Bulls

Bulls clinch third seed and matchup with Bucks in comeback win

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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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Vincent Goodwill previews free agency

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Vincent Goodwill previews free agency

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kevin Anderson are joined by Yahoo Sports NBA insider Vincent Goodwill

0:45 - Vinnie on basketball never stopping

1:55 - On Bulls selection of Coby White

2:45 - Dynamic between Kris Dunn and White

5:30 - Are Bulls likely to bring in a veteran point guard to mentor White?

7:30 - What kind of contract is Pat Beverley looking at?

9:40 - Will Bulls have enough cap space to sign three free agents?

11:50 - Vinnie on his vote for Zach LaVine for Most Improved Player

13:25 - On the NBA Awards show and its timing

15:45 - On Giannis and the Bucks, where can he still develop?

18:05 - On Kevin Durant and his options in free agency

21:40 - Why Durant will want to control his own destiny

23:30 - Vinnie on Jimmy Butler and where he may end up

26:10 - Vinnie on why he didn’t play in the media tournament during the NBA Finals

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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The 1995-1998 Bulls belong on the list of 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

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AP

The 1995-1998 Bulls belong on the list of 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

Listen, Tom. We like you. A lot. You do incredible work and you give us shoutouts. But we had to read through your latest piece, “Ranking the 10 greatest lineups in NBA history,” a few times before realizing you had a massive omission.

We present the following: The 1995-1998 Chicago Bulls.


PG: Ron Harper
SG: Michael Jordan
SF: Scottie Pippen
PF: Toni Kukoc
C: Dennis Rodman

Total All-Star appearances: 23
MVP Players: 1
DPOY Players: 2
Finals MVP Players: 1
Titles won together: 3

We thank you for mentioning Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in your piece. They were pretty good, we agree. We’ll dig a little deeper on those two to begin our argument. From 1995 to 1998, Jordan averaged 29.6 points on 48% shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.9 steals. He also didn’t miss a game, playing in 304 of a possible 304 games. He was also named league MVP twice and Finals MVP all three years. Pippen wasn’t too shabby a sidekick, averaging 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists in that three-year span.

These guys were all-time greats, but you might have forgotten that they weren’t alone.

All Dennis Rodman did in this three-season span was lead the league in rebounding all three years (15.3 per game). He wasn’t the same All-Star talent that he was in his Detroit days – also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year – and his San Antonio stint but he was still critical to the Bulls’ success. The Worm had a little bit of Draymond Green in him, not afraid to take on any defensive assignment to allow the Bulls a little more versatility. He got assignments of Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone in the Finals.

Kukoc is where we bend the rules a bit, but we hope you’ll allow it (mostly because our argument turns to dust if we need to talk about Luc Longley). Kukoc was the 1996 Sixth Man of the Year (hey, you said they could be closing lineups, too) and was a model of consistency in those three seasons. He averaged 13.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists and gave the Bulls another ball handler and distributor, as well as versatile defense. He’s at times the forgotten gem of the Jerry Krause era, and he’s more than just a funny story from the Dream Team era.

The Bulls had their Iguodala, too. Ron Harper averaged a modest 7.7 points and 2.7 assists in these three seasons with the Bulls. But he also did it with a 14.9% usage rate. That was lower than Bill Wennington’s usage rate of 17.0% in that same span! Let’s not forget that Harper had averaged 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists in eight seasons with the Cavaliers and Clippers before signing with the Jordan-less Bulls. He would have had a much larger and more effective role had Jordan not returned (we’re glad he did). In 1998, Harper also had the pleasure of guarding Gary Payton and John Stockton in the Bulls’ three Finals victories. Have you had enough of the Iggy comparisons yet?

So there it is. Five incredible players to put together three remarkable championship seasons that included the Greatest Team in the History of Basketball (our capitalization intended). Feel free to update your story as needed.