Bulls' collective effort holds off East-leading Knicks


Bulls' collective effort holds off East-leading Knicks

In a flashback to the days of the Bench Mob finding improbable ways to win, an even more short-handed Bulls (11-8) team topped the conference-leading Knicks (14-5), 93-85, Saturday night at the United Center.

Led by the a myriad cast of characters playing with heart and selflessness, clutch play and of course, a stout defensive effort, it certainly wasnt pretty, but Bulls held off the best team in the East by exemplifying teamwork, just the way head coach Tom Thibodeau likes it.

A 6-0 Knicks run to start the contestincluding a jumper from former Bull Kurt Thomas, starting in place of the sidelined Carmelo Anthony, alongside another ex-United Center denizen, Ronnie Brewer, at the two forward spots for New Yorkmade it appear as if the hosts simply didnt have enough firepower to keep up with the Eastern Conference leaders.

However, the ever-present rebounding of Joakim Noah (10 points, 11 rebounds) and the three-point shooting of the Kirk Hinrich-Marco Belinelli (22 points, 4-of-6 three-point shooting) backcourt pairing allowed the Bulls to rapidly overtake their guests.

Belinellis outside marksmanship persisted throughout the opening period, but he was countered by the aggressive offensive play of Knicks point guard Raymond Felton (27 points)in the midst of a resurgence now that hes back in New York, after being shipped to Denver in the blockbuster deal for Anthony, then having a nightmare campaign in Portland last seasonand the visitors whittled away at the deficit. New York tied the contest at 23 apiece with seconds remaining in the first quarter after an improbable bank-shot three-pointer by veteran big man Rasheed Wallace, but Belinelli struck again, hitting a buzzer-beater from just beyond halfcourt to give the Bulls a 26-23 advantage at the conclusion of the frame.

Though Belinelli cooled downhow could he not, after scoring 15 first-quarter points?the Knicks did not, as they got contributions from reserves Wallace, sixth-man extraordinaire J.R. Smith (15 points) and sharpshooter Steve Novak, as well as Felton. But the Bulls managed to keep it a close-knit affair, as backup point guard Nate Robinson (14 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds) were sources of point production.

A surprise moment occurred when Taj Gibson, generally a happy-go-lucky, if hard-playing type, was whistled for a foul against Novak, then promptly got hit with two technicals in short succession on the way back to the Bulls bench and was ejected. Still, the hosts held it together as Luol Deng (22 points) came alive offensively toward the end of the half and at the intermission, the Bulls had a 43-41 lead.

After the break, the already short-handed Bulls became even more undermanned when Hinrich didnt start the third quarterRobinson filled in for himdue to a left-elbow injury. Behind forwards Deng and Boozer, however, the hosts soldiered on and played the visitors to a draw midway through the period.

Maybe Brewers presence inspired them, but the Bulls gutted out a gritty collective effort, similar to how the Bench Mob would dig deep in the absence of Derrick Rose or other injured stars over the past two seasons, with reserves Robinson and Jimmy Butler (eight points, seven rebounds) each making positive impacts, along with continued solid contributions from Belinelli, a trio the team doesnt absolutely count on to win games. Despite Feltons blend of scoring and playmaking still hurting them on the defensive end and center Tyson Chandler (14 points, 18 rebounds), the reigning league Defensive Player of the Year, controlling the paint, the Bulls headed into the final stanza ahead, 67-65.

Rookie Marquis Teague, who hasnt received meaningful playing time since prior to the Circus Trip, when he held his own against Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo, had a brief, uneventful stint early in the fourth quarter. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau instead, stuck with his regulars and with Dengs quiet consistency as a clutch scorer, Noah mustering up the energy to make his presence felt late, Robinson, Butler and Belinelli making timely plays and a stout defensive effort forcing the quick-triggered Felton and his teammates into a woeful shooting night, the hosts somehow maintained their slight edge as the contest entered its stretch run.

A Noah layup with 56.1 seconds left made it a three-possession game, 89-82, and although the Knicks furiously attempted to make a comeback attempt, Robinsons ability to make free throws under pressure sealed the deal. Just like in the past, the Bulls collective effort outweighed anything they could have done on an individual basis.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here:

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”