Bulls

Spurs look as dominant as ever

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Spurs look as dominant as ever

From Comcast SportsNetSAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Tony Parker shooed away the NBA coach of the year. The San Antonio Spurs were ahead 36 points and he didn't want Gregg Popovich to end his night just yet."To stay in shape," Parker said.That's how bad it got for the Utah Jazz. It was the third quarter of a playoff game, and Parker by then was practically treating it as just another workout.Pummeling the Jazz in a fashion not seen since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls humiliated them in the 1998 NBA Finals, San Antonio handed Utah its second-worst playoff loss, winning 114-83 on Wednesday night to take 2-0 lead in the first-round series.Parker scored 18 points, while Popovich -- a day after receiving the NBA's highest coaching honor -- could practically put the Spurs on autopilot after a 20-0 run in the second quarter. Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin had admitted to being unusually jittery before losing Game 1, but this time, it was center Al Jefferson summing up how this shiner felt."Embarrassing," he said.The only bigger embarrassment for the Jazz in the playoffs was that 42-point loss to Jordan's Bulls in 1998.Game 3 is Saturday night in Salt Lake City.It's the first time the Spurs have led a series 2-0 since opening the 2008 playoffs against Phoenix. San Antonio won that series in five, and unless the Jazz can shake this off, this one will be over just as quick.If not sooner."I can't explain it. I couldn't explain it the other night," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "They came out and just whipped us."It was a total collapse by the Jazz in spite of flying back to Salt Lake City after Game 1 and regrouping with two days of practice back home. There they had talked about adjustments and maybe giving Parker "a hard foul or two" to get him thinking twice about driving, but Parker didn't seem to have a dent on him before taking the entire fourth quarter off.Jefferson and Millsap weren't any more imposing on offense than they were defensively. Jefferson scored 10 points, and Millsap had nine.Popovich chalked the blowout more to the Jazz having a bad night -- they shot 23 percent in the first half -- than the Spurs dominating. Parker played 28 minutes and Popovich said the decision on when to take his star out was a struggle between keeping him in condition and not risking injury."He wanted to get the whole quarter, but we compromised and got two more minutes," Popovich said. "He's been special for us all year, obviously. We got to keep him ready to go."The Spurs held the Jazz scoreless for nearly 7 minutes in the second quarter while rookie Kawhi Leonard and unheralded swingman Danny Green outplayed the Jazz's stars. The Jazz filed off the court at halftime walking slow, heads down and quiet after being as close as 31-26 minutes earlier.Jefferson and Josh Howard, who also had 10 points, were Utah's leading scorers.It was the most lopsided postseason win for the Spurs since beating the Nuggets by 28 in 2005. San Antonio's playoff record is a 40-point victory over Denver in 1983."You don't expect to win a playoff game like that," Green said. "They're a very good team, but they didn't shoot it as well as they liked. They didn't shoot it as well as they did, and we shot the ball pretty well. Stuff like that happens."The Spurs have won 12 in a row, a season high after surrendering two 11-game winning streaks this season by not playing Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili.Duncan finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Leonard scored 17 points, and Green had 13.At least the Jazz didn't look the most embarrassed the entire night. Popovich again had to show off his coach of the year trophy before the game, this time for fans while standing between Duncan and Spurs great David Robinson. Popovich obliged for several seconds before scrambling to hand the trophy off to one of his assistants as fast as possible.Notes: The last Jazz team to rally from an 0-2 deficit and win a playoff series was 2007, when Utah came back to beat Houston in the first round. The Spurs later beat that team on their way to their fourth championship. ... Backup Spurs C Tiago Splitter (sprained wrist) was available to play but the rout gave Popovich the luxury of letting the big man continue to heal. Popovich said Splitter should be better by Game 3.

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Coby White’s second straight 3-pointer splashed through the net — a three that, combined with a Ryan Arcidiacono long-ball, capped a 9-0 run to give the Bulls a one-point lead over the Bucks with 6 minutes, 23 seconds to play.

For the second time in five days, the Bulls had an opportunity to knock off the Bucks, an Eastern Conference champion contender.

Then, reality hit. Or the starters returned. At this point, that’s one and the same.

Here’s all you need to know about where the Bulls’ rebuild stands as 'Year Three' fell to a 4-10 start following the Bucks’ 115-101 victory: Coach Jim Boylen admitted he considered riding a bench unit down the stretch over one that featured Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.

“They have a guy that they can go to that can get them a bucket, which is what good teams have,” Boylen said, referring to the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I’ve been on those teams. We’re figuring out who that guy is and we’re learning to play that way. We’re not there yet.”

Boylen then supported his beleaguered core players, because that’s what he’s paid to do. But the sobering reality of the Bulls’ current fortunes didn’t just play out in LaVine’s stat line of 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting, or Markkanen’s 9 points on 2-for-12.

It played out when Boylen indeed returned to LaVine and Markkanen with 5:04 remaining, and the Bucks leading 103-99. From that point, the Bulls didn’t score another field goal.

Markkanen sank two free throws but missed a driving layup and 13-foot jumper. LaVine committed a turnover, missed a layup and a 3-pointer.

Game, set and match.

“They got the MVP over there. He did his thing. And we didn’t,” LaVine said. “It’s going to be tough when your leading players, me and Lauri, don’t perform at our level. You can understand that. You’re missing a lot of points and a lot of plays. We understand we have to pick it up.”

What’s that they say? Recognition is the first step towards recovery. The Bulls have to hope so, especially after Markkanen admitted his slump is affecting him mentally.

“It’s frustrating knowing I’ve never had this kind of stretch of not even not hitting 3s but missing layups and dunks,” he said. “I have to keep my head up knowing that you work too hard for this not to turn around. Keep working and I know it’s going to turn around.

“I noticed myself kind of thinking too much at the half. I tried to switch it up and make the plays for the team. That’s how you get out of your own head. I have to stay aggressive. Create contact and then finish every shot. Not getting out of it too early or anything like that. I’ve done my film study. Put the work in and I know it’s going to turn around.”

At one point, Markkanen actually missed two dunk attempts on the same possession. Following the second, he rolled his eyes toward the United Center roof as if to say, 'What’s next?'

Markkanen is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He missed all four three-pointers he attempted versus the Bucks.

“Just try to get an easy bucket and lay it in. But having two 7-footers there, I know it’s going to be blocked so I tried to go up quick and end up missing it,” Markkanen said of the dunk sequence. “It was frustrating. I know I can play better. It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Antetokounmpo made 13 field goals, equaling the total of five Bulls starters. How do you say 'ouch' in Greek?

“What I’m going to do is I’m going to support those two guys. I’m going to coach them like I always have. I’m going to show it to them on film and we’re going to work on it in practice. We’re going to get them to understand that we believe in them, we value them and that we need to do better,” Boylen said. “It’s all part of this process. We’re slugging uphill right now. We gotta keep slugging. That’s all I can say.”

Boylen said he returned to LaVine and Markkanen because he still believes in them. He has to say that and he has to believe that. The rebuild is structured for them to shine.

It’s not currently happening.

“I’m still developing two young guys,” Boylen said. “Zach missed a year-and-a-half. Lauri was hurt last year. He has basically played two years. I’m going to keep developing them to come in and learn how to win games. I believe in both of them. I believe they’re important to what we’re doing.”

Raising LaVine’s absence to an ACL injury and subsequent rehab is a curious approach from Boylen given that LaVine has been fully healthy and rehabbed for quite some time. But again, he has been placed in a position where he has to protect their play and lack of production in big moments.

The Bulls are a long way away from respectability at this point.

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Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

For the second time in less than a week, the Bulls played the Bucks close, but came up just short — this time falling 115-101 at the United Center. Three observations from a soul-crushing loss:

Daniel Gafford: Free man

If I dumped all the expletives I have written in my notebook about Daniel Gafford from this game, you’d never read another article under this byline.

So, while I catch my breath, here are the hits:

 

 

 

Gafford ended the game a -4 in 20 minutes, but it’s hard to overstate the impact he had on a particularly electric Bulls bench in this one. He was every bit the gumptious, brick-bodied big that Jim Boylen billed him as, and so much more. Every second without the ball in his hands on offense, his feet were moving — setting screens and leveraging rebounding position. In the air, every shot, pass or lob within five feet of him seemed to find his hands, and then — rather violently — the bottom of the net.

At one point, en route to his team-leading 16 first-half points, a fan behind me exclaimed: “Him and Giannis are going at it!” In reference to… Daniel Gafford. What a night.

Gafford ended his stellar breakout performance with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and approximately 2.716 million hearts stolen, on 10-of-12 shooting.

The three-guard lineup provides a spark

At the very beginning of the season, Boylen’s utilizing of a three-guard lineup (Kris Dunn-Coby White-Ryan Arcidiacono) was widely panned. Tonight, that group — with contributions from Thaddeus Young and a combination of Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford at the center spot — proved their mettle. 

In the first half, that lineup catalyzed a 20-8 run that pulled the Bulls from down nine with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter to up two with 8:05 to go in the second. In the fourth quarter, a torrid stretch by Arcidiacono and White vaulted the Bulls from down 98-90 to up 99-98 in a matter of 66 seconds, sending the UC in a frenzy not seen in quite a while.

The Bucks pulled away from that point on, but this lineup showed something tonight — so much so that Boylen closed with White and Arcidiacono both on the floor along with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. (Stunningly absent was Tomas Satoransky, who logged only 18 minutes tonight after coming out of the gate aggressive, offensively.)

Arcidiacono was on every loose ball in sight. White was a blur in transition and coming off screens and dribble handoffs. Combined, they shot 7-of-11 from long distance. Maybe Boylen is on to something.

Bulls melt down the stretch

The Bucks finished the game on a 17-2 run after that aforementioned White-Arcidiacono blitz. For most of the game, the Bulls were able to hang around despite being out-shot from three and on the wrong end of a 35-14 free throw disparity, but their energy waned late in the game. Despite miraculously out-rebounding the Bucks 50-48, out-scoring them in the paint 50-46 and competing defensively throughout, the Bulls couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch (they failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes), and it ultimately cost them.

The blame is shared in this one. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine combined to shoot 6-of-28 from the floor (only 0-of-4 in the fourth) and were largely outplayed by the bench unit. 

In a performance reminiscent of last Thursday’s in Milwaukee, the Bulls appeared to everything necessary to win on Monday. But they didn’t. Now, with a record of 4-10, the heat is on.

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