Bulls

Bulls rally late but can't complete comeback in loss to Celtics

Bulls rally late but can't complete comeback in loss to Celtics

BOSTON — Nobody said they would be perfect.

The Chicago Bulls’ marital bliss with each other hit some turbulence Wednesday, as they failed to take advantage of a shorthanded Boston Celtics team at TD Garden, taking their first loss of the season 107-100 Wednesday night.

A stirring Bulls’ comeback came up short when the one thing they did extremely well in the fourth quarter became a weakness at the wrong time. Failing to control their defensive glass led to an extra opportunity for the Celtics with 34 seconds left, and Celtics guard Marcus Smart hit a running hook over Bobby Portis to put the Bulls behind five.

It was moments after Nikola Mirotic missed two free throws that could’ve given the Bulls a 102-101 lead, an improbable turn of events considering the Celtics jumped on Amir Johnson’s back in the third quarter to take a double-digit lead, restoring order from a quick start they happened to squander before the first half ended.

Johnson, a career 31-percent 3-point shooter who’s only made 58 in his 11-year career, had a third quarter for the ages. Johnson hit four triples in the third, helping them establish a double-digit lead. Starting in place of Al Horford, Johnson finished with 23 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes.

“The scouting report man…those three’s were big,” said Taj Gibson, who had a front row seat to Johnson’s improbable shooting. “It shows you can’t give guys looks. You gotta run off everybody, especially at the 3-point line. I still fell we had a shot to win the game.”

“The scouting report did not have that. I could hear the coaching staff say, 'slow up'. Hats off to him, he had a great game. We’ll be ready next time.”

His production was sorely needed with Horford out with a concussion and then Jae Crowder injured his ankle in the second quarter by landing on a Bulls player's foot. Crowder and Isaiah Thomas torched the Bulls early on, not dissimilar from the way the Bulls galloped out to big leads in the last two games.

“We could never quite get over the hump,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought we fought to get back into the game but overall, especially in the first three quarters they were the more physical team.”

Thomas led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 assists, and the Celtics hit 14 3-pointers, with Thomas matching Johnson’s surprising output. All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, as Johnson helped push them ahead in the third before the Bulls showed some grit.

Had the Bulls not been so bent on pushing the tempo when the plays weren’t there, they wouldn’t have fallen behind so quickly, so often. Playing uphill all night was a task too great to overcome.

The Celtics turned 19 turnovers in 18 points, including four from Rajon Rondo.

“We weren’t valuing possessions,” Hoiberg said. “One of the Celtics’ big strengths is turning other teams over and capitalizing on it and it happened tonight.”

A Jimmy Butler (23 points) 3-pointer then 3-point play cut the Celtics lead to 93-88 with 6:20 left, never letting their opponents get too comfortable with their lead. Bobby Portis got some surprise minutes in place of the struggling Taj Gibson, and his aggressiveness helped the Bulls stay in it.

Mirotic hovered around the 3-point line all night, hitting three of them to score 17.

“I was sitting back waiting on having my number called,” said Gibson, who played 25 minutes. “I felt Bobby and Niko did a great job. We had a chance to win the game.”

Denzel Valentine got some early playing time and Jerian Grant played big minutes, performing with energy and savvy, with a plus-10 in 13 minutes, hitting all three of his field goals.

Dwyane Wade scored 15 and Rondo 12, but the Bulls shot just 43 percent from the field and missed the shooting of Doug McDermott, who was out with a concussion. The Bulls made just seven of their 20 3-point attempts.

“Just keep fighting, keep plugging away,” Wade said. “Jerian came in and did a great job during the second quarter. Our bench was for us today just giving us an opportunity to come back.”

The Bulls tied the game at 100 with a little under two minutes left and had a chance to take the lead before Mirotic’s free throws rimmed out. Then Thomas hit a twisting layup and the Bulls failed to execute for the rest of the night, leading to their first loss.

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono

Midseason expectations: Otto Porter Jr. arrived in Chicago the same night the Bulls posted a 126.3 offensive rating in a 125-120 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Maybe that was foreshadowing for how the offense would look two days later when Porter made his Bulls debut. That was the expectation, at least, that Porter would infuse life into a stagnant Bulls offense, space the floor and give the Bulls some versatility on the defensive end. Given the Bulls were 12-42 when Porter arrived, the expectation was that he’d gain some chemistry with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen heading into the 2019-2020 season when he’d have an entire offseason to figure out a defined role.

What went right: How about 49 percent from beyond the arc? Again, it was a small sample size, but Porter connected on 39 of his 80 3-point attempts in 15 games with the Bulls. Perhaps a change of scenery and leaving that nightmare of a John Wall-less Wizards offense, was exactly what he needed. Past his lights-out shooting, Porter showed a knack for distributing that he rarely showed in Washington.

Consider that Porter had 40 assists in 15 games with the Bulls, half of the 80 assists he had with the Wizards in 41 games. He had a career-high eight assists for the Bulls in a March game against the Pistons, three more than his high in Washington last season. Porter is never going to initiate offense but playing well in pick-and-roll action and keeping the ball moving around the perimeter only adds to his value.

What went wrong: Pegged as two-way player when he arrived in Chicago, Porter didn’t do all that much on the defensive end. The Bulls were 1.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Porter sat than when he played. It’s a small sample size, and the Bulls defense was a mess regardless of who was or wasn’t on the floor, but it’s hard to pick out any real significant defensive plays that Porter made in his 15 games.

The Stat: 111.5

We’ll disclaim here that it was just a 17-game sample size, but that’s still more than 20 percent of the season. In the 17 games between Porter’s acquisition and when he was shut down for the remainder of the season, the Bulls’ 111.5 offensive rating was ninth best in the NBA, better than teams such as the Warriors, Hawks, Sixers and Nuggets.

What’s more, their turnover percentage (13.3%, 13th), effective field goal percentage (53.0%, 11th) and offensive rebound percentage (26.1%, 15th) were all top half of the league. It was their best stretch of the season, and it was no coincidence that it came while Porter was in the lineup and healthy. Small-ish sample size? Yes. Still promising? Yes.

2019-20 Expectations: A lot. No, the Bulls didn’t give Porter that massive contract. But it’s going to stick with him as long as the Bulls are paying him. Expectations are clear: Continue to be an elite 3-point shooter and move the ball – whether it be around the perimeter or in pick-and-roll action – once the defense shifts.

Speaking of defense, Porter will be tasked with changing the narrative in Chicago. The Bulls need to improve their defense if they’re going to have any change of competing for a playoff spot and much of that responsibility will fall on Porter. He’ll routinely be guarding the opponent’s best wing and will need to hide Zach LaVine at times. It’s a tall order, but it comes with the territory while making $27 million per year.

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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USA TODAY

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveney goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.