Bulls' strong 'D' makes up for lack of killer instinct

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Bulls' strong 'D' makes up for lack of killer instinct

Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011
Posted 9:41 p.m. Updated 11:35 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

It was as if the Bulls (30-14) suddenly realized the ramifications of losing to their lowly guests and the visiting Cavaliers (8-35) looked in the mirror and saw themselves for who they really are.

Chicago looked to be in control at various junctures of the contest, but didnt truly put away Cleveland until a fourth-quarter spurt prompted the home team to put its collective foot in the gas to win, 92-79, Saturday evening, continuing the troubling habit of playing down to subpar competition thats plagued the team all season.

With power forward Carlos Boozer (24 points, 10 rebounds) back in the lineup after missing three games with a sprained ankle, his touch appeared a bit rusty, but his mere presence and scoring ability was a clear difference-maker the Bulls sprinted out to a 9-2 lead, prompting a Cleveland timeout.

I was a little rusty. I didnt have the lift I wanted to have, couldnt rebound the way I wanted to, but I pushed through it, said Boozer afterwards.

Its more of a soreness than a sharp pain, so I can deal with it, he continued. Even at 80 percent or whatever I am, it felt good enough to play, so Im happy I played.

Observed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Probably what I expected. A week off without doing anything; still, 20 and 10 with a week off. He had one practice.

After making the necessary adjustments, the Cavaliers buckled down defensively an alternate viewpoint could be that a shooting-deficient Chicago squad didnt capitalize on opportunities on the offensive end of the floor and despite a spate of turnovers, the visitors, led by the shooting of guard Daniel Gibson (10 points, five assists), trimmed their early deficit to move within close contact of their hosts.

However, the Bulls maintained a slight lead through the end of the opening period, leading, 22-17, after a Luol Deng (who picked up two early fouls, as did starting center Kurt Thomas) 3-pointer at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Chicago turned it up a notch in the second period, as their second unit led by reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korvers (11 points, 3-for-6 3-pointers) marksmanship and backup point guard C.J. Watson's blend of scoring and playmaking extended their winning margin to double digits.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest and even with All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (24 points, eight assists, three blocked shots) having a quiet first half, strong showings by Deng (20 points, 12 rebounds, 4-for-5 3-pointers) and Boozer propelled the home team to a 48-38 advantage at the break.

It wasnt by design, said Thibodeau of Roses less impactful than usual first-half performance. We certainly cant pick and choose when were going to go. Weve got to be ready from the start of the game, weve got to be aggressive everybody has to be aggressive we have to establish who were going to be.

A more aggressive Rose led Chicagos charge at the outset of the third quarter as the catalyst of the Bulls 8-0 run to start the period. The onslaught continued, as Boozer joined the party, but after Cleveland cut a 20-point deficit to merely a 15-point gap, Thibodeau called timeout to put a halt to the uprising.

The Cavs continued to make their push, however, and behind the outside shooting of veteran forward Antawn Jamison (31 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, 4-for-7 3-pointers), they were able to get within single digits.

Antawn got hot from the 3-point line, observed Boozer. It seemed like he was hitting everything he threw up there.
Carlos Boozer dunks for two of his 20 points against the Cavaliers. The Bulls forward also added 10 rebounds in his first game back since Jan. 15. Despite getting up for the dunk, Boozer admitted to feeling some rust and lacking explosion throughout the contest. (AP)
Following a Thibodeau technical foul, a late-period Bulls spurt gave the Bulls a 72-62 advantage through three quarters of play when a Jamison tip-in initially ruled after the buzzer was reviewed and changed.

Chicago had issues finishing around the rim and protecting the basketball, but perhaps more significant was the huge disparity at the free-throw line in Clevelands favor, as well as the visitors surprising ability to compete on the boards.

Coupled with Jamisons flashback night as a scorer even as his career winds down, the veterans offensive versatility and array of unorthodox shots still gives opposing defenders fits and young big man J.J. Hicksons (13 points, 20 rebounds) strong interior effort, the Cavs edged even closer by the midway point of the final stanza.

I thought the big thing for us is how we played with the lead. We have to do a better job with that, said Thibodeau. That team, they played hard and then you give them hope, and all of a sudden youre fighting for your life and thats what happened.

A Rose three-point play on a drive to the basket the Bulls first field goal of the quarter followed by a Korver 3-pointer, energized the United Center crowd and gave the home team some momentum heading into games stretch run. After a Cavs timeout, Boozer finished a three-point play of his own, giving Chicago a double-digit advantage, which was added to on the next possession, when Rose knocked down a pull-up jumper.

We made the right plays at the end of the game to win the game, but we shouldnt have been in a dogfight like that, said Boozer. We did a good enough job to win, but we know we can play a lot better especially when we have a team down by so many points, we cant let them get back in the game the way we did.

We had opportunities to close the door on that team and we didntwe cant be a team that plays three quarters or part of the game. We want to be a team that plays the entire game the right way, he continued. When you get a chance to put the game away twice, in the same game youve got to do it. The great teams do that.

The visitors fought the good fight toward the end, but with the game already blown open, their efforts were in vain. Once again, Roses late-game heroics prevented a disappointing loss to an inferior foe, a squad that has one win in its last 27 games.

First half, we got a big lead, we relaxed and we did the same thing in the second half. We got a big lead and we let up, said a clearly miffed Thibodeau. The Cavaliers keep playing; theyll play. Those guys are good.

Every team is good, he continued. You have to learn to play tough with a lead. We didnt do that. You usually get what you deserve in this league.

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.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

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USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”