Randolph, Grizzlies halt Bulls' overtime streak

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Randolph, Grizzlies halt Bulls' overtime streak

Watching the Bulls (23-16) play these days isnt for the faint of heart.
After game-winning shots to win the two overtime games on their recent road trip, including Friday nights thriller in Boston, Saturday evening they returned to Chicago to host the Grizzlies (26-13) and in a battle between two defensive-oriented teams, the Bulls played their third consecutive contest featuring an extra session, falling 85-82, in a wild affair featured had another heart-racing finish, as well as Joakim Noah on the bench for nearly the final 23 minutes.
Playing without sideline leading scorer Luol Deng the small forward was out with a right-hamstring injury, aggravated in last night's win the hosts got out of the gates with a flourish, as Carlos Boozer (17 points, 14 rebounds) opened the games scoring, before Noah (10 points) put on a personal showcase.
The versatile center led a fast break, dishing to Rip Hamilton for a transition layup, then throwing down a pair of dunksincluding one, off an assist from Jimmy Butler (18 points, eight rebounds), who started in Dengs place, over Memphis power forward Zach Randolph (13 points, 19 rebounds), who was a game-time decision with a back injuryand hitting a face-up jumper.
Boozer scored the next two baskets for the Bulls, who saw all five startersincluding Kirk Hinrich, who left the game with two early foulsrack up assists in the early going, but the Grizzlies hung tough, mostly due to the solid play of underrated floor general Mike Conley, Jr. (13 points, nine assists).
More: Don't take Noah's benching out of proportion
But the Bulls maintained their slight cushion, as Noah made all five of his shot attempts, adding in one more dunk for good measurein an opening period that certainly justified his All-Star consideration, playing against one of the Western Conferences top centers in Marc Gasol (19 points, eight rebounds)to help the hosts have a 22-18 lead after a quarter of play.
Early in the second frame, the Bulls most recent acquisition, sharpshooter Daequan Cook saw his most meaningful action since arriving in Chicago, replacing Butler at small forward and while he didnt do anything noteworthy upon entering the contest, it did demonstrate that notoriously demanding Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had at least a semblance of confidence in his ability or at least was willing to see what the Ohio native was capable of.
However, the Bulls had their hands full with Grizzlies reserve forwards Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights, despite Boozers continued scoring efforts after he was reinserted into the contest.
Memphis momentum persisted as the period continued and as Rudy Gay got goingwithout Deng to defend himthe visitors went on a 13-0 run over nearly five minutes of action to not only take the lead, but completely seize control of the game.
A Hamilton jumper ended the spurt, but the Grizzlies post tandem of Randolph and Gasol seemingly wore down the once energetic Bulls, who faced a double-digit deficit, 44-34, at the intermission.
After the break, things didnt get much better for the hosts, as Memphis similarly-stingy defense held the Bulls offense in check for the early portion of the third quarter.
While the Grizzlies werent vastly better scoring the ball, the energy of Chicago native and defensive specialist Tony Allen gave them some life and the visitors managed shoot a better, if not spectacular, percentage from the floor to maintain their comfortable winning margin on the road, silencing the home crowd.
Buoyed by the energetic play of reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, 12 rebounds), the Bulls loyalists got back into the game and although the home team didnt make significant headway, it became a more competitive affair as the period waned on.
Still, in the same week that the Bulls held their previous visitor, Atlanta, to a historic 58-point outingthe Grizzlies held them to a season-low 71 last monththey headed into the final stanza risking setting an ignominious mark of their own, as they trailed, 60-47.
Propelled by the play of a lineup composed of Boozer and second-unit mainstays, including Butler, whose uncanny knack for offensive rebounds was impressive for his sizeit was needed, as Noah, the teams top rebounder, didnt play again after the midway point of the third quarterthe Bulls chipped into the deficit and made it a single-digit contest early in the fourth quarter, scoring the first six points of the frame.
It remained a competitive affair, as the frontcourt trio of Boozer, Butler and Gibson making their presences felt on the interiorthe athleticism of the latter two, in particular, gave the visitors problemsand backup point guard Nate Robinson (11 points, five assists) running the show and leading the squads transition attack, the contest evolved into a two-possession affair midway through the period.
More: Butler impresses in first career start
A Marco Belinelli triple with 4:08 remaining made it a one-point game, 69-68, in the Grizzlies favor, and after a Randolph miss on the subsequent Memphis possession, Butlerwho played a Deng-like minute totalwas fouled on the Bulls next trip and knocked down a pair of attempts from the charity stripe to give the hosts their first lead since the second quarter to conclude an 11-0 spurt.
As the game entered its stretch run, a Robinson bank shot from deep with 1:33 to play gave the Bulls a 75-72 advantage, but four consecutive points by Gasola pair of free throws and a traditional bucket from in the paintgave Memphis a 76-75 lead with 34.1 seconds to play.
Belinelli drove to the bucket and was fouled with 31.4 seconds left and split a pair to tie the contest and after Randolph missed a jumper on Memphis trip downcourt, the Bulls secured the rebound, but following a timeout with 2.4 seconds on the clock, Robinsons attempt to win it at the buzzer was off the mark, leading to the home teams third straight overtime affair.
Memphis struck first in the extra session, scoring the periods first six points via the familiar duo of Randolph and Gasol.
Just when it appeared that the Bulls had run out of gas, Belinelli made a layup with 1:32 remaining, re-energizing the dormant crowd, and after Randolph split a pair of free throws on the Grizzlies next trip, a Butler fast-break layup made it a one-possession affair, 83-80, in favor of the guests.
Randolph was fouled with 39.1 seconds leftdisqualifying Gibson; backup center Nazr Mohammed, not Noah, replaced himbut he missed both foul shots, prompting a Bulls timeout.
A wild sequence ensued when play resumed, as Robinson was stripped going to the basket, but Butler hustled back on defense to take the ball back for the Bulls and after Boozer rebounded an errant Robinson long ball, Belinelli stepped on the sideline, giving the ball back to the Grizzlies with 12.2 seconds on the clock.
After a timeout, however, Memphis was whistled for a five-second violation on the inbounds pass, giving the Bulls another opportunity and after Robinson drove for an uncontested layup, Grizzlies backup Jerryd Bayless leaked out for a layup of his own, making it 85-82.
Still, the Bulls had a final chance, but after Robinsons game-tying attempt was blocked, the ball ended up in Boozers hands, but the big mans corner three-pointer fell short, as did the team.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”