Bulls

Game 1: The 5 most important statistics from Bulls-Bucks

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Game 1: The 5 most important statistics from Bulls-Bucks

The Bulls began their 2015 NBA Playoffs in impressive fashion on Saturday, knocking off the Milwaukee Bucks, 103-91, in Game 1. Here's a look at the five statistics that most directly related to the outcome:

42: Number of points Derrick Rose was responsible for

Derrick Rose headlined Game 1 by scoring 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting and handing out seven assists, making easy work of counterpart Michael Carter-Williams and logging a game-high +13 in just 27 minutes. Looking further into those dimes, specifically, five of those seven helpers resulted in 3-point makes. That means Rose was responsible for 42 of the Bulls' 103 points. IN fact, the Bulls scored 66 points in Rose's minutes, meaning he was responsible for more than 63 percent of the Bulls' points while on the floor. What a game from the former MVP.

0: Bucks who finished with a positive rating

A 12-point victory wasn't necessarily a blowout victory for the Bulls, but consider that no one on the Bucks finished with a positive +/-; only Zaza Pachulia finished with a 0. The other four starters combined for a -32, while the Bulls' five starters managed a +53. In the bench department, the Bulls reserves were a +7 (Tony Snell was the only Bull with a negative +/-, at -6) while the Bucks reserves totaled a -28. Four of the Bucks' top contributors were making their postseason debut, so this isn't a surprising stat; still, it's a stellar sign for the Bulls that no one the Bucks was able to make a positive rating during their time on the floor. The Bulls were dominant throughout in Game 1.

[MORE BULLS: GM Gar Forman addresses minutes restrictions]

4+: Number of assists each Bulls starter handed out

The Bulls were tied for 14th in the NBA this season at 21.7 assists per game and 11th in assists per field goals made (59.6 percent). But in Game 1 the Bulls took advantage of one of the Bucks' weak spots in their top-5 defense, finding open teammates for baskets. The Bulls assisted on 30 of their 38 made field goals, or 78.9 percent. And it wasn't just one player doing the damage; each of the Bulls starters recorded at least four assists. The Bulls' ball movement was impeccable, from Derrick Rose driving to Pau Gasol passing out of double teams. The cliche of passing up good shots for great ones applied to the Bulls in Game 1, and they made the most of it. Each of the four Bulls reserves who saw action also recorded an assist.

19: Bulls turnovers

If there was one downside from the Bulls' Game 1 victory, it was that they were careless with the basketball much of the night. Yes, the 30 assists were a positive sign, but the Bucks defense thrives on creating turnovers and they did just that. The Bucks led the NBA in that category, forcing 17.4 turnovers per game, one the main reasons they ranked second in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Further, 11 of those turnovers were of the live-ball variety, with the Bucks creating 25 points off the 19 miscues. It's an impressive feat the Bulls were able to score 103 points with 19 dead possessions, and if the Bulls can cut down on the turnovers the Bucks won't have an answer.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Derrick Rose jersey]

35: Jimmy Butler's minutes

In 17 playoff games Jimmy Butler appeared in the past two seasons, he averaged 41.6 minutes per game. He topped 38 minutes in 13 of those games, and played in fewer than 35 minutes in the other four. So while it may not seem like an important factor that Butler played just 35 minutes in Game 1, consider if the Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers both advance Butler is going to log 40+ minutes each game defending LeBron James. Butler led the NBA at 38.7 minutes per game this season, so any rest he can get while the Bulls can maintain leads - Chicago was +1 in 13 minutes Butler wasn't on the floor - it's a positive. Butler will be key to knocking off the Bucks in guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he's going to earn his paycheck in Round 2 against the East favorites.

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

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.”