Bulls

Bulls go up 2-0 on Bucks thanks to big game from Jimmy Butler

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Bulls go up 2-0 on Bucks thanks to big game from Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler motioned for a posting Nikola Mirotic to get out of the way, giving the appearance he was headed to the basket when in reality, he just wanted a better view of the basket.

Perhaps feeling the energy in the building after he was cascaded with MVP chants midway through the fourth, he launched a classic “bad shot, good shot” that fell, three of his 14 fourth-quarter points as the Bulls began to pull away Monday night.

What began as a classic letdown game ended with the Bulls surviving and putting themselves halfway to the second round with a 91-82 win at the United Center, taking a 2-0 lead while holding serve at home.

What did they survive? Well, let’s see.

An 11-point first quarter, a game where Derrick Rose started 0-for-7 and Butler missed his first six three-point attempts.

There’s more.

They survived Taj Gibson, one of the unsung heroes in the opener, picking up three fouls in five minutes, rendering himself useless in the first half.

[WATCH: Butler puts Pachulia on poster with huge dunk]

And of their 15 turnovers, seven occurred in the first quarter when they couldn’t get anything going.

All of that was forgotten when Rose, who rebounded to hit four of his last eight to score 15 with nine assists and seven rebounds in 38 minutes, hit a step-back contested jumper with 54.5 seconds remaining to finally close the door on a Bucks’ threat.

The headliner on this night was Butler, who scored a playoff career-high 31 points (21 in the second half), after initially setting that mark with 25 in the opener. Two of his points in the fourth came on a rim-rattling dunk over Bucks center Zaza Pachulia

“That one dunk was definitely huge. It gave us some confidence as a team,” Noah said. “After that he was really feeling himself.”

That was the flash, but the substance occurred minutes earlier when the Bulls actually trailed 74-71 early in the fourth as the Bucks went on a 6-0 run to start the period, before Butler launched his first of three made triples to tie the game.

“We wanted him to work the game,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he had good shots (early). The movement was better in the second half.”

He tattooed his name on the fourth quarter by scoring 10 in a 13-0 Bulls run over the next three minutes.

[MORE: Tensions rise in Game 2 between Bucks, Bulls]

“I was just being aggressive. Jo and Derrick were telling me to score,” Butler said. “Telling me to shoot and not to pass up any shots. I was feeling it a little bit.”

Bucks coach Jason Kidd intimated the game was too pretty in the opener, words seem to foreshadow what was to come, when he said the Bucks’ early scoring in Game 1 was “fool’s gold”, and aside from Khris Middleton scoring 22, offense was hard to come by for the Bucks, who shot just 36 percent from the field.

The Bucks challenged everything from the start, though, getting up in the Bulls’ faces from the moment they crossed halfcourt. And when the Bulls actually had the space to create or execute, they either saw ghosts or lost concentration, unable to take advantage of any opening.

“The game was like we wanted it in the first quarter,” Kidd said. “It was at our pace — ugly and slow.”

It led to the Bulls shooting just 24 percent in the first quarter, creating the vision that a letdown could be forthcoming.

Luckily, they dragged the Bucks in the muck with them, not allowing the inexperienced team to get too far ahead. They controlled the boards, as Noah grabbed 19 in 32 minutes and Gasol didn’t let the endless double-teams discourage him, grabbing 16 rebounds in 33 minutes to help the Bulls to a 64-48 edge.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

There was plenty of muck, as both teams realized the pleasantries of the regular season was no longer necessary, as there were multiple skirmishes, resulting with an ejection for Bucks irritant Zaza Pachulia in the fourth quarter after an altercation with Mirotic—which could have consequences as Mirotic sustained a left quad strain and there’s concern about a possible concussion.

“It’s an emotional game,” Thibodeau said. “I want us to play with toughness but I also want us to play smart. So where do you stop? You stop right before it becomes physical.”

It wasn’t going to last long, as the Bulls were due for some execution, and scored 60 points in the two middle quarters—with a lot of help from Mike Dunleavy, who helped loosen up the Bucks defense with four three-pointers, including two late in the first half as the Bulls were reeling a bit.

But reeling a bit only matters but so much if you have closers on your side to take care of things late—the Bulls were just fortunate things didn’t get too far out of their reach on this night.

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”

Still in search of guard depth, Bulls reportedly 'planning to sign' Shaquille Harrison

Still in search of guard depth, Bulls reportedly 'planning to sign' Shaquille Harrison

The Bulls are still scrambling to add depth at point guard and found another body to throw in the rotation.

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Bulls "are planning to sign" Shaquille Harrison. Harrison was waived by the Suns on Monday.

In order to complete the move, the Bulls are reportedly waiving center Omer Asik.

Harrison went undrafted out of Tulsa in 2016. The Suns signed him and sent him to the then NBA D-League. Last season, the 25-year-old from Kansas City played in 23 games and made two starts in the NBA. He averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 assists in 16.7 minutes per game.

The Suns signed Jamal Crawford earlier this week and waived Harrison. The Bulls apparently have swooped in.

This move comes just six days after the Bulls added Tyler Ulis, who was also waived by the Suns. Ulis didn't play in the season-opening loss at Philadelphia.

Kris Dunn will miss his second straight game Saturday against the Pistons. His absence against the Sixers showed the lack of depth at guard for the Bulls. Cam Payne started at point guard and split minutes with Ryan Arcidiacono. Payne went 0-for-4 in 21 minutes and led coach Fred Hoiberg to say potential lineup changes are "still up in the air."

Harrison can now join Payne, Arcidiacono and Ulis in a battle for backup minutes at point guard when Dunn returns to the lineup.