Bulls

Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine show up in Bulls win over Jazz

Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine show up in Bulls win over Jazz

A streaking Bobby Portis ran down the baseline after going full bore to close out on Joe Johnson, finding gold when Denzel Valentine launched a 45-foot fly pattern pass for a dunk.

That’s what’s called “Player Development”, as was Valentine’s triple that luckily rolled out to him in the left corner when Utah’s Rudy Gobert slapped Joffrey Lauvergne’s layup to Kingdom Come.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” Valentine said. “You gotta stay patient, aggressive and confident.”

Both were critical plays in the fourth quarter against a quality opponent fighting for playoff position in the Bulls’ 95-86 over the Jazz Saturday night at the United Center.

Like Friday night, the Bulls played a spirited fourth quarter, erasing early mistakes and a double-digit deficit with vigor, timely shooting and an energy that’s rarely been seen this year.

One could say it was their best defensive performance of the season, on the heels of Wizards point guard John Wall carving up the Bulls’ defense for 20 assists. Holding the Jazz under 40 percent was an unsung highlight, and Jimmy Butler choked off the Jazz’ last hope by snatching the ball from a streaking Gordon Hayward and saving it from going out of bounds with less than a minute left and the Bulls leading by six.

“Go get the ball back,” Butler said. “It started with Mike (Carter-Williams) from making a play on the ball and making him alter his layup. I got it in just enough time to grab it. Just great hustle on everybody’s part.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was impressed by the overall effort on the defensive end, especially after the way they’ve played in the last stretch, having lost seven of their last eight.

“I thought we really locked in all night,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t get off to a great start, down eight to ten off the bat. We did a good job in the second half, beginning of the third quarter.”

But perhaps the biggest highlight was the reliance on the young players who rose to the challenge under the circumstances, as the book is still out on Portis and Valentine to be sure.

For once, though, they produced in a winning situation, as Valentine scored 11 with 12 rebounds and four assists while Portis scored a career-high 22 points with five rebounds, doing his best to contain Joe Johnson on the perimeter while helping out on the mammoth Gobert (13 points, 13 rebounds) on the interior.

“Most of the time, I don’t play in the fourth quarter,” Portis said. “it was fun to see how fired up our guys were, even the bench was happy. The crowd, too. They were really involved tonight.”

If Portis followed the usual pattern of being pulled from the starting lineup as he was for Nikola Mirotic, he wouldn’t have seen the floor, as was the case with the revolving door of point guards.

But when he entered, he was aggressive, hitting jumpers and floaters, playing free and easy. After looking unsure of himself the last several games, he played definitively and it showed as he took advantage of every opportunity he had to score.

When he entered, the Bulls were down 18-10 with 3:27 left in the first after trailing by 12, and the energy in the building changed immediately.

“I liked starting so I played with a chip on my shoulder,” Portis said. “The last couple games I was hesitant to shoot. I gotta get that out my system. Probably just thinking too much and not playing the way the game is supposed to be played.”

Hitting his first six shots, he scored 13 in the first half, and three straight buckets to start the fourth gave the Bulls a slim lead, critical while Butler was on the bench.

“The biggest thing was putting two halves together, a complete game,” Portis said. “I feel like I did. I took good shots, I didn’t force anything on the offensive end. I let the game come to me. We got a big, well-needed win tonight.”

Butler finished with 23 points and seven assists in 37 minutes, but it wasn’t all isolation ball as the Bulls got him shots in different places, punctuated by several cuts to the basket, including a late one that resulted in a three-point play on his first possession midway through the fourth.

Sometimes the load appears to be too much for Butler, carrying an offensive load while keeping the other team’s best perimeter player in check on the other end.

But he put Hayward on punishment and holding him to five of 16 shooting and 14 points.

Whether it was a by-product of one leading the other or overall concentration on defense, it was likely their best performance of the season on that end, forcing 15 turnovers and keeping the Jazz to just 25 percent from three.

The only fly in the ointment was getting outrebounded 49-39, an aspect that kept the Jazz ahead until the third when the Bulls took their first lead at 49-48, a comeback after trailing by 12 early and looking pretty lifeless.

But the life came from the youth, as they showed their worth for a night, in a season where they don’t have many more opportunities to impress for the future.

 

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.