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.

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.