Bulls fight but come up short in series-turning loss to Cavs


Bulls fight but come up short in series-turning loss to Cavs

At some point the powder keg was going to explode, after four games of “almosts” and “maybes," the Bulls and Cavs were bound for a meeting of the minds and bodies.

And LeBron James was due for an explosion, with the only question for the Bulls being could they absorb the haymaker and fight back.

Well, James took his shots and the Bulls buckled but didn’t fall, standing emboldened yet undermanned in a hostile atmosphere in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Bodies were thrown, legs were used as weapons of defense and aggression as tempers reached an all-time high for this series.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls' Nikola Mirotic hits half-court buzzer beater]

When the dust settled and the feet were planted firmly back on solid ground, the Bulls found themselves not able to do enough down the stretch in a 106-101 loss, putting them down in the series, 3-2, and 48 minutes away from elimination.

James emerged from his inefficient slumber, putting up 38 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, three steals and no turnovers in a tour-de-force 40-minute performance.

It was expected he wouldn’t continue the trend that had him on track for his third-worst shooting playoff series of his career, and he attacked the Bulls, seemingly all night long.

“The guy’s a great player,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You can defend a great player very well, and he can still make (shots). I thought we were a step late with our help (defense) today. We’ve got to correct it.”

[WATCH BULLS: Derrick Rose: 'I love the way we fought back']

Jimmy Butler, James’ primary defender, rebounded from a foul-plagued first half to score 29, including a triple with 1:18 left to cut the Cavaliers lead to 101-99.

And after resiliently fighting from a 17-point deficit with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bulls had a chance to take the lead as both of their big guns had chances to apply serious pressure to the buckling Cavaliers.

But Derrick Rose, in the midst of missing 11 straight and 15 of his last 17 shots, saw his fast break layup blocked out of bounds by James with 48.8 seconds left, and Butler’s open triple off an inbounds pass came up short when play resumed.

“I love the way we fought back,” said Rose, who started off hitting five of seven but finished 7-of-24. “I think we had a crack at it, we just didn’t execute right. We had a couple chances to tie and didn’t knock shots down.”

[WATCH BULLS: Thibodeau: We gotta play for 48 minutes]

Even then, they allowed an old bugaboo to emerge on the ensuing possessions, not finishing defensive possessions and giving up turnovers at the most inopportune times.

Iman Shumpert came up with an offensive rebound off a James miss with 19.9 seconds left and the Bulls trailing by two, as the Bulls’ best chance at completing a rousing comeback ended at the most fundamental of mistakes — controlling the glass.

“Big play, big play,” Thibodeau said. “When you look at the same, it comes down to the rebound there, the open shot.”

On the Bulls’ final meaningful possession trailing by four, Joakim Noah tried to thread the needle to Butler with James guarding him, passing it out of Butler’s outstretched arms and out of bounds with 11.9 seconds left.

[WATCH BULLS: Bulls Postgame Live crew reacts to the Bulls' Game 5 loss vs. Cavs]

James and Kyrie Irving, who though supposedly battling injuries to his right foot and left knee looked healthy as ever on the way to scoring 25 points with five assists, helped kick start the Cavaliers to big leads in the first half — and then the Bulls kicked back.

Early in the fourth quarter, Cavaliers reserve Matthew Dellavedova and Taj Gibson got tangled up on the floor, and Gibson took exception to Dellavedova locking Gibson’s foot with his legs. Gibson kicked out, angrily, starting a scrum that brought all participants on the floor to break it up.

The officials ejected Gibson, and his presence was sorely missed on that final defensive possession, but it helped put the Bulls back in gear after a couple disastrous stretches in the second quarter where the bench again came up lame.

Without Pau Gasol, who missed his second straight game with a strained left hamstring, opportunities opened up for Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich, but none truly had an impact, leading to more droughts.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The Bulls shot just 39.5 percent from the field compared to the Cavs shooting 50 percent, yet made eight more free throws and didn’t turn the ball over much (11 times).

Mike Dunleavy took advantage of having a hobbled Irving guard him after Rose exploited Irving at every chance early in the game, with his triple and 3-point play pulling the Bulls to within six with 4:55 left.

“There’s a bunch of weird mismatches going on in this series because LeBron’s playing the four,” Dunleavy said. “When you get a point guard on you, you want to take a little advantage of it.”

The Bulls made Cleveland sweat after it appeared the Cavs would run away with it, but it’s the Bulls now 48 minutes away from another offseason full of “what ifs” and “what could’ve beens” if they don’t turn things around Thursday.

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

On draft night, there is a decent possibility that the Bulls front office looks at their draft board and collectively decide that they can get a player with No. 7 pick value later in the first round. They could be inclined to feel this way more than in most years due to the 2019 draft class being such a toss up after the top three picks. If the Bulls traded down in the draft, I am assuming they would be netting a valuable future first-round pick, likely with some minimal protections. In this series, we will be looking at prospects the Bulls could take should they trade down in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Rui Hachimura per The Stepien:

71 percent at the rim

44.2 percent on short midrange

47.6 percent on long midrange

52.1 percent on NBA 3s (12/23)

Boylen talked a ton this season about “toughness” being a key tenet of the new Bulls culture moving forward. The idea of that “toughness” didn’t translate on the court heavily, though the Bulls did improve slightly in rebound rate under Boylen.

From the time for Boylen took over, the Bulls ranked 14th in defensive rebound rate and 25th in total rebound rate, up from 16th and 28th respectively under Hoiberg. Those numbers are a bit of smoke-and-mirrors with all the factors at play this past (weird) Bulls season.

But Boylen did have a much heavier focus on generating points inside first, with the team ranking third in the league in points in the paint per game during his tenure. Rui Hachimura fits in extremely well with the idea of the Bulls punishing teams inside with low-post scoring depth, resulting in open looks on the perimeter.

Hachimura stands 6-feet-8-inches tall, 230 lbs., with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan. He is a very physical player and utilizes his wingspan incredibly well in traffic. Hachimura posted a 17.4 percent defensive rebound rate over his three-years at Gonzaga. I mentioned above how Hachimura embraces contact and his career average of 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes helps showcase his ability to be a wrecking ball in the paint.

He has the potential to excel as a small-ball center with the right personnel surrounding him. The fact that he can grab a defensive board and initiate the fastbreak makes him an even more valuable prospect. But when you consider that lineups with he and Markkanen as the two bigs on the floor would have five capable ball-handlers, the idea of Rui in Chicago becomes even more enticing.

Overall, Hachimura is a great prospect with a solid skill set that should allow him to be a decent scorer from day one, it all just depends on how much of an opportunity he gets.

The Bulls--as John Paxson has reiterated many, many times now--feel comfortable with the starters they have at the two, three, four and five positions, with point guard being their main area of weakness. While the Bulls don’t necessarily need another big, they do need to add productive players who are young. With Boylen’s emphasis on having multiple ball-handlers, driving the ball and points in the paint, Hachimura would be a logical selection, though No. 7 overall could be a bit of a reach for the 21-year old big.

His defense definitely has a long way to go--as with most NBA draft prospects--but Hachimura’s situation is unique since he literally had a language barrier to overcome when he first got to Gonzaga in 2017. The belief right now is that Hachimura is in a comfortable spot right now in terms of both speaking and understanding English, as reporting from Sam Vecine of the The Athletic (LINK is behind a paywall) and others has backed up.

With that being said, the Japanese forward still makes too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor to be a surefire top 10 pick.

He is at his core an offensive-minded player, and as a result has not exactly developed much in the way of defensive intensity over the years. Hachimura averaged 0.6 steals per game and 0.5 blocks per game for his NCAA career.

For comparison’s sake, his steal and block rates are almost identical to Marvin Bagley III during his time at Duke. Bagley had a highly productive rookie season with the Kings--landing a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First-Team--but the Kings defense was still four points worse when he was on the floor per cleaningtheglass.com ($).

Despite having similar measurements to Bagley, I don’t believe that Hachimura posses quite the level of athleticism that Bagley does, making his path to becoming an above average defender that much harder.

Ultimately, if Hachimura’s awesome shooting numbers from NBA 3-point range (41.7 percent) on a small sample size (36 attempts) aren’t smoke-and-mirrors, he will greatly outplay his draft position. Hachimura shot 52.1 percent on his NBA range 3-pointers and also has a career 74.6 percent free throw percentage. Whether he was diving to the rim on pick-and-rolls with Lauri spacing the floor, or playing in a high/low offense with another big on the bench unit, there is a clear path to Hachimura being effective in Chicago. It would just take a ton of patience from the Bulls new-look coaching staff.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Bulls need a point guard. The Bears Top 100 list continues


Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Bulls need a point guard. The Bears Top 100 list continues

0:00- Will Perdue drops by to talk hoops. What will the Bulls do this summer to address their point guard need?

7:00- The Bulls need a point guard. Derrick Rose is a free agent. Should they bring him back home?

11:30- Carman says the Bulls should consider trading for Lonzo Ball. Kap yells at him.

16:30- Will talks about this year's playoffs and if anybody will be the Warriors?

20:00- The Bears Top 100 list continues to dominate discussion. Chris makes the case for Jay Cutler to be higher. He gets yelled at.

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