Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010
Posted Dec. 28, 9:27 PM Updated 12:13 AM
By Aggrey Sam
For once, the fourth quarter wasnt the Bulls worst period of the game. Neither was the first.
Chicago (20-10) bookended a strong start and equally stout finish Tuesday evening, to knock off visiting Milwaukee (12-18), 90-77, at the United Center. It wasnt a picture-perfect performance, but in the end, the Bulls didnt permit an injury-riddled Bucks squad to challenge them down the stretch.
48 minutes thats hard, man, to play a whole NBA game like that, said Derrick Rose afterwards. I think thats what were fighting for right now, to get up to that caliber with the other teams thats great in the NBA, like the Lakers, the Bostons, just trying to get up to their level.
Preparedness to begin the game, a familiar lamentation of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, wasnt an issue against the Bucks, as Chicago scored the games first nine points.
Defended by Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut (16 rebounds, four blocked shots), Carlos Boozer (24 points, nine rebounds) was the teams early focal point, as he mixed improved explosiveness with range on his jumper.
Rose (18 points, 12 assists, six rebounds) was also assertive from the outset, displaying increased defensive awareness the All-Star point guard has addressed some of his deficiencies on that end of the floor to facilitate open-court offense, as well as the return of his 3-point stroke on his first attempt.
The early Chicago onslaught, combined with Milwaukees offensive woes the visitors hit only one of their first 11 shots was enough for Bucks head coach Scott Skiles to call a timeout midway through the opening period for adjustment purposes.
Milwaukee bounced back from its early ineptitude and rapidly closed on the Bulls, as a balanced scoring effort and solid rebounding countered the home teams hot shooting along with Boozer, Luol Deng (24 points, five rebounds) also was an effective scorer even as they had continued solid ball movement to get all five starters on the board.
With its shooting again picking up toward the end of the quarter and improved defensive and rebounding approaches Chicago held a 27-15 advantage after the first period.
With both squads second units on the floor to start the second quarter, the Bulls simply strived to maintain their relatively comfortable winning margin until Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest.
Milwaukee, however, buoyed by powerful backup swingman Corey Maggette (15 points), a Chicago native, chipped away at its deficit to negate the efforts of Bulls reserves C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer.
Maggette and fellow wing John Salmons (18 points), a former Bull, both attacked the rim with regularity, usually drawing a foul in the process and keeping the Bucks in close contact, while Keyon Dooling (11 points, six assists) Milwaukees only available point guard, as regular starter Brandon Jennings is injured and diminutive backup Earl Boykins served a one-game suspension for contact with an official in the teams previous outing scorched the nets from the perimeter. With turnovers and suddenly poor marksmanship key contributing factors, Chicagos downhill spiral persisted, Milwaukee surged ahead before intermission, 45-44.
Although it didnt immediately translate into a drastic difference, Chicagos improved play and intensity at the outset of the third quarter transferred the games momentum and lead back into the Bulls hands, by virtue of Roses offensive assertiveness. That initial team-wide intensity, however, waned as time went on, giving way to uncontested Bucks jaunts to the basket, second-chance opportunities and a figurative lid on the rim for the home team in the friendly confines of the United Center.
Despite Milwaukees subpar shooting percentage, the Bulls inefficiency allowed the visitors to make it a close-knit affair, subduing the home fans. An overabundance of quick perimeter jumpers without the inside-out emphasis Thibodeau preaches was the central theme of the period until late when Deng, in particular, began working for more high-quality looks but at the end of three quarters, Chicago led by a scant five-point margin, 67-62.
Luol does a lot of things for our team and sometimes they go unnoticed. His defense has been terrific all year. Even when he wasnt shooting well, I thought he was playing well, said Thibodeau of his small forwards bounce-back effort after two subpar shooting nights in the Bulls previous pair of outings. Tonight, I thought he had his energy back offensively, hes moving without the ball, he did some off the dribble, some catch-and-shoot, some in the post he scores a lot of different ways but his overall play throughout the year has been terrific.
Added Deng: It felt great. The last two games, I didnt shoot the ball great, but I felt like I was still aggressive. I just try to bring something different to the team. Theres going to be nights where I shoot like that; its not the last time. My whole mindset is as long as we win at the end of the game, just bring something to the team every time.
I really didnt do anything different. I had good looks I knocked them down my mid-range game was good and I was slashing, but I really didnt do anything different. I think as the season goes on, Im just going to learn how to play off Carlos more. Im really very familiar with Derricks game when to let Derrick be Derrick, when to cut but were still getting used to Carlos. Hes a great guy to have on the team and it takes a lot of pressure off our hands, so its just getting used to playing off him.
Chimed in Rose: As a point guard, youve got to know what plays to call just to get him going and thats what we tried to do early. He was making a lot of great shots going to the hole a lot of great layups and hes got like three or four or five calls that he can get the shot that he wants.
I look at Thibs sometimes, but other than that, I go with the flow. I know if I come down and I know that Lu is not getting enough touches 33, three-down, three-flat just to get him going.
In the final stanza the period in which the Bulls have had significant issues over their past three contests Chicago couldnt sustain its focus on either end, although Deng provided a consistent scoring threat.
Despite lacking much of a flow on the offensive end, the Bulls were able to sustain their slim cushion over the visitors, who remained cold from the field, although their surprisingly large advantage on the glass persisted, as Bogut and forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Ersan Ilyasova (10 points, seven rebounds) dominated the backboards.
They were terrific defensively and the way they rebounded the ball. That was a hard-fought game. It was hard to get the ball into the paint. We had to move the ball side to side, set good screens. Theyre a tough team, tough competitors, said Thibodeau. When we got the ball moving and our players moving, it was more effective for usyou cant hold onto the ball against them. You cant dance with the ball against them. The ball has to move. As the game went on, I thought we got better at it.
Cohesiveness and efficiency on the offensive end miraculously reappeared for Chicago with reinsertion of Rose into the contest. The third-year floor generals playmaking ability permitted the likes of Boozer and sharpshooter Kyle Korver to get relatively unimpeded opportunities, transforming the Bulls tenuous lead into a double-digit advantage with the games stretch run approaching.
The home team didnt look back, with Chicago hustle plays, purpose-filled offensive possessions and defensive intensity defining Milwaukees ultimate demise to close the game out in an appropriate manner. The visitors final attempts to make a run were futile, as the Bulls cruised to an eventual triumph.
A win is a win in this league, especially when youre playing against a team like that where they dont have all their players and theyre just trying to prove a point by playing hard. Thats what they did tonight, but we put it away in the fourth quarter, said Rose. Weve just got to play hard throughout the whole game. We cant have periods of time where were not scoring the ball and our defense is lacking. Our defense should stay the same throughout the whole game and offensively, if were not doing what were supposed to do, weve got to have go-to plays.
Added Thibodeau: I liked our defense, but we had a lot of things in our favor tonight. They were playing back-to-back, Boykins suspended
Its ironic that Thibodeau, a proponent of never making excuses for defeat, would come up with reasons for the Bucks to have lost. But when youre winning gutting out wins and cruising atop your division, motivation has to come from somewhere.
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.