Blackhawks

Healthy Boozer quietly setting example

704116.png

Healthy Boozer quietly setting example

Even Tom Thibodeau will admit, the way Carlos Boozer introduced himself to Chicago didnt exactly endear him to the city. After tripping over a gym bag during training camp, the prized free-agent acquisition was forced to miss a huge chunk of the early season with a right-hand injury.

This season, its been a different story, as the power forward has been the only Bulls starter to play in all 50 of the first-place teams games this season. A big reason for that is that Boozer reported to training camp after the NBA lockout in much-improved physical shape.

Its huge. He got hurt early last year, but I think he came back in excellent shape, so I think thats helped him a lot and last year his injury was misfortune. Then, he had the turf toe at the end of the season and the ankle sprain, but that was probably from all the time that he had off and this year, hes just been ready, right from the beginning, said Thibodeau. Hes lighter and I think thats a very good point. Particularly for big guys, I think light and lean as they get older is critical.

I think its difficult to lead when youre injured and the team was new to him. You have to be playing to lead, really. Now that hes been here for two years, I think hes a lot more comfortable knowing his teammates, his teammates know him knowing the system. Its hard to lead when you get hurt in the first week, you dont know your teammates and you dont know the system. Carlos has been a terrific player in the league for a long time, he continued. Hes playing strong. Hes always had that strength. I think its made him quicker. I also think it helps to avoid injury.

Though Boozers numbers are down from a season ago, hes been efficient and a key cog in an overall relatively healthy big-man rotation featuring fellow starter Joakim Noah and backups Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. The quartet will have to play well Monday night against the deep, dangerous Nuggets at the United Center.

Theyre tough, said Thibodeau. Leading scorer and forward Danilo Gallinari being out makes them a little bit different, but theyre very deep. They have a number of guys on their second unit that are really starters. You look at Andre Miller, hes a starter in the league. Sixth man and veteran forward Al Harringtons a starter. Starting point guard Tywon Lawsons been terrific for them. Rookie forward Kenneth Faried is a high-energy guy. Center Timofey Mozgov is tough. Forward Wilson Chandler, of course, picking him up late after playing in China due to the lockout, hes still getting acclimated, but hes still a terrific player. And shooting guard Arron Afflalo has really established himself as a solid two-way player in this league, and each year, hes gotten better and better. Hes playing at a high level for them.

Recently acquired center JaVale McGee is another starter. Hes athletic, changes the game with his defense, can run the floor. This team flies up and down the floor, the balls in the paint, they can put it on the floor, theyre unselfish they probably dont get enough credit for that they make the extra pass and they have a lot of versatility to their lineup because they can play Lawson and Miller together. Chandlers the type of guy that can play three positions, Harrington can play four positions, so theres a lot of flexibility with the guys and theyre all hard-playing. They all play hard, he continued. "Nuggets head coach George Karl has been there a long time. Hes done a terrific job. I dont think people overlook them because theyre going to play fast, theyre going to play hard. Now, theyve taken on some injuries, so that sort of slowed them down a little bit, but theyre going to be playing with great urgency. Theres a bunch of teams that are fighting for those last spots in the West and theyre one of them, so theyll be ready to go.

Thibodeau is fortunate that the Bulls will have Noah in the lineup Monday, as the center avoided a suspension though not a league-imposed fine for being ejected from Saturdays eventual win over the Raptors after throwing a ball in the direction of an official.

Im disappointed with his frustration. I think Jo has grown quite a bit, in terms of his professionalism, and it was a tough game, said Thibodeau. As a team, we werent playing very well, but I do want him to control his emotions.

Thibodeau did let his guard down a bit when asked about the ongoing NCAA Tournament.

I follow it a little bit. I think itll be terrific. I think itll be a great Final Four. I think its a wonderful time of the year for college basketball, he said, giving his trademark politically-correct answer before being asked about whether Kentucky, led by Chicago native Anthony Davis, was the favorite to win the Final Four. They Kentucky are deep, but I tell you, I wouldnt overlook Louisville either.

That might not sit well with his star point guard, Derrick Rose, who played at Memphis for Kentuckys coach, John Calipari.

I havent talked to him since the tournament started. I dont want to jinx him or anything, so Im just going to wait until after they win it and Im just going to call him then, said Rose. Theyre a great team. If anything, I think Coach deserves it and theyre the team to do it.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

crawford_usatoday.jpg
USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

arci.jpg
USA TODAY

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 giving 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.