Despite inconsistency, Bulls have plenty of heart


Despite inconsistency, Bulls have plenty of heart

NEW YORKKirk Hinrich battled through his right-elbow injury to play nearly 38 minutes in the Bulls 108-101 win Friday night over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Hinrich explained to CSNChicago.com that while he wasnt in painthough he did admit to feeling tired from the heavy workload after not playing or practicing since he was injured in Mondays home win over Clevelandthe decision to play wasnt cut and dry.

Ive felt fine the whole time. It was more of a risk. They were worried I was going to have an infection, he told CSNChicago.com. I think everybody had my best interests in mind. There was obviously some sort of risk, but just do the best I can to keep it clean and try to let it heal up. But its going to be hard because its his bursa sac going to keep popping. Ive got a hole in my elbow. Its a bad spot.

Still, Hinrich was pleased with the victory, though he cautioned that the Bulls cant take their collective foot off the gas.

Weve just got to tighten some things up. Weve been getting out to these big leads and having trouble finishing things up, Hinrich said. For us, we just cant take any steps back. Weve had big wins this year and then, we kind of lay an egg somewhere along the line. Weve got to step it up at home. Thats where our focus is. We dont have the record at home that we should and because of that, our record is what it is.

Joakim Noah concurred: Its weird. Weve been a dominant team at home. I dont know, something about the road. We come together, focus. We play in front of great fans at home. Weve got to do better and give a better effort at home.

Luol Deng added: Weve got to get better at home. We do a good job of just focusing. We love our fans, but at the same time, weve got to show up at home. I think we relax a little bit, knowing that were at home and our fans are cheering for us. When were on the road and teams are going against us, we seem to focus a lot more and play harder, and weve got to change that.

Deng, who scored a season-high 33 points, while forcing Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony into a 14-for-32 shooting nightAnthony scored 39 points, but 19 of them came during New Yorks furious fourth-quarter rallycarried the Bulls throughout the evening, starting with him making seven of his first eight shot attempts, including knocking down his first three shots from long distance.

Tonight, my focus was to come out and just play as hard as I can defensively on Melo. I had it going offensively, had a lot of open looks and just kept going, he explained afterwards. But at the same time, I just wanted to stay focused on my defense and not let my offense be my game.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau chimed in about his workhorses stellar two-way play: He got going early. He got the hot hand, made a lot of good plays. I thought he guarded Carmelo about as well as you can guard him. Carmelo is the ultimate scorer. Youve got to make him work for his points, but he finds a way to score.

When Dengs name was brought up, Noah exclaimed: Louie!

That was an unbelievable performance. He really did his thing out there. Whats great about Louies scoring is its all within the system. Hes been playing great basketball for us all year and theres no way wed be in the position were in right now20 winswithout Luol Deng. Whether its scoring, his defense, his rebounding, hes a very versatile player and I love playing with him, he added. Lu played very well for us, but it was a team effort.

Everybodys locked in every time we play the Knicks. Its easy to get up for games like this. Big stage, playing at the Garden. I wish there were more games here.

Thibodeau partially agreed with Noahs assessment, though he wasnt pleased by his team giving up a 25-point lead due to the Knicks deep-ball barrage. One would imagine that hed be livid about the near-surrender, particularly after losing to Milwaukee in their previous outing, after being up by 15 points, but the coach rationalized the Bulls performance.

For the most part, I thought we played very well for three-and-a-half quarters and then, we didnt close out the game the way we should have. We gave up a lot of points in the fourth quarter and we opened up the three-point line, and a team that shoots the three like that, they can make up a lot of ground quickly on you. But overall, I was very pleased, Thibodeau said.

I want to look at the game in totality. When you look at what happened, there were a lot of good things to build the lead like that and when you build a cushion like that, you can withstand sometimes, things not going your way and we did that. But the most important thing is getting the win, which we did, and theyre a terrific team, so theres constant pressure on you and when youre playing against them, no lead is safe. So, you cant let your guard down. Theyre capable of putting a lot of points up in a short amount of time, so we have to learn and improve, but I thought we did a lot of things well.

Deng added: The whole year, weve been working on playing the whole 48 minutes and I think were getting better, to a point that with a lead like today, we were still able to win the game, but we cant always do that. We cant give up leads like thatI just think we match up well, but also, our game plan against them has been great. They hit late threes, but weve been doing a good job of taking away their threes.

No matter how hand-wringing the final moments, the Bulls have swept their two road games in the Worlds Most Famous Arena, against a team above them in the standings and with whom a bit of a rivalry is developing.

Now only if they can duplicate the well-rounded, cohesive and structured effort and maintain that level of play on a consistent basisonly for the first three quarters, of coursethen maybe the the Bulls will be dangerous when Derrick Rose gets back talk thats circulating around the league will turn into simply, the Bulls are dangerous, now.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?


Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.