Bulls

Boozer, Bulls escape Toronto with win over Raptors

983691.png

Boozer, Bulls escape Toronto with win over Raptors

TORONTOPay attention to anything but the final score these days, and the Bulls (22-15) might give you a heart attack.

Playing a team with inferior talent, the Bulls squandered what appeared to be an insurmountable third-quarter lead to allow the woeful Raptors (14-25) to send the game into an extra session of play, before surviving to win a wild, 107-105 affair Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

Carlos Boozers (36 points, 12 rebounds) solid stretch continued, as the power forward shouldered the load for the Bulls in the early going.

Toronto hung tough, however, propelled by the scoring of their starting backcourt of athletic wing DeMar DeRozan and floor general Jose Calderon.

The visitors kept feeding the hot hand throughout the opening period and Boozer delivered, whether knocking down his mid-range jumper or finishing on the interior, and aside from scoring, contributing on the glass and remaining an unselfish passer.

While the Bulls defense wasnt at the level of their historic previous outing Monday night, with Boozer carrying the offenseafter a floater with a second remaining in the frame, he finished with 17 in the framethey still held a 29-22 advantage after a quarter of play.

The interior tandem of Joakim Noah (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Taj Gibson attempted to pick up where Boozer left off at the outset of the second quarter, as the Bulls emphasized inside play against the Raptors inexperienced big men.

That approach wasnt the most effective, though, as Toronto began the period on an 11-4 run to tie the contest before overtaking its guests, as reserve guards Kyle Lowry (26 points)the feisty point guard was coming off a sprained ankle suffered during Mondays loss in Brooklyn, although he returned to that contest to score 19 fourth-quarter pointsand former D-Leaguer Alan Anderson (27 points) both caught fire.

While it was a close-knit affair upon Boozer and fellow starting forward Luol Deng (19 points, six rebounds, seven assists) returning to the floor, their presence seemed to give the Bulls a wake-up call, as Deng took his turn at asserting himself as a scorer, while Boozer showed that he still had the hot hand and Noah also made his presence felt.

The teams defense also stepped it up a notch, while Boozer, en-route to a 25-point half, revisited his first-quarter stretch as halftime approached, helping the Bulls go into the intermission with a 52-42 lead, even after Calderons jumper with 0.7 seconds left in the quarter.

After the break, the Bulls successfully pushed the pace to build a double-digit lead, as the post duo of Noah and Boozer were again focal points, while the visitors suffocated their hosts on the defensive end of the floor.

Boozer remained dominant offensively, but the Bulls got additional firepower in the form of veteran Rip Hamilton (15 points, five assists), who came alive after a quiet first half, only adding to the Raptors woes.

With Hamilton raining in jumpers from the perimeter in the third quarter, the game started to get out of hand, as the Bulls built a more than comfortable cushion, though Toronto chipped into the deficit by getting out on the break and converting transition opportunities.

The hosts momentum persisted and despite a technical foul on Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, the combination of Anderson and Lowry led the hosts back to make it a single-digit game, though following a dunk by rookie reserve Quincy Acy with 0.9 seconds left in the period, the Bulls maintained a 79-73 edge heading into the final stanza.

Gibson was a force for the Bulls early in the fourth quarter, playing his typical hard-nosed game, mixed in with some nifty footwork and post moves, to counter the Raptors equally aggressive Lowry, a point guard unafraid of going into the paint, ensuring the visitors kept some breathing room.

But Toronto kept gradually slicing into the deficit, making it a two-possession affairputting a little bit of salt in the wound was Boozer picking up his fifth foul before the period was even halfway throughas the game headed into the stretch run.

Deng stepped into what has become his role as the Bulls go-to guy late with Derick Rose sidelined to make some clutch baskets late, though the diminutive Lowrywho fouled out starting point guard Kirk Hinrichkept coming, hoping to make the visitors squander Boozers big game.

Down to the wire through the final minute of the contest, after Raptors big man Amir Johnson was fouled on an offensive rebound with 12.1 seconds remainingGibson fouled out on the playand split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 100 apiece, Belinellis jumper to win it was off the mark and the game headed to an extra session.

The beginning of the extra session could most positively be termed a defensive struggle, though it would be more accurate to describe it as sloppy with inept offense on both sides.

A Boozer layup, giving the big man a career-high point total, in a Bulls uniform, with 1:51 left gave the Bulls more of a cushion, but it was subsequently erased by an Anderson floater, making it a 104-103 game with 1:32 to go.

Following a Raptors turnover, another official review, this time giving the ball to the Bulls, occurred, and on the subsequent possession, Belinelli was fouled, splitting a pair from the charity stripe to give the guests a two-point advantage with 15.1 seconds on the clock.

Toronto went to Lowry the next time down the floor and the pitbull of a point guard delivered once again, hitting a teardrop at the 8.7-second mark of the overtime period, prompting a Bulls timeout.

Then, Deng rose to the occasion, making a pull-up jumper with 3.3 seconds remaining, silencing the boisterous Canadian audience.

The Bulls fouled Johnson on the floor with a second left and after Calderons heart-stopping game-winning three-point attempt at the buzzer missed its mark, the visitors survived.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.