Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose put on a show in Bulls win over Bucks


Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose put on a show in Bulls win over Bucks

In a game that was tailor-made for the fast-breaking era of the 80’s, the Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks reacquainted themselves for the first time since last spring’s physical, hotly-contested six-game playoff series.

But while that series was at times a defensive struggle, Tuesday’s contest was not as both put on an offensive show in a game where the first team to put together any semblance of defensive stops would likely win.

The Bulls played enough defense in the fourth, although the offense carried the day to a 117-106 win at the United Center, their fifth straight victory as they held the Bucks to 15 points in the fourth. They spoiled hometown kid Jabari Parker’s first official game at the United Center, as he scored 11 with seven rebounds.

It was Fred Hoiberg’s offense on paper come to life, in all forms.

They tallied 27 assists, shot 55 percent from the field and made all 20 of their free-throws.

[MORE: Fred Hoiberg reflects on Jimmy Butler's 'special' performance]

Proof positive that his system can work when adjustments are made and an elite-level point guard is running the show.

“We’re playing unselfish basketball. The ball is going side to side which is very important,” Hoiberg said.

Jimmy Butler, coming off his record-breaking 40-point second half, did it all on the offensive end with 32 points and a career-high 10 assists, matching wits with Khris Middleton, who hit five triples to keep the Bucks in it, scoring 26 points with seven assists and four rebounds.

“Jimmy has been playing with a lot of patience,” Derrick Rose said.

The Bulls didn’t trail through three quarters, even jumping out to a 10-0 lead behind Taj Gibson feasting inside against a toothless interior defense. Rose made his return after a three-game absence and found life easier than expected as his first step was more than enough to find himself in open real estate.

If there was any evidence of rust, it could only be found in his 3-point shooting because everything else was at an elite level, Bucks defense notwithstanding. He attacked at every opening, as his next-level speed opened things up across the board, even when he didn’t get the assist credit on the stat sheet.

He finished with 16 points and six assists but his affect was greater than can be measured statistically.

“When he gives us that initial push, we run with it,” Hoiberg said. “At times he can be a one-man fast break. And the big thing is he needs to continue to attack the basket.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Rose and Butler traded pretty reverse layups, as the lane was open without much resistance for most of the evening.

Butler added 20 in the first half to his 40 in the second half at Toronto, and his teammates joined him this go-round. Everyone who participated got good looks and the Bulls shot 55 percent, scoring over 100 for their eighth straight time.

“I was a little disappointed with Jimmy coming out the gate and only going for 20,” said Hoiberg, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “He’s making the right decisions out there and playing the right way.”

Pau Gasol even hit a couple triples on his way to 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. All five starters scored in double figures, including Nikola Mirotic’s 14 with six rebounds.

If there was any downside to such an exciting win, giving up in excess of 100 points for another game shows some slippage that must be corralled. Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams scored 20 with 12 assists and center Greg Monroe scored a quick eight to start the second quarter to bring the Bucks within striking distance, a place they stayed until midway through the fourth when the Bulls finally pulled away.

But those gripes are minor compared to other serious questions that have been asked over the last few weeks, as the start of the New Year has birthed some sincere optimism about this team getting itself right.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:

Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.