Bulls

Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

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Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

BOSTONAfter going up by a seemingly insurmountable margin, the Bulls (11-2) watched the Celtics (4-6) charge back in the second half, cutting a 20-point game to a single point, before Derrick Rose, playing on a injured toe, took over late Friday night at the TD BankNorth Garden. Chicago won, 88-79, by virtue of solid defense, a balanced offensive effort from its starting lineupall five reached double figuresand a finishing touch down the stretch from one of the NBAs top closers.

I said before the game we would need everybody and we did, and I thought our starters played terrific. Carlos, Jo. At the start of the game, I thought our defense was very good. The ball movement was great to start the game, so I think thats what allowed us to build the cushion. We could play from a lead. Things got tough at the end of the third, start of the fourth, but we hung in and we found a way to win down the stretch, evaluated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. With Derrick, you almost expect that from him. He let the game come to him. He didnt try to do too much and then in the second half, when it was time, he made big play after big play, which weve grown accustomed to.

An ailing Rose played a facilitating role early on, allowing the frontcourt of Luol Deng (21 points, 16 rebounds), Carlos Boozer (12 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Joakim Noah (10 points, 12 rebounds) to benefit as scorers, complementing their dominant work on the glass, as well as solid defense. The visitors jumped out to an early double-digit advantage, due to errant Celtics shooting, as only point guard Rajon Rondo (14 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists)using his speed against a hobbled Rosewas able to create against the Bulls.

The toe feels all right. It feels good. I kept playing tonight. My teammates did a great job with making shots, playing defense. I was just feeding off of them, said Rose, who was wearing a precautionary walking boot afterward, as he had in the days since suffering the injury. First quarter, I would say, I didnt know how to take off or worried about me taking off and that went away around halfway through the first quarter.

Boozer was particularly effective as a mid-range shooter, while Deng was back to being both aggressive and efficient after a subpar shooting night in his last outing and the fifth starter, Ronnie Brewer (12 points, four rebounds, four assists), showed his hot early-season shooting was no fluke. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls led, 26-13, following two Rondo free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining.

Dengs strong all-around play carried Chicago at the outset the second quarter and while the Boston backcourt of Rondo and sharpshooter Ray Allen (16 points) attempted to get the home team back into the contest, Brewers shooting and reserve power forward Taj Gibsons typically energetic play helped maintain the visitors comfortable cushion. The Celtics own backup big man, well-traveled veteran Chris Wilcoxseeing more action with starting center Jermaine ONeal injured; usual reserve power forward Brandon Bass (10 points, nine rebounds) started in his place, with Kevin Garnett sliding over to center, though ONeal would come off the benchgave Boston a boost of energy, however, throwing down two monstrous fast-break dunks, while go-to scorer Paul Pierce (13 points) started to gradually find his rhythm.

But Boozers accuracy on his jumper, dominant team rebounding and overall stingy defense helped keep a wide gap for the TD BankNorth Garden guests, who kept the usually rowdy Boston crowd in alternating states of silence or displeasure for most of the first half. Chicago took a 52-33 advantage into the break, but not before the distribution-minded Rose threw down a vicious cock-back dunkoff one step and an injured toe, no lesstoward the end of the period.

I loved the way Jo was so active tonight, blocking shots, going after the ball and then his offense started coming around, so when he plays like that, its good for us. And what you could say about Luol? I mean, every night, hes on the board, he gives you points, he plays great defense, hits every big basket for youcant say enough about himand then the bench, they allowed us to get some rest in the second quarter. They came in and did a good job, said Thibodeau. The rebounding was the key, the last two ballgames. If you defend and rebound, and you keep your turnovers down, youre going to be in position to win. We know that works for us.

After the intermission, continued stellar play from Deng kept the Bulls afloat early in the period, but the Celtics stormed back, trimming what was once a 20-point lead. Boston received contributions from the likes of the high-energy Bass, sharpshooting Allen, scoring-oriented Pierce and playmaking Rondo, energizing the faithful Garden audience.

The visitors were further disadvantaged by Boozer picking up his fourth foul and Roses clear lack of consistent explosion, but Bostons continued push was the real difference, as the Bulls would seemingly staunch the bleeding with a Noah tip-in or Gibson jumper, for example, only to see bit contributors like reserve swingman Mickael Pietrus and ONealwho appeared to be rejuvenated back to his All-Star form of old for a brief stretchmake timely buckets. At the end of three quarters, the Celtics cut the deficit to single digits, 67-59.

We talked about it. Weve got to get better at not giving up leads. We knew they werent going to go down easy. We knew that they were going to come down and make a run. Were just a little disappointed that we allowed them to make that run, but once again, just answering their run, said Deng. I thought we did a great job, even though the fans got into it. We just came back and guys made big plays. Derrick made big shots, Ronnie made a big three and we just kept going.

Chimed in Rose: For sure. Like I always say, we never want to be in a situation like that. When we get the lead on someone, we want to definitely put them away, but I guess we didnt learn that yet.

Weve been in situations like that. Thats when we tend to play defense. Were better backwards. We tend to play defense a little bit bad throughout the whole game, then the fourth quarters like that. But people stepped up at the right time.

Bostons barrage didnt let up at the beginning of the final stanza, as the Bulls miserable shooting continued and the hosts remained hot, scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter to cut the gap to a single point, 67-66, before Thibodeauwho rode his starters through the games stretch run, unlike the Bulls past two contests, in which he used backup big men Gibson and Omer Asik in place of Noah and Boozercalled a timeout to restore order in the arena so familiar to him. Whether Rose was directed by his coach to shoulder the load moving forward or simply took it upon himself, after the stoppage, the reigning league MVP went to work, sandwiching a slashing layup and an open three-pointer between a pair of free throws.

Jo got a big offensive rebound, Derrick got a couple open looks, so it worked out for us and youve got to be ready for that. Theyre a tough defensive team and its another element that you have to prepare for, said Thibodeau. I was waiting for that one. Not enough, too much, whats next? Hey look, we really feel the strength of the club is the depth up front and even tonight, as well as Carlos and Jo played, Carlos picking up that fourth, you need quality bigs to hold the fort and Omer and Taj, every time, you call on them, theyre ready. Theyre hard guys to score on.

Added Noah: It feels good to get this dub tonight. It always feels good to win in this building. Just competed hard. It was a great team effort.

The strength of our team is our depth, and we cant forget that, so anybody can step up on any given night and thats our strength, so its important for guys to get frustrated when its not their turn, continued the center, who also blocked four shots on the evening. O Asik and Taj were playing great, and Coach rides with them. Thats the way he does things. Im just trying to control the things that I can control, and it felt good to be out there tonight.

Their leaders inspired play seemed to spark a fire under his teammates, as Deng and Noah battled for tough boards on the interior, while timely buckets from the likes of Brewer quelled any hopes of Boston making another comeback attempt. Rose continued to make big, crowd-silencing baskets, causing the Garden to gradually empty down the contests stretch run, though the fans that remained did find pleasure with the late entrance of former Celtics fan favorite and Bulls deep reserve Brian Scalabrine.

I was missing shots before that. I think shots that I normally hit, I was missingI guess taking that day off, Ive got to get my timing back and at the end of the game, they were falling, explained Rose. They were giving me the shot. I probably was out a little bit further than I normally am, but they didnt come and contest and I was just shooting. My teammates have confidence in me. They see how hard I work on my shot and at the end of a game like that, when one of those situations happen, theyre going to give me the ball.

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

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USA Today

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

The shots are starting to fall for Coby White. In seven February games, the Bulls freshly-turned 20-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from 3-point range (eight attempts per). That’s good news for the Bulls. 

And better is that’s not all that’s going right for White. Yes, consecutive career-high 33-point games — something no rookie reserve has ever done — on cumulative 55% field goal shooting (12-for-22 from deep) will grab eyes, especially on the heels of a frigid stretch between the beginning of February and the All-Star break. But after Sunday’s losing-streak-snapping 126-117 win over Washington, Bulls coach Jim Boylen peeled back the layers of White’s growth.

“I think he's been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he's had the ball up and out, he's got it out of his stomach, something he's working on,” Boylen said. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.”

And of White’s defense: “We make a defensive (film) edit on Coby after every game. And him and I watch it together… (Early in the season) he had, of his 14 plays on the tape, you know, seven of them were good and seven of them were bad. Now it's like 10 are good and four are bad. He's climbing in that way.

“What he's finding out is: If you get into the game defensively and you follow your assignment and all that, good things happen for you at the other end. It just does. And I think he's locked in that way.”

White’s restricted area finishing has steadily improved over the season (59.3% in February) — he’s getting to the rim and finishing through contact better than ever before (White’s seven free throw attempts versus the Wizards ties a season-high). In transition, he’s a blur running off live rebounds and steals, which could prove a boon for a Bulls team that lives in the fastbreak. His decision-making and ability to change speeds in the halfcourt stand out. Defensively, though not yet perfect, he’s staying more and more connected off-ball, rotating sharply and hunting loose ball recoveries.

If the jumpers are falling, gravy. But the game slowing down for White, and his confidence growing as a result, should excite the Bulls and their fans the most. White, for his part, has learned over the course of a curious rookie campaign to control what he can control.

“It feels good,” White said of his recent red-hot shooting. “But I think now I look at the game differently than I did at the beginning of the year. Now, I just look at the games like I'm gonna go in and play hard on both ends of the court, that's all I'm gonna do. And then control what I can control — I can't control whether I miss or make shots, so. I'm just going out there and playing hard.”

That comes from Boylen, who White lauded for pushing him to continue improving, especially defensively.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge. And I feel like I'm continuing to get better at it. I still can get better at it,” White said. “But he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can't knock him for that and that's the type of coach I want.”

None of the above (nor Boylen’s unconditional trust in White) has culminated in his first career start, despite clamoring from some media and fans. But perhaps that’s OK. Boylen has often preached White’s increasing comfortability leading the Bulls’ second unit — even injury-ravaged — and that comfort is starting to show up on the floor and in the stat sheet. It speaks to the labeless approach the Bulls have taken to White’s development.

“We got a second group that's playing pretty good again, and we're also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,” Boylen said when asked if starting White could be a possibility. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don't know if it makes sense to [start him].”

To that point: White is still getting his fair share of minutes — he played 34 tonight and is averaging 30.6 in February — and a healthy amount of time on the floor staggered alongside Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. White has also played valuable minutes down the stretch of games recently and his usage rate is up to 24.1% over his last seven games. Opportunity comes in many forms.

“I feel like I'm in a good position,” White said. “This year for me wasn't about starting, it wasn't about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season. That's the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don't want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.”

White certainly hasn't. The overarching point is that nights like tonight (and Saturday against Phoenix) further emphasize how crucial his continued progression will be down the 25-game stretch of this ill-fated Bulls season — whatever form it takes. Talk of a playoff push has noticeably tempered around the United and Advocate Centers, but White’s been the center of plenty of conversations.

“You see how explosive he is,” said LaVine, who’s been highly complimentary of White all year. “Trying to figure out some nicknames for him. Either like propane or gasoline or something like that. His scoring is special. He can do it in a variety of ways. He's finding his rhythm. Kid's good. He's real good.”

If we land on a pseudonym by mid-April, it’d be a welcome sign.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders Podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 30+ points in back-to-back games; LaVine breaking the Bulls record for threes made in a single season; and Dwyane Wade's role in Derrick Jones Jr.'s controversial dunk contest victory.

0:40 - Allana's back and the Bulls losing streak is over

1:10 - White drops 33 points in second straight game

5:30 - Tomas Satoransky records team-high 13 assists

6:45 - Zach LaVine breaks Bulls single-season three-point record

8:35 - Bradley Beal scores 53 points and doesn't get victory

9:45 - Have injuries kept Bulls from reaching their full potential?

11:10 - Should Daniel Gafford start over Wendell Carter Jr.?

14:00 - Pros and cons of playing White and LaVine together

18:25 - Is LaVine in the Bulls long-term future?

20:50 - Injured Bulls look like boy band

22:45 - Did Wade rig dunk contest for Jones Jr.?

25:50 - Does Coby need to start?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.