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Spurs, Texas two-step too much for Bulls

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Spurs, Texas two-step too much for Bulls

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010
Updated 1:48 AM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

SAN ANTONIO The difference was the final result.

No, Derrick Rose wasnt quite as offensively prolific as he was in the fourth quarter of Tuesdays win over Houston, but he did throw a major scare into the Spurs with a 13-point final period as part of his 33 points for the night.

Unfortunately, for Chicago, a less-vulnerable opponent in San Antonio refused to succumb to Roses one-man gang efforts, holding off the Bulls, 103-94, Wednesday evening, snapping the Bulls four-game winning streak.

A racehorse tempo from the outsetsurprising the Spurs opted to push the pace so much against the much younger Bulls, instead of a more methodical style, since theyre capable of bothled to transition opportunities for both squads.

Each team was clicking offensively, with Luol Deng (18 points, seven rebounds) and Joakim Noah (10 points, 14 rebounds) getting off to extremely active starts for Chicago, with DeJuan Blair and Tim Duncan (16 points, 18 rebounds, five assists)guarded individually by second-year forward Taj Gibson initially, the future Hall of Famer took advantage with his savvy, skill and still-considerable abilitymatching their efforts for the home team.

With the game suited to his style, Derrick Rose took advantageone particular acceleration by Duncan for a fast-break layup wowed the AT&T Center fansand with his confidence in his perimeter jumper soaring after his previous nights efforts, he took the initiative to knock down outside shots when given the opportunity.

The contests breakneck speed yielded early substitutions on both ends, with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich inserting versatile young combo guard George Hill (14 points) for Manu Ginobili (a starter after so many years of being the teams sixth-man extraordinaire) to maintain a transition-friendly unit, veteran Antonio McDyess to give Duncan some rest (they would eventually replace every starter except point guard Tony Parker within the period), with Chicago counterpart Tom Thibodeau countering with reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer (10 points) for starter Keith Bogans to add a dose of athleticism and Kyle Korver (10 points) for Gibson to match up with a smallish San Antonio quintet.

Popvichs liberal use of his bench was an interesting aspect to the coaching chess match, as Thibodeau has thus far kept a tighter leash on his rotation, making it a possibility that the games pace could wear down Chicago.

Regardless, a strong offensive quarter from Noah and Rose propelled the Bulls to a 25-18 lead after a period of play.

As the tradition this season has beensave for Tuesdays surprising performanceChicagos second unit got off to a ragged start to the second quarter, even with starters Rose, Noah and Deng in the contest. The Spurs, however, werent markedly better and the Bulls maintained their slim cushion.

After a timeout, Deng remained with the group of reserves and provided valuable offensive contributions, bouncing back from a rough shooting performance in Houston. Deng was aggressive and expertly blended perimeter jumpers, tough finishes at the rim and moving without the ball for dives to the basket.

Meanwhile, the Spurs simply struggled to put the ball in the basket. Finding open looks wasnt an issue, but San Antonio had difficulty finishing at the rim and their shots from outside point-blank range were doggedly contested by the visitors, who adhered to one of Thibodeaus key defensive philosophies to a T. All of the above added up to the Bulls slightly increasing their winning margin, nothing to take lightly against an opponent of the Spurs caliber.

Brewer was a major part of the Chicagos burgeoning momentum, as he went on a one-man flurry of critical plays in a short sequence. The offseason acquisition knocked down a free-throw line jumper, exploded for a dunk in transition, followed a missed fast-break layup with a tip-in and smartly made an extra pass to an open Korver for a 3-pointer, aiding the Bulls as their lead swelled to 15 points.

Backup center Omer Asik and backup point guard C.J. Watson were also key during this stretch. Asik played solid post defense on Duncan, was a presence on the glass and capped off his solid play with a thunderous dunk off a pick-and-roll.

Watsonwho has been erratic at times in the young seasondid a nice job securing the ball as a ballhandler, maintaining the Bulls fast pace, making sure the offense ran well and generally being aggressive, enabling Rose to get an extended rest.

I always have confidence in them, explained Rose. In practice, they whip us sometimes.

Thibodeau would reinsert his starters to close out the half and while Chicagos offense continued to run smoothly, San Antonio would also step theirs up in an effort to play catch-up with the Bulls.

Parker (21 points, seven assists), in particular, made a concerted effort to get to the basket as the second quarter wore on, aiding the Spurs in their comeback attempt.

At intermission, however, Chicago held a 47-37 advantage over the home team.

San Antonio immediately sliced the Bulls lead to three to begin the third quarter, necessitating a Thibodeau timeout with just under three minutes played since the break.

The visitors momentum was snatched by the veteran squad, which played with an increased gusto, presumably following typically fiery Popovich halftime motivation. Even with Thibodeaus adjustments, the Spurs clearly had it rolling.

Thirty-seven to 12 in the third quarter. They got us back on our heels to start the third, said Thibodeau. The bench was playing great, then we wanted to get the starters back in before the end of the first half and then we were flat to close the second quarter, and thats how we started the third. That team over there, you give them easy scoring opportunities, their confidence goes up and theyre hard to guard."

Third quarter, we came out, we couldnt hit any shots. The shots that we usually take, they werent hitting and with a team like that, you cant do that, added Rose. Just in that third quarterthose three or four minutesthey just werent falling.

It feels bad. We had them. A team like that, youve got to continue to go out there and play the same way because theyre not going to stop. Right when we went up 10 and came out in the third quarter, we were supposed to keep on being aggressive going to the hole, he continued. I think thats where we made our mistake, not attacking the basket. But were going to look at film, go over it and next time, were going to have plays where guys are forced to go to the basket.

Its a good position to be in. we didnt end the half well, but we felt like, up 10, we could have came out better. The way we came out in the third quarter was terrible, concurred Deng. They came out in the third quarter, they kind of took the lead and never looked back.

A much more comfortable Richard Jefferson, in his second season with San Antonio, knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the contest, and two consecutive Duncan buckets from in close allowed the Spurs to overtake the Bulls midway through the period.

Another Chicago timeout ensued, with Thibodeau replacing Gibson and Bogans with Korver and Brewer for a quicker, more offensive-minded lineup. However, nothing seemed to work, as the visitors were on the wrong end of a 27-6 run to start the half, as San Antonios offense was clicking on all cylinders and the Bulls poor shot selection didnt do much to help matters.

Aside from Duncan, Jefferson (12 points, five reboiunds) and Parkers quick drives and savvy finishes at the rim, backup power forward Matt Bonnerwho Popovich enlisted to start the second halfwas a major contributor for the Spurs, giving them an unexpected source of point production.

Rose seemed to briefly quell the spurt with a slashing layup, leading to a Popovich timeout, but a Ginobili (20 points, five assists, four rebounds) driving southpaw slam and a subsequent Hill floater put an end to that notion.

Bonners been playing really well. We were concerned about it going in. He spreads you, a range-shooting four and their penetration got to us alsoTheyre quick and I think when Bonners out there, there were more pick-and-rolls and our coverages were very good in the first half and not so good in the second, observed Thibodeau.

So, 37 points in the first half and then 37 in the third quarter. We have to adjust better, keep the ball in front and we have to challenge shots. The rebounding was problematic.

Chicago was forcing shots, pressing too much and outside of Rose, the team struggled to manufacture offense or even good opportunities. Heading into the final stanza, the tables had completely turned, with the visitors trailing, 72-59, to the finely-tuned machine that calls San Antonio home.

We came out flat. We missed a lot of shots, shots we normally make and our defense, we didnt do what we were doing in the second quarter, surmised Deng. Thats a good team. Once they got ahead, they did a good job of keeping the lead and thats something weve got to learn when we get the lead like that.

Coach keeps talking about 48 minutes. I think to get to the next level, thats something weve really got to focus onthe whole teamguys coming in and the starters doing a better job of keeping their lead. Any time you put a team down like that, youve got to end it. You cant let them come back like that. The momentum was in their favor the whole second half.

Thibodeau trotted out an all-reserve lineup of Korver, Asik, Brewer, Watson and seldom-used (at least recently) Brian Scalabrine to start the fourth quarter, perhaps making Bulls fans think back to the end of the teams last loss, to New York at home. The group, however, was effective at the outset of the quarter, before the Spurs resumed their onslaught.

The deficit continued to widen, but the understudies remained feisty and gave enough of a semblance of hope that Rose came back into the contest to help mount a comeback attempt.

Rosewith Watson alongside him, freeing him to concentrate on scoringvaliantly tried to once again shoulder the offensive load, hitting four consecutive shots to make it a single-digit contest.

Just trying to do something. Doing whatever it takes and at that time, we couldnt get a groove going, so I tried to spark something up, said Rose. We had it going for a minute, but that team was too good. They stopped it.

Derrick can score the ball and hes been doing a great job for us, and hes going to keep doing what he does and thats score and be a facilitator on the court for us, said Noah. Hes playing at a very high level and its just on us to do a better job as bigs to make it easier for him, especially defensively.

The home crowd became subdued, perhaps with the knowledge of the All-Star point guards exploits the night beforeor even just a healthy respect for the superstar hes developed intobut their beloved Spurs would respond with a quick combination platter of Ginobili and Hill long bombs sandwiched around a Parker layup.

Deng, now back in the contest, hit a pair of runners to keep pace with San Antonio, which didnt cease scoring. Still within striking distance, the two squads mostly traded baskets down the stretch, although a deep triple from Rose made it a two-possession game with under a minute to play.

Forced to foul because of time considerations, the Bulls simply ran out of options in the games waning moments.

The only thing that was good in the fourth quarter was that we fought back and were in position, said Thibodeau. Theyre the type of team you cant make mistakes against. We made a lot of mistakes in the second half.

To win on the road against a quality team, we have to play for 48 minutes and were still not doing that, so we have to do a better job with that, consistent effort, defend, rebound, low turnovers. If we do that, were going to be in a position to win. Now, we defended in the first half. We didnt defend at all in the second, the first-year head coach went on to say. Rebounding was poor. Part of that is were playing small. Low turnovers was goodI think that helped us stay somewhat in the gameand we settled for a lot for a lot of jump shots. The big thing is getting that ball into the paint, whether it be through post-up or dribble penetrationour decision-making has to be a lot quicker.

With a team like that, you cant miss shots and not play defense on the other end because theyre too good. Theyre going to score. Theyre just a good team and hopefully we learn from this and go out there and try to win the game against Dallas Friday, concluded Rose. We dont have our head down. Were still going to go out there and play hard. This is only one game.

I dont know if it was fatigue or whatever, but the beauty of the NBA, we play in a couple of days and weve still got a good feeling about ourselves. We had them, we let them go and weve got to learn from it.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solve isn't simple

Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solve isn't simple

MILWAUKEE — When Thad Young played for the Pacers, this was, according to Young, that team’s scouting report on Lauri Markkanen:

“He’s a guy who can score in different levels of the game. He can shoot the midrange. He can take you off the dribble and do his hanging fade to get his shot off. Or he can step behind the line and tee up some 3s,” Young said. “So we tried to keep him seeing bodies so he wouldn’t take the ball from one side to the other.”

Markkanen’s struggles — and the Bulls’ usage of him — is becoming an almost daily storyline. It certainly dominated Monday’s postgame questioning after the Bulls dropped to 1-18 versus winning teams with a 111-98 loss to the Bucks.

For the second time in three games, Markkanen failed to score in the second half. Seven of his 11 attempts came from 3-point range — all of which he missed. His eight points came from two putbacks and four free throws.

That’s it.

“He missed some shots he normally makes. That happens,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I thought he was moving well. He had a couple great cuts to the basket, opportunities at the rim. That’s what we want from him — inside, outside.”

But that’s not happening enough. Fifty-three percent of Markkanen’s attempts this season have been 3-pointers. That’s up 11.5 percent from last season and 4.1 percent from his rookie season.

Too often, Markkanen is being relegated to playing as a stationary, 3-point shooter and not the dynamic, multifaceted scorer for whom Young’s Pacers teams prepared.

“Yeah, I think I can do a lot of good things besides just shoot threes,’’ Markkanen said. “Haven’t really been able to do that lately. Just have to figure out the way I can attack the rim more and get to the free-throw line. I need to figure out my spots.”

This is not meant to fully absolve Markkanen, who has indeed missed open looks consistently this season. For the second straight game, Markkanen joked about how Boylen called a play for him on the first possession, only for Markkanen to turn it over.

Markkanen also again acknowledged the sore left ankle he is playing through as he tries to reach his well documented goal of playing all 82 games. Markkanen called the ankle “not normal but getting there” and also shook off banging knees with Donte DiVincenzo that left him running hobbled for a few possessions.

Markkanen said he has no problem talking to Boylen about his usage and, as is his nature, looked inward.

“We’ve talked about it. He ran some plays for me. I turned it over. He does run some stuff for me. I just have to make the plays,” he said. “If you shoot the ball like [I have], you don’t really deserve touches. Can’t really complain.

“When you’re feeling it and actually making shots, it would be good to get closer to the rim and kind of keep it going. A lot of our plays I screen and pop.’’

The Bulls tied their franchise record with 48 3-point attempts. Boylen said that was the gameplan since opponents averaged 40 3-point attempts and 17.5 makes in the Bucks’ mere six losses.

Never mind that even if the Bulls hadn’t gone ice cold in the second half to finish with 14 makes that adding 3.5 more makes would’ve still left them on the losing end. The Markkanen problem is bigger than a math problem.

“I think the system complements him to the point where he has a lot of freedom to do different things,” Young said. “If he’s open, he takes a 3. If he’s not, he tries to make a play. He’s doing the best he can, just like me and any other guy on this roster. He has to continue to believe in what we’re doing.”

Markkanen now has nine single-digit scoring games after posting just four last season. He has nine 20-point games after registering 22 last season.

This is a huge season for Markkanen not only because his success is tied into the success of the Bulls’ rebuild but also because he’ll be eligible for an extension of his rookie contract following this season.

“I know he’s going to work. And he cares. He has high character,” Boylen said. “I believe in him. And our team believes in him.”

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Four observations: Bulls tie franchise record for 3-point attempts, fall to Bucks

Four observations: Bulls tie franchise record for 3-point attempts, fall to Bucks

The Bulls dropped their season series with the Milwaukee Bucks 4-0 with a 111-98 road loss on Monday. Observations from a familiar-feeling defeat:

Kris Dunn is unafraid

Bulls’ opponents have recently begun to aggressively sag off Kris Dunn when set, routinely leaving him with oceans of space to operate with behind the 3-point arc.

But that hasn’t deterred Dunn from continuing to chuck. In January, his 3-point attempts per game is up to three (he had been hoisting 2.1 per contest in the first two months of the season). Today, he took three in the first quarter alone and finished the night 3-for-5 from deep, bringing his January 3-point percentage up to 34.3%, though that figure is skewed by tonight's performance.

Still, when smart, lengthy teams like Milwaukee employ this strategy to clog driving lanes, it throws a real wrench in a Bulls halfcourt offense already prone to stagnation. Zach LaVine suffered the most from it today. He didn’t score until hitting a 27-footer at the 2:02 mark of the first, missing all three of his prior attempts in heavy traffic in the paint. Dunn checked out on the next possession, and LaVine ended the period with 10 points. But the team’s spacing was off all game.

Turnovers and jump-shots kept the Bulls in it, but not forever

That LaVine spurt spurred the Bulls to a sharp-shooting first half, at least from deep. After starting 3-for-9 from long range, the visitors entered the break at 9-for-22 (40.9%), and also parlayed 15 Bucks turnovers into 19 points.

But their inefficiency inside the arc (9-for-24 in the paint in the first half) served as an omen. In a stretch that recalled these teams’ last meeting in Chicago, the Bucks sprinted out to a 17-4 run in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the third, shooting 7-for-10 to the Bulls 2-for-9 (0-for-5 from three). Déjà vu all over again.

The Bulls did claw their way back and trailed only 84-77 entering the fourth, and it was 3-ball that resuscitated them. They shot 4-for-9 from deep in the latter part of the period, and also converted seven of seven attempts from the free throw line. But the Bulls never got closer than nine after the Bucks’ first bucket of the fourth quarter. They finished the game 14-for-48 (29.2%) from three, 20-for-44 (45.4%) from two and 37% from the field. The Bucks outrebounded them 49-39 and outscored them 60-38 in the paint.

"In [the Bucks'] six losses, teams have shot an average of 40 threes and made 17.5. We were on pace to do that in the first half," Jim Boylen said after the game. "Second half we didn't shoot it as well, we ended up making 14. So, that was pretty much our gameplan... I think our gameplan to play against them was solid, we just needed to make a few more of those open shots we had."

The defense was good enough to loosely hang around, forcing 23 turnovers by game’s end. But the Bucks’ paint-packing, hard closeout strategy worked to perfection — the Bulls missed some open looks, but the Bucks also forced a bunch of tough ones.

Fourty-eight 3-point attempts ties the Bulls’ franchise high for a game with the famed 4OT bout with the Hawks last season. Three of the Bulls’ six highest 3-point attempt games have come against the Bucks this season.

A step back for Lauri Markkanen

To be fair, no Bull outside of Thad Young (4-for-8 from three), LaVine (24 points, 8-for-9 from free throw line) and Dunn finished with stat lines that approached being positive. Still, Markkanen’s 8 points on 2-for-11 (0-for-7 from three) shooting was a regression from a solid 17 point outing against the Cavaliers on Saturday.

"He's okay, he's just working his way through it, he's just fighting," Boylen said when asked to assess Markkanen's confidence level. "He missed some shots that we know he can make. That happens."

All eight of Markkanen’s points came in the first half. He logged 15 minutes in the final two quarters, missing all five of his shots. Four of them were 3-point attempts. Markkanen has now gone scoreless in the second half of two of the Bulls' last three games.

"When you're feeling it and actually making shots it would be good to get closer to the rim and kind of keep it going," Markkanen said. "A lot of our plays I screen-and-pop, so maybe get to the rim. But most of the time, I'm pretty good."

"I think I can do a lot of things, not just shoot threes, but obviously haven't been able to do that lately," he added. "So just gotta figure out the ways that I can actually attack the rim more and get to the free throw line. So, I need to figure out my spots."

The intent that the Bulls had in getting Markkanen involved against Cleveland wasn’t there today, and he can do more to assert himself, as well.

"I know he's gonna work, and he cares, and he's got high character and I believe in him. And our team believes in him," Boylen said.

Another reality check

Not much to lament here. The Bucks aren’t just a better team, they’re the best team in the league — potentially historically so. Antetokounmpo had a relatively quiet 28 point, 14 rebound, 10 assist triple-double, despite going 3-for-9 from the foul line and committing eight turnovers. Khris Middleton was 10-for-13 from the field and Kyle Korver poured in an impactful 12 points on 5-for-5.

"They've got a star player. They can beat you from the 3-point line, they can beat you free throw line and they can beat you defensively when they don't have a night when their scoring," Boylen said. "That's what championship-caliber teams look like."

The Bulls are now 1-18 against teams above-.500 and 3-8 in the month of January. Back home for Minnesota on Wednesday.

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