Elam Ending, the United Center featured a fourth quarter whose intensity might make Michael Jordan smile.

Man, that was fun. They fixed the NBA All-Star game. It still seems surreal.

Anthony Davis sank the second of two free throws after Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse used a second coach’s challenge — and third of the fourth quarter overall — to finalize matters.

But not until — deep breath here — Giannis Antetokounmpo dived for a loose ball; Kyle Lowry took two charges; Antetokounmpo blocked Davis twice and LeBron James once at the rim; officials called back-to-back offensive fouls, one of which felt like a makeup call; and players argued with officials like the NBA Finals, or maybe playground bragging rights, were at stake.

“Throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun,’” James said.

That it was.

In an interview with NBC Sports Chicago last month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver credited Chris Paul for bringing him the idea to incorporate the Elam ending, which establishes a target score rather than using a clock to discourage late-game fouling. Paul returned the compliment.

“The good thing about our league is we’re always adding new things and trying to figure out from our fans what they like,” Paul said.

Silver and the league introduced their own twist by making the target score 24 points more than the leading team after three quarters — a nod to Kobe Bryant’s number — and having the quarter-by-quarter charity winners.

Actually, nobody won the third quarter. It ended tied despite Nurse and Team LeBron coach Frank Vogel trading timeouts in the waning seconds to try to win the quarter.

“Every quarter from a coaching standpoint was really fun,” Nurse said.

Several players likened the ending intensity to that of a playoff game. How much did the Elam Ending benefit the ramp up in effort?

After three quarters of lob dunks, behind-the-back passes and uncontested 3-point shots that featured 55.5 percent shooting, the teams combined for 35.5 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.

“The end was amazing,” Nurse said. “Offensively, it was hard to get anything started. Even first passes were being denied. It felt like the end of a playoff game, which was really cool.”

Fans greeted it as such, standing down the stretch. What better way to honor Bryant’s legendary competitiveness than the way this one played out in the waning minutes?

That it was Davis who sank the winning free throw seemed a fitting end to honor the legacy of Chicago basketball that had been on display all week and then intensified with a beautiful pregame tribute to the city narrated by the rapper Common.

Davis, who attended Perspectives Charter High School, is the latest in a long line of stars this city has produced.

“Listen man, Chicago is right up there with one of the top cities in the world with producing some of the greatest basketball players to ever play this game,” James said. “You’ve even got Ben Wilson, who was on his way to being a star and obviously we know the story about that. So you got it all the way from grade school-era through high school through college and then so many pros and so many Hall of Famers.

“KG (Kevin Garnett) is about to go into the Hall of Fame soon. The great Isiah Thomas. DWade (Dwyane Wade) at some point will go into the Hall of Fame.”

That James cited Wilson, the late Simeon star gunned down on the eve of his senior season, showed the ultimate respect to this city’s rich heritage. A heritage that was honored by a competitive ending that would make anyone playing on playgrounds from Margate Park to Murray Park proud.

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Bulls observations: Bulls smother Magic and mount furious, historic comeback

Bulls observations: Bulls smother Magic and mount furious, historic comeback

The title ticker flicks to six. The Bulls overcame an 18-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Orlando Magic 93-88 and grab a 2-0 Eastern Conference series lead. Observations:

A team effort

This game was such that The Sports Channel's player of the game award was bestowed upon 'The Chicago Bulls.'

At a glance, that may feel peculiar. Only three Bulls tallied double-figure point totals (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman) and as a group they shot 40% from the field. But this one was truly a clinic in smothering defense, and contributions from all around made it possible.

Pippen's length and work on the glass (he had six offensive rebounds) seemed to impact the game at its most crucial moments. Ron Harper ended the night with two steals, but you could have said he had 10 and I would have believed you. He was everywhere, and continues to cement himself as on the short-list of most underrated contributors during the dynasty. Rodman and the team's rotating cast of bigs played a huge role in bottling Shaq as the Bulls made their decisive third-quarter run. Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr poured in timely buckets. The team's fullcourt press ground the Magic down to perfection.

All in all, it amounted to flipping a 15-point halftime deficit (which in the third quarter grew to 18) into a five-point victory — and a demoralizing one at that. Fifty-three first-half points by the Magic against this team was a feat. Their 35 in the latter half  compared to 55 for the Bulls) felt a correction. Soul-snatching stuff.

A different time

The United Center was an absolute madhouse, you could feel it through the television screen. These Bulls give 'flipping the switch' new meaning.

It all culminated with 'MVP' chants for Michael Jordan in the game's waning moments, as he put the finishing touches on a 35-point, six-assist, four-steal outing. It is astounding how routine he makes these types of nights look.

And, oh yeah. This was a thing.

No, I mean a really different time

In a playoff run filled with celebrities, this has to be the most riotous beneficiary of a Rodman jersey toss so far: 

Chicago really was the center of the basketball universe.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

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Zach LaVine exits players-only NBA 2K20 tournament in first round

Zach LaVine exits players-only NBA 2K20 tournament in first round

It's day 74 of self-quarantine, and Zach LaVine bowed out of the players-only NBA 2K20 tournament on ESPN with a 57-41 first-round loss to Deandre Ayton.

Ayton played as the Houston Rockets. LaVine played as the Miami Heat. Yes, that means he was controlling Jimmy Butler, who the Bulls swapped for LaVine, Kris Dunn and the rights to Lauri Markkanen to spark the rebuild three short years ago.

Fortunately, no stats are available from this one, so I am physically incapable of breaking down Butler's performance (though a few bricked layups stand out). But LaVine did struggle to get offense all game, scoring just four points in the fourth quarter after trimming a nine-point deficit down to three entering the final period.

Perhaps he would have fared better playing as the team that employs him:

Alas. The quality of the on-court product in the Ayton-LaVine matchup waxed and mostly waned, with LaVine saying he hadn't played 2K since his rookie year.

But the true entertainment value came from the banter on the side between the two.

It began friendly, with Ayton teaching LaVine how to throw alley-oops (double-tap Y, Zach! come on) followed by LaVine chiding Ayton for a dunk he uncorked on him when Phoenix visited Chicago back in February.

Then, the two took a few moments to appreciate Shaq Harrison — frankly, something all of us can do more of. LaVIne called Harrison "my dog" and fondly recalled a conversation in which Harrison good-naturedly lamented having to guard LaVine in practice in Chicago after being tasked with checking Devin Booker in his time in Phoenix. After spending a year with the Suns, Harrison signed with the Bulls in advance of Ayton's rookie season, but it appears the two are friendly.

The topic of conversation eventually shifted to favorite NBA arenas to play in. Ayton answered Madison Square Garden — a fine choice — while LaVine cited the Sacramento King's old Sleepy Train Arena as a true "shooter's gym." The context to that comment is... Something (albeit completely inocuous). 

All the while, Ayton pulled away as LaVine largely spammed contested 3s in the second half. Considering the real-life Bulls' woes in 2019-20, it was all perfectly on the nose. Especially so was LaVine intentionally fouling Ayton, down 16 with five seconds left, to squeeze in an extra possession — though luckily no timeouts were called.

And finally, before signing off, LaVine was sure to make his feelings on participating in the dunk contest once again clear:

Fair enough. LaVine is more than just a dunker. He's also a prolific scorer, clutch late-game performer and near All-Star level player with a tremendous amount of potential.

But if he wants to add '2K star' to that list of distinctions, he'll have to keep hitting the sticks.

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