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Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

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Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Posted 8:34 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ATLANTAThis was one you had to see to believe, but not in a good way.

Even as things unfolded, it seemed impossibleespecially with such a tough-minded, consistent bunchbut somehow, it happened. After leading for the entire contest, Tom Thibodeaus 48-minute foreshadowing came true, as the Bulls were overtaken by the Al Horford-led Hawks in the games final minute Wednesday night and improbably dropped an 83-80 affair at Phillips Arena.

Perhaps Joakim Noah put it best: We tricked it tonight.

Even without being up on the latest slang, Noahs statement is easy to interpret. Chicago blew the game.

The visitors jumped out of the gatesCarlos Boozer (11 points, seven rebounds) was particularly aggressivewith a 10-0 start in the first three minutes, punctuated by a Derrick Rose (12 points, 12 assists, six turnovers) steal and dunk that led to a Hawks timeout. Not that the half-empty Phillips Arena crowd minded, as the majority of attendees seemed to be Bulls fans, many of whom chanted M-V-P for Rose.

The lead eventually extended to 14-0, as another Rose steal led to a textbook give-and-go fast break, resulting in a Keith Bogans layup as the typically light-scoring shooting guard scored eight first-quarter points. Atlanta finally got on the board with nearly five minutes elapsed in the contest.

If anything, however, the Bulls could have further capitalized on their early advantage. Instead, the Hawksled by Noahs (13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) college teammate Al Horford (31 points, 16 rebounds) and sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (12 points, four assists)closed on their guests as the opening period wore on and while Chicago, aided by the scoring contributions of the ever-active Taj Gibson, didnt completely squander their seemingly insurmountable lead, they held a 28-19 lead after a quarter in a suddenly more competitive affair.

Despite their hot start on both ends, the Bulls struggled with turnovers and general mishandling of the basketball, even when they made hustle plays, kept rebounds alive and made strong defensive efforts. As if they were locked in step with the typically late-arriving crowd at the Highlight Factory (as the Hawks home arena is nicknamed), the games pace slowed to a lull early in the second period, with neither team immediately able to find a rhythm.

When we got the big lead, I thought we got real loose at the end of the second quarter, carried over to start the third. Youve got to play 48 minutes. You dont do that, youre not winning in this league, said Thibodeau afterwards. Youve got to play tough with the lead.

Chicago gradually rebuilt their winning margin to a double-digit level, as the visitors held their hosts to 31.7-percent shooting, while Atlanta doled out only five assists in the first half. Although their red-hot marksmanship to begin the contest cooled, the Bulls got sporadic easy opportunitiessuch as an uncontested Rose double-pump dunk after he grabbed his own offensive rebound of a three-pointerand with their stifling defense, as well as Luol Deng (15 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals) bouncing back after struggling early and Noah impacting the game with his energetic interior play, they took a 50-33 edge into the break.

Atlanta started the third quarter on a 6-0 run, increasing their defensive intensity, employing full-court pressure (a key aspect of which was keeping the ball out of Roses hands), forcing turnovers and influencing Thibodeau to put a brief halt to the proceedings. The game became a single-digit affair, with the home crowd fully engaged and the visitors out of sync.

I think the effort was there. We just came out too loose in the second half. This loss stings, its a tough loss, but our schedule doesnt get any easier and we can learn a lot from this game. Tough way to lose, but it just shows, youve got to play the game for 48 minutes, said Noah. I take full responsibility for not coming out with the right juice at the beginning of the third. They kind of got whatever they wanted to start that third quarter and weve just got to bounce back quick.

Crawford told CSNChicago.com: We felt like we were never out of it. Even though they got up big, they couldnt hit shots and we couldnt either. We felt like at some point, wed start hitting our shots and Al had a heck of a game.

Horfordthe competitive undersized center was the Hawks saving grace early and showed his fiery side in a near-skirmish after taking exception to a hard Boozer foul in the second quarterwreaked havoc on the Bulls interior defense with his ability to not only stretch the defense, but drive to the basket against his close acquaintance Noah, prompting Thibodeau to later call for the defensive-minded duo of Gibson and rookie Omer Asik (nine rebounds, two blocked shots).

Horford played great. He was hitting a lot of shots from deep, said Noah of his former teammate. I think he played very well tonight. Great rebounding, running the floor hard as hell. Just an overall great performance.

Still, timely baskets from the forward combination of Deng and Boozer enabled Chicago, which displayed outstanding offensive balance, to maintain a slight cushion over Atlanta for the time being.

A Rose turnover, however, led to a Horford follow-up dunk in transition late in the period, making the contest a one-possession game, much to Thibodeaus ire.

This game was definitely on me, but I think Im definitely going to learn from it and get better from it, said Rose, who shot 5-for-21 from the floor and committed an uncharacteristic six turnovers. Ive got to take care of the ball. Shots werent going down like they normally do.

Careless. Thats on my part. Im the one with the ball the majority of the time, he continued. We let one escape.

Concurred a hoarse and frustrated Thibodeau: They did a good job on Rose. He had a hard time getting going. I thought he had some shots that he normally makes, that he couldnt put down. Thats going to happen sometimes. Then, hes got to do other things.
Al Horford tied a career-high with 31 points, 22 coming in the second half to help Atlanta erase a 17-point halftime deficit. (AP)
Asiks offensive rebounding aside, there wasnt much to be pleased with from a Chicago perspective, as the Hawks cut it to 63-58 with one frame remaining and all the momentum on Atlantas side, despite leading scorer Joe Johnson (12 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) experiencing a poor shooting outing.

Asiks energy, defensive presence and offensive rebounding sparked the Bulls in the fourth quarter, giving them multiple possessions and getting the starters to applaud his effort from the bench. Chicago was able to stave off the home teams charge for the time being and Thibodeau reinserted his regulars into the tight-knit contest with the games stretch run approaching.

Horfords dominant effort continued to bring Atlanta to the brink of overtaking Chicago, but every time the Hawks seemed poised to seize the lead, the Bulls managed a timely contribution from any number of players. However, when Marvin Williams (10 points, four rebounds) blocked a Rose dunk attempt, leading to a Hawks fast-break bucket (aided by a Deng goaltend), it felt like the games turning point.

Kyle Korver, the teams designated sharpshooter nailed a three-pointer with under two minutes to go, but Williamswho had been dormant most of the evening answered with his own corner triple.

We believed in each other. We believe in our coaches and we believe in each other as players. Weve been down before and guys didnt hang their heads. We just kept plugging away, plugging away. Finally the tables turned in our favor and we were able to get a win, Williams told CSNChicago.com. We kept creeping closer and closer and closer. We just kept chopping away at the deficit. I think every bucket that we got and every stop that we got gave us more confidence.

After the Bulls failed to convert on the other end, Noah fouled Horford while attempting to grab an offensive rebound. With the score 79-78 in Chicagos favor, Horford split a pair of free throws to tie the game with 56.9 seconds left. On the Bulls next trip, Rose penetrated the defense and dropped the ball off to Noah, who was also fouled and made one of two attempts from the line to give the visitors an 80-79 advantage with 37.1 seconds remaining.

Out of a timeout, Crawford found Horford cutting to the basket off a pick-and-roll for a powerful dunk, thrilling the crowd and giving Atlanta its first lead of the contest, 81-80, with 29.4 seconds to play. Following a Bulls timeout, a bungled exchange between Boozer and Rose resulted in a Johnson steal and subsequent transition dunk over Rose.

I think he hit me in my head. I think I was trying to take off too quick, Rose explained. Just one of those games for me.

Chicago rushed to get off a late three-point attempt to tie the game, but Rose missed a tough look over Horford. Although Noah got the offensive board and the ball made its way to Korver via Boozer, the long-ball specialist airballed a wide-open look with all zeroes on the clock.

It was the kind of shot you want. It actually felt kind of good leaving my hand, Korver told CSNChicago.com. I was really shocked that it went short, but you get ready to shoot the next one.

Thibodeau refused to place the blame on a singular playat least on the offensive endfor the loss.

We couldnt get stops and we couldnt score. Beat ourselves at the end, said Thibodeau. But the game was lost way before that.

By then, we were struggling so much. We didnt have a good rhythm. Those are miracle shots, he continued. Theyre a good team. We should be able to count on our defense when were not making shots and all we had to do was get a shot at the end of the game there. We had the lead. You get a stop, its your game. We couldnt do that, so we lose.

Summed up Noah: Its on us. Its always tough to lose that way we lost, but I know that we were up 19 points and we got loose. We cant play that way and at the end of the day, the positive about is we know that were a lot better than that and well bounce back because thats what we do.

You learn from your experiences. Losing like thiswe havent had a loss like this all yearbut it hurts and you know what, itll make us tougher in the long run.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

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USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

With player heights long a topic of question and debate, the NBA informed teams that all players must be measured by a team physician this training camp.

It’s all part of the league’s push towards transparency, which includes detailed reports on officiating and other initiatives.

So who grew and who shrank among the Bulls?

Wendell Carter Jr. dropped from 6 feet, 10 inches to 6-foot-9, which will do nothing to change the narrative that he's an undersized big man. Kris Dunn moved from 6-4 to 6-3. Daniel Gafford isn’t 6-11, as first advertised when drafted, but 6-10. And Denzel Valentine is no longer 6-6 but 6-4.

The Bulls even pushed down Coby White’s flamboyant hairstyle and discovered he’s 6-4, not 6-5.

As for those who grew, well, Zach LaVine’s All-Star candidacy now features him as a 6-6 guard, not 6-5. New big man Luke Kornet is really big; he’s 7-2, not 7-1. And Shaq Harrison somehow grew from 6-4 to 6-7.

That’s the official Bulls’ roster. 

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Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

On the 2019 NBA Preview Show, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson broke down what it would truly take for the Bulls to make the jump into playoff contention following a particularly tough 22-win season. 

Johnson, like most of the national NBA landscape, is optimistic about the prospects of the 2019-20 Bulls. He stated that it is "widely accepted that they had a pretty strong offseason," but cautioned us against simply penciling in the Bulls for a playoff spot this season. 

Despite the additions of savvy veterans like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls still enter the 2019-20 NBA regular season as the second-youngest team in the NBA, as good of a reason as any to temper expectations.

That being said, the Bulls, from a simple talent standpoint, are much better than last year's squad that featured a ton of injuries and many Windy City Bulls/NBA G League call-ups. 

With a new coaching staff around head coach Jim Boylen and a new offensive philosophy, things will be very different in Chicago this season.

But as Johnson stated in Tuesday's 2019 NBA Preview Show, for the Bulls to achieve their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, "basically, all of those [free agent] additions need to hit.

"You need to see Tomas Satoransky prove that he can be a full-time starter at that point guard position, you need to see Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen take a step towards stardom, you need to see Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy enough to contribute at that small forward position and you need to see Wendell Carter Jr. hit the two-way potential that the organization believes he has... and Coby White... needs to bring you something off the bench."

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is and it appropriately represents the amount of work needed to make the leap from 22-wins to a playoff spot. 

What the Bulls have working on their side as of now is that everything we have seen and heard from the team throughout preseason has indicated that there is good shot that every one of the things K.C. Johnson named happens. 

Carter was limited to just 44 games due to injury last season and while he has looked rusty in the preseason, he has also had some explosive finishes and shown his trademark appetite for help defense and blocked shots. Carter blocked 2.0 shots per game over two preseason games but was abysmal in terms of his offensive efficiency (26.7% from the field), something to keep an eye on throughout the first week of regular-season games. 

Boylen recently made comments about managing Porter's workload, so clearly keeping Porter healthy amid the backdrop of the Bulls questionable wing depth is already something the organization has discussed and seems to have a concrete plan for. 

Satoransky has shown that he can comfortably handle the starting duties at the one as Johnson suggested, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game while being lights-out from 3-point range (80% on 1.2 attempts per game). And while Sato represents the steady hand, Coby White represents the true "boom-or-bust" option in the backcourt, capable of going off for 25+ points or fading into the background while playing more of an off-ball role. 

The factor that Johnson mentioned that will have the greatest impact on the 2019-20 Bulls season is if Markkanen and LaVine can take a step towards superstardom.

LaVine looks clearly poised to do so, finishing the preseason third in the league in scoring at 23.2 points per game on 59.3/56.0/ 83.3 shooting splits. Markkanen, on the other hand, struggled to find his shot and despite being one of the top-three scoring options on the team, struggled to get his scoring average just over 11.0 points per game (11.2). 

It is only preseason action, so all results are to be taken with a grain of salt. But as we gear up for the start of the Bulls games that count on Wednesday, it is clear that the national outlook on the Bulls is much rosier than it has been in the past.

Johnson stated that the Bulls are indeed shaping up as a "sexy pick" to make the playoffs and that alone is a monumental step in the right direction as the franchise looks to put last season's disappointment further in the rearview mirror. 

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.