Bulls

Rose sits as Celtics end Bulls' streak, trip with loss

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Rose sits as Celtics end Bulls' streak, trip with loss

BOSTON Minus their starting backcourt due to injury, the Bulls (23-7) valiantly tried to close out their nine-game road trip with a win but came up short, falling to the Celtics (15-12), 95-91, Sunday afternoon at TD BankNorth Garden, snapping a five-game winning streak. A late comeback threw a major scare into the home crowd, but the visitors ultimately didnt have enough firepower and return to Chicago with a 6-3 record on the arduous swing part of their 20 games away from home in the seasons first 30 games in addition to questions about Roses long-term health.

We got out-competed tonight, so well play them again on Thursday. Well be ready, said a dejected Joakim Noah afterwards. Our energy just wasnt very good. We fought at the end, but overall, weve got to play better. Our togetherness wasnt great and they shot a high percentage throughout the game, they ran the floor better than us. I think, overall, they just wanted it more.

Echoed Carlos Boozer: I thought they were ready to play us. I thought we did a good job of weathering their storm, fighting back at the end of the game. It seemed like we were a play away of taking the lead all game long. Just couldnt get over the hump.

Without the reigning league MVP in the lineup, the Bulls came out of the gates slowly, allowing the home team to get out in transition and score via fast breaks. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (32 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds), perhaps taking advantage of Roses absence, was extremely aggressive as a scorer from the outset, sparking a double-digit Boston lead, despite Noahs (16 points, nine rebounds) strong play early.

I knew they would come out like that, coming off their last two games. They were very aggressive. I thought they got some easy baskets early, which gave them confidence. I think they had 28 in the first quarter, which is too much, particularly when youre on the road. We were a little careless with the ball. Not that we had a lot of turnovers early, but they were costly ones. I believe we had six in the first half and they converted on all of them, so it gave them a cushion, they played from a lead and thats a tough thing to do against a quality team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. I thought that we never really forced them to go against our set defense and for us, the floor balance has to be better. Youve got to take the easy baskets away. I thought that was the big difference.

Concurred Luol Deng: With our defense, when were set, we do a good job and I thought we did a good job on their guys tonight. Just the fast break really hurt us.

But the Bulls recovered, going on a 10-0 run led by Carlos Boozer (22 points, seven rebounds), who knocked down multiple mid-range jumpers and closed the gap to make it a close-knit game. Behind the inside play of Noah and Boozer, Chicago trailed, 28-23 at the conclusion of the opening period.

The visitors depth was on full display in the second quarter, as third-stringer John Lucas III provided instant offense while backup big men Omer Asik and Taj Gibson were tough on the glass. While Rondos playmaking with veteran Chris Wilcox (11 points, nine rebounds) and fellow big man JaJuan Johnson (12 points), a rookie and burgeoning fan favorite, being the prime beneficiaries propelled the hosts, the Bulls stayed within striking distance, with an opportunistic C.J. Watson (22 points, six assists), who replaced Rose, leading the way.

The brilliance of Rondo, however, along with veteran Kevin Garnetts (13 points, 12 rebounds) timely scoring gave the Celtics a boost, creating some separation before halftime. But despite Chicagos inaccurate shooting the guests shot 34 percent for the first half, compared to Bostons 56.8 percent mark, though the home team committed nine turnovers the Bulls went into intermission with only a five-point deficit, 48-43.

Guarding Rondo wasnt really difficult, said Watson. I just kept trying to go under screens like coach was saying and thats what we wanted him to do. We wanted him to shoot, but tonight, he was making it.

Added Thibodeau: Rondos a great player and even if youre defending him well, he still has the ability to make great plays and that team is very experienced, and I think theyre playing at a very high level.

The fast-breaking Celtics continued to push the pace, as Garnett and Rondo set the tone for their success, though inside scoring from Boozer and Noah ensured the gap didnt grow too large immediately after the break.

Noah is playing with a lot of energy, making multiple efforts. I thought he was the one guy who started the game very aggressively, said Thibodeau. I thought Carlos got going as the game went along.

The post tandem had to be effective, as Watson struggled in Roses place and starting wings Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng (10 points, five rebounds, four assists) who did solid jobs of blanketing counterparts Ray Allen (11 points) and Paul Pierce defensively contributed little in way of scoring, especially with the latter playing with a heavy bandage on his tender left wrist.

They did a good job of just shrinking the floor and I settled for a lot of jumpers early. I had good looks, Ive been shooting the ball well, but to give them credit, theyre a good defensive team, said Deng about the matchup with his All-Star small forward counterpart. No matter how my game is going or how Im playing out there, Im always going to play hard defensively, and I just know how important it is for our team to defend someone like that and I just try to see what theyre trying to do, and where hes trying to get his shots and just take that away from him.

Added Thibodeau: Youve got two fierce competitors going at it. Its one of those games. They did a good job of getting back, so we didnt get as many easy baskets as we normally get and their team defense is very good. Its just one of those things.

Its just normal. Some days are going to be better than others, but I dont think it was his Dengs hand.

Watson fought through his struggles and an improved Chicago defense managed to keep the game close as the third period waned on, as the pass-first Rondo was thrust into the role of primary scorer for Boston. Once again, Lucas made valuable contributions to keep the Bulls afloat but through three quarters, the Celtics led 72-66.

An ugly start to the final stanza, in which neither team was efficient on offense and turnovers were an issue for the hosts, seemed to benefit the Rose-less Bulls. But Allen began to catch fire for the Celtics and they started to open up a wider winning margin, putting their guests, who had difficulty finishing around the basket and scoring in general, in peril midway through the period, particularly after Pierce knocked down a three-pointer to give Boston a double-digit lead with under eight minutes to go.

Poor shot selection, rushed possessions and general frigidity doomed the Bulls comeback attempts and when the Celtics extended their advantage on back-to-back fast-break flushes by Wilcox and Johnson, courtesy of Rondo, it appeared to sign Chicagos death warrant. As the game entered its stretch run Boston fans chanted for an appearance by former Garden favorite Brian Scalabrine, but unlike other arenas, they used it as a taunt the Bulls climbed back into the contest, trimming the deficit to single digits behind pressure defense that induced turnovers, as well as the scoring of Watson and Boozer.

A Watson jumper made it a two-possession game with under two minutes left and Deng was subsequently fouled on a defensive rebound, then split a pair of free throws before a Pierce free-throw line jumper gave the Celtics a 91-86 lead with 1:32 remaining. Deng was fouled by the smaller Rondo, who was caught on a switch, and made it a three-point game, then Pierce turned it over on a drive on the following possession.

Watson missed on a tough drive in traffic with under a minute, but the Bulls forced a turnover and called timeout with 27.6 seconds, leading to Watson taking a contested triple that was off the mark and Rondo being fouled, then knocking down a pair of foul shots.

Thats the way the play is set up. Thats the first option if you get a good look at it. I want him to be aggressive with. It didnt work out, Thibodeau explained about the play, which came out of a timeout and led to Watsons game-tying attempt. For C.J., he makes those shots, so Im not going to second-guess that. I want him to be aggressive when he comes off and he was, and if its there. If not, theres another option to it, so I didnt have a problem with that. We were down timeouts because we had to burn them to sort of stem the tide there for a while.

Inexplicably, Watson was fouled on the next possession, but missed his second attempt from the charity stripe, which was snared by Rondo who notched a triple-double with the board who then made two free throws to seal the deal.

We fought back and the stretch at the start of the fourth that sort of set us back again, but we climbed out of that hole. But you cant keep climbing out of holes and you dont have enough to finish it at the end, said Thibodeau. Like every game, theres good and bad. I was disappointed with some things that I thought allowed them to get some easy baskets, but I liked the way we fought at the end to come back and put ourselves in position, and weve got to do better.

Said Noah: Just losing, losing in this building. We feel like we didnt play the way we should have played, didnt rebound the way we should have, our energy was bad from the start and just disappointing loss.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”