Bulls

The hour-long meeting between Butler, Wade and Rondo that led to Bulls' Game 2 victory

The hour-long meeting between Butler, Wade and Rondo that led to Bulls' Game 2 victory

BOSTON—Halfway to history, leaving nothing to chance.

The TD Garden was the Bulls' personal playpen on Tuesday night in their decisive 111-97 win, as the veteran leaders sensed before the game an opportunity was upon them and weren't going to leave anything to chance.

They wanted to make the Celtics quit, and Rajon Rondo wasn't shy about letting everybody know exactly what his intentions were.

Jimmy Butler is intent on showing the front office that he's a No. 1 guy you build around, not one you dangle to jumpstart a rebuild.

Dwyane Wade, seemingly the one with nothing to prove, wants to show he's still living for May and June.

The three were actually greeted by Celtics GM Danny Ainge after they left their press conference, exchanging pleasantries.

Wade has put Ainge out, Ainge wants Butler in, and Ainge knows exactly what "Playoff Rondo" is all about.

Three individual agendas, one common goal.

Rondo near triple-doubles with 11 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists.

Wade fourth-quarter daggers, scoring 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Butler doing it all with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Their elevator goes higher than the Celtics on talent and experience, with veterans who are aroused by the pressure of the playoffs compared to the often-mundane regular season.

Butler, Wade and Rondo met together for an hour after the team's morning shootaround, they revealed to CSNChicago.com. 

No coaches, no teammates, because they knew the burden of advancing fell on they and they alone.

They were going over everything, from strategy to philosophy to even some impromptu play calls they made on the fly.

Considering everything the team has been through this season—and more specifically, the Three Alphas have been through—the meeting of the minds was of grown men who were all on the same page, finally.

Wade said he, LeBron James and Chris Bosh would have similar meetings after morning shootarounds during their days in Miami, leading to four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two titles.

"It was great, spending time with those guys," Wade said to CSNChicago.com after he, Butler and Rondo left the podium on Tuesday night. "Listening to their basketball minds, all of us listening to each other's mind and on the same page. People forget, we just got together. It doesn't just happen. You gotta go through something for it to happen. The best thing is, we went through the adverse situation."

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Wade chuckled because he knew what came to mind, considering the three were in the eye of a storm three months ago after a frustrating loss to the Hawks. Wade and Butler were beyond incensed after blowing a 10-point lead in the last 3 minutes, making subtle and pointed comments about teammates not being focused enough on winning.

The next day, Rondo took to Instagram to call out Wade and Butler. From that point, imagining those three together on a playoff podium seemed as unlikely as an eighth seed beating a one seed in the NBA Playoffs.

Improbable, but not impossible.

"We didn't even have to talk about it," Wade said to CSNChicago.com "Every team I've been on, we've hit adversity at some point. Some, in the playoffs. You wanna hit it before the playoffs and I think we hit it before the playoffs. It made us better, communicate better. Lead better."

While on the podium a few minutes earlier, Wade joked that he "hated" Rondo competitively due to their playoff battles of years' past.

"That hate is that respect," Wade said to the media. "When we played against Boston back in the day, he knew all the plays. He messes up your first option. And then he knows the second option. We were just good enough to have a third option. He was that good."

Now that respect has turned into trust after all three have gone through individual turmoil this season, with Rondo being benched, Wade going through his elbow injury and Butler enduring another season of trade rumors and questions about his leadership.

Now, they're leaning on each other on the floor and figuring out how to make the best of a high-pressure playoff run. When Rondo launches an 80-foot pass to a 6-foot-7 wide receiver that would make Fred Hoiberg cuss under his breath, that's trust. When Butler passes up a lane to feed a cutting Wade for a dunk on the break, that's a team growing to believe in itself.

"I know what Rondo brings," Wade said to CSNChicago.com. "As somebody who played against him. Now I get to experience it up close and personal, I f------ love it. Because he's gonna make sure he's prepared, the last guy on the bench is prepared. Coach is prepared, he's gonna challenge everyone to be as prepared as he is. And when your point guard, your leader is prepared, we're all prepared."

Calling Rondo "our point guard" wasn't a slip of the tongue, as Wade told Rondo after the game, "Way to lead your team tonight."

When Wade signed with the Bulls, he openly stated it was Butler's team and he was there to aid the growing star. Now, he's taking even more of a backseat, ceding space on the floor for Rondo to dominate and be the maestro who gets everyone involved.

"I played on so many teams, man. At the end of the day, I'm all about winning," Wade said to CSNChicago.com. "You know what the easy thing is? It's easy to tell somebody else to play a role, you know what I'm saying? 

"To be a successful team, everybody's got a role. Jimmy's got a role. His role is to be a No. 1 option. I got a role. If you wanna be able to tell people to play their role, you gotta be able to play their role. I had a time where I had the ball every damn play. 35 years old, I don't need that role. My job is to support Jimmy and if they need me to lead, I'll do my job."

Part of his job has been to warn teammates about the perils of relaxing upon coming home, even though Wade himself has never stolen two games on the road to start a playoff series.

But even he admits he doesn't know how this wild, winding ride will end. All he knows is it's exciting and exhilarating.

"This is the only reason I play. Eighty-two games is great but I'm built for this moment," Wade said. "The reason I signed here, I talked to Jimmy, was about this. Talked to Rondo, was about this. We didn't just wanna get in. We had to learn each other. We had to learn how to play together. At the end of the day, this is what we're built for. And we're getting better. We're getting better, still as the season went on. That's the crazy thing. Hopefully there's more season to go on."

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

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USA Today

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements defense will help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.