Bulls' comeback bid falls short against Warriors

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Bulls' comeback bid falls short against Warriors

OAKLANDThe curse of Oracle Arena continued for the Bulls (1-1) against the Warriors (1-1) Monday night, as Chicago lost on the road to Golden State for the third consecutive time, 99-91.

Derrick Rose once again struggled in Oakland and the Bulls defense was uncharacteristically poor in the second game of the young season, as they failed to complete an improbable late comeback for the second straight night.

No defense, turned the ball over, put them into the open floor and gave them a lot of confidence early. You cant do that against a team like this, observed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team committed 20 turnovers on the evening.

Well, I think when youre on the road, you have to understand how difficult it is to win on the road, so you prepare yourself by being ready at the start of the game and you have to play defense, and you cant make it easy on them and youve got to take care of the ball. Youve got to eliminate all the ways in which you beat yourself first and then you have to establish your defensive game first. You have to know who you are: defend, rebound, inside-out, share the ball, low turnovers.

A fast-paced start to the contest played to the home teams strengths, as the transition-loving Warriors played at their desired pace. David Lee got the upper hand in his matchup with power-forward counterpart Carlos Boozer, though the Alaska native was able to get a semblance of revenge as the first quarter went on. The visitors successfully got new acquisition Rip Hamilton (10 points, four assists) involved from the outset and the game was a close-knit affair.

Meanwhile, Golden States go-to scorer, Monta Ellis wreaked havoc on the Bulls defense with 13 points in the opening periodgetting buckets in a variety of methods, from posting up the taller Hamilton to fast-break layups and deep jumperspropelling the Warriors to an early advantage. Through one quarter of play, the Bulls trailed, 30-22.

Contributions from reserves Kwame Brown, Brandon Rush and Ekpe Udoh propelled the Warriors, guided by star point guard Stephen Currys stellar floor generalship, to a double-digit winning margin early in the second period. Chicagos vaunted defense failed them and sloppy play reigned on the offensive end, even after Thibodeau reinserted his regulars, as a rash of turnovers compounded matters.

Our defense was bad and theyre a very good pick-and-roll team. We kind of struggled all game keeping them out of the paint. From the start of the game, I thought our defense wasnt there. A team like that, after the first quarter, they got confidence and they played with the lead the whole game, said Luol Deng.

Youve got to play hard and I thought, for some reason, they played harder than us from the start of the game and we cant keep doing that. I know its only two games, but falling behind and fighting back, its never fun and thats not the kind of basketball we want to play. We dont want to get into scrambling and trying to catch up all game. It just takes us out of our game.

After trailing by as much as 19 points, Rose (13 points on 4-for-17 shooting and 1-for-8 from three-point range, eight assists) decided he had enough. Perhaps the shellacking they took on the same court a season ago, in which he committed a career-high nine turnovers, motivated him and began to put his own unique stamp on the game, aided by Hamiltons perimeter marksmanship, in an effort to chip away at the deficit. But continued unforced miscues, lapses in transition on both ends, the smaller Warriors ability to compete on the boards and plain old errant shooting from the Bulls put them in a 57-41 hole at halftime.

Things didnt get much better for the Bulls after the break, as the trio of Lee (22 points, seven rebounds), Curry (21 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, six steals) and Ellis (26 points, seven assists) continued to decimate the guests of raucous Oracle Arena with their scoring prowess. Deng (22 points, 10 rebounds) was one of the few bright spots, but his individual efforts werent enough to counter an overall poor shooting performance, surprising ineffectiveness on defense and a general lack of focus.

Usually, your turnovers are a result of one of two things: either the risky pass or its one-on-one. We had a combination of those two things, said Thibodeau. Ellis and Curry are hard to guard normally, so then, you put them into the open floor and theyre coming at you with a live ball, and then were not back on the raise of the shot, so were not protecting the basket. Youre giving them easy baskets. You give a team like that easy baskets, their confidence goes way up and theyre impossible to stop after that. We cant play like that. We have to play defense, we have to rebound and we have to take care of the ball.

Golden States up-tempo approach and improved defensive intensity were appreciated by their always-supportive fans and the arenas carnival-like atmosphere only grew rowdier as the Warriors maintained their wide winning margin. Thibodeau made adjustments, tinkered with his lineups and went deep into his playbook in an attempt sway the tide, but the Bulls couldnt do anything right in a third quarter that ended with them on the wrong end of a 78-61 score.

Early in the final stanza, Chicagos inadequacy could be summed up by Curry tossing his second half-court alley-oop of the gamethe first, early in the contest was to Lee; swingman Dorell Wright received the secondan occurrence almost never seen against the Bulls, let alone twice in the same contest. Currys blend of scoring and playmaking gave the visitors increasing trouble as the game wore on, but the determined Bulls, as usual, refused to give up hope in what appeared to be a blowout loss in the making.

Thibodeaus troops soldiered on in their usual dogged fashionto counter Golden States small-ball quintet and zone defense, Deng and Rose partnered with reserves Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver (11 points) and C.J. Watson (13 points); the latter, a former Warrior, provided one of his patented scoring bursts in his old stomping grounds.

The Bulls trimmed a 19-point deficit to single digits with under five minutes to play. The action was fast and furious as the game entered its stretch run, but the Bulls made little headway, despite Watsons scoring, Gibsons inspired interior defense and Korvers late three-point barrage, resulting in new Warriors head coach Mark Jacksons first win.

Well, thats their strength, is the way they push and we ended up getting in such a big hole that we felt like we had to try to do something to speed it up the other way, so we could get going a little bit. But youre playing in such a big hole and youre scrambling to get back, said Thibodeau.

We were just searching, to be honest with you. It was a flat game. We had to get some energy into the game and so, we went with the two point guards, Lu had been playing well the whole game and Kyle gives us the three, so we felt we could get it up quickly and maybe make up some ground with the three.

Added Joakim Noah: Weve just got to play better as a team. Its disappointing to lose like this, but weve got to bounce back. Weve got another one in a couple days.

We cant let teams score on us the way that theyve been scoring on us. Theres a lot of improvement to be made, he continued. Its frustrating to lose the way that we lost and theres definitely a lot of things that we need to do better to go to where we want to go.

Thibodeau just said it was expletive and hes right. Were not going to get to where we want to get to playing defense like that and its frustrating. We have to improve, the center, who grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, went on to say.

Theres a lot of areas where we have to improve. Even though we won against the Lakers Sunday, we played well in lapses, but theres definitely areas that we need to get better at to get to where we want to get to.

They scored a lot of points off our turnovers in transition, bad pick-and-roll defense, bad post defense, lack of communicationeverything. Our defense was just bad. It was better at the end.

A dejected Rose appeared to take the loss just as hard.

Defense, defense, defense, he said. Of course, I missed a lot of bunnies tonight, open shots I normally hit, along with some of the other people on the team, but defensively, I think our communication, thats a big thing, but we can always fix it. All these things, we can learn from. If anything, its going to make us a better team.

The biggest thing is how quick we can jell. I think thats everybodys concern right now, he continued. Well play this team again. For sure.

We just dont want one of these nights again, anytime soon. Just learn from it and try to keep it moving. But remember.

Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

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Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

With the controversy behind him and a future that’s envied by virtually every team not in the playoffs, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau embraced his introduction as Minnesota Timberwolves coach as a new beginning.

Of course, the smile was a little wider considering the title he’s also walking into the door with, as President of basketball operations. He’ll be able to create and establish his own culture as basketball czar, with comrade Scott Layden as general manager.

Layden will do the daily, dirty work, but Thibodeau will have final say in basketball matters—a responsibility he craved in this year away from the sidelines, and also evidenced by his partnership with the popular firm Korn Ferry, the firm that helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.

"For me, personally, this is about alignment," Thibodeau said at his introduction. "It's not about power. It's not about any of that stuff. I've known Scott a long time. We've shared philosophies with each other about certain things. He was the person that I really wanted. So I'm glad we had the opportunity to get him."

Like Van Gundy, Thibodeau had a rocky relationship with his previous employer before turning the tables in his next stop to become the all-knowing basketball being.

Scathing comments after his firing last spring from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stung Thibodeau, according to reports, but was offset by Thibodeau thanking Reinsdorf for taking the chance on hiring him, not the ugly, forgettable ending.

“I don’t want to keep going back to Chicago, that’s gone,” he said afterward. “When I look back in totality, there was a lot more good than bad. That’s the way I prefer to view it. The next time you go around, you want to do it better. You analyze different teams, see the synergy between front office and coach and you try to emulate that.”

It’s easy to take the high road when two of the league’s brightest and youngest talents—Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—are in your stead, healthy and ready to bust out.

And it’s easy to take the high road when there’s no barrier between what you want to happen and what will happen inside the building—a tricky proposition, it should be said.

The natural conflict that often exists between a front office and coach—one takes a more immediate view of matters while the other must consider the long-term effects of the franchise as a whole—won’t exist at all with Thibodeau and Layden because the hierarchy is clear.

It’s Thibodeau at the top and everyone and everything must bend to his will, per se. Considering the way he felt about the way things transpired in Chicago, where he reportedly clashed with Gar Forman and John Paxson over myriad issues, no one can be too surprised he followed the model laid out by Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Van Gundy, among others.

And like Van Gundy, Thibodeau has the task of getting the team with the longest conference playoff-less streak back to the land of the living—a feat Van Gundy accomplished this season with the Pistons, his second. The Timberwolves haven’t made the postseason since 2004, when Kevin Garnett won MVP.

It was four years before Garnett and Thibodeau connected in Boston in the 2007-08 season, helping the Celtics end a 22-year titleless drought. It’s Garnett, and players like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah who helped Thibodeau earn this reputation as a master motivator and defensive wizard.

He thanked those players among others, as well as late Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who drafted the likes of Towns and Wiggins with the long-term view of having them develop at their own pace with the likes of veterans like Garnett and Tayshaun Prince there to guide them.

Thibodeau the coach will be there to prod, poke and push the greatness they’re expected to possess, the same way he did with Rose, Noah and Butler to varying degrees.

Thibodeau the coach won’t have much patience for mistakes, but Thibodeau the executive must resist the “trade everybody” emotions many coaches have when players go through down periods.

Having perspective was never one of his strong points, as he squeezed every ounce of productivity from his teams, but perspective must be his greatest ally in his second act in the spotlight.

Taking a long-term approach in a season when it came to minutes and players’ bodies was something he reportedly bristled at—and even if the narrative was somewhat exaggerated, the rap remains on him, unlikely to shake until proven otherwise.

Now he must take a long-term view in everything, and has to deal with the politics that come with being a top executive in the NBA, a task much easier done in fantasy than application.

Perhaps he gained that perspective in 11 months off after being fired from the Bulls, and using the time to gain insight into other franchises operations while watching the Bulls crumble from the inside.

The Bulls got what they wanted with his ouster, and it was a case of “be careful what you wish for”.

Eleven months from now, one wonders if the same mantra will apply to the coach who wanted it all and got it all.

Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

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Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

Pau Gasol has long been expected to opt out of the final deal of his contract with the Bulls this offseason.

And while there was a time when the interest in Gasol returning to the Bulls on a new deal appeared mutual, the liklihood is now that Gasol plays his 16th NBA season in a different uniform.

His brother, Marc Gasol, seems to think so, too.

When Gasol signed with the Bulls in 2014, he was also considering the Spurs, who at the time were the defending champions. Gasol chose Chicago over San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where he was twice named an All-Star and averaged 17.6 points and 11.4 rebounds in 150 games.

But he didn't have the success he expected when he signed. The Bulls were knocked out in the second round last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons this year.

Gasol would make sense with the Spurs, who both tout a long track record with international players and veterans. It would also give him one last shot at earning a third NBA title, something he wasn't able to accomplish in two seasons with the Bulls.

Jimmy Butler 'happy' for Tom Thibodeau, puts blame of season on 'my shoulders'

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Jimmy Butler 'happy' for Tom Thibodeau, puts blame of season on 'my shoulders'

The news about former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau agreeing to terms with the Minnesota Timberwolves to coach and take over its basketball operations had already made its way to Jimmy Butler, who became an all-star under Thibodeau’s watch.

Thibodeau was controversially fired from the Bulls last spring after five seasons, and it took him less than a year to get another job—along with a substantial raise and the power that comes with having final say over personnel.

“I have heard about Thibs, I knew it would come up sooner or later,” said Butler at the grand opening of Bonobos guideshop in downtown Chicago. “I’m happy. I’m happy for that guy. I’m not surprised, not at all. We’ll see what he does over there.”

Butler developed from a late first-round pick in 2012 to a player who received a maximum contract last offseason, and admitted it was tough and demanding to play for the former coach.

“A little bit of both. He knows what he’s doing,” Butler said. “Very smart, he knows the game, he’s a winner, he’ll do whatever it takes to win. I wish him the best of luck. But I’m a Chicago Bull, so we gotta go against those guys.”

Thibodeau will take over a franchise that has arguably the best collection of young talent in the NBA, headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, with pundits already penciling in the Timberwolves to be amongst the living this time next season, in the playoffs.

[MORE: Goodwill joins Pro Basketball Talk podcast to talk Bulls]

Thibodeau led the Bulls to the playoffs in each of his five seasons, but when they fired him and replaced him with Fred Hoiberg, an up-and-down season ensued, leading to the Bulls missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Butler, as he’s done through the season, said the Bulls’ underachieving starts with him.

“I think it starts with myself,” he said. “If I can make this team win, and do whatever it takes every single night, I can take it.”

“I put it on my shoulders, I’m the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. And I’m fine with that. I’m not happy with it but I’m fine with it. Because  it’s only gonna make me stronger, make me better. Moving forward, I have to be able to make us win enough games to be able to make the playoffs.”

Butler’s numbers improved, one year after being named Most Improved Player, and he repeated as an All-Star. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Bulls afloat, as they experienced an eight-game dropoff from last season.

“I feel that way because I wasn’t consistent enough,” Butler said. “I had good games, I had average games, I had decent games and I had some terrible games. I don’t wanna have terrible and decent games. Averages games can get us over the hump but really good ones can help us win.”

Of course, Butler was queried about the ongoing uneasy pairing between himself and Derrick Rose in the Bulls’ backcourt, repeating the two will work out together over the summer to build more on-court chemistry, but playfully dismissed rumors of discord.

“When we lose, it’s always a problem,” Butler said. “You gotta find something to talk about. It’s a great story (but) it has nothing to do with it. Yeah, we’ll work out together, figure out ways to co-exist. I think we did a great job of it this year, yeah we were injured but that wasn’t an excuse. We always have enough to win, and moving forward if we’re healthy, we’re nice.”