Blackhawks

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Pacers Game 4

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Pacers Game 4

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 11:49 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
1. In the aftermath of Roses 4-for-18 shooting night Thursday, Thibodeau was still impressed with some of the more underrated aspects of his floor generals game, especially his much-improved ability to draw fouls. Thats who he is. Derricks going to attack the basket, get fouled, hes going to go to the line and come back, and do it again and again and again. To me, thats toughness, said Thibodeau of Rose, who is 44-for-49 from the charity stripe through three postseason contests. Hes been a great leader all year. Its something that hes worked hard at. I think hes gotten better and better as the seasons gone along. Hes very aggressive, hes strong, quick, he can read defenses and he makes good decisions once he gets in there. Thibodeau was also complimentary of Roses floor leadership and poise despite the pounding hes taking at the hands of the Pacers. Its not just the attacking of the rimobviously thats importantbut its decision-making, also. When you look at fourth-quarter scoring, youre seeing that Kyles getting a lot of good shots, Luols gotten good shots, Carlos is getting good shots, so hes doing a great job of running the team, Thibodeau explained. He is human. Hes going to say what he has to say, but I love his poise and his demeanor. To me, hes always under control. Thats a hard thing to do. Theyre taking shots at him, but it says a lot about his toughness. Hes as tough as they come, both mentally and physically, so he wont get discouraged and I think you all saw that he wasnt making shots, but he ran the team great in the fourth quarter, made all the right plays, made the tough plays and again, he doesnt get discouraged.

2. After reviewing two fouls by Pacers big man Jeff Foster from Thursdays gameone on Rose and the other on Deng; the mild-mannered Rose confronted Foster after being elbowed in the face, while Deng writhed in pain after being clobbered over the headthe NBA upgraded both calls to flagrant fouls Friday. In the postseason, players are suspended after accumulating four flagrant-foul pointsin Fosters case, he now has two, since both were flagrant onesbefore getting suspended, an unlikely occurrence for the veteran Pacer, as Indiana is one game away from being eliminated from the playoffs. Let the league make those decisions, said Thibodeau. Were getting to the line. I think we can get to the line more. Added Boozer: Hes doing what hes got to do for his team and were going to do what weve got to do for ours I love it when they let us play, get down, get dirty and have a chance to be men out there. Its fun.
3. Speaking of the physical play in the series, Noah took exception to the perception that the Pacers are dictating the level of toughness in the series. The physicalitys good. I feel like our physicalitys pretty good, too. Theres a reason why theyre playing like that. Were kicking their tails on the boards and weve got a point guard thats gets to the rim at will, so theyve got to do something, said Noah. Noah, who recorded a double-double Thursday, appears to be thriving off of the intensity of the matchup and subsequently regaining the form that earned him recognition in the league. Hes coming back. Hes tipping the ball, blocking shots, running, running with you on fast breaks, setting the picks, giving you extra possessions to score the ball. Hes doing a lot for us and his conditioning is better, getting back to where it used to be, Rose noted. Thibodeau chimed in: His energy was great. I thought he was active, shot-blocking, pursued the ball, made some good plays and again, as time goes on, I think hell get better and better.

4. Thibodeau also had strong praise for the performance of his role players Thursday. Keith makes three threes, he guards hard, you can put him on anybody. Taj was terrific. Taj has been playing well, very well. But because of Carlos foul trouble, he got in earlier, shot-blocking, active, all those things. C.J., in the short minutes that he had, I thought he played well. We got a look at C.J. with Derrick a little bit and I thought that was pretty good. The bench has been terrific, said the coach. Weve said this all along: We need everybody. Even the guys that arent playing, theyre doing a good job of helping the guys stay ready and keeping everybody in tune with everything thats going on.

5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

How the Blackhawks upset the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

There was a lot the Western Conference's No. 12 seeded Blackhawks did right to upset the West's No. 5 seeded home ice Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Here's some observations:

Greasy goals

There was a common theme for a lot of the goals the Hawks scored against the Oilers, they were hard-earned and a lot of them were deflected into the Oilers' net. Five of the Blackhawks' 16 goals in the series came off deflections.

Matthew Highmore had a tip-in late in Game 3 to set the table for the 4-3 comeback victory, then scored the same way to put the Hawks ahead 2-1 in the first period of Game 4. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had a Connor Murphy shot deflect off his shin pad for the game-winning goal in Game 3 with 1:16 remaining in regulation.

Throughout the series, the forwards got the puck to the D-men in the offensive zone and got to the front of the net to create a screen or try for a tip-in. The formula constantly worked for the Hawks and they need to keep at it for as long as they're in the postseason.

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Keeping McDavid and Draisaitl in check

Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid had the first and second most points in the NHL before the pause, respectively.

Against the Blackhawks in the qualifying round, they had a combined 15 points (five goals, four assists for McDavid; and three goals, three assists for Draisaitl), which may not read like an accomplishment, but considering the uncanny offensive talent the two possess, the Hawks definitely succeeded in limiting their chances and keeping them from reaching their full level of production or potential in the series.

Related: More hard-earned goals and a killer PK advance Blackhawks to Round One

Coach Jeremy Colliton and his Hawks definitely got the best of McDavid and Draisaitl when they were the home team and had last change in Games 3 and 4. Colliton often put Toews' line against McDavid's — as well as the Blackhawks' fourth line with center David Kamp occasionally. 

Toews and his line were able to play solid defense against McDavid and the other Edmonton combos they faced. The Blackhawks captain was also able to help the Hawks hang onto the puck, winning 55.34% of the faceoffs he took in the series. McDavid won 43.1% of his draws in the qualifying round.

The PK

The Hawks went 12-for-17 on the penalty kill, including 5-for-5 in Game 4, in the play-in series against the Oilers. Chicago only allowing Edmonton five power-play goals in the entire series is pretty impressive as the Oilers touted the best power-play in the league during the regular season.

Maintaining a strong PK would benefit the Hawks in Round One, but so would staying out of the box to avoid an unfavorable momentum swing.

Captain seriously good

Toews had a monster series, resembling his former 2010 Conn Smythe-winning self in how he was able to take over some of the games in the qualifying round against top players like McDavid and Draisaitl.

In addition to being able to limit McDavid and win a majority of his draws, Toews had seven points (four goals, three assists) in the series. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ had two two-goal games (Game 1 and Game 3) in the series and won a battle behind the net to get rookie Dominik Kubalik the puck in front for the series-clinching goal in Game 4.

The Crow

After missing the first 12 days of the Hawks' Phase 3 training camp after recovering from COVID-19, Crawford progressed into looking like the two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie he is and appears to have plenty of quality hockey left in the tank.

After allowing 13 total goals in the first three games of the series, Crawford played his best contest on Friday, saving 43 of 45 Oilers shots for the win. It definitely looks like he's now in postseason form.

Young guns

The Blackhawks younger players really stepped up in the qualifying round series. After Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach was arguably the most consistently good Hawk.

Dach, 19, was only held off the scoresheet in Game 4 after logging a three-game point streak with four assists to start the series. He became the first Blackhawks rookie to score a point in his first three playoff games since Eddie Olczyk in 1985.

Kubalik, 24, set a new Blackhawks record for rookie points in a playoff game with his five-point performance in Game 1, scoring two power-play goals and picking up three assists. Steve Larmer held the previous record. Larmer had four points (one goal, three assists) in Game 2 of the 1983 Division Finals. Larmer went on to win the Calder Trophy in 1983.

Kubalik also became the first player to record five points in his postseason debut in NHL history. 

Highmore, 24, put the Hawks ahead 2-1 at 7:56 of the first period of Game 4 after tipping in a Duncan Keith shot from in front of the net. It was the second straight game Highmore scored off a deflection. In Game 3, he tied the game 3-3 at 14:13 of the third period, deflecting a shot from defenseman Slater Koekkoek past Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen and setting the table for Toews to complete the 4-3 comeback victory.

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

This AL Central race is going to be fun.

It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.

But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.

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The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.

Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.

“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."

When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.

But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.

Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.

Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.

You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.

RELATED: White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.

“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”

The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.

That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.

“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.

“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.

“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”

RELATED: Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.

But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.

They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.

“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.

“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”


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