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Bulls get revenge, hold off Sixers for sixth straight win

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Bulls get revenge, hold off Sixers for sixth straight win

PHILADELPHIAThe visitors locker room at the Wells Fargo Center nearly a month ago was a somber place following the Bulls 16-point defeat at the hands of the 76ers, but one constant in the players postgame comments was a collective vow to make up for the lackluster outing upon their next visit to the City of Brotherly Love.

On Sunday evening, the Bulls (31-8) made good on that promise, holding off the Sixers (22-16), 96-91, behind a masterful scoring performance from Derrick Rose and a dominant rebounding effort out of Joakim Noah for the teams sixth straight win.

I was just excited to play them again. I remember playing them here a little while ago and they got the best of us. Theyre a good team and I just couldnt wait to play them again, said Rose. We know this is a team that we could definitely see in the playoffs, knowing how good they are. This is fun. Just got to go out there, keep balling, playing together and playing defense.

I just tried to do whatever it takes to win that game, whether its passing, scoring, making plays, whatever and tonight was making shots, he continued. I know at the beginning of the game, thats definitely what I have to do with this team, lead by example. We let them score the ball a little bit too easy in the beginning and that kind of hurt us, but we fought our way back into the game and got the win.

With the Bulls feeling vengeful after being shellacked in South Philadelphia a month ago and the Sixers fully aware that was the case, the intensity at the games outset was already high, manifested in the form of a point-guard scoring duel between reigning league MVP Rose (35 points, tying a season-high, eight assists) and challenger Jrue Holiday (16 points), who attempted to match his foes array of successful jumpers and drives.

Holiday received supportmainly in the form of All-Star swingman Andre Iguodalas (14 points, six rebounds, six assists) playmaking and veteran Elton Brands (14 points, 13 rebounds, five assists) interior scoringbut couldnt keep pace with Roses relentless drives and accurate outside marksmanship.

The visitors also got help from the starting inside tandem of Joakim Noah (11 points, season-high 18 rebounds, four assists) and Carlos Boozer (13 points, seven rebounds)the latter was a strong complementary scorer, while the former was active on the boards, as is his trademarkand maintained a slight edge over their hosts by limiting fast-paced Philadelphias transition opportunities.

At the conclusion of the opening period, Chicago held a tenuous, 26-24 lead.

The Bulls reserves, known as the Bench Mob, is regarded as one of the leagues better second units, but perhaps the best bench group in the league is the Sixers backup quintet, which demonstrated their value by getting out on the fast break, playing frenetic defense and turning the tables on their guests to take the lead.

A surprising boost from rookie big man Nikola Vucevic (14 points, eight rebounds) led the charge and Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins mixed in his regulars, as well, to keep enough scoring on the floor.

While the Bulls received solid contributions from the likes of backups Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik, but a rejuvenated Brand, the continued floor generalship of Holiday and Iguodala asserting himself more as a scorer allowed the home team to remain in control.

Theyre a good team, they know how to win games, they play well together, they dont just have one person on their team, they move the ball great. You never know with that team who can have a big night. It could be anybody on that team and thats makes them so dangerous, said Rose. We werent aggressive at all. They were getting anywhere with the ball, rebounding the ball. We didnt make them miss.

Added Thibodeau: The second quarter, I didnt like the way we played at all. They were into us pretty good, we were careless with the ball, I didnt like our shots, we were back on our heels.

The third quarter, I thought we came out a lot more aggressive. I didnt think we rebounded the ball well, so I was concerned about that, but I liked the way we fought in the second half.

With Thibodeaus preferred formula of low turnovers, rebounding, inside-out scoring, unselfish team play and stout defense ironically providing the blueprint for the opposing team, Chicago went into the intermission facing a 46-40 deficit, following Roses spectacular step-back dribble move and three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.

After the breakwithout the services of backup point guard C.J. Watson, who sprained his left ankle, though he returned in the fourth quarterthe Bulls managed to stay afloat and even mount a gradual comeback early in the third quarter.

Though the Sixers continued to beat them on the boards, with the exception of Noah, who was a force, behind Roses dominant scoring, the Bulls surged back to regain momentum, taking their first lead since early in the second period.

Derrick was great. They tried different things to try to stop, but he kept coming up big and making big plays, said Luol Deng. Jo was great, man. Jo plays with a lot of energy. Weve got a team where everybodys got a job to do and its such a deep team that some nights, we dont know who its going to be, but someones going to come up big somehow.

Praised Thibodeau: He was active, from the start of the game to the end of the game. His rebounding effort was terrific. He had a big tip-in late in the game, too. That was a big play.

Chicago didnt take complete control of the contest, which evolved into a back-and-forth affair, as Iguodala and Vucevic paced Philadelphia, but by fighting fire with firethe Bulls gave the Sixers a taste of their own medicine by pushing the tempoand clamping down on defense, they had become the aggressor.

The tight-knit theme of the quarter extended until the very end, when Rose hit his second consecutive buzzer-beater to end a periodthis time, a deep deuce off the dribbleto knot things up at 64 apiece heading into the final stanza.

Perhaps buoyed by the return of Watson and Deng starting to make an impact on offense, the Bulls went on a 7-2 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to give them a slight cushion, prompting a Sixers timeout.

In the fourth, we made big shots and once we got the lead in the fourth, we did a good job of keeping the lead. Theyre a good team. They forced us into turnovers and getting some looks, said Deng. The difference between this year and last year or the previous year, weve just got guys who are mature now and know what it takes, especially in the fourth, to do little things to win.

Rose concurred: Its great, knowing that we didnt get distracted toward the end. We knew what we had to do. Guys stepped up, made big plays. Turned the ball over a little bit, but were going to learn from that and weve just got to keep growing as a team.

Thibodeau chimed in: We had a number of players step up for us. Our bench gave us quality play at the end of the third, start of the fourthC.J., Taj and Omerand we needed that. Derrick was terrific all game. Derrick and C.J. on the backcourt were very effective. Jo was huge on the boards and making plays.

The onslaught didnt end, however, as Rosepaired with Watson in a dual point-guard set, while Thibodeau went with the backup big man duo of Taj Gibson and Asik for defensive purposesturned it up yet another notch, torching the hosts futile defense, yet mixing in selfless playmaking, to aid the visitors in obtaining a double-digit winning margin.

But the Sixers didnt go away quietly, storming back to trim the deficit via the transition game, timely plays on the defensive end and scrappy work on the offensive glass, to once again limit the Bulls breathing room.

Theyre a hard-playing team, theyre a tough team, theyre well-coached, theyre tough to match up with and the thing is, our transition because we were scrambling around, we didnt protect the basket as well as we wanted to, but we hung around and I thought we showed a lot of toughness, said Thibodeau. Those things happen. They made a run and I thought we settled a little bit.

Just when it seemed as if the Bulls had sufficiently killed Philadelphias momentum, the hosts came back with another run, making it a one-possession contest as the game entered its stretch run.

Watson stepped up with some big shots in the clutch, but he was countered by his reserve counterpart, athletic Sixers forward Thaddeus Young (17 points, nine rebounds), who knocked down a jumper with less than two minutes to go, to make it a 91-89 contest, in favor of the Bulls.

The score remained the same until Rose drove and hit a tough runner with 20.2 seconds on the clock and although two missed free throws by Gibson kept the door open for a game-tying three-pointer in the waning seconds, the Bulls managed to survive after, fittingly, Noah corralled the carom.

They had been trapping me almost the whole second half and I saw that Thaddeus Young was kind of tired from trapping and I just attacked him, Rose explained of his shot, which effectively sealed the game. Anything it takes to win. Thats my game. I kind of hit crazy shots all the time, but it was a floater and I was able to get it off.

The Pecking Order: An evening with the Chicago Bulls

The Pecking Order: An evening with the Chicago Bulls

As if letting us attend Bulls Media Day wasn’t ridiculous enough, my fellow Outsiders and I were invited to the 31st annual “An Evening with the Chicago Bulls” charity event on Tuesday night. Granted, our invitations only came when NBC Sports Chicago received a few extra tickets on the final day people could RSVP. But our executive producer Kevin Anderson got three very quick “Um, hell yeah!" responses from myself, Big Dave and John. Fool them once, shame on us. We were in!

Before I get into my silly list of favorite moments from the evening, I did want to mention how much I enjoyed and learned from the evening’s speakers. Jens Ludwig, the faculty director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, spoke passionately and eloquently about our city’s crime problem, how it compares to other cities of similar size, and the ways his team’s research is creating new solutions.

Jack Solomon, a youth guidance counselor for BAM (Becoming a Man) and Jamille Thomas, an alum of the program, provided inspiring testimony of their experiences and the effectiveness of BAM’s operation for at-risk youth in Chicago.

We can talk about the Reindorf’s’ (un)willingness to pay the luxury tax for elite level talent at a different time. But when it comes to the work they do with Chicago Bulls Charities, they put their money where their mouths are. As they played a montage of some of their events from last year, I watched Zach LaVine – seated at the table next to me – look up at the screen with pride and joy as he watched himself bond with a family who received Christmas gifts courtesy of Bulls Charities. It’s so easy to forget that professional athletes are more than just stats, wins and losses that we watch on our TVs and discuss on social media. They’re human beings and they care. It was truly remarkable to see. Good job, Zach. Good job, Bulls.

Now, on to my favorite moments from the Outsiders experiencing our first “An Evening with the Chicago Bulls.”

1. We met Toni. THE Toni. Toni Kukoč. The Waiter. The Croatian Sensation. Sixth Man of the Year for the legendary 72-win season and 3-time NBA Champion for your Chicago Bulls. What the what? In case you think that John, Dave and I are starting to get a little too Insider-y for our role as Outsiders, this is what we look like when we get to talk to Toni. Us? Starstruck? No way.

We tried to get some intel from Toni on the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “The Last Dance,” chronicling the Bulls’ final title season in 1997-98. Namely, when the hell is it going to debut? All they’ve given us so far is that it will be released some time in 2020. At least we’re getting closer, but still no exact release date? Come ON, people! Sadly, Toni couldn’t tell us the release date. Either because he doesn’t know or it’s a secret.

No matter. Meeting Toni was a major bucket list check mark of my Bulls super fandom, and he couldn’t have been nicer to us. Thanks to his daughter Stela for helping when Toni obliged our photo request!

2. OK, this one is a second-hand story of something that happened to Big Dave before John and I arrived. Dave’s wandering around upstairs at the Advocate Center and he runs into Gar Forman. Dave introduces himself and explains to Gar that he does a fan-centric show called Bulls Outsiders. Gar, who hadn’t heard of our show, asks Dave, “Are you nice, or are you mean?”

*Insert several cry-laughing emojis here*

Dave tells Gar he thinks we’re fair. As they continue to chat, Gar’s wife, Leslie, emerges from around a corner and recognizes Dave. “Hey, you’re one of the guys from that show!” Apparently, Leslie had caught our episode following the first Bulls preseason game last week. She told Dave that she enjoyed it and told Gar that he needs to watch.

So, we have at least two confirmed viewers of Bulls Outsiders. Zach LaVine’s dad and Leslie Forman. Now we just need to find a way to get Gar hooked on the show. Hmm…I’ll do some brainstorming. Have I mentioned how much younger and more athletic the Bulls look this season?

3. Kevin and I had a great chat with Zach. We asked him about his recent trending quotes; both people “talking sh*t” about his defense and the midrange shots controversy that got blown way out of proportion. You could tell Zach didn’t take kindly to the, shall we say, bold headline of a particular Bulls reporter on his story about Zach’s midrange quotes. Zach even responded to the article on Twitter, saying it was the farthest thing from the truth. He took the tweet down eventually, and it appears as though he and said reporter cleared up the confusion.

I agree with Zach’s assessment, and told him so during our chat. Yes, the league is trending away from midrange shots in favor of attacking the basket and shooting threes. He knows that. But when your team needs a bucket, get the ball to your best scorer. That’s Zach. If the shot he gets is a midrange shot, he’s going to take it. That’s the right answer. It’s that simple. Everything else about that midrange story was so ridiculously overblown.

Whether it’s Zach having the confidence to know any shot he takes is going in – midrange or not – or his newly inspired efforts we’re seeing on the defensive end, everything about Zach looks poised for a dominant season. As we were saying farewell at the end of the evening, I gave Zach a fist bump and told him, “Go get that All-Star nod.” He told me, “Oh it’s a done deal. In the bag." I believe him.

4. Luke Kornet finally got to hear John’s pitch for the “Luke Kornet’s Corn Nets” bit that he didn’t get to do at Media Day. He and his wife both thought it was hilarious. Dave was even quick to pull out his phone and show Luke a picture of the corn and nets that John brought to Media Day. Turns out, Luke’s wife wants Luke to write and perform a sketch for her upcoming birthday present. Methinks that John “Second City” Sabine and Luke have a bright future as comedy writing partners. First thing on their to-do list: Shoot the Kornet’s Corn Nets commercial and convince the necessary people to play it on the new videoboard at the United Center during a timeout of the home opener.

5. The Chicago Children’s Choir performed to kick off the evening’s festivities. Oh my God, they’re so talented. They sang two songs and I wanted at least two more. I asked Cristiano Felicio, who was seated with his girlfriend at our table, if he ever sang in a children’s choir. Sadly, no. I’d love to go searching for that footage. Remember how much Cubs fans freaked out when somebody unearthed that video of Kyle Schwarber performing with his high-school show choir? I’d pay top dollar to see a young Felicio in a similar setting. (Side note: Felicio is a really nice guy. It must be tough to be aware of how the fan base sees you and still put on a brave face. I’m sure the paycheck helps. But truthfully, the guy is delightful.)

6. Dave and I met Daniel Gafford and got to tell him how much we’re enjoying watching him play in these preseason games. In the annual NBA GMs poll that was released Thursday morning, we saw his name on the “others receiving votes” list for the category of biggest draft steal. The 38th overall pick could prove this season that he deserved a lot more votes. Assuming a healthy roster, his minutes will be hard to come by on a consistent basis. But he’s doing everything he can in this preseason action to show he’s significantly farther along in his development than people thought as they passed him by on draft night.

7. John and Benny the Bull crossed paths again. As Benny walked by us, he stopped dead in his tracks, whipped off his sunglasses and gave John a death stare that could darken the sun forever. There was another uneasy handshake between the two after the initial moment of terrifying tension.  Benny has nothing but love for Big Dave and me, but I’m still worried about his relationship with John. At some point soon, this could lead to fisticuffs. Or would that be hooficuffs?

8. Bulls assistant coach Karen Stack Umlauf has been with the team for decades and earned another promotion last year when became the first female assistant coach in franchise history. On Tuesday night, we met her husband, Mark, who is apparently another fan of Bulls Outsiders. (Hey, that’s three!)  He engaged us, and we ended up having a delightful conversation. He had some great stories about Bulls seasons of years past and teased us that he has several more. I’m hoping we run into him again soon.

Mark told us that Karen must always warn him to not “nerd out,” as she puts it, before he enters a room with various Bulls celebrities. Apparently, she gave him that very same warning when he wondered if he would run into us at this charity event. Us. Us three doofuses? C’mon, Mark. That’s hilarious. I assured him that we give each other the same warning before we’re about to meet Bulls legends of past and present, too. Mostly, it’s Dave doing it to me. 

I will continue to nerd out upon meeting Bulls heroes. They can deal with it. They’re used to it. I’m definitely still not used to it. (In case he’s reading this: Hey, Mark! Pleasure meeting you. And please, nerd out whenever you like. That’s what true fans do. Also, thanks for watching!)

9. Jim Boylen. Oh my god. I don’t know what planet this guy came from, but its beings are made with way more energy than the average human. Jim came up to us while we were sitting at our table, and joked, “Who let you guys in here?” Good question. We still don’t know who, but they made a mistake. Jim looked like a pinball all evening, bouncing around and conversing with seemingly every individual at the event. Maybe he felt like he needed to soak it all in, this being his first time attending the annual event as the team’s head coach. The face of the franchise. Gotta shake all the hands and kiss all the babies, as it were. But the dude certainly has the energy for it.

Then, as the evening was winding down, Jim came back to find us and engaged us again. He wanted to pitch us on what happened last season, the work they’ve done this offseason, and the positive changes we’re about to see on the floor. He told us that he wants us – all media, for that matter – to just be honest and fair. Critique his job performance and the team’s when it’s deserved. Most importantly, only speak on things you see and understand. 

Last season, plenty of people didn’t have a flipping clue what was going on. If there’s one area where I do have some sympathy for Jim and the Bulls front office, it’s that a lot of Bulls “fans” who checked out a long time ago still hurl insults in their direction for their own entertainment. And that’s not constructive. Often, it’s based on false information.

But we wouldn’t be doing our job as Bulls fans with our platform if we only talked about the positives. If something or someone is bad, we’ll call it out. I did warn Jim, too, that we’ll still be making jokes at his expense this season. And not to be “mean,” as Gar feared we might be. But because we’re fans, he’s the coach, and he’s got to roll with those punches. And let’s be honest, Jim’s epic quotes are ripe for joke picking. I think he understands that.

The last thing I told Jim, after I gave him that fair warning, is that I do sense a great deal of optimism among the fan base about this season. It’s been a long offseason of waiting, but there’s great belief that this team might finally be ready to turn a corner. We’re ready. We hope that Jim and his players are too. As Big Dave has stated repeatedly, and I couldn’t agree more: “I want to like Jim Boylen the coach as much as I like Jim Boylen the man.”  I’m certainly rooting for both.

Thanks for reading.  Attending this event was all kinds of stupid. I don’t understand why people let us do this, but it’s super cool that they do. Till next time.

See red, be good. - Peck

Bulls Talk Podcast: Thoughts after the preseason finale

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Thoughts after the preseason finale

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join Jason Goff to recap the preseason and look ahead to the regular season opener

0:55 - On Wendell Carter Jr aggravating his thumb injury, how to treat it
7:00 - On the backup bigs, Luke Kornet’s role
8:45 - On Tomas Satoransky and Lauri Markkanen’s importance
10:30 - On how Lauri gets his points, does that matter?
13:45 - Are Bulls playing the right style of basketball for this roster?
17:25 - On Zach LaVine, how can he become an elite player?
20:10 - The traits of a good defender
22:50 - Kendall on how he decided to be a good defender
23:45 - Will on how Tim Duncan held teammates accountable on defense
27:15 - Kendall giving Will a hard time for calling Jordan ‘an average defender’

 

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