Bulls

Bulls nip Knicks in Garden party thriller

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Bulls nip Knicks in Garden party thriller

NEW YORKIt wasnt a Broadway play, but with all of Derrick Roses aerial acrobatics and a game that was entertaining throughout, basketball fans in the Big Apple were treated to a show Thursday night.

Rose (32 points, 13 assists), named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter earlier in the evening, thrilled an audience used to another guard representing Chicago making memories on a big stage, as he led the Bulls (19-6) to a 105-102 victory over the Knicks (6-14).

He was great from the start, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of his point guard. He got everybody involved early.

A back-and-forth contest right out of the gates, the atmosphere in the revamped Madison Square Garden suggested, despite the home teams disappointing start to the season, a prime-time matchup.

Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire (34 points, 11 rebounds) and second-year swingman Landry Fields (17 points) were aggressive in the early going and as a result, received encouragement from the crowd, which was behind the duo that played so well a year ago, but were struggling in the current campaign scoring New Yorks first 17 points of the contest.

For the visitors, Rose focused on distributing at the outset and one of the prime beneficiaries was sharpshooter Kyle Korver (16 points), who knocked down three quick triples. Rose then began looking for his own shots and scored on a variety of drives and pull-up jumpers, propelling the Bulls to a 29-25 advantage at the conclusion of the opening period, following a late-quarter jumper by Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert (10 points), a native of Oak Park, Ill.

Just trying to make plays. Thats what I think I didnt do in the 76ers game. Making plays for others when people are trying to play that type of defense its kind of like a soft blitz, when I come off pick-and-roll, the big is staying with me until I pass the ball and then, when I passed to Joakim or Booz, they knew what they were doing and that makes the game easier, Rose said afterwards.

Backup point guard C.J. Watson (12 points) showed he was continuing to progress in his recovery from a right-wrist injury, building on Wednesday nights solid performance in a losing effort at Philadelphia and displaying his adeptness at both shooting from the perimeter and penetrating to the rim for crafty finishes, giving the Bulls a slim cushion.

You know when C.J. is in the game, hes going to give you his all. Score the ball, run the team, play defense. He plays great defense and I think thats what people sleep on, praised Rose. The people that we have on the bench, they come in, do more work sometimes than our starters. Theyre always ready, they respond great when guys are out and thats all we can ask for.

We hate losing. We have winners on our team. If we lose, the next game, for sure, we know that team is going to get our all that night, he continued. For sure, knowing that last night, thats a terrible game. Theyre a good team, the Sixers, and tonight, we were just trying to redeem ourselves with this game.

Meanwhile, Stoudemire continued to carry the Knicks offensive load in the close-knit affair while playing center former Bulls draft pick Tyson Chandler (nine points, eight rebounds), an offseason free-agent acquisition for New York, was catching a breather the position where he excelled prior to last years blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade, in a second-unit lineup.

Speaking of Anthony (26 points, six rebounds), the East All-Star starter got somewhat untracked (though not in concert with Stoudemire, a major concern for the Knicks), but Chicagos offensive execution (plays were successfully run to set up open jumpers or favorable one-on-one opportunities), tough defense (exemplified by rookie swingman Jimmy Butler) and overall effort (native New Yorker Joakim Noah, in particular, stood out in this category), something highly scrutinized following a lackluster performance in a loss at Philadelphia the previous evening.

We always say, Youve got to find a way, and I think the good teams in this league find a way to win games. Ideally, youd like to count on both your offense and your defense, and on most nights, if you can be consistent with your defense, it gives you a chance to win on the nights when you dont shoot well. We were fortunate tonight because we were able to score the ball, but we know thats not the way youre going to have success over a long period of time in this league. We have to make the corrections to improve our defense, said Thibodeau.

It says a lot about our team. For the most part, this team will play hard every night and the thing to me that was disappointing about the Philly game was just the turnovers. But I love the resiliency of our team, the resolve of our team, the bounce-back ability of the team. We got great leadership from Derrick today and all our guys. The thing about this team is I think weve got a team of leaders. Its not any one particular guy. Its a whole group of guys, so I thought getting ready to play was a challenge and were looking at four games in five nights, and you can give yourself that excuse or you can find a way to win, and thats what I like about our team.

With their balanced, unselfish and opportunistic offense the guests had 10 fast-break points and nine second-chance points at the half and an aggressive mindset on the defensive end, the Bulls went into the break with a 55-44 lead, after an Anthony putback at the halftime buzzer.

Selfless offense continued to be the Bulls trademark after the intermission, as Rose orchestrated the show, setting up Korver, Noah (10 points, nine rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (16 points, nine rebounds) alike, when he wasnt creating for himself.

However, while the visitors were able to maintain their double-digit edge over the hosts, New York consistently went inside to Stoudemire and Chandler drawing Noahs fourth foul and cut into the deficit, as perimeter players Anthony, Fields and Shumpert also made contributions.

Rose briefly took matters into his own hands, scoring on two consecutive possessions when the hosts trimmed it to a two-point differential, before the Knicks used a trap to force the ball out of his hands, then narrowed the gap behind Anthonys potent scoring.

Anthony tied the game with under a minute left in the period, but after three quarters of play, the Bulls clung to a narrow, 77-75 edge.

With Watson alongside him to start the final stanza and assist with ballhandling duties to combat New Yorks double-team strategy, Rose went on a scoring tear, scoring the Bulls first seven points of the period, mostly on an array of floaters, soon coming to be his patented shot.

He was countered, however, by his counterpart in a No. 1 jersey, Stoudemire, who again stepped up his production with Anthony out of the game, though Roses show-stopping ability, which mesmerized the Garden crowd prevented the Knicks from overtaking their guests.

We stayed together. Were a team, where, in those types of situations, thats when we come together as a team and just try to fight through it. We still had a tough time with stopping them toward the end. They were hitting some great shots. Theyve got great players on their team. We were just trying to hold on to that lead, Rose explained.

I love playing here, man. The crowd really loves basketball, they love basketball and I just love the energy here. They love their team, they talk about you and all that. I love it.

It remained a close-knit affair as the game entered its stretch run when Noah made a huge block on Anthony shot inside, Butler, the rookie Thibodeau left him in the game for defensive purposes hit a pull-up jumper to make it a four-possession game, only to see Anthony match him to make it 101-98 with under a minute remaining in the contest.

Following a timeout, Fields scored to cut the deficit to a single point and the Knicks subsequently engaged in a late-game free throw exhibition, which the Bulls survived, though Anthony following Rose splitting a pair had to miss a game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer to ensure the contest wouldnt go to overtime.

Finally hit a damn free throw. Thats what Im happy about. Hit one, so hopefully next time, I hit both of them, Rose joked. But just trying to stay positive, just trying to do anything to win. It was me passing the ball earlier in the game and that loosened everything up, and I was just hitting shots tonight.

Added Thibodeau: I think we have guys who have great will to win. I think they play for each other, so whenever we lose, were disappointed as a group, but we try to learn from every game, both when we win and when we lose. I think every game reveals something to you and you should try to learn, and understand, why youre winning and why youre losing, and I think this group does that.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

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.”