Bulls bounce back, blow out Hawks

716470.png

Bulls bounce back, blow out Hawks

ATLANTA A season-long revenge tour for the Bulls resumed Wednesday night at Philips Arena, as the Bulls (41-11) throttled the Hawks (30-22), 98-77, wiping away memories of a humbling January defeat in the same building. The hot hand of Luol Deng (22 points on 8 for 14 shooting with five 3-pointers) led the way, but the Bulls contributions from the entire lineup in bouncing back from a rare home loss at the United Center to the Nuggets Monday night.

Following a mildly disturbing recent trend, the Bulls dug themselves an early hole, allowing the hosts to take a 13-5 advantage, mostly by virtue of forcing turnovers and converting easy fast-break opportunities. Explosive forward Josh Smith (19 points, seven rebounds) was key for the Hawks in the early going, using his athleticism, versatility and underrated offensive prowess to key his squad, while center Zaza Pachulia added additional support.

The visitors would settle down, however, and with All-Star Deng leading the way, made it a close-knit affair. A balanced offensive attack and improved defensive focus allowed Chicago to close within 25-23 at the conclusion of the opening period.

Deng, paired with the Bench Mob, remained the hot hand in the second quarter and drained all three of his attempts from long range in the first half, while also doing an admirable job on Atlantas go-to scorer, fellow All-Star Joe Johnson (12 points). Backup center Omer Asik equipped the Bulls with a presence in the paint and once again, the inimitable John Lucas III (10 points, five assists) provided a spark, reaching double digits in the period with his instant-offense game.

Hawks point guard Jeff Teague was a bright spot for the home team, but the guests continued to pour it on, with contributions from the likes of Joakim Noah (10 points, eight rebounds) and C.J. Watson helping to give them a double-digit lead. At the intermission, the Bulls held both a 54-42 advantage and all the momentum at Philips Arena, which was seemingly split between Windy City loyalists and disappointed Atlanta fans.

After the break, the Hawks stormed back, going on a 10-2 run to make it a four-point game early in the third quarter. Johnson woke up to spark the run, but the Hawks success wouldnt last long, as Carlos Boozer (20 points, nine rebounds) began knocking down his potent mid-range jumper.

Noah started to control the paint on both endsdominating the glass, blocking shots and scoring with his unique offensive gametaking pressure off the hot-shooting Deng, who would then capitalize on open perimeter looks, aiding the Bulls in regaining a double-digit edge. The led further ballooned and with Taj Gibson (19 points on 8 of 12 shooting) coming off the bench to provide energy, Chicago headed into the final stanza equipped with a commanding 76-60 lead.

Gibson maintained his high level of play early in the fourth quarter, blending strong finishes around the rim with mid-range jumpers, while raising the frustration of the opposition as Smith and Johnson delivered hard fouls on him in short succession.

Solid defense and continued execution on the offensive end by the Bulls kept the pressure on Atlanta toward the end of the game, but it was already academic. However, Boozer put the exclamation point on the blowout with a thunderous left-handed slam with under three minutes to go.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

update-1202.jpg
USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

rondo-1202.jpg
USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”