Boozer-less Bulls bow to Bobcats once again

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Boozer-less Bulls bow to Bobcats once again

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011Posted: 9:40 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A second bite at the apple wasnt enough for the Bulls (28-14) to overcome the Bobcats (16-24), even at home, as visiting Charlotte defeated Chicago, 83-82, Tuesday evening at the United Center, despite Derrick Roses 33 points. For once, Rose couldnt muster any last-second heroics, failing to hit a game-winner for the Bulls and giving the Bobcats their second win over the Bulls in a less than a week.

Thats a great accomplishment for us because this team has not been known to win against winning teams and as a matter of fact, theyve been getting blown out," said Bobcats head coach Paul Silas, a midseason hire. "Tonight was just the opposite. We hung in there and gave ourselves a chance to win. Weve been doing that the last few ballgames, but tonight was very special because they are a very, very good team. Im not going to say weve got their number, but were playing them well and thats what counts.

An active Taj Gibson (nine points, nine rebounds, six blovked shots) helped Chicago get off the marks in a positive fashion, but Bobcats point guard D.J. Augustin (15 points, five assists), power forward Boris Diaw (12 points) and center Kwame Brownthe first-quarter scourge of the Bulls last week in Charlotteprovided the visitors with scoring balance. Despite Roses (33 points, five rebounds, four assists) scoring punch, the United Centers efficient-shooting guests from the Tar Heel State erased the Bulls early winning margin and overtook their hosts to take a 27-24 lead into the second quarter.

In the first quarter, I thought our defense was very poor and then I thought it caused us to start pressing, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team committed 14 turnovers, in addition to shooting a season-low 39 percent from the field. Youve got to make simple plays against this team. You try to thread the needle and you try to go too much one-on-one, that doesnt work against this team.

You cant turn the ball over against this team, he continued. We created our own problems. Another big first quarter for them, similar to the game down there. You cant win like that.

After reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points, five rebounds) began the subsequent period with two consecutive jumpers, Chicagos offense got stagnant, as the recently reliable second unit couldnt manufacture offense consistently. With the reinsertion of Rose, that changed.

Sharpshooter Kyle Korver knocked down his first shot attempt, then found Brewer on a nifty backdoor feed for a running, one-handed reverse dunk baseline. Korver maintained his hot handperhaps carried over from his prolific scoring afternoon in Memphis the day beforeto hit a triple, prompting new Bobcats head coach to call a timeout with the home team making up ground swiftly.

Although the Bulls clearly had momentum, the end of the half didnt go in their favoran apparent Augustin travel was missed by the officials, much to the fans displeasureand they trailed, 47-44, at intermission.

Rose, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, went on one of his trademark individual spurts, almost singlehandedly lifting Chicago past the visitors to start the third quarter. Following the Bulls initial pushthey started the quarter on a 13-4 runthings werent as one-sided, as Charlotte recovered, putting its fate in Augustins hands.

In the battle of floor generals and close off-court friends, Rose struck the quarters final blow, draining a 3-pointer just before the period ended, to give Chicago a 66-64 advantage heading into the final stanza.

Bulls head coach Thibodeau kept his rotation short on this eveningGibson, starting in place of injured starting power forward Carlos Boozer, played nearly the entire contest and responded with a second consecutive big defensive outingand by starting Rose in the fourth quarter (instead of backup point guard C.J. Watson, who typically enters the contest at that juncture), the message that he wasnt taking any chances with the games outcome was sent, despite sending in Watson to give him a brief rest.

Without Rose in the contest for the time being, the Bulls maintained their slim advantage through solid defensive play and timely scoring from the likes of Brewer and veteran Kurt Thomas (six points, 10 rebounds, two blocks), who combined with Gibson and Luol Deng (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists) to give the home team an edge on the boards.

An interesting off-the-ball sequence in which Thomas and former Bull Tyrus Thomas antagonized each other until the latter was finally assessed a foul was followed by a bizarre incident where Brewer and Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace (13 points, 16 rebounds, four assists) got tangled up. Brewer upended Wallace, causing Wallace to apparently tweak his ankle, then kick Brewer in retaliation, drawing a technical foul.

At the end of the game, Wallace got going, observed Deng. He was crashing, getting second-chance looks, but thats the kind of player he is. Youve got to take that away from him."

Added Silas: Gerald, he was just terrific tonight, offensively and defensively. Thats what hes got to do all the time.

Wallace responded with his play, throwing down a monstrous follow-up dunk over Korver on the subsequent Charlotte possession. This was followed by a typically exciting Rose lightning-quick drive and finish, after which Wallace, now in attack mode offensively, went directly at Korver, drawing a foul.

The events basically repeated themselves, with Rose hitting a floater and Wallace responding on the other end with a tough finish, plus the foul for a three-point play, giving the Bobcats a one-point lead. After a timeout, Rose got a layup rejected, but gathered the ball and finished his next attempt.

With 47.5 seconds remaining, Bobcats swingman Stephen Jackson (12 points, five rebounds, three assists) answered, hitting a turnaround to give the visitors an 81-80 lead. Following a timeout, Rose found Brewer under the basket and he kicked it out to Deng, who missed an open 3-pointer.

I thought we had good looks. I had the best lookwide-open at the 3-point lineI thought when it left my hand, it was good, said Deng. Nothing went our way.

Added Brewer: When D-Rose threw me the ballas a basketball player, you always try to be aware of your surroundingsand when I had it, I knew Gerald Wallace is an above-average shot-blocker.

I felt him coming down aggressively, so I tried to pivot and I saw Lu wide open on the 3-point line. Thats kind of his bread-and-butter shot and it was a good look.

Jackson corralled the rebound and was fouled with 36.3 seconds left. He nailed both free throws and on the ensuing trip, Rose dropped in a floater.

Charlotte milked precious time off the clock before calling timeout with 10.3 seconds to go.

Explained Gibson: "Weve been in that situationand we fouled too quickly, so we wanted to just trust our defense first, let our defense sort it out.

Watson deflected the Bobcats inbounds pass and after initially being ruled Charlottes possession, an official review reversed the call, giving it to the Bulls with 8.2 seconds on the clock.

Charlottes Thomas blocked a Korver layup attempt out of bounds with 3.1 seconds left, giving Chicago one final chance underneath their own basket. The inbounds came to Rose, but his closely-guarded, fading jumper from the top of the key fell short with no time remaining.

When I came off, I was just trying to get to the middle as quick as I could and just try to get something off, but it was short, Rose explained afterwards. It was a good look, but short. Just learn from it. Next time Im in that position, Ill just shoot it as high as I can.

It was a lack of energy tonight. We didnt play that hard. This is whats going to happen if you dont go out there playing aggressive and with intensity.

Added Thibodeau: There were a few different options off of it. We knew Derrick would get a lot of attention on the play. They made a good play.

Derrick was the first option on the play, he continued. What happened is, on the back pick, they had two go with Derrick and Kyle was wide open. It was the right play and they made a good reaction from the weak side and got the block.

In the end, when you lose a game by a point, theres a lot of plays that lead up to it. Hey, weve got to do better.

Concluded Deng: Honestly, its one of those games. I dont know what it is. I dont want to take anything away from them. I just think were better than we played against them twice. At the same time, I just think theyre athletic, they play hard...it wasnt really one of our best games, for whatever reason it is. I thought we played great with a lot of energy. Today, just the little things werent going our way.

It was just one of those nights. We tried to get it going; nothing was going.

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.

Fast Break Morning Update: Celtics even up series with Bulls

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Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

The Celtics season was unraveling, and their face of the franchise was stumbling down the stretch. The opposing Bulls had used a 40-18 run spanning the second and third quarters to take their first lead. Jimmy Butler was hearing “M-V-P” chants from the crowd of nearly 22,000 and the Celtics looked lost, just as they had at times in Game 1 and 2 losses.

And Isaiah Thomas, the MVP candidate who had carried the Celtics all season, was at the front of the miscues. In just 4 third-quarter minutes he missed two shots, turned the ball over three times and committed his third and fourth personal fouls, the latter occurring on a charge during a 3-on-1 fast break. Knowing he’d need his All-Star point guard down the stretch of what was quickly becoming a tight contest, Brad Stevens subbed out Thomas with the hope that the Celtics could keep close their eight-point lead at the time.

Instead, the Bulls kept their foot on the gas, eyeing a 3-1 series lead behind the driving force of Jimmy Butler. The Bulls’ own All-Star helped manufacture a 12-0 run that put the Bulls, down by as many as 20 late in the second quarter, ahead for the first time, 65-63.

Thomas reentered with the score tied at 63, missing his first shot that set up the Bulls’ go-ahead basket from Robin Lopez. Following that basket, Thomas strung together the most important stretch of basketball this season in a 4-minute span that saved the game, and potentially the season.

The Bulls’ lead was brief, as Thomas twice drove to the basket and connected on layups to put the Celtics ahead. Next he found Al Hoford on a pick-and-roll set that the duo had run to perfection in Game 3. Thomas then took two trips to the free-throw line, burying all four attempts, and capped the quarter with a pair of assists to Kelly Olynyk that pushed the lead to 10. All told, Thomas had a hand in all 16 of the Celtics points scored after the Bulls took their lead.

The Celtics managed to hide Thomas defensively – he finished with just the four fouls – and the Bulls only managed to get within five in the fourth quarter (with Thomas on the bench) before the All Star point guard closed the door to even the series heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday.

“The game was not going our direction and the worst that could happen is somebody fouls out of a game,” Stevens said. “Isaiah’s a big part of our offense and we needed to feel better about ourselves and we tweaked the defense a little bit there to try to protect him, but we didn’t feel like he could sit right there. Things were not going our way.”

Much of the night belonged to the Celtics, even if the Bulls did manage to erase the 20-point deficit. The Bulls’ defensive strategy in Game 3 to limit Thomas, who was second in the league in scoring, to just 18 points, his second lowest point total of the year. Thomas’ nine assists were crucial in Friday’s win, but the Celtics wanted him attacking the basket.

They set higher pick-and-rolls to allow Thomas room to take Robin Lopez off the dribble, and the Boston again playing a small-ball lineup the floor was spaced enough to allow Thomas to attack the rim; just two of Thomas’ 10 makes came outside the restricted area, and his 13 free-throw attempts were a stark contrast after he tallied zero in Game 3. Thomas was a team-high +17 in the nine-point win. His 33  points were the most he had scored in the series.

“It helps us feel a lot more confident when he’s on the floor because he’s able to make plays, not only for himself but other guys on the team,” Avery Bradley said. “Sometimes we need him getting in the paint, kicking it out, and hitting the next guy because it’s contagious.”

Thomas’ third-quarter stretch was his best, but not the only time he contributed. The 5-foot-9 Thomas scored 10 points in the first quarter as the Celtics pushed their lead to as many as 14 points. He hadded six more in the second quarter as the Bulls deployed three different point guards – Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams and Isaiah Canaan – at him, as well as Jimmy Butler.

Thomas remained focused as the Bulls’ carousel of point guards with Rajon Rondo out continued to to turn.

“I just try to play the same way no matter who’s out there on the floor. I got a job to do and that’s score the basketball, make plays for others on this team and be a leader,” Thomas said, speaking to the media for the first time this postseason. “So it doesn’t really matter what the other team’s doing because I’ve got to do my job and I’ve got to do it at a high level for us to win.”

Thomas went for the kill shot in the fourth quarter and delivered. Two baskets from Game 1 hero Bobby Portis cut the Bulls’ deficit to five, prompting Stevens to sub in Thomas, Bradley and Jae Crowder earlier than he would have liked. No matter. Thomas drove twice to the basket on successive possessions and scored both times, including a three-point play. That pushed the Celtics’ lead back to 10 in just 90 seconds, and the Bulls didn’t get close than eight the rest of the way.

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg vented frustration with the officials following the game, noting that Thomas becomes an “impossible guard” when he’s allowed to carry the basketball during his dribble. Thomas said he couldn’t remember a time this season when he was called for carrying – in reality he’s been called for it three times, though not since January.

It was a strategic tactic for Hoiberg to deploy, hoping for any chance to slow down Thomas. The Celtics point guard is heating up at the perfect time, and he’s doing so while still trying to find his three-point shot. Once that starts working the Bulls will need to once again adjust on the fly. As for Hoiberg’s comment, Thomas echoed during his postgame availability what he showed earlier on Sunday night.

“That,” he said with a smile, “is not the reason why I’m an impossible cover.”