Bulls

Bulls clinch third seed and matchup with Bucks in comeback win

butler-bulls-hawks-insider-0415.png

Bulls clinch third seed and matchup with Bucks in comeback win

With so many things out of the Bulls’ hands this season, Wednesday was the one night where plenty was in their control as they could’ve clinched the third seed with a win against the Atlanta Hawks.

But the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference — one with nothing to play for, it should be added — gave the Bulls another taste of what a potential second-round matchup could look like if it were in the cards.

But after giving the Bulls some old-fashioned ‘tussin, the Hawks rested their starting group — one that ran circles around the Bulls’ first five — making way for the beat-up Bulls to make a comeback.

And some unlikely Bulls led the charge in their third-seed clinching 91-85 win at the United Center, sealing a matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks when the playoffs begin this weekend.  

In case one didn’t notice, this riddled team hit the 50-win mark this season, leaving them encouraged about the season to date.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“Overall we took a huge hit when Derrick went down and it wasn’t just that,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, the man charged with keeping this boat afloat for seven months.

“We had Jimmy (Butler) and Taj (Gibson) go down to survive that stretch. When you have a lot of moving parts it can get choppy (and) we have to hit the ground running.”

They didn’t hit the ground running Wednesday, looking like they would have to face the team that sent them home last spring, the Washington Wizards, after falling behind by double digits early and trailing by as many as 18 in the second half.

“I don’t think our team played very well,” Thibodeau said. “That was disappointing but then we had a good stretch and worked our way back into the game. Turnovers hurt us.”

The Bulls turned it over 22 times due to the swarming Hawks defense, and barely got over the 40 percent mark, while shooting just 29 percent from three.

But consecutive triples from Aaron Brooks gave the Bulls an 87-82 lead with four minutes left, after Nazr Mohammed and E’Twaun Moore added contributions early in the fourth to keep things afloat.

Mohammed, in his 1,000th game, tipped in a Butler miss to tie the game at 77 with eight minutes left in the fourth, and Moore made a couple twisting moves to the basket to stress the Hawks defense until Brooks re-entered. Brooks finished with 23 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes while Jimmy Butler scored 21 in 41 minutes.

[NBA PLAYOFFS: Hawks starters send clear message to Bulls, Eastern Conference]

Those contributions were clearly necessary given the circumstances, and things weren’t truly settled until Pau Gasol lightly pumped his fist after a lefty-layup over Elton Brand with a little over a minute remaining, giving the Bulls a 91-85 lead.

Had Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer chose not to rest Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in the fourth, the outcome would’ve likely been different. Horford gave Gasol fits, with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Teague got into the lane at will in 22 minutes for 10 points and Korver’s endless activity was the fuel for the Hawks’ movement-based offense.

But the Bulls will make no apologies given the unforeseen circumstances that have haunted them throughout the year, and in this game.

Perhaps for precautionary reasons, Derrick Rose didn’t play in the second half after 10 first-half minutes where he uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times, with two points and two assists.

It was termed left knee soreness, not the knee that had been operated on in February.

He certainly didn’t appear injured, with nothing wrapped around his knees or ankles sitting on the bench alongside Joakim Noah, but it’s clear a strange bedfellow that was next to the Bulls for 82 games will follow them for games 83 and beyond—those darned injuries, evidenced by Gibson leaving the game in the third quarter with a left shoulder strain.

But the Bulls will head to the playoffs with a 50-win season under their belts, finishing this season with production across the board, just like all year. And there’s plenty of questions headed to Saturday’s playoff opener—just like all year.

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

lebronheat.png
AP

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

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.