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Rose, Bulls come out firing to steal Game 1 from Cavs

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Rose, Bulls come out firing to steal Game 1 from Cavs

CLEVELAND— Stealing the first road game against a possibly rusty team in a building that has seen wins in 22 of the last 23 contests didn’t seem likely, but in the playoffs, series openers call for such streaks to be broken.

It was improbable but not impossible for the Chicago Bulls, who played like a championship boxer in a heavyweight fight for 48 minutes in their 99-92 Game 1 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, but like everything else with this team, it came with a little tension.

Derrick Rose was nailed by a Tristan Thompson screen with 21.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter and immediately began walking the other way in what appeared to be a right shoulder injury that the Bulls hope is a short-term issue and not a series-changer, which would be cruel considering his 25-point, five-rebound, five-assist evening.

“It was a stinger and it was my first time having one,” Rose said. “It went away in 5-10 minutes. It’s something I’m not worried about.”

Unlike the bout that took place in Las Vegas a couple days ago, this highly-anticipated contest featured haymaker after haymaker from both sides, as the Cavaliers tried to shake themselves out of an eight-day lethargy with superstar efforts and the Bulls were desperately worked themselves into the series.

But like Saturday, when attacking boxer Manny Pacquiao was dazed and confused by his opponent’s brilliant wizardry, LeBron James didn’t look like himself in the fourth quarter, committing crucial turnovers, accounting for six of the Cavaliers’ nine giveaways.

“Three of them was not 'attack' turnovers,” James said. “You don’t jump and pass.”

[PLAYOFFS: Bulls vs. Cavs -- Who's got the edge?]

Meanwhile, Rose went from attacker to facilitator late, hitting Gasol and Jimmy Butler for crowd-quieting jumpers after the Cavaliers were again threatening to make the Bulls do more than sweat in the fourth.

“We know how good they are,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There’s gonna be runs in the game. It’s gonna be important to answer the runs.”

Aside from an offensive foul on a drive, Rose played with poise down the stretch, illustrating why he so poignantly said “I’m built for this (bleep)” after that embarrassing gaffe in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, where he fell asleep for a game-winning layup.

He went head up with Kyrie Irving, who scored 30, and the two times James dared switch onto Rose, James walked away frustrated as Rose sent him packing with two long jumpers, unbothered by James’ length, the crowd or the pressure.

“When you’re playing in the playoffs and it’s the first game, you’ve got to see what they’re doing on the pick and roll, who they’re double-teaming off of, who they aren’t double-teaming,” Rose said. “You’re reading and I think we made adjustments during the game.”

He found Pau Gasol for open jumpers against a leaky pick-and-roll defense, as Gasol scored 13 of his 21 in the third, many after the Cavaliers emerged from a 16-point deficit to tie the contest at 51 in the second half’s opening minutes, ensuring the Bulls never trailed.

They jumped out to a 10-2 run, rarely looking back.

“We kept running it because it was working,” said Gasol, who added 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots. “High pick and roll was working. With Derrick’s ability and my ability to make plays for others, it was very effective tonight. It’s what we do.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Bulls fans!]

Butler was James’ shadow for the evening, resting when James rested and checking himself in when he saw James saunter to the scorer’s table. His 20 points, six assists and five rebounds don’t look as gaudy as James’ 19 points (on 22 shots), 15 rebounds and nine assists, but his defense played a crucial part in stealing a road win.

The role players carried the Bulls early, as the Cavs were unable to track Mike Dunleavy, who hit dagger after dagger on the way to nearly outscoring the Cavaliers by himself in the first quarter as the Bulls took a 16-point lead.

“Mike moving without the ball, opening up the floor he never stops moving,” Thibodeau said. “The threat of his shot gives us space.”

The Cavs players tabbed to replace spacers Kevin Love and J.R. Smith—James Jones, Shawn Marion and Mike Miller—otherwise known as “who?” went silent, hitting one field goal in a combined 30 minutes.

It was an offensive clinic for the Bulls for the better part of three quarters, despite the score not reaching triple digits. They shot 50 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range, turning the ball over just 10 times and totaling 23 assists.

“Sharing the ball is important,” Thibodeau said. “The ball movement, keeping your turnovers down, those are things that are necessary. You can never let your guard down.”

Irving and James accounted for essentially all of the registering every assist except for two and every turnover aside from one.  

That made it critical for the Bulls to come away with more than just a pat on the back and brownie points for being competitive. Iman Shumpert scored 22 as the only member of the supporting cast not to be on a milk carton, as the Bulls shutting down everyone else is a big piece of a huge blueprint for an underdog team no longer feeling like one.

Round 1 to Chicago.

Bulls' Ryan Arcidiacono pledges meals to Chicago healthcare, education workers

Bulls' Ryan Arcidiacono pledges meals to Chicago healthcare, education workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages some industries and over-extends others across the United States, plenty of Bulls players have stepped up to aid those in need.  

Ryan Arcidiacono added himself to that legion on Monday afternoon by committing meals to the staffs of Lawndale Christian Health Center and Suder Montessori Magnet School:

Lawndale Christian is a health organization that strives to provide quality, affordable healthcare services to those in the Lawndale area on the West Side of Chicago and neighboring communities. Suder Montessori serves children from early childhood through eighth grade and is located in West Town. 

If you're curious of other ways the Bulls organization and its players are aiding communities, here's an abbreviated list:

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Bulls will enter offseason with unanswered questions up and down the roster

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USA Today

Bulls will enter offseason with unanswered questions up and down the roster

Even if the NBA is able to salvage some portion of the remaining regular season schedule when the league is given the go-ahead to resume play, the Bulls will face an offseason filled with questions.

Sure, Coby White has been a bright spot, averaging 20.1 points a game in February, 22.4 points with six assists in five games in March and finally making his first start at point guard in the last game before play was suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But is White the long term answer at point guard, and can he team with Zach LaVine to form an efficient backcourt at both ends of the floor?

White’s assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7 assists to 1.7 turnovers) is hardly what you’d expect from a starting point guard, but for most of the season he was used as a shooting guard capable of providing instant offense off the bench. With regular play at the point, White’s assist totals should grow to around five to seven per game, but he’ll need to prove the turnovers won’t also grow at a comparable rate. LaVine is very high on White’s potential, and having another explosive scorer playing with him should help reduce the defensive pressure LaVine faces on a nightly basis.

White’s play at the defensive end showed considerable improvement as his rookie season went on, which suggests he could be capable of defending either guard spot at 6'4", allowing LaVine to take the easier match-up. Both players have the quickness to jump into passing lanes and create transition opportunities.

From a coaching perspective, staggering the minutes of the two guards after the opening six minutes will also allow each player to take on the lead offensive role at times, playing alongside a facilitating point guard like Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacono or Kris Dunn (if he returns).

While the backcourt is starting to take shape, the frontline is loaded with question marks. Was Lauri Markkanen’s slump in his third NBA season just an outlier, or will the Bulls have to adjust their evaluation on his potential? Can Wendell Carter Jr. have success as an undersized center and find a consistent role in the offense? Can Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy long enough to contribute?

Markkanen’s future is the biggest question facing the franchise right now. Was he held back by the changes to the offensive system this season, or does he simply lack the aggressiveness necessary to average 20 points and 10 rebounds over a full season?

Markkanen took a significant step backwards in year three, and the Bulls were hoping they would get a better chance to evaluate his play over the final 17 regular season games. Don’t forget: Markkanen is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this offseason, and it’s hard to imagine the Bulls offering him a near max deal coming off a sub-par season in which he averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting just 42.5% from the field.

All options have to be on the table for Markkanen, including a possible trade if contract negotiations result in a stand-off or the opportunity to acquire an All-Star level veteran presents itself. It’s likely the 7-foot forward will be back next season, and he could have an expanded role in the offense if a coaching change is made.

The Bulls also were hoping to bet a better read on Carter and Porter over the final 17 games. Carter missed about six weeks of game action because of a serious ankle sprain, but was just rounding back into game shape when the suspension hit.

Carter told reporters he’s probably better suited to play power forward than center at 6’9”, but with Markkanen and Thaddeus Young in tow, center will remain his position for now. Since the Bulls don’t use post-ups as a staple of their offensive system, Carter Jr. doesn’t receive the amount of touches he’d like. Plus, his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers is also underutilized. Carter Jr. will need to spend the offseason working on improving his shooting range to add the 3-point shot to his arsenal.

Porter missed almost the entire season because of a broken foot, and he’ll almost certainly be back with a $28 million player option for next season, When healthy, Porter Jr. can add 3-point shooting and playmaking to the offense, but he’s not part of the team’s long-term future.

Second-year forward Chandler Hutchison saw his season cut short by injuries, and the Bulls really don’t know if he can sustain the improved play he showed before re-injuring his shoulder in early February. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls go for another wing player with their lottery draft pick.

Kris Dunn will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, and even though he ranked second in the league in steals per game, his limited offensive ability will probably result in the Bulls letting him walk this off-season. Since the team is already deep at point guard, paying Dunn somewhere in the range of $8 to 10 million per season on a long-term contract just doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. The Bulls could look to re-sign Shaquille Harrison to provide some of the on-ball pressure and potential for steals that is Dunn’s specialty.

RELATED: Bulls questions: Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

Since the Bulls will be over the expected salary cap for next season, roster changes will have to come through utilizing the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, trades and the draft. According to multiple reports, the Bulls are expected to add one or more new talent evaluators to their front office hierarchy, but it’s unclear whether someone will be brought in with the authority to drastically reshape the roster or make a coaching change.

Until the front office changes are implemented, everything else is pretty much on hold. With one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, the Bulls could look to trade their upcoming lottery pick and one of their rotation players for a veteran who could help lift the productivity and consistency of the starting line-up. Almost every season an All-Star caliber player is looking to force a trade from his current team, and the Bulls have to be aggressive in exploring those opportunities, especially if the 76ers decide to break up their star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

With the Bulls taking a step back in year three of the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild, no one on the roster should be considered untradeable. If a new general manager is brought in with total authority on roster construction, this could be an offseason of change for the Bulls. But if the current hierarchy remains in place, look for Jim Boylen to return next season with largely the same roster, hoping that improved health and familiarity with the offensive and defensive systems will result in a significantly better record in the 2020-21 season.

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