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Not pretty, but Bulls pull out another tough win

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Not pretty, but Bulls pull out another tough win

Thursday, April 21, 2011Posted: 9:00 p.m. Updated: 11:55 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISIt feels amazing, but were not satisfied. It feels good to be in this position, but we know that we want more, Joakim Noah said while picking out food from the postgame spread in the empty Conseco Fieldhouse visiting locker room.

After surviving the worst shooting night of the season from his star teammate and an overly physical contest from the opposition, the Bulls center had a right to feel gratified.

Despite Derrick Roses 4-for-18 shooting, the Bulls fought off the defiant Pacers, 88-84, Thursday night, to win Game 3 of their first-round series and take a 3-0 lead with a potentially-clinching contest looming Saturday afternoon in Indiana.

Rose persevered through his horrendous evening shooting the ball to make a clutch, go-ahead layup with 17.8 seconds to go, setting the stage for the victory.

Hes a tough competitor, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Hes going to do whatever we need him to do at the end of the game and make all the big plays.

Compared to the last time the Bulls visited Conseco Fieldhouse, the atmosphere changed almost 180 degrees, as the previously sizable Chicago contingent in the arena was now substantially less. Pacers fans filled the building to the gills for the franchises first home playoff game since 2006.

Indiana point guard Darren Collison started the contesthe was a game-time decision after spraining his left ankle in the Bulls Game 2 winheartening the home crowd, which became even more boisterous when Carlos Boozer (four points on 2-for-10 shooting, 11 rebounds) picked up two fouls in short succession.

Its just how the game went. Didnt get any free throwsI guess I didnt get fouled out therebut well call it like it is. Well keep playing. I dont care about any of that stuff, said Boozer of his disappointing outing. I dont care about my numbers. I dont care if I shot great without getting any fouls called. All I care about is winning. This whole team is like that. All we want to do is win and thats why were in the position were in. We dont care about stats.

Were a team. Were not a one-guy team, were not a two-guy team. We need everybody in this locker room to win.

Taj Gibson, however, showed that he was more than prepared to get minutes, propelling the Bulls to a slim advantage with his high activity level, despite the low-post presence of Pacers center Roy Hibbert, the varied scoring of Danny Granger (21 points) and a game that was being officiated in a different fashion than the two previous affairs in the Windy City.

While the defense of rookie swingman Paul George (12 rebounds) and veteran reserve Dahntay Jones (who hadnt previously played in the series) limited Rose (23 points, 13-for-15 from the foul line, four steals, five turnovers), Luol Deng (21 points, six rebounds, six assists) picked up the scoring slack and after the opening period, the Bulls clung to a 21-17 lead.

Both Dengs hot hand and Gibsons energy persisted early in the second quarter, but the deep Pacers responded with surprise scoring from the likes of Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts to narrow the already-small gap between the teams.

By halftime, the Bulls had knotted the game up at 42 points apiece.

After the break, Collison made his presence felt, ceasing questions about his mobility with quick drives that ended with mid-range finishes.

The diminutive second-year point guard was about the only player interested in finesse basketball, as things quickly got heated in the physical contest, best illustrated by the small skirmish involving the mild-mannered Rose and longtime Pacers big man Jeff Foster. The latter fouled the MVP candidate hard, prompting Rose to respond by letting Foster know his feelings on the matter.

Thats their game planmake it physicalbut thats really fine with us. We have tough guys and were knocking down our free throws. If thats how the game goes, thats totally fine, said Deng. Theyre fouling hard when were driving. Weve just got to get up, go right back at them and make your free throws. This is their game plan. Its the playoffs, no layups.

Added Thibodeau: This is the playoffs. There are going to be hard fouls. In my eyes, thats what theyve been doing the whole series. Theyre fouling hard, thats part of their game and when it crosses over the line, I think the officials will make the call.

For Roses part, he was reluctant to talk much about the confrontation or the physical play afterwards, though his stony gaze when the topic was raised said it all, regardless of his typically downplayed response.

It got a little rough out there, but its basketball. They have something to prove. If anything, this is their last fight. Theyre back at home, they feel good when they play at home, they have a decent record at home and that was their game plan, said Rose. I got a little bit frustrated, but thats basketball. Thats his job. If you dont stand up to it, no one will. I was just trying to go to the basket and create contact.

Chicago kept the game close through Dengs continued production and a more unlikely source of offense, Keith Bogans (nine points, 3-for-4 three-point shooting), whose long-range shooting was a bonus, enabling the Bulls to survive in a game where Rose hadnt yet asserted himself offensively.

Every game is going to be different. My whole mindset is whatever the team needs at that point. I came out early, had good looks and I knocked them down, but I knew going down to the fourth quarter, he was going to take a lot of shots and in this series. Keeping Granger quiet is a big plus for us, and thats my job out there. Thats what Im going to try to do, said Deng, subliminally referencing Granger and his pre-series claim that the Bulls were beatable if Rose was ineffective.

We dont really care what anyone says. Theres going to be a lot of things that are being said. Derrick is a great player and if you try to stop him, what are you going to do, double team? If you do that, weve got guys who can make shots. Were really focused on what weve got to do. Theres a lot of ideas and a lot of guys saying stuff off the court, and weve got guys that play hard. Thats our goal every night when we step out there: Not think about whats being said and win that ballgame.

At the conclusion of three quarters, the Bulls led the intense affair by a slim, 65-64 margin.

Rose went back into attack mode, getting to the charity stripe repeatedlyhes frequently mentioned how he uses drawing fouls to stop opposing teams runsand his assist to Kyle Korver (12 points, 2-for-3 three-point shooting) for a transition three-pointer capped a 10-0 run that put Chicago back in the drivers seat.

Tyler Hansbrough (10 points), painted as a villain in Chicago after Game 1, scored four quick points to bring the hosts within a point of the Bulls, but Korver, who has been the bane of the Pacers with his marksmanship, hit another triple to quiet the increasingly raucous audience midway through the final stanza.

Im just trying to take shots that are there, Korver said. In the playoffs, the sets that we run, they work less and less because you run the same sets every game, they go over it in practice every day and youve got to have guys that can just break you down and play. Weve got the best one in the world in Derrick, so when theyre worried about him, thats when we have to really step up, move to the open spot, find the open seam and I just try to be one of those guys.

After a Granger jumper tied the contest at 84 with under two minutes remaining, the two teams exchanged defensive stops until the Bulls called timeout with 33.4 seconds to go, setting the stage for Rose to once again work his magic.

After struggling through a horrific shooting night, the South Side Chicago native worked the clock down until driving to the hole and finishing a left-handed layup with 17.8 seconds left to put Chicago by a basket.

Hes not going to shoot the ball great every night and I think because of his versatilityhe can score so many different ways; he can score in catch-and-shoot, he can score in pick-and-roll, he scores on the driveso if his jumpers not falling, hes going to drive the ball and hes going to get to the free-throw line, said Thibodeau of his star.

Indiana had a final possession, however, but Granger came up short on a three-pointer from the top of the key. Ronnie Brewer corralled the rebound and was subsequently fouled with 1.1 seconds on the clock. Brewer, playing with a sprained left thumb, knocked down both shots to seal the deal for the Bulls.

In the end, the Bulls won the in the fashion in which theyre truly most comfortablegritty, physical, intense and most of all, defense-oriented and tough-mindedregardless of what theyll spout about wanting easy victories.

Theres games that people were expecting us to win by a huge margin and went down to the wire, and we kept saying in the locker room, thats not how we wanted the games to be, but weve got to learn from it, said Deng.

Echoed Thibodeau: You have to win games different ways and I think weve learned each game. Youre playing the same team over and over and over again, so were locked into them pretty good, theyre locked into us, things are hard to come by. You have to be mentally tough, physically tough, you have to be able to endure and then you have to be ready for the next one.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

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