Bulls

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

nrerose.png

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.

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 6.0

rui_mark_big_board.jpg
USA TODAY

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 6.0

With all the national debate concerning whether Zion Williamson should continue playing for Duke following the Grade 1 knee sprain he suffered on Thursday, one thing is clear: Zion will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft no matter what he ultimately decides to do.

Granted, it was frightening to see Williamson’s left shoe explode and his right knee bend inwardly at an awkward angle, but the good news is he wasn’t seriously injured and should be able to play again very soon. It’s hard to believe the injury will have any impact on how Zion’s pro future is being evaluated by NBA scouts and executives, other than a continuing concern over his ability to withstand the rigors of an 82 game schedule at his listed weight of 285 pounds.

Williamson’s teammate R.J. Barrett had to turn up his offensive game after Zion went out against North Carolina, and wound up scoring 33 points, while Cam Reddish added 27. Both players figure to go in the top 5 come June.

One player who has caught my attention in recent weeks is Gonzaga big man Rui Hachimura. Even though he’s more of a traditional power forward at 6-foot-8, Hachimura showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive past defenders in recent games for the Zags, and for the season, he’s averaging just over 20 points a game, shooting 60 percent from the field and 42 percent from the three-point line.

With so many of the preseason lottery prospects struggling to find consistency, Hachimura is climbing up draft boards with steady production for the nation’s second ranked team. The Zags’ other starting forward, Brandon Clarke, is also drawing attention from NBA talent evaluators, averaging nearly 17 points and eight rebounds a game on an astounding 69 percent success rate from the field.

With the top 4 picks looking pretty solid right now, expect to see all kinds of movement from the 5 to 14 range in mock drafts heading into the draft combine in May. I’ve got Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland moving up to No. 6 this week, even though he hasn’t played since Nov. 23 because of a meniscus injury.

Maybe sitting out is the best strategy for some of the highly rated prospects who’ve looked decidedly average this season, like Indiana’s Romeo Langford, Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson and North Carolina’s Nassir Little.

This could be a year where performances at the draft combine and individual team workouts lead to a player making a dramatic rise or fall when the picks are announced on June 20.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Should Zion Williamson shut it down and sit for the rest of the season?

Should Zion Williamson shut it down and sit for the rest of the season?

Decisions...

The great thing about this business is the ability of analyst, pundits, bloggers and pretty much everyone and anyone to have a voice. “I think Zion should (fill in the blank)."

How about we leave that decision up to Zion?

Think about the pressure he faced from friends, family, agents, “coaches”, etc.. before he even went to Duke. I’m sure there were those who asked him, why? Think about your college experience and the valuable lessons you learned and I’m not talking about the classroom. There are still some “kids,” regardless of skill level, that want that college experience. Even it’s only for one year, they’re still developing their game, but more importantly their mind. We always talk about physical ability, but constantly brush over mental ability or maturity.

All these one and done guys are not forced to go to college. There other avenues to get to the NBA but college is currently the the best route. Baseball and hockey have their minor league systems that have been proven to work. Until the NBA fully embraces the G-League, which they’re well on their way, college basketball is the best “ minor league” for the NBA. 

Let me be clear in saying that, as long as the NBA implements the “one and done rule” colleges should be giving these players some kind of payment, more than what they are currently providing these players for their services. I’m also not saying it’s the sole responsibility of the university to provide these payments. I think the NCAA should be involved in this equation, a nonprofit that made over a billion dollars last year by the way.

How much money is not only Duke, but the NCAA makeing off Zion alone? It’s definitely a slippery slope, but there has to be a better way. Just don’t ask the NCAA for the answer.

Finally, the NBA needs to do away with the one and done. Players coming out of high school should have a choice of the direction they want their athletic careers to go. I think if a high school player puts his name in the draft, but isn’t selected he should be able to go to college, on a scholarship, without penalty. I know that’s a risk for university to offer these level of players a scholarship and possibly miss out on another prospect, but I have a feeling that most of these high school kids will be accepting that offer.

I also think that player plus those already in college should be able to put their name in the draft every year, go to the combine, and make an educated choice. This is the process that is being implemented at the moment for the college players. It’s not perfect and needs some refining, but it’s better than the current system. Let’s not forget get that allowing these choices could/should damper some of this, “should he or shouldn’t he,” discussion.   

Now back to our regular scheduled programming. The last 24 games of the Bulls schedule. By the way, I’m still selecting Zion with the first-overall pick in the NBA Draft even if he has to have surgery and miss all of next season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.