Bulls survive Clippers' charge, end three-game losing streak


Bulls survive Clippers' charge, end three-game losing streak

Maybe it was the mask all along.

Derrick Rose had one of his quietest, worst halves before the ditching the mask that covered his recovering fractured orbital bone, helping pull the Bulls from near disaster.

The Bulls survived Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers when Chris Paul’s leaning triple try bounced off the rim, with an 83-80 final at the United Center. Fred Hoiberg’s sigh of relief was written across his face afterward, and the players said he got more intense through the three-game losing streak.

“Huge. We had to get this one,” the usually buttoned-up coach said, admitting the urgency of the moment. “This was a huge one for us after losing three in a row. We needed this win on our home floor. We found a way to win, even though it wasn’t pretty. It was a brawl out there.”

Neither team shot over 36 percent, and each had extended stretches of futility that made it nearly unwatchable. The Clippers shot 34 percent, and the Bulls barely topped that figure at 35.6, as their futility usually takes place at the worst possible time, the fourth quarter.

If not for Rose’s nine points in the period, the Bulls would be in panic mode with a four-game losing streak, their first since December of 2013.

His floater with 45.4 seconds left put the Bulls up six and finished off his 11-point evening.

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“It was something I just tried,” Rose said of removing his mask. “The next game it might be on. They told me a couple days ago, I could play without the mask. I went out and forgot it and just said I’m going to leave it off.”

After going scoreless in the first half and looking a bit out of it through three quarters, he turned it up late, and Aaron Brooks made his reappearance in the rotation with 10 points in 20 minutes.

The duo actually finished the fourth quarter together, with Rose playing more off the ball — another change in a season full of anything but continuity for the Bulls.

“I thought Aaron gave us a great burst of energy,” Hoiberg said. “He got into the paint, made plays and hit a 3. With Aaron in there, it would open up the floor.”

Luckily Rose’s counterpart Paul wasn’t having a banner night either, as Paul shot just five for 16 and committed critical errors down the stretch when the Clippers were mounting a comeback.

Pau Gasol took charge, at one point blocking three straight shots inside and even hitting three 3-pointers for the first time in his career, scoring 24 points with six rebounds.

“He was passionate tonight,” Rose said of Gasol. “When you see how hungry he was, you can’t do nothing but give him the ball and see what he’s working with.”

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Jimmy Butler scored 14 with eight assists and five rebounds in a contest no high school basketball coach would ever consider showing his team as a model for how the game is to be played.

The Clippers scored 30 points in the middle two quarters, begging to be blown out, but it was the Bulls who were begging for a competitive game. Not even Blake Griffin’s ejection could make the Bulls take complete control after he whacked Taj Gibson across the head accidentally, resulting a flagrant 2 verdict from the officials.

The Bulls missed nine straight shots in the fourth after leading by 10 while the Clippers suddenly caught fire, as Josh Smith nailed consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game at 66 with 7:19 left.

Then Butler hit one of his four field goals, a long jumper, then took a charge on Lance Stephenson. After Gibson had a follow-up dunk to a Brooks miss, it seemed the Bulls would cruise somewhat to a win.

But nothing was that easy, as the last couple weeks have shown — but it sure feels better with a win, no matter how it was obtained.

On this night, it was survival.

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


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


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.”