Watch as the Bulls square off against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.
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FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1. What happens when the 3s stop falling? OK, perhaps the Bulls will be a better 3-point shooting team than we originally expected, though one game is not a large enough sample size to come to that conclusion. The real question is what happens when the triples stop going in. The Bulls were able to sneak by the Celtics thanks to their barrage of makes from downtown, but they also shot just 37 percent on 2-point field goal attempts. They'll need to be much more efficient to counter a high-powered Pacers offense.
2. A re-do for Rondo: In his first game with the Bulls, Rajon Rondo came out on fire, tallying five assists in the first quarter to help his team to a 30-point stanza. But he was largely ineffective the remainder of the game, going just 1-for-9 and struggling to contain Isaiah Thomas (25 points on 10-for-15 shooting). An uptempo game like the one he'll play in against the Pacers is right up his alley, so expect him to bounce back with a double-digit assist game.
3. Who guards Paul George if Jimmy Butler needs a breather? It's a safe bet that Jimmy Butler will be locked on to Paul George for most of the night. But if Butler gets into foul trouble or needs a breather at some point, the Bulls will need to find a second defender to shut down the Pacers' top performer. With Tony Snell out of the picture, that player could be Dwyane Wade, or even Denzel Valentine (who didn't see the court Thursday).
4. Can the bigs continue to stay that way? Lost in Wade's late-game heroics was the fantastic performance from the Bulls' big men. Chicago outrebounded a good Celtics team by 19, with Robin Lopez (eight rebounds), Taj Gibson (10) and Nikola Mirotic (9) all contributing. They'll safe a stiff test in sophomore center Myles Turner and new face Thaddeus Young on the interior, providing another good test for Fred Hoiberg's frontcourt. It could be the difference in the game.
5. What will D-Wade do for an encore? The hometown kid had a rousing performance in his debut with the Bulls, going for 22 points, six rebounds and five assists. It's Jimmy Butler's team, and Rondo will initiate the offense, but Wade seemed to make the Bulls' offense hum. He also played some point with the second unit. He'd love to parlay his performance Thursday into another good one against a division rival and likely playoff team.
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Anytime Nikola Mirotic is on an island defensively in a crucial moment of a game, there’s a general sense of nervousness and doubt that’s palpable inside the United Center.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when Mirotic defended Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown well enough to force a travel in the final minute of the Bulls’ 105-99 win Thursday night.
With the Celtics down two, Brown started his drive from the top of the key and pivoted back to his right. When he rose up for a jumper or pass, Mirotic was right in his face and Brown, a talented rookie playing in his second NBA game, didn’t know where to go.
He came back down with the ball still in his hands for a traveling violation, and the stage was set for Dwyane Wade’s closing heroics.
Wade, the closer was set up by Mirotic, the stopper—well, let’s not go that far just yet.
“I tried just to play good defense, to make him drive the ball because we want him to shoot a contested shot,” Mirotic said. “It was big-time defense. We needed that one. After that, Dwyane Wade has huge stop and made that 3. It’s a team job, team defense. I was just trying to be a part of that. I’m very happy about the game.”
In all fairness, Brown is a rookie and the Bulls would rather not see Mirotic in a one-on-one situation late in games defensively. But it appears as if Fred Hoiberg will give him the opportunities to close games so Mirotic will find himself in instances where he’ll have to make plays on both ends.
Hoiberg called it the defensive play of the game, and agreed with the assessment of Mirotic being an underrated defensive rebounder despite his struggles on that end of the floor.
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“It just goes to show you even when your shot isn’t falling, you can still have a positive impact,” Hoiberg said. “I loved his attack. He was getting in the paint and got some offensive rebound tip-ins as well so just overall solid game.”
Although Hoiberg had to make the decision to insert Taj Gibson as a starter at power forward over Mirotic, it’s not hard to see scenarios like Thursday where both are together to close games—Mirotic will be needed to spread the floor for Wade and Jimmy Butler to create shots in one-on-one situations.
Mirotic missed five of his six 3-point shots but was flawless inside the line, scoring 15 with nine rebounds.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel very comfortable with my 3-point shot,” said Mirotic, although Hoiberg said Mirotic’s attempts were good looks. “I tried to find a way to score, make an impact on the game---rebound the ball, play unselfish. My goal was to play good defense because I know that’s the next step.”
Getting over the idea of losing a starting job many believed would’ve been his given the composition of the roster seems to be behind Mirotic, who was a starter last season before acute appendicitis forced him out of action before the All-Star break.
“It doesn’t feel right to be honest. But no disappointment. It is what it is,” Mirotic said. “I want to not think and be focused and play my game. Now that I come from the bench, it’s like, ‘All right, figure out how you’re going to do that, how you’re going to help your team and play well.’”
Gibson and Mirotic were the only Bulls to shoot over 50 percent, as Gibson’s strong preseason play carried over to the opener. Make no mistake, if the Bulls are to exceed modest expectations, Mirotic will have to step up, as his production is no longer a luxury.
“It’s going to be a long season. But I told Fred it’s no problem,” Mirotic said. “I respect your decision. Taj is an amazing player. He’s playing so good. He’s in great shape. He deserves to be the starter. He has played a lot of years here. So I respect that. I’m cool with that. What I want to do is play my game, improve this year, make my team win more games. That’s all I can do.”