Bulls

Rose, Bulls bash Boston; magic number is one

439880.jpg

Rose, Bulls bash Boston; magic number is one

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 9:52 p.m. Updated: 11:46 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After a close-knit first half, drama was an afterthought Thursday night at the United Center, as the Bulls cruised to a 97-81 victory over the Celtics in the highly-anticipated, late-season showdown between the two Eastern Conference powers.

A stellar all-around performance by Derrick Rose and stout defense led the way for Chicago (58-20), which reduced its magic number to clinch home-court advantage in the East to just one game.

It was one of our better games. I thought we played hard, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was a hard-fought game, but thats what we anticipated. Theyre a tough team, theyre a physical team.

We were attacking on both ends. Usually, when you hear attack, people think offense. But I think you have to attack both ways, continued the coach, whose team doubled Boston, 44-24, in points in the paint. Offensively, weve been pretty good for about 10 games now, but defensively, weve been sporadic.

Tonight was more of a complete game for us.

Concurred Joakim Noah: This is exactly what we needed. This puts us one step closer to where we want to be and this is just a big win. Great atmosphere in here tonight and it always feels great to beat Boston.

WATCH: Noah thinks Bulls can play even better

This was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere. I know Boston, they played hard as hell. We did, too. Got the job done, he added. We just turned it up a notch.

Boston (54-24) started the game by hitting its first four shots from the field, putting the Bulls on their heels with solid execution and prompting a timeout from Thibodeau. Chicago immediately countered with a 7-0 run with a balanced offensive attack, featuring all five Bulls starters getting on the board.

All indications early on were that the game would be a defensive struggle, so timely scoring contributions from the likes of Keith Bogans the much-maligned starting shooting guard hit two three-pointers in the opening period were more important than usual.

Tight officiating forced forwards Luol Deng (23 points, six rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (14 points, 12 rebounds) to the bench with two fouls apiece, and forcing Thibodeau to alter his rotation.

But when Celtics leading scorer Paul Pierce (15 points) picked up his second foul followed by a technical for arguing the call it appeared to ignite the Bulls, who built a brief double-digit lead, capped by Roses (30 points, eight assists) crowd-pleasing drive past All-Star point guard counterpart Rajon Rondo and subsequent circus layup finish. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls led, 26-18.

Nothing came easy for either team at the outset of the second, as the two stifling defenses forced contested looks. Celtics reserve forward Jeff Green and guard Delonte West were offensive catalysts for the visitors second unit, using their versatility to create matchup problems and provide scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates.

Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest and upon his reentry, Rose took it upon himself to carry the scoring load, resuming his offensive aggressiveness from the first quarter by getting into the lane and finishing at the rim or with finesse floaters. Having established himself as a scorer, the unselfish playmaker went into facilitator mode in an attempt to get his teammates in the offensive groove.

WATCH: Rose finds attacking Celtics easier without Perkins

Meanwhile, the Bulls defensive game plan to force Rondo into becoming a shooter was effective the gifted floor general was scoreless in the first half but the All-Star forward duo of veterans Kevin Garnett and Pierce, forced to manufacture their own offense, picked up the slack for Boston. Still, the Bulls held a 48-43 advantage at the break.

After the intermission when a bust of Scottie Pippen was unveiled inside the United Center a refocused Celtics team got back into the contest quickly, as Rondo utilized his speed to get to the basket and lead a Boston run that gave the visitors a brief 49-48 advantage.

Chicago countered with a spurt of its own, capped by a Deng fast-break dunk over Pierce that gave them a slight cushion midway through the third quarter.

Luol was tremendous in the second half, praised Thibodeau. He came out, he played great and he played with fouls. He came up with a lot of big plays.

Rose chimed in: This year, hes got my MVP vote. Hes been the most consistent this year.

Poor Bulls defensive transition, however, allowed Boston to get back into the contest, with Rondo leading the Celtics fast-break opportunities to get easy baskets and keep pressure on the Bulls, much to Thibodeaus displeasure.

But the Bulls increased their level of urgency, as varied scoring from Deng and blue-collar inside play from Boozer helped the home team increase its edge. Following a Rose 3-pointer on Chicago s final possession of the third, the Bulls led, 71-60.

Thibodeau kept starters Rose, Deng and Boozer in the game to start the final stanza and the move paid off, as Boozer, in particular, continued to have the hot hand, aiding the Bulls in increasing their double-digit lead.

From the moment the ball got tipped up to the end of the game, we shared the ball offensively, but more importantly, our defense was back, Boozer observed. We struggled on defense the last three or four games and tonight, you saw our Bulls defense and we needed it. The way we played the first half set the tone for the second half.

Bostons frustration and the games overall physicality manifested itself early in the period, when veteran Kurt Thomas and Celtics sixth man Glen Davis the powerful pair had been getting chippy since they were first matched up in the contest got tangled up, with Davis earning a loose-ball foul for pulling down (and falling on top of) Thomas, and Thomas receiving a technical for his subsequent gestures toward Davis.

Soon afterwards, both teams hit a scoring drought much more costly for Boston, as the Bulls had plenty of breathing room midway through the quarter, and when Rose knocked down a triple from the wing to put Chicago up 17 points, the uphill battle for Boston became that much more formidable as the games stretch run approached.

We finally played defense toward the end of the game. I think we stepped it up, guys made an extra effort to contest everybodys shot and when were rolling like this, were pretty hard to beat, said Rose. Were not worried about clinching or anything. Were just trying to get better every game.

We know that we could meet them, so when we came out, we wanted to play hard, play aggressive on both ends and move the ball because theyre a good defensive team, and make it tough on them the whole night, he continued. Usually, theyre a great defensive team, but tonight, they just had trouble with it.

The Bulls didnt look back and now stand on the brink of earning home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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.

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Wendell Carter Jr. didn’t come to the NBA Draft Combine with the boastful statements made by his peers, refusing to declare himself the best player in a loaded draft.

But it doesn’t mean he lacks for confidence.

Carter Jr. is one of the more intriguing prospects in next month’s draft, even though he doesn’t come with the heavy fanfare of what many expect to be the top three picks.

One of those top three players was Carter Jr’s teammate at Duke, Marvin Bagley III, relegating Carter Jr. to a supporting role of sorts in his lone collegiate season. He couldn’t turn college basketball upside down as a freshman; He didn’t have the opportunity to, still averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 29.1 minutes last season.

“Bagley's a phenomenal player. He came into college basketball, did what he was supposed to do,” Carter Jr. said. “My role changed a little bit but like I said, I'm a winner and I'll do what it takes to win.”

Like he said, considering it was the fifth time he patted himself on the back, describing his positive attributes. It didn’t come across as obnoxious, but more an affirmation, a reminder that his willingness to sacrifice personal glory shouldn’t overshadow his ability.

“I'm pretty versatile as a player,” Carter Jr. said. “I'd just find a way to fit into the team, buy into the system. I'm a winner. Do whatever it takes to win.”

When asked about his strengths, he didn’t hesitate to say he’s “exceptional” at rebounding and defending, certainly things teams would love to see come to fruition if he’s in their uniform next season.

Playing next to Bagley and not being the first option—or even the second when one considers Grayson Allen being on the perimeter—forced him to mature more in the little things.

“It was (an adjustment) at first,” Carter Jr. said. “I knew what I could do without scoring the ball. I did those things. I did them very exceptional. I found a way to stand out from others without having to put the ball in the basket.”

“I think it did do wonders for me. It definitely helped me out, allowed me to show I can play with great players but still maintain my own.”

If he’s around at the seventh slot, the Bulls will likely take a hard look at how he could potentially fit next to Lauri Markkanen and in the Bulls’ meeting with Carter Jr., the subject was broached.

“Great process. I was just thinking, me and him together playing on the court together would be a killer,” he said with a smile.

“I know they wanna get up and down the court more. The NBA game is changing, there's no more true centers anymore. They wanna have people who can shoot from the outside, it's something I'll have to work on through this draft process.”

An executive from a franchise in the lottery said Carter Jr’s game is more complete than Bagley’s, and that Carter Jr. could be the safer pick even if he isn’t more talented than his teammate.

It’s no surprise Carter Jr. has been told his game reminds them of Celtics big man Al Horford. Horford has helped the Celtics to a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in no small part due to his inside-outside game and ability to ably defend guards and wings on the perimeter.

Horford doesn’t jump off the screen, but he’s matured into a star in his role after coming into the NBA with a pretty grown game as is. Carter Jr. has shown flashes to validate those comparisons.

“Whatever system I come to, I buy in,” Carter Jr. said. “Coaches just want to win. I want to win too. Whatever they ask me to do. If it's rebounding, blocking shots, setting picks, I'm willing to do that just to win.”

He was also told he compares to Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge, two disparate players but players the Bulls have had a history with in the draft. The Bulls passed on Green in the first round of the 2012 draft to take Marquis Teague, and in Aldridge’s case, picked him second in 2007 before trading him to Portland for Tyrus Thomas.

As one can imagine, neither scenario has been suitable for framing in the Bulls’ front office, but whether they see Carter Jr. as a the next versatile big in an increasingly positionless NBA remains to be seen.

“I definitely buy into that (positionless basketball). I'm a competitor,” Carter Jr. said. “Especially on the defensive end. Working on my lateral quickness, just so I could guard guards on pick and roll actions. Offensively I didn't show much of it at Duke but I'm pretty versatile. I can bring it up the court. Can shoot it from deep, all three levels.”

His versatility has come into play off the floor as well, deftly answering questions about his mother comparing the NCAA’s lack of compensation for athletes to slavery.

Carter Jr’s mother, Kylia Carter, spoke at the Knight Comission on Intercollegiate Athletics recently and made the claim.

“The only system I have ever seen where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do, while those in charge receive mighty compensation … The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system, and now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that.”

As if he needed to add context to the statement, Carter Jr. indulged the media members who asked his opinion on the matter—or at least, his opinion of his mother’s opinion.

“A lot of people thought she was saying players were slaves and coaches were slave owners,” Carter Jr. said. “Just the fact, we do go to college, we're not paid for working for someone above us and the person above us is making all the money.”

As sensible as his comment was, as direct as his mother’s statements were, he still finds himself in a position where he has to defend his mother. In some cases, teams asked him about her—but that’s not to say they disagreed with her premise.

“My mom is my mom,” Carter Jr. said. “She has her opinions and doesn't mind sharing them. In some aspects I do agree with her. In others...you'll have to ask her if you want to know more information.”

“I never thought my mom is ever wrong. But I think people do perceive her in the wrong way. Some things she does say...that's my mom. You have to ask her.”

The versatility to handle things out of his control, as well as understanding how his season at Duke prepared him for walking into an NBA locker room should be noted.

There’s no delusions of grandeur, despite his unwavering confidence.

“I'd come in and try to outwork whoever's in front of me,” Carter Jr. said. “That's the beauty of the beast. You come into a system, There's players in front of you 3-4-5 years and know what it takes.”

“I would learn those things and let the best man win.”

After historical season at Oklahoma, Trae Young ready to make immediate impact in NBA

After historical season at Oklahoma, Trae Young ready to make immediate impact in NBA

There once was a period in NBA Draft history when leading the country in scoring all but guaranteed a top-5 draft pick. All-Americans were the talk of the class, and if he could pass, too, all the entire better. And if that player was a freshman? Forget about it.

But there’s never been a time in history when a player led the country in both scoring and assists. And it was done by a freshman, all of 19 years old. And yet for all Oklahoma point guard Trae Young accomplished in 32 games, doubters remain. He’s not the consensus top pick in next month’s NBA Draft. He might not even be a top-5 pick. He could even fall out of the top 10.

And that’s because the draft has become a science, of sorts. Position-less basketball is taking over, multiple ball handlers are on the floor for a team more time than they’re not, and height/length/wingspan and the rest of those Jay Bilas buzzwords mean more than ever.

And that is Young’s shortcoming (no pun intended). We’ll get the negatives out of the way before telling you why the Sooner is built perfectly for today’s NBA. He measured just under 6-foot-2 and weighed in at 178 pounds, which he told reporters was 10 pounds heavier than he was five weeks ago. His 6-foot-3 wingpsan was the smallest of all NBA Draft Combine participants, as was his 8-inch hand length.

So it’s reasonable to understand why he isn’t a slam dunk option at the top of the draft. But there’s also a number of reasons this 6-foot-2, defensive liability could also hear his name called in the top 5. And it’s because he’s the most dynamic offensive player college basketball has maybe ever seen. And, for the third time, he’s 19 years old.

“I think I’m the best overall player in the draft," he said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine. "My main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft. My motivation is to be the best player in the NBA and that’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

Young, a five-star recruit from Norman, Okla., double-doubled in his first collegiate game. He double-doubled in his second game. In games 3-8 he scored between 28 and 43 points, all while leading unranked Oklahoma to an unlikely 7-1 record. Then December 16 happened. And over the course of the next eight games Young took college basketball by storm.

In a span of one month, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15, Oklahoma went from unranked to No. 4 in the country. Young’s numbers in that eight-game stretch? 31.4 points, 11.3 assists, 4.9 made 3-pointers and 1.6 steals in better than 34 minutes per game. His lowest scoring output in that time frame was 26, and in that game he handed out 22 assists, which tied an NCAA record. He had double-doubles in seven of the eight games, and had to settle for 29 points and five assists on the road against West Virginia, one of the country’s top defenses.

Young’s Sooners went into a nosedive after that, going 4-10 to finish the regular season and putting them close to the bubble, especially after a loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament. Young, the catalyst and only real option for the Sooners, posted modest 24.5 points and 7.5 assists, but wasn’t able to get a hold of the runaway train. The Sooners lost their opening round matchup to Rhode Island, a game in which Young scored 28 points.

But the roller coaster season is in the rear-view mirror. Young’s game is pretty straightforward: he’s a pick and roll nightmare for defenses, has the best range of anyone in the country and finds open shooters with ease. He’s a do-it-all offensively, and has naturally drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry.

“I love the comparisons. He’s a two-time MVP and a champion,” Youg said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young, that’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing.”

Young will make his presence felt wherever he winds up on June 21. Though he needs to continue adding weight to withstand the physical nature of the NBA (as well as an 82-game season) his skill set was built for today’s game. Though his shooting numbers came at a rather inefficient clip – 42 percent shooting, 36 percent from 3 – those will improve as he’s asked to take fewer shots at the next level.

His passing numbers should also improve; despite the 8.7 assists per game he wasn’t exactly paired up with knockdown shooters in Norman. If a team is able to pair him next to a stout defender – not unlike Isaiah Thomas playing next to Avery Bradley in Boston – his offensive game will cancel out any defensive deficiencies.

“My main focus is going to the right team,” he said. “It’s all about the fit for me and whether that’s (No.) 1 or whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and ready to make an impact and that’s what they’re going to get.”

That impact will be felt. Young opted against naming teams – he has met with the Bulls, he said – but mentioned that he has looked at teams picking in this year’s Lottery and knows the playoffs are a possibility if he enters the mix and leaves his imprint on a team in Year 1.

“There are teams in this draft that I think are one piece away, two pieces away from being a team that’s in the Lottery this year but not next year,” Young said. “There’s been some teams that I’ve met with I feel like if I’m on that team that I can make a big impact for them.”

He made that impact at Oklahoma, and despite his measurements there’s nothing to dislike about his game. He set records, carried a team for four months and dealt with adversity. That, as well as a lethal jump shot, will have him ready for the next level and whatever team selects him in six weeks.