Bulls steal Christmas opener from Lakers

622352.png

Bulls steal Christmas opener from Lakers

LOS ANGELES Who, our guys? Tom Thibodeau wondered quizzically before diverting the focus of the question. It was a brief crack in the ever-impassive at least when dealing with the media, if not on the sidelines Bulls head coachs facade, but his initial response to a question about whether his players panicked while facing a seemingly insurmountable in final minutes of Sundays thrilling 88-87 win over the Lakers revealed his belief in the team.

The Bulls (1-0) delivered upon Thibodeaus faith in them, giving the coach, who dismissed pregame queries about Christmas gifts in a Scrooge-like manner, the only present a basketball lifer could ask for. Reigning league MVP Derrick Roses go-ahead floater with 4.8 seconds remaining in a back-and-forth affair was the difference on the scoreboard, but a key stop against Lakers (0-1) superstar Kobe Bryants attempted game-winner put the cherry on top of a Christmas Day battle for the defensive-minded Bulls.

I feel like we showed a lot of character tonight. Things werent going our way. Offensively, we were getting a lot of calls against us and I feel like we just fought until the end, said center Joakim Noah, who scored the teams first points of the 2011-12 campaign and finished with a game-high nine rebounds, despite battling foul trouble for the entire contest, as well as being one of a swarm of defenders surrounding Bryant on his failed final attempt. Derrick told us with three minutes to go, Weve been in this position before. Just keep fighting. I feel like we didnt play our best basketball, but to just come up and win in this fashion, just says a lot about this team.

Concurred Thibodeau: What I like a lot was the resolve at the end to find a way to win the game. We had a lot of guys dig in and make some hustle plays. Of course, Lu with the big steal and Derrick with the big shot, and some real good team defense on the last play.

Indeed, the resiliency the Bulls displayed throughout their 62-win regular season a year ago returned in the season opener, as an abysmal third quarter shooting the ball and a fourth quarter in which it appeared the home team would expose the visitors as still not having all the answers. However, that was far from the case in the early going, as the Bulls unselfishness and balanced scoring led to 16 first-half assists and three double-figure scorers in Carlos Boozer (15 points, six rebounds), Luol Deng and Rose, who had 10 in the second quarter after a scoreless opening period.

The ball moved great in the first half. We had 16 assists in the first half and then we came out after halftime, and were holding onto it. It was sticking and then were dancing with it, and when we start doing that, were going to struggle to score, explained Thibodeau. Against a good defensive team, if youre holding onto the ball and youre dancing with it, youve got everyone else sitting there, staring at you, so youre not going to get good shots and thats what happened.

The games second stanza was marked by the Bench Mob reprising their role from last season, pushing the tempo and keeping the Bulls in position, although strong first-half efforts from Bryant and fellow All-Star Pau Gasol (14 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots) the Lakers lone proven big man, with usual starting center Andrew Bynum suspended and sixth-man extraordinaire Lamar Odom recently jettisoned to Dallas made it a close-knit affair through the contests intermission. After the break came a ghastly third quarter in which the Bulls shot a horrific 21.7 percent from the floor; the Lakers, while not much better at 38.1 percent, used their own brand of defense Boozer, in particular, struggled to score against Gasols length as the team attempted to run its offense through him, while new acquisition Rip Hamilton couldnt shake free of Bryant, his longtime acquaintance, to accurately launch his vaunted mid-range jumper to gather momentum in the final period and mounted a double-digit lead behind Bryants determined scoring.

The thing about Kobe is the way he does everything just cutting, his pick-and-roll game, catch-and-shoot game, post-up game, isolation game just so many different aspects of his game that you have to really gear your team toward helping, observed Thibodeau about the Lakers guard, who dealt with an injured wrist, as well as lingering dissatisfaction over the Odom trade and his own personal, yet publicized marital issues. What that often does is it pulls you off bodies, and then when the ball is shot, youre scrambling to get back and if you dont finish to get back, youre going to get hurt with the second shot.

Chimed in Deng: With Kobe, on the iso, I really try to crowd him and send him to the defense, whatever side the help was.

He made a couple tough shots on the baseline, spinning, but thats expected.

"Shots like that are what we want.

Against all odds, facing one of the games premier closers in Bryant and with star-studded crowd featuring the likes of music artists Lil Wayne and Chicago native Kanye West watching breathlessly, the Bulls fought back during the games stretch run. Deng, the longest-tenured Bull, made play after play a traditional three-point play after a driving layup, followed by a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game with 20.4 seconds left in the clutch on both ends, including stellar defense on Bryant.

Lu you know how Lu is hes going to keep it simple, do what he has to do: play defense, rebound the ball, push it, play smart, lauded Rose, who scored a team-high 22 points, to go along with five assists, though he matched that total in turnovers. His I.Q. of the game is very high and thats what I like about him.

After Dengs free throws, the Bulls trapped Bryant (game-high 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and uncharacteristically, the future Hall of Famer turned the ball over, throwing a pass that Deng stole. The ball would end up in Roses hands and the All-Star point guard made yet another play that will be part of his budding legend and highlight reel of his young career.

I think it was a great call by Coach Thibs to trap him. We didnt go for the foul; we trapped him to get it out of his hands. We went for the first trap, and he did exactly what we wanted. It was just a great, great plan by Coach, Deng, who scored 21 points, snatched seven rebounds, swiped four steals and dished out three assists, recounted. When I got the steal and I dribbled down the side, and my mindset was just looking for Derrick, and I jumped up and he got open at the last second and I just let it go. But as soon as I got the steal, I just wanted to find him.

Said Thibodeau: Its one big shot after the next and its been that way certainly all last year and at the start of this year.

"Hes something."

Rose himself downplayed the shot.

It was really a floater. Thats something that Im just used to doing if Im going to my right hand and they let me get to my right hand, explained Rose, who said he suffered no aftereffects from the nasty knock to the head he took earlier in the contest, briefly rendering him motionless. If it wasnt for my teammates by making the steal, getting the ball to me at the end theres no way I would have got that shot off and us winning this game.

Bryant and the Lakers had one more chance to hold off the visitors, but with 4.8 seconds left and Deng defending Bryant, the man known for his heroics in pressure situations was forced into a swarm of Bulls, including Noah, and couldnt convert.

I trust our defense. I trust our bigs. I wanted to crowd him so he didnt have the jump shot and if he drove, I knew our bigs were going to be there and thats exactly what happened, said Deng. I really have a lot of confidence in our defense. No matter who it is in the league, I just feel like Im confident enough, whoever Im guarding, to know that my guys are right behind me and we did a good job down the stretch, just talking. As a defender, that gives me a lot of confidence, knowing that my guys behind me are alert.

I think everyone knows by now, we play hard. We play hard, we play together and we stick with it, whether were down 30 or down two, were always going to play until the end.

Concurred Rose: We showed fight. We definitely dont want to be in a position like that, but we fought our way back.

We just played harder. We stepped up our intensity on the defensive end, he continued. I told them that weve been in this situation before. Theyre a new team, they have new players, a new system. I said that they hadnt been in that circumstance yet and weve been there. Thank God that we got a couple of steals, a great couple of plays and we won the game.

Im not complaining. Im not complaining at all, as you can see. We got the win, weve got another game Monday and weve got to take it from there.

Doug McDermott to return for Bulls against Spurs after missing 11 games with concussion

Doug McDermott to return for Bulls against Spurs after missing 11 games with concussion

After a couple weeks of woozy moments, confusing car rides and 11 games of inactivity due to suffering a concussion Bulls forward Doug McDermott will return to action tonight against the San Antonio Spurs.

McDermott took a hard fall Nov. 12 against the Washington Wizards while going up for a dunk, hitting his head on the unforgiving floor of the United Center and had to go through the concussion protocol before finally being cleared. It was his second concussion this season, with the first coming on Halloween.

“Good, great, it’s been a long couple weeks, but finally feel good to be able to go out there and compete, so I’m excited,” McDermott said after morning shootaround at the Advocate Center.

The last couple of days after being cleared for contact, he practiced with the Bulls’ D-League team in the attempt to get some rhythm and most importantly, some conditioning after being out for so long.

He was in great spirits Thursday, a sharp contrast to the initial days after the concussion where the simplest tasks became herculean.

“The first week-and-a-half was tough sleeping-wise, just weird symptoms you don’t even realize,” McDermott said. “Just being in cars, going to my appointments was tough at times, some headaches throughout the week. But with a concussion you just have to be true to yourself and true to the doctors. You don’t want to lie about things because it can only make things worse. I’m finally to the point where I’m feeling better.”

McDermott said going to physical therapy or riding on the freeway would trigger vertigo in the first week, but luckily for him, it didn’t last much longer after that. The first concussion of his career took him to different place mentally, and he leaned on Celtics big man Al Horford during that time of confusion and frustration.

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Horford missed a number of games with a concussion he suffered early in the season.

“Talked to him for about 30 minutes,” McDermott said. “He was in the middle of his and I had my second one. We talked about our symptoms and he really took his time and you see his game has been really good since he came back.”

“We're really the only two guys who've had it this year. People don't really understand, it's a tough deal. Basketball can be physical. You see it a lot in football. You gotta be true to yourself, true to your doctors because you don't wanna mess around.”

With the second concussion taking place 13 days after the first, McDermott and the Bulls had to be a lot more careful the next time around. Having one is scary enough but the fall he took in the United Center probably ignited a fear in him that he didn’t know existed.

“Yeah, you have to just listen to your symptoms, but I think with the second one in such a short period of time they wanted to be cautious too, and I did too,” McDermott said. “It’s not like an ankle sprain or a knee deal where you can play through things like that. It’s your brain, so you want to be as sharp as possible.”

The Bulls need any type of reinforcement they can get, especially for the struggling bench. McDermott feels like he can add some confidence or at least put other guys in a more natural order, although that remains to be seen as Nikola Mirotic and Isaiah Canaan have really struggled in his absence — all season, it seems.

“I think we'll get our swagger back too. We've had some injuries,” McDermott said. “Once we get myself and Michael (Carter-Williams) back, we've been rotating guys that aren't used to playing with each other. Once we get some continuity there with that group, things will get better. Adding a shooter like me, it'll take pressure off Niko, take pressure off Isaiah to hit shots. Just having 3 floor spacers out there will really help all of us.”

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Spurs tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com, the only place where you can get the hometown call from Neil and Stacey.

Coverage begins at 8 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Attempting to end perfection. The Spurs have been absolutely electric outside of San Antonio this season, winning each of their first 13 road games to begin the year. That's the second longest streak in NBA history, and the Bulls have actually lost two of three at home. The Bulls will be home underdogs as the Spurs look to make it 14 in a row. The good news is the Bulls have defeated the Spurs at home each of the last two seasons.

2. Battle of the two-way studs. There's a real argument to be made that Thursday's matchup will tout the two best two-way players in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is having his best offensive season to date, averaging 24.5 points on 46 percent shooting, 1.9 triples, and averaging nearly 91 percent from the free-throw line. Expect Jimmy Butler and Leonard to be on each other's rear most of the night in what should be one of the most fun 1-on-1 matchups in the NBA.

3. Questions at the point. For the Spurs, Tony Parker is questionable to play with a knee injury. If he can't go, it would be Nico Laprovittola and Patty Mills running the point. For the Bulls, Rajon Rondo is coming off a pair of ugly performances in Bulls' losses to the Mavericks and Pistons (and his suspension against the Blazers). Someone needs to step up at the point, and it could decide Thursday night's winner.

4. Pau returns to the UC. Though it didn't result in much success, Pau Gasol enjoyed two highly successful seasons in Chicago. The stat-stuffer was named an All-Star in both seasons, averaging 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games. He's now in San Antonio, filling Tim Duncan's role in the starting lineup. And though his numvers are down from a year ago, he's still capable of putting up numbers, especially against a Bulls' interior that has struggled of late.

5. Getting Doug McDermott back. Dougie McBuckets has been activated to the Bulls roster, and not a moment too soon. Since McDermott suffered a concussion on Nov. 12, the Bulls bench ranks 26th in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and 30th in 3-point field-goal percentage (23.5 percent). Getting McDermott back, even in a small role as he gets his legs under him, will be a major factor against a Spurs team whose offense continues to heat up in December.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Bulls fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Bulls Pulse