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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, See Red Fred joins Big Dave and Matt Peck. The guys talk about some big plays down the stretch by Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine. Plus a great defensive job by Kris Dunn on Paul George. (1:30) See Red Fred states his case for more playing time for Denzel Valentine. (4:00) Plus what's going to happen when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison come back. (8:00) The guys share some concerns about Coby White in the short term. (10:30) See Red Fred tells you about 3 players who have exceeded expectations this year. (13:00) Plus the guys debate whether Zach LaVine should compete in the dunk contest or 3 point competition. (18:00) They discuss the impact that Kris Dunn has had on the defensive end of the floor. (20:30) Plus See Red Fred lays out his blueprint for the Bulls to make the playoffs. (23:30) Plus the guys make a wager regarding the rest of the season. (25:00)
 

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

Bulls Outsiders

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Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”