'Booz' Cruise: Bulls get their revenge on Thunder


'Booz' Cruise: Bulls get their revenge on Thunder

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
Updated at 11:50 PM

By Aggrey Sam

Payback is, well, payback is a dish best served cold, as in the Windy City's weather.

After falling in Oklahoma City for both teams' season opener, the Bulls (11-8) avenged the defeat in Monday night's rematch at the United Center, triumphing, 99-90 over the Thunder (14-8).

Spurred by Carlos Boozer's growing comfort level in the offense, Derrick Rose's playmaking ability in an atypical scoring outing for the burgeoning superstar and strong efforts defensively and on the glass, Chicago used a stellar third-quarter performance to break open a close game.

In the early going, the Bulls made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to Boozer (29 points, 12 rebounds), who responded with Chicago's first two baskets. For the visitors, it wasn't Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green or even former Bull Thabo Sefolosha who did the early damage, but center Nenad Kristic, who scored eight of the Thunder's first 10 points.

An unexpected early contribution from light-scoring shooting guard Keith Bogans was a boon, although early foul trouble for Joakim Noah (six points, 12 rebounds before fouling out in only 21 minutes) put a slight damper on things. The game remained a neck-and-neck affair throughout the first quarter, with the Bulls ending things with a 24-22 lead.

The contest remained as tight as stretch jeans in the early portion of the second period, with reserve swingmen Ronnie Brewer and Oklahoma City's James Harden providing sparks for their respective teams with their slashing ability. Buoyed by the shooting of Kyle Korver (13 points) and the all-around scoring of Luol Deng (19 points, eight rebounds, four assists), the Bulls edged past the Thunder, building a nice cushion.

Instead of closing out the half with a double-figure advantage, however, Chicago permitted their guests to make a late push. The Bulls took a 53-48 lead into intermission.

The combination of Boozer and Bogans started the second half in strong fashion for the Bulls, as the duo's early third-quarter spurt pushed Chicago's lead into double digits. Rose's (11 points, nine assists) playmaking and distribution skills were on full display - Boozer was the primary beneficiary - as the All-Star's unselfishness permitted his teammates to get easy scoring opportunities, despite an off night shooting the ball in his point-guard battle with close friend Westbrook (15 points, seven assists).

"I think I played decent. One of the best scorers -- he averages 24 points -- he had 15 tonight; that's 'West' Westbrook. Just making sure that every shot that he had, making sure that somebody was in front of him or I was contesting all of them," said Rose. "I knew it was going to be a rough night after a couple of shots. My teammates came through and were hitting shots. When I was passing them the ball, they didn't hesitate. They were shooting, driving or making plays for others."

"The way he's playing right now -- attacking, going to the line, getting fouled -- he's playing the way he usually plays," continued Rose about his main target on the evening, Boozer. "He makes the game easy. I've just got to pass it to him. He's going to find a way to score or get fouled. That's what we need right now on this team, somebody in the post or somebody down low that can really score, and that's him."

Added Thibodeau: "I just mentioned it to Derrick. I thought he didn't have a particularly good shooting night, but I thought he played well. I thought he ran the team extremely well."

With Boozer's offensive game rolling, an active defense (reserve Taj Gibson, in Noah's absence, was key in this aspect) befuddling Oklahoma City and the team's rebounding advantage over Oklahoma City still intact even with Noah sitting with four fouls -- not to mention Thunder head coach Scott Brooks surprisingly benching starting forwards Durant (29 points, five rebounds) and Green for an extended stretch -- the Bulls cruised through the period. Following a precisely-measured Rose buzzer-beater from just inside halfcourt, Chicago led, 82-66, heading into the fourth quarter.

"The biggest thing people always tell me 'I remember Ben Gordon told me this'" he said, "In clutch situations like that, always try to aim for the backboard," said Rose. "I just thought about it at that point. I just aimed for it and it went in."

Neither team was particularly sharp to start the final period, as turnovers and fouls -- including Noah's fifth -- seemingly plagued every other possession. But while the Bulls had room to spare a few offensive lapses, their defense maintained its strong play, resulting in inefficient and unsuccessful Oklahoma City possessions, despite Green and Durant, the league's reigning scoring champ, being back in the contest.

Chicago prevented the Thunder from cutting their deficit down the stretch by virtue of mostly intelligent offensive possessions and a refusal to relax defensively. Toward the end, the biggest drama for fans was whether the Bulls would reach 100 points -- therefore, earning free Big Macs -- and although favorite son Rose couldn't pull off the feat, he'll likely remain in their good stead.

"It means a lot, knowing that we beat a team that's over .500, especially a team like this that's young, athletic. They usually give teams a lot of problems, especially on the inside and in transition," said Rose. "We stuck together as a team and a lot of people came out on fire tonight. Kyle gave us a boost and Ronnie, and of course, 'Booz.' We need to come out and play like that every night."

An addendum: Payback tastes best with a little 'Booz' to wash it down.

"We want to be an inside-out team and I think it's important. I think you can see what Carlos brings to the team," said Thibodeau. "He's such a threat in every aspect, from transition to pick-and-roll to even catch-and-shoot. He has the ability to find open seams and I thought our guys did a great job in searching him out."

"I think what's really good about it is all his shots come in the rhythm of the game, which is great. We can slow it down and throw it in the post if we have to, which is a thing we hadn't had before. The best is definitely yet to come because we still have a lot of work to do," chimed in Noah.

The man himself weighed in on his big night.

"I'm getting my legs back and my timing, and I feel like I'm getting better every day with our offense, with our defensive sets and I'm getting in a good rhythm," he said. "But I'm not satisfied; I'm hungry. I want more out of this. I'm not where I want to be at.

"The more easy buckets you get, it opens it up for everybody. Our whole mindset is to get as many easy buckets in transition, get layups because once you get layups, they start crowding the paint and it opens it up for our jump shooters. We've got Kyle Korver, the best shooter in the NBA from the three. We've got Luol Deng, one of the most versatile shooters. We've got guys that can hit shots, so our focus is to try to get layups and make them suck in to get open shots to everybody else.

"We're not a team that's satisfied easy. We've got big goals and we've got big aspirations, so we continue to have the mindset of trying to get better every day."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

5 Things to watch: Bulls open season against Celtics

5 Things to watch: Bulls open season against Celtics

The Bulls kick off their 2016-17 season Thursday night against the Celtics.

We'll have end-to-end coverage all season long. Make sure you're following these accounts for all the information you'll need: @vgoodwill, @MarkSchanowski, @markstrot, @ChuckGarfien, @CSNBulls.

Here are five things to watch for tonight. And don't forget to tune in to CSN on Saturday night as the Bulls host Paul George and Indiana Pacers.

1. The Three Alphas debut

Each of the Bulls' starting guards had their moments during the preseason, but it's admittedly tough to get a read on how well they'll perform when the games mean something. While it won't be entirely fair to judge them on one game - especially against a stellar defensive team in Boston - how the three players interchange with each other will say plenty. Watch for the way they share the basketball, who initiates the offense and, when one gets hot, if the other two don't mind taking a backseat for a handful of possessions.

2. Who takes the reins at power forward?

Fred Hoiberg said that Taj Gibson will get the start against the Celtics, and it's well deserved after his impressive preseason. Gibson is as rock solid and consistent on both ends as they come, but the reality is if the Bulls are going to be successful this year one of Nikola Mirotic or Bobby Portis will need to make a jump forward. The Celtics deploy postman Amir Johnson and stretch forward Jonas Jerebko at the 4, so Brad Stevens will give the Bulls multiple looks that they'll need to counter with the combination of Gibson/Mirotic/Portis.

3. Running of the Bulls

The Bulls are naturally going to push pace with a great initiator in Rondo and two excellent finishers in Butler and Wade. The Celtics played at home against the Nets last night, and four days into the season they're already playing their first back-to-back. It will be interesting to see if Hoiberg and the Bulls put an emphasis on pushing pace against a Celtics team that played 24 hours earlier.

4. How much will Denzel Valentine play?

The Bulls' rookie really only has one real practice under his belt, but he says he feels good enough that he'll suit up Thursday night. In most situations he wouldn't expect to see much playing time, if any. But the Celtics go 10 deep - 10 players played at least 15 minutes and scored eight points - and that may cause Hoiberg to go deeper into his bench than usual.

5. Fred Hoiberg's debut: Pt. II

Fred Hoiberg began his coaching career with a victory over the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The rest of the season didn't go as planned, but with a fresh roster and a year of experience under his belt he'll get another chance to show what he can do. He'll have to balance the Three Alphas, figure out the power forward spot and determine how his second unit works best together. And as far as tonight goes, he'll need to do it against one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens. There's plenty of time to evaluate Hoiberg, but a victory in Game 1 would be another good start for him and the Bulls.

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

According to CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill, the Bulls are exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter.

The Bulls currently have one open roster spot.

Hunter, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015, appeared in 38 games as a rookie. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.

Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.

Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.

The Bulls open their 2016-17 season tomorrow night against the Celtics.

Stay with CSNChicago.com for more updates on this story.