Belinelli leads Bulls to thrilling win

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Belinelli leads Bulls to thrilling win

BOSTON-As with seemingly every matchup between these two teams in recent memory, Friday evening's matchup between the Bulls (23-15) and Celtics (20-19) was a physical, nip-and-tuck and dramatic affair almost all the way through.

In a game that saw Luol Deng go down with an injury in the third quarter, three players foul out and the Bulls permit the Celtics send the contest into an extra session after leading from nearly wire to wire, backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli was the unlikely hero, as he hit an off-balance jumper with 3.1 seconds left in overtime to give the visitors a 100-99 victory at the TD BankNorth Garden, a day after New England native and former Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau's 55th birthday.

Carlos Boozer's (19 points, 20 rebounds) remarkable play during the month of January carried over, as the power forward, coming off his best point total in a Bulls uniform during the team's previous outing, Wednesday night's overtime win in Toronto, was effective on the interior as a scorer and rebounder, knocking down his first four shot attempts from the field.

Fellow veteran Rip Hamilton (20 points) also got off to a solid start, helping the Bulls acquire some early breathing room, though the Celtics narrowed the gap, cutting the deficit from double digits to a more manageable margin, mostly due to the visitors' ball-security issues.

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (30 points), named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter Thursday evening, was the main catalyst for the hosts, who went on a 10-2 run to make the contest a close-knit affair as the opening period waned on.

Propelled by Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 rebounds), the Bulls regained their composure late in the frame, however, and despite committing eight turnovers-Boston had six miscues of its own-they held a 23-19 advantage through a quarter of play.

The guests held on to their tenuous lead early in the second quarter, though the Celtics remained on their heels into what had evolved into a defensive-minded contest, as offense was hard to come by.

But the Bulls stayed afloat, as the contributions of Boozer and various second-unit players, such as ex-Celtics point guard Nate Robinson (11 points)-Noah and Deng, after playing the entire first quarter and beginning of the second, both rested; the latter was a game-time decision after injuring his right hamstring Wednesday-were enough to keep Boston at bay for the time being.

That changed, though, as the rebounding of rookie Jared Sullinger (15 rebounds) and more significantly, Rondo's playmaking and ability to get into the paint or transition for layups, as well as keep the defense honest with his willingness to take his much-improved mid-range jumper, allowed the Celtics to again decrease the separation between the two teams.

At the intermission, the Bulls still managed to cling to a 45-39 lead, behind Boozer's continued play and the timely efforts of Robinson, whose fearless, aggressive nature, despite questionable shot selection, was a boon for the visitors.

After the break, Boston's backcourt of Rondo and Leandro Barbosa-starting in place of injured starter Avery Bradley-led the way for the hosts, who were countered by the Bulls' offensive balance, starting with Hamilton and Boozer.

Besides Rondo, Brandon Bass was also effective for the Celtics, as the starting power forward's mid-range game and ability to finish above the rim were another reason why the game remained tight.

Noah made his presence felt with quietly solid interior play, including stifling defense on Boston counterpart Kevin Garnett (16 points), an All-Star starter, as well as his typical effort on the glass, as both the Bulls center and Boozer, his low-post partner, notched double-doubles.

Hamilton , who exceeded his usual minute limitations, shouldered much of the offensive load as the third quarter waned on, but hings took a turn for the worse for the visitors when Deng had to exit the contest-the small forward, who was largely dormant throughout the night, strained his right hamstring upon pulling up lame on a transition layup attempt with 1:56 to go in the period-but they managed to head into the final stanza ahead, 68-62.

Without Deng in the lineup, the Bulls relied on Robinson to manufacture offense and the Celtics, buoyed by Rondo and Sullinger, who was a force on the boards, continued to challenge their guests.

Boston gradually made their push and at the 7:03 mark of the period, the game was tied at 74 apiece on a Rondo layup, prompting the contest to go into back-and-forth mode for the next few minutes, before Rondo, who reached a season-high point total on the evening, gave the Celtics their first lead of the night, 80-79, on a free throw.

Heading into the stretch run, the tension in the game was thick-symbolized by Noah and Garnett, two players with no love lost, getting tangled up and being whistled for double technical fouls with 2:20 remaining-as neither team would give an inch and scoring was hard to come by.

With 36.6 seconds left, Rondo knocked down an open pull-up jumper to give the Celtics an 86-84 lead, prompting a Bulls timeout, after which Boozer was fouled on a drive with 22.5 seconds to go, splitting a pair of attempts from the charity stripe to make it a one-point game.

Following a Boston timeout, Garnett was fouled with 20.1 seconds on the clock; Kirk Hinrich was fouled on the subsequent trip and also made one of two foul shots, putting the Bulls in an 88-86 hole with 12.1 seconds remaining and no timeouts, though the Celtics called one at that point, giving the visitors a chance to strategize.

Remarkably, with 9.4 seconds left, Noah tied up Paul Pierce (13 points) after Boston inbounded the ball and after the Bulls secured the jump ball, Hinrich knocked down a jumper with two seconds to go, tying the game at 88 all.

The Celtics had a final opportunity, but Garnett's deep fadeaway was off the mark, leading the game to head into an extra session, the Bulls' second in as many games.

As one might expect, overtime didn't start out as a scoring bonanza and with both teams initially struggling to produce points in the tightly-officiated contest, the importance of every basket was magnified.

For the Bulls, an unexpected source of offense, Jimmy Butler, who replaced Deng after the starter's injury, scored six consecutive points, including two crucial finishes at the rim and then, a pair of free throws-the second-year wing tripped by Rondo, who was disqualified on a loose-ball foul-to give the Bulls a three-point lead, 96-93, with 1:16 remaining.

But a Garnett jumper with 1:08 to play made it a one-point contest again, prompting a Bulls timeout on the subsequent possession, with 59.6 seconds left.

On the next two trips, the teams exchanged player disqualifications-Sullinger and Hinrich both fouled out, with reserve Belinelli and Pierce going to the line-and free throws and after a fruitless Bulls possession that saw Belinelli threw up a wild attempt, the Celtics came away with the rebound, called timeout and with 20.6 seconds to go, had another opportunity to overtake their guests.

Boston sixth man Jason Terry knocked down a mid-range jumper with 12.5 seconds remaining, giving the hosts a 99-98 lead and after a Bulls timeout, the visitors had a dishelveled possession, ultimately resulting in an improbable Belinelli game-winning fadeaway.

The Celtics' Courtney Lee got off a final attempt, but it harmlessly grazed off the backboard, allowing the Bulls to escape with a victory and in a silenced arena, Belinelli, the night's hero, being mobbed by his teammates at midcourt.

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

Jimmy Butler didn't come close to following in his trainer's footsteps, but Mr. G. Buckets Unplugged still proved enlightening.

Following a wild Thursday, Butler hopped on the phone Friday afternoon from Paris to chat with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about the deal that sent the former face of the Bulls to rejoin Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Butler wanted to be labeled as the face of the franchise, but his comments seem to reflect the old adage "be careful what you wish for."

"It doesn't mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn't as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That's all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I'm trying to do.

"Whatever they want to call me... face... I don't even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I've learned? Face of the team, eventually, you're going to see the back of his head as he's leaving town, so no thanks."

Whoa.

Butler also spoke about trying to block out all the trade rumors while on vacation in France:

"I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it. 

"It's crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can't get mad at anybody. I'm not mad - I'm not. I just don't like the way some things were handled, but it's OK."

Butler doesn't have to be the sole face of the franchise in Minnesota on a team that has two of the top homegrown young stars in the game in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.