Boozer, Bulls dominate north of the border

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Boozer, Bulls dominate north of the border

Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010
Posted 8:30 PM Updated 10:33 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

TORONTO Carlos Boozers season-high point total and a blowout victory took a back seat Wednesday night, as reports of Joakim Noahs impending right-thumb surgery were more of a concern to a Bulls team that has now won seven consecutive games. Noah played despite the pre-existing conditionteam doctors reportedly gave their assurance that no further damage could be done by playing in the contestand made an impact in the 110-93 victory over the Raptors, as did Derrick Rose, who played through soreness in his right elbow and right hip in the aftermath of a scary fall in Mondays win.

Chicago got off to a quick start, scoring the games first six points, with a clear emphasis on getting the ball inside to Boozer (34 points, 12 rebounds), who scored on consecutive possessions at the games outset. The teams inside-out strategy was effective against the undersized and inexperienced Raptorssans leading scorer Andrea Bargnani out on the evening, with rugged veteran Reggie Evans and floor general Jose Calderon already missing in actionwho had no answer for Boozer and Noah (11 points, 11 rebounds, two blocked shots) on the boards.

Boozer continued to overpower his Toronto counterparts in the paint, but a lackluster overall Bulls effort raised the ire of head coach Tom Thibodeau, who called multiple timeouts to express his displeasure to the team for letting the Raptors hang around, despite Chicago maintaining a slim cushion over the home team. After a quarter of play, the Bulls held a 23-18 advantage.

The feisty Raptors remained within striking distance early in the second period, as Toronto s regulars kept pace with a mostly-reserve Chicago lineup. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver (13 points, six assists) and swingman Ronnie Brewer (10 points, four rebounds) gave the Bulls an offensive lift, while backup point guard C.J. Watson capably ran the team, helping the visitors extend their lead to double figures.

Upon Boozers re-entry into the contest, the Bulls fed him a steady diet of low-post touches, which he converted into scoring opportunities, before the game deteriorated into a cavalcade of fouls and defensive three-second violations, with Chicago maintaining its comfortable winning margin throughout the ragged stretch. Boozer would resume his inside dominance before the half, which concluded with the Bulls taking a 63-44 lead into the locker room.

Our game plans always to go inside-out, said Boozer. We knew they had a mismatch problem with me, so they just kept getting it to me. I just tried to be aggressive all night long.

Added Thibodeau: Hes done it for a long time.

I thought Derrick ran a great game for us. I thought transition, he found him several times off penetration. He made some great calls, different plays. We executed in the halfcourt and Carlos is terrific. He can score in so many different ways. He does it in transition, he does it in the post, he does it off pick-and-roll, he does it off catch-and-shoot, so hes a tough matchup.

Chicago continued to extend its advantage after intermission, as Boozers continued strong play inside and offensive balance keyed by Roses (six points, 11 assists) unselfish playmakingclearly not as explosive as usual with injuries taking a toll, the All-Star point guard wisely opted to be more of a distributor in the contestand a transition game buoyed by a major advantage on the glass.

Im feeling good that we won, but definitely sore. My elbow was killing me tonight, even though I took a pill, but Im all right, said Rose afterwards. My arm is really, really bothering me, but Im glad we have two days until we play, so I can get a lot of treatment and really give it time to heal. Ive just got to fight through it and thats what I did tonight.

Thibodeau was positive about Roses play, though he denied that his star point guard looked to be in pain.

The way I saw it, I didnt see him laboring. I think he played extremely well. I thought thats what the game was dictating. We play inside-out on the road and we wanted to play with tempo, said Thibodeau. We wanted to play the game with pace and we did that, and I thought that once he saw that we had Carlos going pretty good, we kept going to it and that part was really good.

Roses passing and the Bulls ability to push the pace opened up the floodgates, and Toronto had no recourse in stopping the visitors onslaught.

Brewer again provided a spark off the bench, enabling the Bulls to maintain their momentum and deflate the initially energetic Air Canada Centre crowd. Heading into the final period, the Bulls were routing the home-standing Raptors, 91-64.

Thibodeau deployed his bench in the fourth quarter, playing it safe with Toronto facing such an insurmountable deficit. However, the Raptors attempted to battle back by virtue of their athleticism and the hot hand of sixth man Leandro Barbosa (21 points), garnering the support of the home fans, as Chicago lapses and suddenly cold shooting gave them life with the difference between the teams virtually sliced in half.

Thibodeau reinserted small forward Luol Deng (19 points, four rebounds) to add both offensive firepower and additional defense.

I really dont mind. I played a lot of minutes. Coach knows I really dont get tired like that out there. I could run all day, Deng told CSNChicago.com. But weve got to do a better job. Everyone in the locker room knows it. We spoke about it as a team.

With the team that we want to be, weve got to finish games. Were too goodwhether its first unit or second unitwere too good to give up leads like that.

The move worked and while Thibodeau couldnt be happy with how his team closed out their trip to the Great White North, the Bulls ultimately cruised to victory.

We did some good things for three quarters. Fourth quarter, weve got to do better. It was a good win, said Thibodeau. We were fortunate tonight, in terms of Bargnani being out, Calderon being out and a back-to-back for them.

But our defense and our rebounding, for the first three quarters, was very good.

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.

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.”