Bulls

Despite scoring droughts, Bulls remain positive heading into Cleveland

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Despite scoring droughts, Bulls remain positive heading into Cleveland

Leads in the NBA can disappear in a heartbeat, especially with the increased importance of the 3-point shot, but the Bulls’ scoring droughts prevented them from building upon leads in Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Of course, it was moot when LeBron James hit his game-winner from the left baseline at the buzzer, tying the hotly-contested series at 2-2. But the Bulls went extended periods in the second and fourth quarter where they could’ve applied true pressure to a reeling Cavaliers team, having a 37-29 lead in the second and 68-57 lead in the waning moments of the third.

[MORE - David Blatt's blunder should've cost Cavs in Game 4 vs. Bulls]

What ensued was the Bulls not doing the things that earned the lead — moving the ball to second and third options and putting extra stress on a Cavaliers perimeter defense that has an overworked James and severely hobbled Kyrie Irving.

“I think it's the flow of the game,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “There were definitely some shots we wanted back. I mean, big lead, eight points, 10 points. There's no such thing as a big lead. That doesn't mean anything.”

Noah’s initial statement could certainly be attributed to the events in the first half, when both teams have plenty of time to take a feel for the game and rebound before things get out of hand.

And with the Bulls being without Pau Gasol, it put others in increased roles, or in the case of Nikola Mirotic, a role at all. After a productive Game 3, Mirotic couldn’t find much of anything Sunday, going missing eight of his nine shots in 18 minutes, although he registered a game-high +8 on the plus-minus scale.

“Yeah, those were good shots,” Mirotic said. “I just didn’t feel great shooting. Of course my teammates found me, there were some open shots, but I need to refresh my mind. I need to today work on my shots, and tomorrow I need to just take the shots again because I know that I’m going to make it.’’

[COLUMN: LeBron all alone again but it could be enough]

Tom Thibodeau wasn’t too upset with Mirotic’s shot selection, but there wasn’t a lot of room to single much of anyone out aside from Derrick Rose, who shot 11-for-23 while his teammates combined to go just 21-for-66 (31 percent)

“Yeah. I mean, I'll take the shots,” Thibodeau said. “There might have been one or two that could have been a little better but for the most part, his shots were very good.”

But going nearly 10 minutes with just two field goals in the fourth quarter before Rose got going late proved to be damaging, a golden opportunity wasted.

“We gotta make shots,” Thibodeau said. “We missed a lot of open shots and we missed layups. And I thought late, we didn’t run. We gotta make sure that we run late. We got some good looks that we gotta make.”

However, in the same vein the Bulls don’t capitalize on their success, they haven’t let the disappointment of losing out on a chance to take a 3-1 lead dampen their spirits — a curse and blessing in a sense.

“There's not much you can say other than, that game is gone,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully you establish that habit throughout the course of the season. You learn from the game, analyze the things you could have done better, and get ready for the next one.

“There's going to be ups and downs in a series, you're going to be tested in every way imaginable and you have to be able to handle the ups, the downs, get through it, we've got to walk through the fire together.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans]

Together, the Bulls walk into an inferno in Cleveland, facing a hobbled team that appears to have new life while they insist the heartbreak is behind them.

“You've just got to move on, can't let it linger,” Noah said. “We have to be strong mentally. I think we've gone through a lot this year as a team and we're excited.”

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

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AP

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

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.