Bulls

Smith answers the Cavaliers' call in Game 4 '9-1-1 situation'

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Smith answers the Cavaliers' call in Game 4 '9-1-1 situation'

Trailing by seven on the road and 12 minutes away from facing a likely insurmountable 3-1 series deficit to the Bulls, the Cavaliers were looking for any kind of spark.

And already playing without Kevin Love, the options looked bleak for David Blatt's group. LeBron James had two more field goal (7) than he did turnovers (5). Kyrie Irving had been a non-factor dealing with a right foot strain. Iman Shumpert had gone 1-for-6 from the field, and big men Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, though efficient, weren't primary options against a Pau Gasol-less Bulls frontcourt.

So with their backs against the wall and little momentum on their side in front of a sold out United Center, the Cavaliers dialed up their streakiest shooter.

"We got J.R. Smith for the 9-1-1 situations," Iman Shumpert said with a laugh. "Thank God for J.R. Smith."

Smith responded with his best performance of the series, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final quarter to help Cleveland overcome that deficit before James connected on a buzzer-beater to even the series with an 86-84 victory.

[RELATED: LeBron's buzzer beater evens series with Bulls]

The reserve guard, who was suspended for Games 1 and 2, had only played 24 minutes through three quarters as Blatt searched for defensive matchups to hide the ailing Irving. With Irving unable to guard Derrick Rose, that shifted the responsibility of defending the Game 3 hero to Shumpert, with James defending Jimmy Butler and Irving matched up on Mike Dunleavy or Kirk Hinrich.

But after the Cavaliers shot just 5-for-20 in the third quarter, including four misses from Smith, Blatt opted for a smaller lineup that included Smith. He connected on his first attempt, a step back jumper over the outstretched arm of Nikola Mirotic to cut the deficit to five. After a pair of Mozgov free throws Smith drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 68 and cap off an 11-0 Cavs run.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Shortly after he connected on back-to-back triples that pushed the Cavs' lead to three as part of a 23-5 run that had Cleveland out in front by seven with 4 minutes to play. And though the Bulls came charging back to tie the game with 9 second left before James' heroics, Smith's perfect 4-for-4 shooting in the quarter gave the Cavaliers that second scorer that Irving, in his limited state, weren't able to provide. Smith's timely shooting came on an afternoon when the Cavaliers went 5-for-25 from beyond the 3-point line, including just 2 of 19 in the first three quarters. Smith was 0-for-3 from deep at that point, but it didn't sway him against continuing to find his shot.

"I just keep shooting, regardless. I could’ve gone 0-for-15 in the first half, came out in the second half and still going to shoot," Smith said after the game. "That’s just who I am. Getting good looks, teammates finding me and I’ve just got to make shots. This is a series where (the Bulls) like to pack it in, so in those situations you’ve got to come up big."

[BULLS PGL: What went wrong in Game 4 loss to Cavs?]

Smith will play a large role in the series' final two or three games. With Irving hobbled the Cavaliers will look to Smith and his streaky shooting to act as a second option offensively. It's a position he's comfortable with, and he showed off his ability to hit in clutch moments after his 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Game 3 tied things up. That supporting cast will look to complement James as best they can, in hopes of not having the four-time MVP shoot 30 times a game like he did Sunday afternoon.

"I think that’s our job," Smith admitted. "Myself, (Shumpert), everybody else, we’ve got to chip in some way and somehow, whether it’s shots, steals, rebounds, loose balls, whatever. So much pressure is put on those guys’ shoulders, we’ve got to do whatever we can to lift it off a little bit."

Sunday Smith provided that lift, and it may have saved the series.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen held scoreless in 2nd half in loss vs Sixers

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen held scoreless in 2nd half in loss vs Sixers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 100-89 loss to Philadelphia.

1:00 - On Lauri Markkanen going scoreless in the second half

3:50 - Viewer comment on Lauri needs to be traded

6:10 - On Kornet vs Markkanen’s production

6:55 - On Zach LaVine and 0 for 7 from three

10:05 - Viewer comment on Markkanen struggling

11:25 - Viewer comment wanting Joakim Noah back

13:00 - Viewer comment saying Lauri needs to demand the ball

15:45 - Viewer comment on Sabine’s outfit

16:50 - On the national perspective of this Bulls team

19:05 - Matt Peck rant on Denzel Valentine getting another DNP

21:00 - More viewer comments on Sabine’s outfit

22:05 - Viewer comment on the system and Markkanen

23:30 - Lauri tweets the correct way to pronounce his name

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

For the Bulls' rebuild to succeed, Lauri Markkanen must produce consistently

For the Bulls' rebuild to succeed, Lauri Markkanen must produce consistently

PHILADELPHIA — Above all else, Lauri Markkanen is a team-first player.

The Bulls need Lauri Markkanen to produce more.

Markkanen doesn’t like to force shots.

The Bulls need the third-year forward to shoot more.

Therein lies the at times contradictory dynamic that is helping sink the Bulls’ season. That’s not overdramatizing matters either, which is why this issue has been written about often this season—and again Friday night after the Bulls dropped to 1-17 against winning teams following their 100-89 loss to the 76ers.

At halftime, all seemed well. The Bulls took advantage of a 76ers team playing without Joel Embiid to lead by one with Markkanen scoring 12 points on seven shots.

In the second half, the 76ers ran away and hid with Furkan Korkmaz scoring a career-high 24 points, double Markkanen’s output.

Yes, the player the Bulls anointed as one ready for a breakout season failed to score in the second half. Worse, he took just two shots. Luke Kornet attempted more shots than Markkanen in the game.

“I know I can probably attack the rim a little bit more often and be more aggressive and obviously try to get to my spots. But I didn’t feel that I had the opportunities where I could really attack the closeout. So I just tried to play the system and find the open man,” Markkanen said. “I probably have to be [more selfish]. Obviously, I have to get the ball and get to those spots I can take those shots. I’m a team-first guy. So I’m going to do whatever we need to do. But obviously a big part of it is me playing at my own level.

“I got a couple looks in the second half that I could’ve probably launched. But they were deep 3s. And without touching the ball for 5 minutes, I didn’t feel like shooting at that point. It was pretty contested. So I just moved the ball.”

There’s so much to parse from this quote that it may take 10 minutes, 38 seconds to break it all down.

That’s the amount of time Markkanen sat from exiting with 5:29 left in the first quarter—after throwing down two dunks—until returning in the second. He promptly added another dunk and a 3-pointer.

“Obviously the first time you touch the basketball feels a little different after that period of [rest] time,” Markkanen said. “But other than that, I don’t think it affects me. I’m still young. I’m pretty warm even after that kind of stretch. I don’t really feel it.”

When Markkanen averaged 26 points and 12.2 points in 11 February games last season, he averaged 36.3 minutes and took 18.1 shots. He's averaging 30 minutes this season on 12 shots per game.

He attempted 12.7 shots per game his rookie season. To clarify: Kornet taking more shots than Markkanen in a game and Markkanen attempting fewer shots than his rookie season are not good developments.

“We do have to get him going more. Some of it is on him. Some of it is on me,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I just want him to be aggressive. He handles the ball in transition. He rebounds the ball. Offensive rebounds, he had a couple opportunities there. He slashed to the basket in the first half and got a couple great dunks and plays. Gotta keep your energy up and we have to get him involved.

“I just think it’s a learning and growing thing. There have been times he has been very aggressive and he has got himself involved. There are times where I have to get him involved.”

Part of that, obviously, would be playing Markkanen more. He logged 28:48 against the 76ers.

“That’s what it’s been my whole career, right?” Markkanen asked reporters.

Told that he averaged 32.2 minutes last season, including that even busier February stretch, Markkanen alluded to the need to get Thad Young playing time.

“Thad is a key player for us,” Markkanen said.

But this was sold as Markkanen’s breakout season. When the Bulls signed Young in free agency, management and Boylen publicly painted the move as a complementary one to benefit Markkanen.

Instead, the same storyline keeps repeating itself.

It’s not Markkanen’s rolled left ankle. He was able to joke about getting dunked on by Ben Simmons when asked about it.

“I can tell I rolled it a week or so ago. But it’s definitely getting better,” he said. “I still don’t have too much pop on it. But the pain is going away. That’s probably why I got dunked on.”

Markkanen said he feels he has a strong enough relationship with Boylen to ask him to play more if he needed to. But, again, he’s a team-first guy and knows Young is a valuable piece.

“He goes with how the game is going and who is rolling and who is on the floor from there. That’s his decision,” Markkanen said of Boylen determining playing time. “I’m ready whenever my name is called.

“I feel like we have a good relationship. I don’t mind talking to him. We have conversations pretty often. We haven’t talked about [playing time] too much because we know the situation and that’s the way we’re going to run.”

The situation is Markkanen needs to produce more if the Bulls’ rebuild is going to succeed. It’s as simple as that.

“I’ve had my good moments. I think I’m getting my rhythm back on my shots. Obviously, I can be more aggressive,” Markkanen said. “It’s a different system that we’re running and different kind of spots that my shots are coming from. So it’s a little different. But obviously, I can do more.”

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