Bulls

Paul Zipser contributes on both ends late for Bulls: 'We missed him, there's no doubt about that'

Paul Zipser contributes on both ends late for Bulls: 'We missed him, there's no doubt about that'

During his young NBA career, rookie Paul Zipser has learned to stay ready.

And on Thursday night, with the Bulls clinging to a narrow lead against the Warriors in the final minutes, Zipser was ready. And he buried the biggest shot of his career.

Cristiano Felicio had picked up his dribble just moments earlier, but the Brazilian center was able to pass over a double team from Steph Curry, who had left Zipser alone on the right wing. Zipser, who had missed his only other 3-point attempt that night, caught Felicio's pass and shot over closing wings in Andre Iguodala and Matt Barnes as the shot clock expired.

Zipser's triple was pure, giving the Bulls a 91-85 lead that effectively iced the game, pushing the Bulls' improbable home TNT Thursday streak to 18 games, while ending the Warriors' streak of 145 games without consecutive losses. For Zipser, it was a welcome return for the wing who had missed the last seven gamess with ankle tendinitis and was thrown into the fire against both the league's most daunting offense and defense.

But he stayed ready.

"Just have to be ready all the time," he said after the game. "You never know when the ball’s coming. You have to be ready."

Zipser logged 23 minutes in the Bulls' 94-87 victory, the same number he averaged during his 13-game stint in the rotation prior to his ankle injury. His nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and four rebounds didn't have the same pop as Jimmy Butler's 22 points or Bobby Portis' first double-double of the year in the box score, but Zipser was critical.

The Bulls employed a switch-heavy defense against the always-moving Warriors offense - especially in the final quarter in which Golden State scored 14 points - and the versatile 6-foot-7 Zipser gave them more options on how to defend the league's best offense. He recorded a steal in the second quarter that turned into a Bobby Portis 3-pointer, he contested a Klay Thompson layup at the rim and was rewarded in transition with a layup, and he made life difficult on a Warriors offense that was already struggling from the field.

"He can switch, he can guard," Butler said. "So he makes a lot of guys’ job easier. And then when me and him come together it’s basically the same size guy switching. We’re glad to have him."

Dwyane Wade praised the Bulls' attention to detail as the main reason why the defense, which had been torched by the Nuggets two days earlier, was much improved Thursday night. Zipser agreed.

"Of course if a defense switches you don’t have any ball movement. If you don’t have any ball movement nothing happens, so it’s a lot of 1 on 1," he said. "And if you contest every shot…we were pretty close to them and we did a great job."

The Warriors shot just 38 percent, including 20 percent from beyond the arc. In the fourth quarter, in which Zipser played all 12 minutes, Golden State went 6 of 23 from the field and incredibly missed all 11 of their 3-point attempts. Despite Zipser's defensive worth it was a mild surprise to see the rookie, who hadn't played since leaving early in the Bulls' 31-point loss in Golden State on February 8, close down the stretch.

"He really kind of solidified himself as our sixth man (before the injury) and a guy who’s closing games for us," Fred Hoiberg said. "Paul, we missed him, there’s no doubt about that. He’s got size, he’s got length, he can put it on the floor and he can really defend."

Like his performance Thursday, his numbers don't jump off the page. But he's found a role over the likes of fellow rookie and first-round pick Denzel Valentine, who was quiet in 14 minutes. The Bulls dealing Doug McDermott at Thursday's trade deadline also freed up 25 minutes on the wing, and based on Thursday's results those are minutes Zipser can plan on receiving.

Zipser won't be mistaken for McDermott on the perimeter, but his 3-point numbers have improved since entering the rotation; he's made 31 percent from deep since Jan. 15, up from the 14 percent he shot largely in garbage time. So despite having missed seven games and being out of action for more than 20 days, Zipser was ready when his number was called. The result was the biggest shot of his young NBA career.

"I knew I had to shoot it," Zipser said. "That’s always the best shot."

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 famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the 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.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.