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.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Toronto Raptors tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the Bulls get one on the Bucks? The Bulls are 0-3 against the Bucks so far this season and it hasn't been pretty. The Bucks have won the previous three meetings all by double digits and by an average of 19 points. The youth and athleticism of the Bucks has been a tough matchup for the Bulls so far.

2. Containing Giannis. There may be no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bulls can at least try to contain him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 23 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In three games against the Bulls this year he has averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest. If the Bulls are to stay in the game, they will need to keep him to numbers lower than that.

3. Playoff implications. The Bulls playoff hopes are still alive with nine games remaining, but things are looking a bit bleak. The Bulls are a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot, but only 3.5 games behind two teams tied for the No. 5 seed, the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks have won three in a row to improve their position.

4. Mirotic on a roll. Streaky play is nothing new to Nikola Mirotic, but he's on a good run currently. After scoring a season-high 28 points on Wednesday against the Pistons, Mirotic followed that up with 15 points against the 76ers. Since missing three straight games earlier this month, Mirotic has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and is averaging 15.6 points during that stretch.

5. Beginning of a tough stretch. The Bulls' playoff hopes could be made or broken in the next three games. After taking on the Bucks, which occupy a playoff spot, the Bulls host two more Eastern Conference playoff teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Bulls need to string some wins together and this is not an easy stretch to do so against.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you're ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Bulls fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Bulls Pulse

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

The NBA announced Saturday that it has suspended former Bulls and current Knicks center Joakim Noah for 20 games without pay for violating the league's anti-drug policy.

He tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement called selective androgen receptor modulator LGD-4033, which is prohibited under the current collective bargaining agreement but would not have been under the new CBA starting next year, according to ESPN's Marc Spears.

It was announced in February that Noah would miss the remainder of the season with a left knee injury. His suspension will carry over into the 2017-18 campaign with only 10 games left this year.

Noah averaged 5.0 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in 46 games in his first of a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks.