Bulls

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Jimmy Butler kicked his legs out and the ball swirled around, and around and stopped…before rolling in after the official’s whistle blew for a foul.

The pushback from the rim on an imperfect night for Butler seemed to capture his feelings perfectly.

The San Antonio Spurs stalked the Bulls after sleepwalking for 24 minutes, and Kawhi Leonard will probably be in Butler’s nightmares as he shadowed the two-time all-star all night — as the league’s best out-of-nowhere two-way players battled all night.

Butler went scoreless in the first half and his streak of 20-point games ended at 15 but he came away with the most important statistic as the Bulls ended their three-game losing streak and the Spurs’ 13-0 road streak to start the season with a perfectly predictable 94-88 win at the United Center Thursday night.

Dwyane Wade led the Bulls with 20 points, including a couple buckets when the Bulls were reeling late and needing some stability in the worst way, hitting Taj Gibson for an inside dunk with two minutes remaining.

This is what the Bulls do, author improbable storybook endings on national TV against quality opponents when the odds are stacked against them and public conversation begins to sway in the other direction after some puzzling losses.

“We talked about it after the Cleveland game — so that’s a scary thing,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, stopping himself at the notion he gave his team the same speech after their last win. “If we go out there with that type of focus, we’ll win a lot of games. It can’t just be against the top teams, it’s gotta be every night.”

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But with Doug McDermott back after missing 11 games and the stage of a national audience at home — the night was tailor-made for the Bulls to pull out a win like this, even without Butler being his usual self.

The Bulls held the Spurs to 40 percent shooting and 32 from 3-point land, while only giving up five free throws — the type of gameplan discipline that has been missing with the recent slippage.

“I think the big thing is right out the game we had a focus to us. We didn’t make any mistakes,” Hoiberg said. “The guys did a great job of following the game plan and executing what we wanted to do.”

And doing it with their leading scorer being held to half his average, they needed to ensure the Spurs’ margin for error was just as slim as theirs. McDermott provided a boost, hitting a triple and getting a fast break layup right when he entered, finishing with eight points in 25 minutes.

“I felt great, my wind was there,” McDermott said. “I was just a little rusty. I felt really good out there, no issues.”

Butler scored 13 on four of 14 shooting with nine rebounds, including two on the offensive end while the Bulls were trying to seal the win, with four assists and two steals in 38 minutes.

“I’ll take a night like that as long as we get the win,” Butler said.

Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP for his work against LeBron James, was the only starter aside from Pau Gasol to get a rhythm in a rhythmless game, scoring 24 with eight rebounds and five assists while doggedly defending Butler.

Leonard had two straight ridiculous 3-point plays that seemed awkward and prayer-like but pulled the Spurs to within six midway through the fourth quarter, pulling the Spurs back from an 18-point deficit.

The lead was built due to good defense, and timely contributions from the likes of Cristiano Felicio, who played second-unit minutes at center for the second straight game.

A tip-dunk brought the crowd to its feet, as he brings a level of athleticism that’s hard to match from any of his teammates, scoring nine points with seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

“He can change the pace of the game when he’s out there,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll keep him in the rotation a while to keep him ready and prepared. It was only a matter of time until we got him in there.”

Gibson and Robin Lopez (each scored 12) also helped seal the interior as the Spurs didn’t get much in the way of second chance points and the Bulls outrebounded them 50-44.

It seemed like the Spurs were sleeping and just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the Bulls, and of course, the expectation was for a Bulls collapse considering how putrid their fourth quarters have been recently.

Patty Mills kept shaking free of the Bulls defense to hit four triples while the Bulls couldn’t fully pull away, despite all five starters scoring in double figures and Rajon Rondo coming an assist shy of getting a triple-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

They won’t have many games where Butler and Wade aren’t the headliners, but then again, they won’t have many games where the defense actually picks up the slack against one of the more disciplined offensive teams in the league.

Butler didn’t score until midway through the third quarter, finally shaking free of Leonard in semi-transition for a short jumper to put the Bulls up 60-47.

But the Spurs began to wake up and nearly did more than make the Bulls sweat. But in these early tilts, the more desperate team usually wins.

And although the Bulls don’t want to admit it, they needed to play like a desperate team.

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.