Bulls

Bulls pass test, hold off Spurs behind Rose

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Bulls pass test, hold off Spurs behind Rose

SAN ANTONIO - Prior to Wednesdays game, in the midst of complimentary comments about his opponent that evening, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau foreshadowed the battle of wills that would ensue.

This league, its a test. Its going to test your will, your toughnessboth mental and physicaland everybody has the situations like this, so you have to be able to get through those things and youve got to play tough on the road, and hopefully we can do that.

His Bulls (29-8) passed their first major exam after the All-Star break, holding off the Spurs (24-11), 96-89, at the AT&T Center, behind a typically brilliant performance from Derrick Rose, pushing the teams record to 18-0 when holding an opponent under 90 points.

We knew it would be a tough game. Theyre a great team and theyve been great here all year long, Thibodeau said afterwards. I thought our guys did a great job, the bench, in particular. They provided a big spark for us.

As the Spurs did when they hosted the Bulls at home last season, the veteran squad pushed the tempo from the games outset, leading to transition opportunities and putting the guests on their heels, as they started the game in a 9-2 hole. All-Star point guard Tony Parker (11 points, nine assists, six rebounds) was the orchestrator for San Antonio, using his speedone of the few floor generals in the league to rival Rose in that departmentto create for himself and his teammates, getting all five Spurs starters on the board in the early going, though the Bulls quickly battled back to narrow the deficit.

Meanwhile, Rose (29 points, four assists) shouldered the offensive load for the visitorswith adequate support from Joakim Noah (10 points, 13 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer, who were active on the glassbut gave the Bulls fan base (not to mention the crowd at the AT&T Center; a hush fell over the arena) a scare after he banged knees with Parker and writhed in pain on the floor.

I didnt want to look, quipped Thibodeau. Like anytime he goes down, but the same holds true for any player. It was a bang-bang play, but usually he bounces up pretty quick, so I was a little concerned.

Rose himself confirmed that he was fine afterwards.

When I first hit him, it was a lot of pain, but after laying down there for a little bit, I got up. I was good, he recounted. Its just basketball, where youre going to bump each other. A little sore, but I was able to play through the game.

At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed 22-20, as the Rose-Parker matchup (the latter picked up two fouls in short succession toward the end of the first quarter) took center stage.

Every point guard Im playing against, its fun. I love the challenge. Hes a very point guard, knows all the moves, plays great for that team, one of the leaders for that team and me and my teammates just tried to hold him, Rose said of Parker, who, along with Noah, attracted a large contingent of French media to the game.

Its my teammates, man. Its hard sticking people like that one-on-one. We just tried to make him play in a crowd, contest all his shots. Hes a great point guard, tried to take some things from him, but its too hard. Youve just got to put all your attention on him when he has the ball.

Thibodeau added about his point guards performance when facing a more experienced All-Star counterpart: I think hes got to read the game. Things werent going well for us early on and I thought defensively, he played very hard.

A less-heralded point guard, C.J. Watson (12 points, four assists), was the star of the show early in the second quarter, as the backup came out in an offensive-minded fashion, aiding the Bulls in overtaking their home team and building a slim cushion by the periods midway point.

C.J., hes the leader of that group and he came out real aggressive tonight, said Thibodeau. I thought he ran the team great and I think that was a big part of the game, the second quarter.

San Antonio, however, didnt wilt, and with contributions from the likes of role players low-profile starters DeJuan Blair and Danny Green, reserve sharpshooter Gary Neal (21 points), second-year swingman James Anderson and Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, as well as future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan (18 points, 10 rebounds), kept the contest close, despite an uncharacteristically high number of turnovers on both sides.

Thibodeau gradually reinserted his regulars and behind Roses scoring, the visitors once again obtained some breathing room, as an advantage on the boards and tremendous individual hustle plays helped give them momentum. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 50-42 lead, hoping to extend their undefeated streak when leading at the half on the road to 15-0 on the season.

The two squads threw haymakers at each other immediately following the break, but the Spurs soon took the upper hand, as Duncan was a direct beneficiary of Parkers playmaking, including the aging veteran running the floor for a fast-break dunk. Chicagos shooting grew cold, perhaps partly as a result of San Antonios defense, but also due to settling for outside jumpers, as opposed to the strategy that reaped their first-half lead.

Duncan got going in the second half, said Thibodeau. He was terrific in the second half, so it put a lot of pressure on us.

Behind Duncans savvy and scoring, the hosts stormed back to overtake the Bulls, who couldnt find any consistent scoring beyond Rose -- who continued to knock down shots off the dribble, finish aggressively at the rim and get to the charity stripe. But the offensive efforts of the leagues reigning MVP alone werent enough to prevent the Spurs from taking a 66-65 edge into the final stanza.

Commented Thibodeau on the stretch: We were sort of running low on energy at the end of the third, so we went to the bench earlier and they were great at the end of the third, start of the fourth, so they did their job.

Rose chimed in: Sometimes our bench wins games for us. Tonight was an example of that.

Both coaches utilized all-reserve lineups to begin the fourth quarter and the Bench Mob held serve, propelled by Watson and Taj Gibson, ensuring the Bulls starters reentered a contest that remained even halfway through the period. After acquiring some separation, despite Neals repeated successful forays into the paint, Chicago maintained its advantage, as timely contributions from previously dormant Luol Deng (10 points, nine rebounds) and Ronnie Brewer, as well as expected clutch play from Rose, held off the Spurs as the game entered its stretch run.

Thibodeau was impressed with Neal, a 27-year-old second-year Spurs find via Europe after a high-scoring college career: I dont know if hes under the radar because everyone knows how tough he is. I think hes improved. He had a great year last year. I think hes even better this year. Can hit the three, but hes also added that runner. He can put it on the floor, if youre closing hard to him and hes got a great demeanor about him, too. You can see hes very confident, but thats also the mark of their team.

Following a Bulls turnover, Neal knocked down a huge triple to make it a one-possession game with just over two minutes remaining, but Rose responded with a floater off the glass. San Antonio answered back, as Duncan scored over Noah in the post, but once again, Rose countered with a contested pull-up jumper to silence the raucous crowd, giving the visitors an 89-84 lead with 1:10 to play.

We sort of got stagnant and then down the stretch, hes got the capability of making big shot after big shot, and then he made the right play, said Thibodeau of the 23-year-old wunderkind. That was a great play where he hit Ronnie in the corner, Ronnie touched it to Lu, big three right there. A lot of big plays down the stretch.

After a timeout, another Neal bucket extended the Spurs chances, but on the ensuing possession, Deng, the Bulls other All-Star, drilled a clutch shot from distance to put Chicago up, 92-86, with 39.6 seconds on the clock.

I felt like it was one of those games where I didnt have a lot of shots. I wasnt sitting down, thinking, I shot bad. I just felt like I didnt have a lot of looks. Thats how it goes sometimes, said Deng of his thought process. I missed some shots, I knew I didnt get a lot of looks, but I knew when it comes down to the fourth quarter, I was going to get some looks and I knocked them down.

Thibodeau concurred: His shots were not falling, but he had the mental toughness to stay with it and he wasnt rattled, and he made two big shotsone off the pick-and-roll and the three off the touch pass by Ronnieso when we needed him the most, he came through.

A subsequent parade to the free-throw line ensued, as the home team was forced to send the Bulls to the charity stripe, in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to catch up.

Were definitely proud. Coming here, theyre a team where they play great here, play with a lot of energy up here and we played together, stuck through it and came up with a good win, said Rose. The intensity in the crowd and the players, how each team came out and just started playing, you could tell thatyou never know, this matchup can be in the Finals or whereverso just try to play hard against them.

Right when we came in, we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. When you come in, its like a playoff atmosphere. Every time you come in the building, the fans are great. Our fans come support us a little bit. Theyve got great players, a great coaching staff. We just tried to come out and play a complete game, he continued. Their goal is the same as ours and thats to win a championship, do whatever it takes and thats just what I tried to do out there, do whatever it takes to win that game.

We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We believe. I know the coaches are extremely happy with us. Were extremely happy with ourselves, playing this team on a back-to-back.

Concluded Thibodeau: When youre on the roadyou have to play that way in every gamebut in particular, on the road, its just you and your teammates and your coaches, thats it. So, you have to have resiliency, you have to have toughnessphysical toughness, mental toughnesscourage. You need all those things and youve got to persevere when things arent going your way to keep marching forward, and thats what our guys did."

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense. 

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

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NBC Sports Chicago

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

 

Michael Jordan is no stranger to amazing comebacks.

The man widely agreed upon to be the greatest player of all time, won six NBA Championships, with three of them coming after a full season sabbatical in which he played minor league baseball with the White Sox affiliate. And of course, MJ had his even later comeback with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, in which the year 40-year old Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG over two seasons to close out his career.

That is why Jordan’s effusive praise of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory should not be taken lightly in the greater context of sports history.

In an article written by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Jordan talks about how he holds Woods’ 2019 Masters win in extremely high regard, calling it “the greatest comeback I've ever seen."

Jordan, a famously avid golfer himself and a friend of Woods, stated, “I’ve been a fan for I don’t know how long.....I never thought he’d get back physically.....He didn’t think he’d get back physically.”

Major success had escaped Woods--who only had one victory in 2018--due to a litany of back injuries and subsequent surgeries.

With Woods having a major victory under his belt for the 2019 season, he certainly has momentum rolling in his favor. That momentum could carry Woods to another major run of PGA Tour success, and MJ agreed that Woods’ belief in himself was perhaps the biggest factor in his 2019 Masters win.

“No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He's probably the only person who believed he could get back.”