Boozer, Bulls shock defending-champion Heat

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Boozer, Bulls shock defending-champion Heat

MIAMI No Derrick Rose, no problem.

If the Heat (22-9) didnt learn last season that the Bulls (18-13) didnt fear them without their franchise player in the lineup, they certainly learned Friday night, as the Bulls trademark blend of defense and role players rising to the occasion not to mention Carlos Boozer having his best game against Miami, where he resides in the offseason, in a Bulls uniform helped them hold off the defending champions, 96-89, at American Airlines Arena.

A quick start by Boozer (27 points, 12 rebounds) and the Bulls quieted the raucous home crowd, as scrappy defense, timely plays and selfless offense combated the hosts firepower to take an early lead.

Reigning MVP LeBron James (30 points, six rebounds) came out of the gates aggressively, however, ensuring that things didnt get out of hand, though a timeout to halt the visitors momentum was utilized by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Miami subsequently got its transition game going and with a 9-0 run, mainly propelled by All-Star Dwyane Wade (22 points), the tables were quickly turned, as the Heats up-tempo approach led to easy scoring opportunities.

The Bulls didnt wilt, however, and with Taj Gibson (nine rebounds) coming off the bench to give them a lift, they ended the opening period on a 10-0 run to hold a 26-22 advantage after a quarter of play, following a putback layup by Boozer, who continued to produce through the entire frame, just before the buzzer.

The hosts quickly regained control of the game in the second quarter, as Chris Bosh (14 points), complemented by the Heats deep bench while Ray Allen is headlining, reserve, second-year point guard Norris Cole made more of an impact went to work. Although Boozer was reinserted into the contest and immediately continued doing damage, Miami built a slim cushion.

But the Bulls gradually cut into the deficit as the period waned on, getting contributions from energetic reserves Nate Robinson (13 points) and Jimmy Butler (eight points, five rebounds) fearless scoring from the former, while the latters defensive versatility and athleticism matched up well with the Heats small-ball lineup; Butler sacrificed his offense to focus on guarding fellow Marquette product Wade, as All-Star Luol Deng against James and quietly chipped away at the hosts.

At the intermission, following a last-second shot by Butler, the Bulls led, 49-48, much to the dismay of the home crowd.

After the break, Boozer and Joakim Noah (13 points, 12 rebounds) who took a while to get going after missing Wednesdays win in Orlando with flu-like symptoms helped the Bulls maintain their edge, via their strong interior play. They got help from the veteran backcourt of Kirk Hinrich (10 points, eight assists) and Rip Hamilton, which provided the visitors, with a lift after a mostly dormant first half.

The Bulls acquired some breathing room as the third quarter went on and while James brought the house down after a fast break alley-oop from Wade with 3:29 left in the period, the Bulls soldiered on, even flirting with extending their lead to double digits. Behind the continued solid play of the inside tandem of Noah and Boozer, the visitors headed into the final stanza ahead, 75-66.

Early in the fourth quarter, what appeared to be a potential turning point in the game occurred when Noah, already seen as a villain in Miami and a host of other NBA cities aside from Chicago, collared James around the neck without malice and he helped him up and after an official review, was called for a flagrant foul with 10:16 remaining.

James scored nine straight Heat points to bring Miami to within three, but Robinson responded with a terrific individual sequence a tough floater on one end, then an amazing athletic display for a steal on defense, followed by drawing a foul and knocking down a pair of free throws to give the Bulls some separation.

Robinsons exploits continued, as he and Boozer hit the deck in pursuit of loose balls, followed by another solo run by the diminutive scorer he took a charge on Ray Allen on defense, then knocked down a triple prompting a Heat timeout, as the Bulls built a double-digit lead.

As the game headed into the stretch run, timely plays on the defensive end by the likes of Butler, as well as clutch foul shooting, allowed the Bulls to hold off their hosts, who simply couldnt buy a bucket late. And while an Allen three-pointer with 1:44 remaining made it a 91-85 game, in the visitors favor, followed by James drawing a clear-path foul on Hinrich though he split the pair of free throws and the Heat couldnt capitalize on the subsequent possession a Boozer layup after a Butler offensive rebound salted the game away in the final minute, promoting the Heat loyalists to head for the exits early.

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.

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Zach LaVine quickly made a name for himself as a prolific, epic dunker.

The recently acquired Bull won both the 2015 and 2016 Slam Dunk Contests and has plenty of awe-inspiring in-game dunks as well.

The video above has a few of LaVine's best efforts.

His signature dunks in the dunk contests were the 2015 dazzler when he caught the ball from behind the backboard and went through his legs before slamming it and the through the legs from just inside the free throw line dunk in 2016.

For in-game dunks, the time he posterized Alex Len in November was an instant-classic. It's not everyday a 7-footer gets dismissed with such authority.

Of course, LaVine's ability to dunk at this prodigious level is in question after he tore his ACL this past season. If LaVine can come back to anywhere near full strength, look for some impressive highlights from the former dunk champ in a Bulls uniform.