Taj Gibson leads short-handed Bulls in surprising win over Wizards


Taj Gibson leads short-handed Bulls in surprising win over Wizards

There was Tony Snell, playing assertively and strong, not hesitating on 3-point attempts.

E’Twaun Moore hitting triple after triple and staying in front of the speedy John Wall, and finally, a determined Doug McDermott, taking the baseline around Wall and then the elevator over Markieff Morris for a surprising dunk.

It prompted the predictable reaction after the unpredictable production: Who are these guys?

A tough bunch is what they looked like and played like, responding to their coach’s call for “nasty” after two straight wins and made it a third with a inspiring, inspired 109-104 win over the Washington Wizards.

They looked like they discovered some identity in the face of adversity, as they sensed the Wizards were content on showing up and not earning a win — as one could make the argument the Wizards did their usual Jekyll-and-Hyde routine of failing to appear for this appointment.

[MORE BULLS: Watch a replay of the Bulls' win over the Wizards]

Pau Gasol was the only Bull whose production looked familiar, though he played with flu-like symptoms, coming up an assist short of a triple-double with 10 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists while doing his part in keeping Marcin Gortat and Nene from dominating as they’ve done recently in this matchup.

“I was really proud. Pau did not look good all day, and I asked him to show up and see what he could give us,” Fred Hoiberg said, as Gasol was a gametime decision, his status not announced until right before tipoff. “Our guys fought and battled.”

Perhaps it took the Bulls being completely exhausted of all their usual options, being without Derrick Rose as a late scratch in addition to the already suited-and-booted Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic.

Rose’s right hamstring tendinitis made him decide to sit this one out, being the first in a three-games-in-four-night stretch. And his teammates picked up the slack, being a ball of activity and running Hoiberg’s ball-movement system to perfection, each taking turns.

Snell scored 10 of his 14 in the first half, Moore scored eight of his 17 in the fourth and McDermott scored all 12 of his in the second half.

“They have to, with the guys we had out there,” Hoiberg said. “I thought guys did a good job of reading certain situations and executed it really well.”

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It produced 26 assists on 50-percent shooting, as all five unlikely starters hit double figures and Aaron Brooks and McDermott did damage off the bench. Finding their balance without the stars could bode well for when the team returns en masse.

Taj Gibson has garnered attention with his mouth lately, trying to take the mantle of being a more vocal player, but Wednesday, his effect was tangible as his play did the talking.

Saying before he was sick of the way things were going, he played like a man possessed, grabbing every rebound and loose ball, hedging on screens defensively and setting solid ones offensively, scoring 17 with seven rebounds and seven assists in 30 minutes.

“Our guys did a great job of finding him, especially early,” Hoiberg said. “He really carried us. We had 55 (points) in the paint. Taj was a big part of that.”

It was enough to keep them in the game early, but how long it would stay afloat while the Wizards sleepwalked was the question.

Getting a lot of scores off secondary offense just by pushing the ball and taking advantage of a lagging team that played the night before gave the Bulls their biggest advantage.

“Like I said before I gotta do better,” Gibson said. “I learned from a good coach you gotta put more into it when it’s not going your way. Them young guys are putting more into my game. I’ve been patient ... and being ready when it’s my time to score.”

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The Bulls led by 15 with 3:05 to play after a McDermott dunk, but the Wizards clawed back. The Bulls, though, decided to play with a little toughness for the first time in a long time.

Moore torched Wall late, most of them critical run-stopping plays.

Wall scored 16 with seven assists but didn’t have the effect he usually does. Bradley Beal came off the bench to score 19 but took 19 shots, and Ramon Sessions again torched the Bulls for 16 off the pine.

The Bulls’ longtime tough guy had his juice rub off on his guys for once.

Gibson’s play encouraged his teammates to follow suit, as McDermott’s jumpers finished what Gibson’s emotions started, and the Bulls’ defense did more than enough late.

Just when you think this Bulls team has next to no life, they emerge from the ashes to show they have a little more than a faint pulse.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:

Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.