Bulls

Rose, Butler lead Bulls to first blood over game Bucks

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Rose, Butler lead Bulls to first blood over game Bucks

If the Bulls expected to win their playoff opener by way of mere presence against the green Milwaukee Bucks, they were dead wrong.

Good thing they shot well enough to overcome what appeared to be their own opening night jitters, methodically pulling away from the young team in the second half to take a 1-0 lead with a 103-91 win at the United Center Saturday night.

The shots made came from the guards, as playoff games are usually won by the creators, and Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Aaron Brooks did the heavy lifting.

Butler scored 25 with six assists in 35 minutes while Rose, who left to a standing ovation with 23 points and seven assists in 27 efficient, electric and exciting minutes—and unlike his last playoff game, he walked off under his own power as opposed to being helped off by the training staff, the biggest win of all.

“He and Jimmy got off to a great start,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It was good to have Derrick out there. It’s been a long process for him and obviously he makes our team a lot different.”

[MORE BULLS: GM Gar Forman addresses minutes restrictions]

Rose hit Mike Dunleavy and Butler for pull-away baskets after the fourth started off with a bit of a lull, opening a door for the Bucks to possibly steal Game 1. But with his playmaking and savvy, he shut it down after doing what he does best right after halftime.

He scored 11 in the third quarter, including 3-straight three-pointers, to give the Bulls some breathing room after the Bucks kept it close for the first 30 minutes or so.

“Attack and see what they’re giving me,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of space out there and I’m just running around freely.”

And he’ll need Butler to alleviate some of the attention on the perimeter, as he keeps noting he doesn’t see double teams as much—a direct correlation to Butler being a threat—but with the Bucks having so many young, athletic wings, Butler had to score in different ways.

“Get out on transition to where they can’t use their length to block shots,” Butler said. “They don’t know what (we)’re going to do, and (we’re) just running. When we’re moving like that, everyone is going to get open shots.”

The Bucks trailed by three in the first few minutes of the third, in nearly prime position to steal one on the road before it was snatched away.

“We were in a good seat. We had some great opportunities to start the fourth, too,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “There were some stretches where we thought we could get the lead down to steal one.”

The Bucks didn’t buckle or run away and hide under the specter of the postseason, playing loose and free, making up for their mistakes with exuberance and excitement, forcing 10 first half turnovers to keep themselves within striking distance.

Michael Carter-Williams went head up with Rose for parts of the night, and Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ sweet-shooting two-guard, scored 18 in 35 minutes. But the Bucks couldn’t continue hitting shots after the first half, going just 15 for 43 (35 percent), unable to keep up with the surging Bulls.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Derrick Rose jersey]

Kidd, a young coach but wise in the way of reading the game’s rhythms, knew the Bucks’ energy and execution wasn’t going to last long, repeatedly calling the Bucks’ 51 first-half points, kick-started by a first quarter where his team shot 13 for 22 from the field, “fool’s gold”.

“We’re not an offensive team,” Kidd said. “That set the tone in a bad way for us, giving up 60 points. We rely on our defense and we fell in a trap of scoring in the first quarter. We thought we could outscore Chicago with our offense and not play defense.”

Thibodeau’s Rubik’s cube was in full effect, as two of his prime performers who weren’t at his disposal last playoff but had become a downright necessity for the season to date didn’t have banner nights, in
Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic. Gasol struggled to find his rhythm in the set offense and shot just five for 17 on the evening but still grabbed 13 rebounds to go with his 10 points and added four assists.

As for Mirotic, Thibodeau didn’t go to the rookie much, probably because Taj Gibson was better suited for matching up against the Bucks’ bigs, having his moments before exiting late in the second half with a right knee strain.

Brooks helped keep the Bulls afloat with 10 points in his first eight minutes after Rose had a slow start, and his leaning, bank-stealing 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter gave the Bulls a 30-29 lead.

Thibodeau will find plenty of correctable errors in the film, play and box score, like the Bulls’ 19 turnovers that gave the Bucks 25 points. But getting one up on the left side of the ledger was all that mattered.

First blood.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.