Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

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Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

BOSTONAfter going up by a seemingly insurmountable margin, the Bulls (11-2) watched the Celtics (4-6) charge back in the second half, cutting a 20-point game to a single point, before Derrick Rose, playing on a injured toe, took over late Friday night at the TD BankNorth Garden. Chicago won, 88-79, by virtue of solid defense, a balanced offensive effort from its starting lineupall five reached double figuresand a finishing touch down the stretch from one of the NBAs top closers.

I said before the game we would need everybody and we did, and I thought our starters played terrific. Carlos, Jo. At the start of the game, I thought our defense was very good. The ball movement was great to start the game, so I think thats what allowed us to build the cushion. We could play from a lead. Things got tough at the end of the third, start of the fourth, but we hung in and we found a way to win down the stretch, evaluated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. With Derrick, you almost expect that from him. He let the game come to him. He didnt try to do too much and then in the second half, when it was time, he made big play after big play, which weve grown accustomed to.

An ailing Rose played a facilitating role early on, allowing the frontcourt of Luol Deng (21 points, 16 rebounds), Carlos Boozer (12 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Joakim Noah (10 points, 12 rebounds) to benefit as scorers, complementing their dominant work on the glass, as well as solid defense. The visitors jumped out to an early double-digit advantage, due to errant Celtics shooting, as only point guard Rajon Rondo (14 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists)using his speed against a hobbled Rosewas able to create against the Bulls.

The toe feels all right. It feels good. I kept playing tonight. My teammates did a great job with making shots, playing defense. I was just feeding off of them, said Rose, who was wearing a precautionary walking boot afterward, as he had in the days since suffering the injury. First quarter, I would say, I didnt know how to take off or worried about me taking off and that went away around halfway through the first quarter.

Boozer was particularly effective as a mid-range shooter, while Deng was back to being both aggressive and efficient after a subpar shooting night in his last outing and the fifth starter, Ronnie Brewer (12 points, four rebounds, four assists), showed his hot early-season shooting was no fluke. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls led, 26-13, following two Rondo free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining.

Dengs strong all-around play carried Chicago at the outset the second quarter and while the Boston backcourt of Rondo and sharpshooter Ray Allen (16 points) attempted to get the home team back into the contest, Brewers shooting and reserve power forward Taj Gibsons typically energetic play helped maintain the visitors comfortable cushion. The Celtics own backup big man, well-traveled veteran Chris Wilcoxseeing more action with starting center Jermaine ONeal injured; usual reserve power forward Brandon Bass (10 points, nine rebounds) started in his place, with Kevin Garnett sliding over to center, though ONeal would come off the benchgave Boston a boost of energy, however, throwing down two monstrous fast-break dunks, while go-to scorer Paul Pierce (13 points) started to gradually find his rhythm.

But Boozers accuracy on his jumper, dominant team rebounding and overall stingy defense helped keep a wide gap for the TD BankNorth Garden guests, who kept the usually rowdy Boston crowd in alternating states of silence or displeasure for most of the first half. Chicago took a 52-33 advantage into the break, but not before the distribution-minded Rose threw down a vicious cock-back dunkoff one step and an injured toe, no lesstoward the end of the period.

I loved the way Jo was so active tonight, blocking shots, going after the ball and then his offense started coming around, so when he plays like that, its good for us. And what you could say about Luol? I mean, every night, hes on the board, he gives you points, he plays great defense, hits every big basket for youcant say enough about himand then the bench, they allowed us to get some rest in the second quarter. They came in and did a good job, said Thibodeau. The rebounding was the key, the last two ballgames. If you defend and rebound, and you keep your turnovers down, youre going to be in position to win. We know that works for us.

After the intermission, continued stellar play from Deng kept the Bulls afloat early in the period, but the Celtics stormed back, trimming what was once a 20-point lead. Boston received contributions from the likes of the high-energy Bass, sharpshooting Allen, scoring-oriented Pierce and playmaking Rondo, energizing the faithful Garden audience.

The visitors were further disadvantaged by Boozer picking up his fourth foul and Roses clear lack of consistent explosion, but Bostons continued push was the real difference, as the Bulls would seemingly staunch the bleeding with a Noah tip-in or Gibson jumper, for example, only to see bit contributors like reserve swingman Mickael Pietrus and ONealwho appeared to be rejuvenated back to his All-Star form of old for a brief stretchmake timely buckets. At the end of three quarters, the Celtics cut the deficit to single digits, 67-59.

We talked about it. Weve got to get better at not giving up leads. We knew they werent going to go down easy. We knew that they were going to come down and make a run. Were just a little disappointed that we allowed them to make that run, but once again, just answering their run, said Deng. I thought we did a great job, even though the fans got into it. We just came back and guys made big plays. Derrick made big shots, Ronnie made a big three and we just kept going.

Chimed in Rose: For sure. Like I always say, we never want to be in a situation like that. When we get the lead on someone, we want to definitely put them away, but I guess we didnt learn that yet.

Weve been in situations like that. Thats when we tend to play defense. Were better backwards. We tend to play defense a little bit bad throughout the whole game, then the fourth quarters like that. But people stepped up at the right time.

Bostons barrage didnt let up at the beginning of the final stanza, as the Bulls miserable shooting continued and the hosts remained hot, scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter to cut the gap to a single point, 67-66, before Thibodeauwho rode his starters through the games stretch run, unlike the Bulls past two contests, in which he used backup big men Gibson and Omer Asik in place of Noah and Boozercalled a timeout to restore order in the arena so familiar to him. Whether Rose was directed by his coach to shoulder the load moving forward or simply took it upon himself, after the stoppage, the reigning league MVP went to work, sandwiching a slashing layup and an open three-pointer between a pair of free throws.

Jo got a big offensive rebound, Derrick got a couple open looks, so it worked out for us and youve got to be ready for that. Theyre a tough defensive team and its another element that you have to prepare for, said Thibodeau. I was waiting for that one. Not enough, too much, whats next? Hey look, we really feel the strength of the club is the depth up front and even tonight, as well as Carlos and Jo played, Carlos picking up that fourth, you need quality bigs to hold the fort and Omer and Taj, every time, you call on them, theyre ready. Theyre hard guys to score on.

Added Noah: It feels good to get this dub tonight. It always feels good to win in this building. Just competed hard. It was a great team effort.

The strength of our team is our depth, and we cant forget that, so anybody can step up on any given night and thats our strength, so its important for guys to get frustrated when its not their turn, continued the center, who also blocked four shots on the evening. O Asik and Taj were playing great, and Coach rides with them. Thats the way he does things. Im just trying to control the things that I can control, and it felt good to be out there tonight.

Their leaders inspired play seemed to spark a fire under his teammates, as Deng and Noah battled for tough boards on the interior, while timely buckets from the likes of Brewer quelled any hopes of Boston making another comeback attempt. Rose continued to make big, crowd-silencing baskets, causing the Garden to gradually empty down the contests stretch run, though the fans that remained did find pleasure with the late entrance of former Celtics fan favorite and Bulls deep reserve Brian Scalabrine.

I was missing shots before that. I think shots that I normally hit, I was missingI guess taking that day off, Ive got to get my timing back and at the end of the game, they were falling, explained Rose. They were giving me the shot. I probably was out a little bit further than I normally am, but they didnt come and contest and I was just shooting. My teammates have confidence in me. They see how hard I work on my shot and at the end of a game like that, when one of those situations happen, theyre going to give me the ball.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!