Bulls shut down Spurs at buzzer to seal victory


Bulls shut down Spurs at buzzer to seal victory

Getting up for the big games has rarely been a problem for this bunch of Bulls in recent memory, and with the formidable and decorated San Antonio Spurs coming to town, there was very little doubt the effort would be as present as the sold-out crowd.

The execution was the question, and even though they didn’t score a basket in the last half of the fourth quarter, the defense of their headliners closed out the 92-89 win at the United Center.

Jimmy Butler forced a miss from Kawhi Leonard with seconds remaining, then Derrick Rose got just enough of his hands on Tony Parker’s corner triple after Tim Duncan recovered the ball, sealing the win.

“I thought Jimmy defended great,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He made Kawhi take a very difficult shot. We knew their offense would try to bat it out. Derrick made a key play and he had the corner.”

Rose had a spurt late in the second quarter but shot five for 17 while Butler scored 14 on just nine shots, not looking very aggressive offensively as Leonard, his counterpart, scored 25 with eight rebounds in 40 minutes.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

But the Bulls relied on their defense late, including Pau Gasol, who had a block on LaMarcus Aldridge late when the Spurs could’ve taken a lead. Aldridge had his way with the Bulls with 21 and 12 rebounds but couldn’t find much traction late, much like both sides in terms of effectiveness on that end.

The Spurs went one of seven from the field in the last four minutes themselves, shooting 29 percent in the fourth.

“To hold that team to 16 fourth quarter points was a great effort,” Hoiberg said. “They’re obviously a great team with great firepower.”

Gasol had 18 with 13 rebounds but missed 12 of his 18 shots, helping contribute to the offensive lethargy to finish.

“Everyone contributed tonight in a positive way. This was one of the hottest and biggest teams in the league,” Gasol said. “It was a great test for us tonight and a  good chance to bounce back after such a tough loss.”

It was the bench that brought the power, turning a 73-70 deficit to start the fourth to an 81-75 lead within three minutes. Joakim Noah turned back the clock, Tony Snell awakened to hit more jump shots than he’s hit in the last month and Taj Gibson followed up a Doug McDermott missed layup with a dunk while the Spurs stood flat-footed.

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Noah had one of those bounce-back games, looking light on his feet and even blowing by David West for a layup then doing the same to Duncan a couple plays later, on the way to an eight-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist evening.

“He’s confident when he’s making moves and taking shots he knows he can make,” said Butler of Noah. “He gets everybody riled up and hype. To have him making plays is big.”

He helped the Bulls to a 32-point second quarter after the first was played at the Spurs’ pace, and it looked like their defense would lock up the Bulls for 48 minutes, holding them to 17 points on 38 percent shooting.

But they put together an efficient showing before halftime, started by the likes of McDermott and Noah with his passing and finished off by Rose, who hit three straight baskets before the half, going head-up with Parker, to energize the United Center and propelling the Bulls to a 49-48 lead.

Snell and McDermott, on the day the Bulls announced Mike Dunleavy suffered a setback with his recovery from back injury, combined to score just as much as Rose and Butler (23 points to 25).

It was played in close quarters, as the Bulls never led by more than six and the Spurs never had anything greater than a nine-point advantage, with Aldridge scoring big early and Leonard doing the damage later, as he had multiple plays called for him down the stretch, making Butler use most if not all of his energy on that end of the floor.

Midway through the fourth, the Spurs never found themselves away from arm’s reach after the Bulls’ emotional rush, trailing by one and taking the lead on a Tony Parker jumper with a little over four minutes remaining.

Regrouping by way of making their free throws down the stretch, the Bulls started a stretch of nine of 10 games at home with a win they needed in the worst way, against the best possible opponent this side of Oakland, California.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games


Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East


Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.