Bulls

Bulls streak continues with improbable win over Warriors

Bulls streak continues with improbable win over Warriors

The hair-pulling, hair-raising and asylum-inducing attributes of the Chicago Bulls were on full display and because it was a Thursday night home game, victory was all but assured.

It doesn't matter if it's the Golden State Warriors, as the best two shooters in the NBA are no match for a comical and foolish streak that seemed destined to end.

The bounces went the Bulls' way as the Warriors couldn't hit much of anything for most of the night, particularly late in the 94-87 Bulls' decision at the United Center.

The Thursday night home streak extends to 18 games and in more practical matters, the Bulls pull back to a game over .500 while the Warriors stumbled to their 11th loss of the season — their first two-game losing streak since the 2014-15 season.

And it was to these rag-tag Chicago Bulls, who did without the heroics of Jimmy Butler, although he scored 22 with six assists and five rebounds in a solid but understated performance.

Bobby Portis took his time in the spotlight with his most impactful game as a pro, scoring 17 with 13 rebounds, going head-up with Draymond Green (12 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) and helping the Bulls control the glass where there were plenty of misses to be had as neither team shot 44 percent from the field.

"I thought Bobby was awesome," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was really in a great rhythm, fighting their guys on the glass, fighting our guys on the glass, he was just trying to make a big impact on the game."

Portis scored 14 of his points in the first half while Butler worked himself into the game as it wore on and seemed generally unfazed. He hit two triples and even though he took a couple shots out of aggression, being in the right position defensively more than made up for small mistakes that could be erased through experience.

"That's what Bobby Portis is," Hoiberg said. "He's out there playing winning basketball and it's great to see."

Dwyane Wade's fadeaway followed by Paul Zipser's buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave the Bulls a six-point lead with under two minutes left — a lead that usually evaporates against this explosive team but proved to be too mountainous for the Warriors to overcome.

Scoring just 15 in the fourth would've spelled disaster but their closing lineup did just enough to carve out a win as the Bulls are tied for sixth place in the East. Wade scored 12 and Robin Lopez scored 10 as the Bulls' lowest-scoring output since Feb. 12 resulted in an improbable win.

Zipser has proven to be a dependable cog for Hoiberg despite missing time with an ankle injury. His defensive versatility along with his shot-making, as he went four for five, made him an easy option to be in the closing lineup for his first game in nearly a month.

"He really solidified himself as our sixth man and the guy who was closing games for us," Hoiberg said. "We missed him, there's no doubt about that. He's got size, he's got length, he can put it on the floor and he can really defend."

And stumbled mightily the Warriors did, as Stephen Curry went 10 of 27 and backcourt mate Klay Thompson went five of 22. Combined from three, they shot three of 22 — and the Bulls weren't much better overall, going five of 19.

Yes, the Warriors were without Kevin Durant and looked like a team battling malaise and general boredom, with Curry and Thompson having the worst luck on the most open jumpers.

Even though no Bull was in the same zip code, shots often went in and out and kept the Bulls in the game. All in all, the Warriors shot six for 30, continuing their shooting slump since starting their eastern swing.

"Our defense hasn't been as good of late," Wade said. "I thought today our attention to detail was phenomenal. They missed some shots. Some of them open, but that's part of the game."

But the Bulls will make no apologies for the Warrior woes, as the third quarter was one of the best in recent memory considering the competition, as the Bulls moved the ball around in a dizzying, Warriors-like manner, scoring 32 points.

Rajon Rondo again pushed the pace for stretches, helping put Curry in foul trouble and giving the Bulls a six-point lead in the third quarter with more aggressive play.

It helped negate an early showing where the Bulls could barely hold onto the ball with seven first-quarter turnovers — and it looked like it was only a matter of time before the Warriors found themselves and sent the Bulls on their merry way.

But it didn't happen, as the Bulls proved yet again that they are a Thursday night outfit not to be trifled with.

Now, to those other six days of the week…

NBA G League continues to offer fascinating storylines

NBA G League continues to offer fascinating storylines

You never know what you might see on a given night in the G League.

Wednesday’s game at the Sears Centre offered a match-up of 7-foot-2 Bol Bol in his Windy City Bulls home debut against one time hot prospect, 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

In case you’re not familiar with Thabeet, he was the second overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2009 NBA Draft after capturing the attentions of scouts and executives with his play in the high profile program at Connecticut. Thabeet was viewed as a can’t miss prospect whose size and athleticism would translate into making him a defensive force at the NBA level.

Problem is, Thabeet did miss. Questions about his low motor and work ethic surfaced and he struggled to get consistent playing time in Memphis. Stops in Houston, Portland and Oklahoma City would follow, and Thabeet found himself out of the league in 2014. He played a total of 224 NBA games, averaging 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds a game.

The native of Tanzania bounced around the G League and played in Japan for a time before returning to the U.S. looking for one more chance at the NBA. Thabeet invited teams to watch him work out last summer, but with little interest, he wound up back in the G League with Fort Wayne for the 2019-20 season.

At 32 years old, Thabeet is still an impressive looking athlete, and in Wednesday’s game against Windy City, he flashed at times with 4 blocked shots and a powerful baseline drive and dunk. But he also labored to change ends of the court, and put up a modest stat line of 6 points, 2 rebounds and 4 blocks in 18 minutes. Down the stretch, the Mad Ants decided they were better off with Travin Thibodeaux at center in a close game.

With NBA teams now looking for mobile centers with 3-point shooting range, it’s hard to imagine Thabeet getting another chance to make it to the league.

Meanwhile, Windy City unveiled it’s newest addition Bol Bol, a two-way player for the Denver Nuggets who needed a team to continue his development since the Nuggets don’t have their own G-League affiliate.

Bol only played nine games in his lone collegiate season at Oregon before suffering a foot injury that dropped his draft stock. He averaged 21 points and almost 10 rebounds a game at Oregon, showing an uncanny long range shooting touch for a 7-footer. Matter of fact, some talent evaluators viewed him as the best shooter available in the 2019 NBA Draft. But because of concerns about the foot injury and his slender build, Bol fell to the the second round, eventually selected 44th overall by Miami, then traded to Denver on draft night.

With the Nuggets featuring one of the NBA’s deepest rosters, there wouldn’t be any developmental minutes for Bol, so he was assigned to Windy City, a team that had a need for another big man.

Bol was impressive in his 20 minutes of playing time on Wednesday, finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Right now, Bol is on a minutes restriction to protect him from further injury, but you can see the potential is there for him to be a contributor at the NBA level in time.

Bol has a feathery soft shooting touch, and will be comfortable spotting up at the 3-point line in drive and kick offenses and as a weak side option on pick and roll plays. He also showed more aggressiveness than I expected in attacking the offensive glass, following up his own initial miss for rebound baskets on a few occasions against Fort Wayne.

Windy City general manager Josh Kreibich has put together a very competitive roster that features another Nuggets’ two-way player, P.J. Hairston, Bulls’ two-way players Max Strus and Adam Mokoka, and former Loyola University star Milton Doyle.

The Bulls’ G League affiliate is off to a 4-1 start under first year coach Damian Cotter with hopes of making a second straight playoff appearance. Still, player development is priority number one in the G League, which means every player on the roster will get the opportunity to showcase their skills during the course of the season.

Bol’s NBA rights belong to Denver, but the fans at Sears Centre on Wednesday were thoroughly entertained watching the son of former NBA center Manute Bol show off a unique game that will almost certainly land him a spot in an NBA team’s rotation before long.

Windy City’s first two homes games brought former No. 4 overall draft pick Dragan Bender and Thabeet to Sears Centre, and on Nov. 29, 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall will be in Hoffman Estates with the Maine Red Claws. If you want to take a break from your Black Friday shopping to watch the Bol-Tacko duel, it’s a 5 p.m. tip-off.

After all, you never know what you might see at a G League game.

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Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

Just over midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, Kris Dunn cleanly picked Derrick Rose’s pocket for a steal.

“I love getting steals. That’s been my game since high school. That’s what I do. I take pride in that,” Dunn said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I think my teammates know, the coaches know, the other teams know defense is what I do. And I try to inspire that in others.”

With 17 Pistons’ turnovers, the Bulls have now forced 15 or more turnovers in all 15 games this season.

The last time they did this — in 1980 — nobody on the current roster was born. Jim Boylen was in high school in Grand Rapids, Mich. No NBA team has opened a season in similar fashion since the 76ers did in 2004, per Elias Sports Bureau.

The Bulls lead the NBA in overall steals and rank second behind Friday’s opponent, the Heat, in steals per game. Dunn ranks third behind league leader Jimmy Butler, in town Friday, and Ben Simmons with 2.13 steals per game.

The Bulls also lead the NBA in forced turnovers per game at 18.8 and points off turnovers.

“I think our defense is built to force turnovers, the system that we run,” Dunn said. “We’re blitzing guys, trying to get the ball out of their hands. You have to make them make a read. Our defense is built so that after we blitz, we have a triangle (of defenders) behind. If they make a mistake in the read, it often leads to a turnover. We have a lot of good defenders on this team who can create turnovers.”

Shaq Harrison’s emergency starter status now that both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are on the shelf aids in this department. He led the NBA in steals-per-minute last season and posted three versus the Pistons. Hutchison is doubtful for Friday’s game against the Heat.

“I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Harrison said of getting steals. “Every coach I’ve played for has been a defensive-minded coach and wants me to get into people. It’s been embedded into my mind to get steals and deflections and pick guys up to play hard 100 percent of the time.

“I think defense and that mentality is 90 percent toughness and heart and then 10 percent skill. Anybody can do it at this level if you truly put your mind to it.”

Despite their penchant for steals and forcing turnovers, the Bulls rank 14th in defensive rating. That’s middle-of-the-pack stuff, although it’s trending upward over the last five games. And it’s reflective of their poor defensive rebounding, occasionally poor defensive transition and inability to limit dribble penetration.

In detailing his defensive philosophy, coach Jim Boylen cited those three areas as need for improvement. That’s borne out in the Bulls allowing too many shots at the rim. What’s wild is they lead the league in offensive attempts within 5 feet but also allow the second-most in the league.

“We do not teach to steal the ball. I’m not a big out-of-position-to-steal-the-ball guy,” Boylen said. “What we have coached hard — and I guess well at times — is hand position, body position and doing your work early. I think that has put us in position sometimes to knock some balls loose or pick a couple off. But I’m not big on getting out of position to try to get a steal. It’s not who I am. It’s not who we want to be.”

Dunn said he sees “no downside” to the Bulls’ defensive’ scheme as long as it’s played with energy and communication. The Bulls have had trouble making quick and proper rotations if they don’t force a turnover, although that area too has improved over the last eight games.

The Bulls rank ninth in defensive rating over their last eight games.

“I give our guys credit,” Boylen said. “They’ve really bought into what our defense looks like now. Early, we struggled to get to the corner, to adjust and shift. I think there’s a familiarity now. There’s a learning curve in every defensive situation. I also think there’s defensive chemistry. And I think we can still grow.

“My assistant coaches have done a great job of sticking to what we believe in. We’ve coached basically the same thing since Day One. I feel we have a foundation. We need to be more consistent and play better. But we’re coaching to a system.”

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