Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

397740.jpg

Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 9:56 p.m. Updated 11:49 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEEIf a going on a runas All-Star point guard Derrick Rose proclaimed the Bulls are ready to doconsists of winning in grind-it-out fashion, then perhaps the Bulls (40-17) are poised to do some damage. It wasnt aesthetically appealing, but Chicagos 83-75 win over Central Division rival Milwaukee (22-36)keeping their mark against divisional opponents spotlessSaturday night at the Bradley Center got the desired result, with a balanced offensive effort to boot.

You go into a game against Milwaukee, theyre going to play tough. Youve got to be ready for that. Its going to be a physical, grind-it-out type game, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau for whom, the game was right up his alley. Youre fighting for every inch the whole night. Theyre terrific defensively. I thought the rebounding was huge for us.

Milwaukee came out on the feisty side, perhaps surprising the Bulls with their willingness to push the basketball to create transition opportunities. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute (16 points, eight rebounds, four steals), primarily known as a defensive specialist, was the Bucks offensive protagonist in the early going, scoring double figures in the opening period by showcasing an array of scoring methods.

The big thing you have to analyze is what shots are they getting. Mbah a Moute hit some jump shots and theyre a great drive-and-kick, so the ball moves, bodies move, they make the extra pass and if youre committed to keeping the ball out of the paint, you still have to get back to challenge those shotswhich we could have probably done a little bit better jobbut you have to ask, are they contested twos? explained Thibodeau. If theyre contested twos and theyre making early, youre going to live with that, but what you cant live with are the easy pointsthe layups in transition, the second shots, ball driven to the rimthings of that nature. But if theyre contested two-point shots on the perimeter, thats what our defense is: Five guys tied together, make them shoot jump shots as much as possible and challenge those shots.

Playing behind for most of the period, the Bulls allowed the hosts to enjoy a comfortable cushionmostly due to Chicagos inefficiency shooting the ball compared to Milwaukees superior marksmanshipand while a Rose (17 points, four assists, four rebounds, two steals) breakaway dunk ignited the sizable contingent of Bulls fans at the Bradley Center, late contributions by Bucks rookie forward Larry Sanders kept the visitors on the wrong end of a 25-21 score after a quarter of play.

You had to work this game, said Thibodeau. We didnt like the first quarter defensively. We thought we gave them too much.

Then we seemed to be more locked in, more disciplined and as the game wore on, we were helping each other well.

Although they were unable to truly chip into the Bucks lead early in the second quarter, Luol Deng (19 points, five rebounds, three assists) held down the fort with his scoring while on the court with a reserve-led unit. That momentumthe energetic play of Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson helped the causeled to the Bulls overtaking the Bucks, with Joakim Noahs (eight points, 17 rebounds, three blocked shots) work on the boards also a key factor in the squad starting the period on an 11-4 run, prompting Milwaukee head coach Scott Skiles to call timeout.

I thought Jo was really good tonight, observed Thibodeau. I thought his defense was terrificindividual defense, his team defenserebounding effort.

Added Noah: Im just going out there, trying to play my game, trying to get my wind right and Im just happy we got the dub today.

It felt better. Its going to get better every day. Its still not 100 percent, but Im happy we got the win. I really like our team, he continued to self-evaluate. I feel like it was a team effort again and I think our bench did a great jobthe whole season, reallybut were just getting so much better as a team and weve just got to keep improving to find out how good we can really be.

Even with Noah dominating the backboards in his third contest back from a 30-game layoff, Chicago briefly surrendered its lead to the Bucks, whose swingman duo of Carlos Delfino and former Bull John Salmons (14 points) combined to provide enough offense for scoring-deficient Milwaukee to tie the score at intermission at 39 apiece.

After an almost silent first half, Carlos Boozer (13 points, six rebounds) started to find his groove offensively in the third quarter, enabling the Bulls to effectively use their inside-outside philosophy. Although Noah picking up his third foul put a slight damper on Chicagos surge, the team turned around a lackluster beginning to the period to open up a small cushion, capped by ex-Buck Keith Bogans knocking down a three-pointer midway through the quarter.

Strong, active team defense and offensive balance were the Bulls calling card for the remainder of the period, as the visitors stymied Milwaukee with their defense, won the battle of the boards decisively and with an aggressive Deng stepping up his scoring late in the quarter, the Bulls opened up a double-digit lead. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 70-59 advantage.

Both teams battled being stagnant to start the fourth quarterthrough five minutes of play, they managed only six points between them; C.J. Watson scored all four points for Chicagobut while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau couldnt have been pleased with the offensive output of his squad, the defensive guru could at least take pride in the fact that Milwaukee couldnt find the range either. Eventually, however, the Bucks chipped into the deficit, making it a single-digit contest, with center Andrew Bogut (six points, 15 rebounds) anchoring the middle.

That seemed to motivate Chicago and with Thibodeau filtering his regulars back into the contest, the Bulls also picked up the scoring pace, with Rose manufacturing baskets. But the Bucks didnt wilt and with diminutive backup point guard Earl Boykins (10 points) running the show, the home team made it a two-possession game with under four minutes to play.

Following a Bulls timeout, sharpshooter Kyle Korver (11 points, four rebounds) knocked down a triple to give the Bulls some breathing room, but even though the resilient Bucks continued to fight back, a Korver pull-up jumper once again gave the visitors a double-digit lead as the games stretch run approached. Chicago didnt exactly close things out in styleunforced turnovers plagued them the entire nightbut in the end, they did enough to cement the victory without much worry, if not perfection.

I think that we played a decent game, just had to get a win, summed up Rose, who described the Chicago-heavy Bradley Center crowd as crazy; it felt like a home game.

More important to the 22-year-old superstar was having the Bulls full lineup intact.

It feels good. We can finally get in a rhythm with everybody back, he said. I think that were playing good as a team.

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.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Joe Maddon breaks down Wade Davis vs. Aroldis Chapman as Cubs ramp up for another World Series run

Rick Hahn: White Sox 'still thoroughly, deeply engaged' in trade talks as meetings close

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls

Bears, Lions have been totally different teams in fourth quarters

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour