Bulls

Cavaliers stand behind ailing Irving: 'The kid is a warrior'

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Cavaliers stand behind ailing Irving: 'The kid is a warrior'

Struggling to get any kind of acceleration that has made him one of the game's elite, Kyrie Irving went to a few of his teammates during Sunday's Game 4 and asked if they wanted him to continue playing through a strained right foot. Irving had been a shell of his healthy self most of the afternoon, connecting on just 1 of 8 field goals and handing out one assist in 21 first-half minutes. He had been relegated to guarding the Bulls' smallest offensive threat on the floor, at times Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell or Kirk Hinrich. Lingering through the pain, Irving wasn't sure if he was helping or hurting the Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 11 late in the third quarter.

Forward Tristan Thompson wasn't one of the players Irving consulted, but what his response would have been was also the consensus in the Cleveland locker room.

"I’d tell him, 'Are you crazy? Get your butt out there, boy. You’re one of the best on the court. You gotta be out there. We need you out there,'" he said. "He knows he could never ask me that because I’d look at him like he’s crazy. He gets it done."

[RELATED: JR Smith answers Cavs' call in '9-1-1 situation']

Irving did gut out another performance, playing 41 minutes in the Cavaliers' 86-84 victory that tied the series at two games apiece. It was the second straight game in which Irving has dealt with the foot strain he suffered against the Celtics in Round 1 and that was aggravated in the opening minutes of Game 3 on Friday. His final numbers were pedestrian, at best, finishing with 12 points, four rebounds and two assists. But he played, and though he wasn't able to replicate his performances from Games 1 and 2 the boost he gave his team was instrumental in the win.

"I definitely always want him out there if he can go," said Iman Shumpert, who's dealing with a groin injury of his own. "We’ll be hurt after the season. Right now we’ve got to get wins."

It was clear from the onset that Irving was still dealing with the injury, as he missed his first five shots and rarely matched up with Rose on the defensive end. His lone field goal in the first half came on a botched play from LeBron James, who found Irving on the right baseline for a 10-foot jumper. But Irving stayed aggressiveness enough to earn eight trips to the free-throw line in that first half, connecting on all of them.

He didn't attempt a shot in the fourth quarter, allowing both J.R. Smith and James do the heavy lifting on the offensive end, yet still gutted out 11 minutes in the final stanza. His +7 rating was tied for best on the team, and he also added two steals playing as much help defense as he could.

"It’s a little frustrating, but playing with my brothers and winning a big game like this makes my effort for me - it goes right out the window. I’m going to go out there and compete, space out people as much as possible, make plays when the ball’s in my hands, or go screen or get a couple steals or rebounds,"he said. "So whatever’s needed I can do. I’m going to will myself to do it and I’m just glad the guys still want me out there, even if I’m not 100 percent."

[MORE: LeBron's buzzer-beater evens series with Bulls]

And though the Cavaliers regained home court advantage heading back to Cleveland for Game 5, they'll need more from Irving to earn two more wins. James has been inefficient taking on more of a shooting load in the series, with his 10-for-30 performance Sunday putting him at 37.7 percent shooting on 106 attempts for the series.

Irving will continue to play through the injury, with JR Smith admitting after the game "him at 60 percent is better than most point guards in the league at 100 (percent)." It's tough to find a scenario where Irving can't complement James in the scoring/distributing department and the Cavaliers winning the series. It happened Sunday, thanks in large part to Smith's shooting and James' last-second heroics.

Yet for an afternoon, Irving's presence was enough for the Cavs to steal a win in Chicago, where the Bulls had won 12 of their last 14 games.

"The kid is a warrior," James said. "Just his presence on the floor, no matter if he’s playing on one foot or not you have to account for him because of his ability to make shots, his ability to command things out on the floor. And it goes a long way. It’s not just about basketball, what this kid is doing for our team. And he’s giving us everything that he’s got, and that’s all we can ask for."

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
 
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.” 
 
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
 
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
 
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
 
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne. 
 
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
 
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
 
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
 
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
 
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

The Bulls faced a steep test opening their 2018-19 campaign against the Philadelphia 76ers.

That task won't become any easier with Kris Dunn missing the game for personal reasons, head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters at shootaround on Thursday.

Dunn's exlusion opens up an opportunity for Cameron Payne, who will enter the starting lineup. Payne started 14 games for the Bulls last season, averaging 9.4 points and 5.6 assists in 26.5 minutes.

It also moves up Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis, both of whom will be active, in the rotation. Expect both to see at least some playing time, especially with Denzel Valentine also out while recovering from a sprained ankle suffered in training camp.

It could mean an even bigger evening for Sixers point guard Ben Simmons. The reigning Rookie of the Year posted 19 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in Philly's season-opening loss to the Celtics on Tuesday.