Bulls take Cavs' best shot, start 2011 with win

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Bulls take Cavs' best shot, start 2011 with win

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
Posted 8:33 PM Updated 11:07 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

One way to look at Chicagos recent spate of unimpressive victories is that theyre playing down to their competition. To Carlos Boozer, however, opposing teams are approaching matchups with the Bulls with the mindset that theyre playing an elite NBA team.

Before I got here, we werent afraid to play the Bulls at all, but were trying to rewrite everything and I think when teams think about us now, they get ready to play, Boozer told CSNChicago.com. Thats because of the people in this locker room, our coaching staff and how weve been able to perform this season. Weve changed that mentality. Teams look forward to playing us because were a good team. I think when you have success, you get everybodys attention around the league and teams do have to play you.

We have that X on our backs and whether we get recognition or not, we dont care. We want to keep getting better, keep getting wins and well be a team to reckon with come playoff time.

If Boozers theory is correct, it explains how a short-handed, dismal Cavaliers (8-25) team was able to keep things close Saturday eveningin fact, the visitors led for the majority of the contestbefore a Derrick Rose-fueled, 32-9 third quarter gave the Bulls (22-10) the upper hand before an eventual 100-91 victory.

The lowly, injury-riddled visitorsfor the second consecutive, the Bulls hosted one of the leagues lesser lights while they were short-handedjumped out to a 5-0 start on the first day of the calendar year, reviving past concerns about Chicagos readiness to begin games, especially after last months close call in Cleveland. With two quick fouls saddling Boozer (20 points, 11 rebounds) to compound matters, the Bulls slow start persisted, although the Cavaliers didnt possess the firepower to significantly widen the gap, outside of veteran scorer Antawn Jamison (19 points, nine rebounds).

While Cleveland wasnt necessarily the most offensively proficient bunch, the cold-shooting and foul-pronestarting center Kurt Thomas (season-high 13 rebounds), like Boozer, acquired a pair of first-quarter foulsBulls simply couldnt slice into their deficit (which reached double figures) and despite efforts by Rose (28 points, 11 assists) to manufacture points via drawing fouls and his playmaking ability, with assistance from Luol Deng (23 points), the Bulls trailed, 28-24, after a period of play.

A lot of games have been slow for us in the first quarter, said Boozer. Weve got to come out better, weve got to come out stopping teams better, executing our offense a little bit better and thatll take care of it.

Chicagos bench gave the team somewhat of a jolt to start the second quarter, as increased intensity and solid efforts from Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer specifically made the energy in the United Center go up a few notches, albeit briefly. The Cavaliers, however, didnt immediately wilt, with young reserve J.J. Hickson (21 points, eight rebounds) providing instant offense when inserted into the contest, as well as solid backcourt play from starting guards Ramon Sessions (13 points, six assists) and rookie Manny Harris (11 points).

Midway through the period, the Bulls finally began to find a rhythm and while Jamison and undersized big man Leon Powe (14 points, six rebounds) continued to do damage for Cleveland, Roses distribution to the likes of Deng and Boozer helped the home team gain ground on their Central Division rivals. But the Cavs withstood Chicagos surge and at the half, the Bulls trailed, 61-53.

We came in here at halftime. We started talking to each other before Coach even walked in and said, Were not playing our best on defense, Boozer recounted. To a man, we had to look each other in the eye and say, Weve got to do better. We came out there and gave up nine points, and thats where the game was won for us.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau bristled at the suggestion that his team didnt give maximum effort from the outset.

I dont know if were not trying hard. I think were trying pretty hard. I dont think we played particularly well in the first half, but well take the win, said Thibodeau. Well take the wins any way we can get them, but we know we have to improve in a number of different areas. We have some practice time now, where we can work on some stuff, so we have to take advantage of that.

You look at the overall picture and I think defensively, were never satisfied and we want it to be great and then offensively, I think its going to come. Right now, were still finding our way offensively. Weve got to get a balance between transition, post-ups, catch-and-shoot, ball movement, player movement and when we do that, were very efficient offensively, he continued. First and foremost, we have to establish ourselves defensively and we didnt do that, so we wanted to correct that first. Offensively, I thought we missed some shots that I thought were good shots, but I also thought took away from how we were playing, with energy. We got into a mode where we were just trading baskets with them and you cant win like that. When we went ahead, they just came right back. It seemed like we caught up, we got the lead, exhaled and then they hit us againin the third quarter, we came out and had the right energy, the right intensity.

Rose, as hes prone to do, asserted his will on the game early in the third quarter, bringing the Bulls back with both his scoring and passingwith Deng being the primary beneficiary of the latterfueling an 18-2 run to open the second half. Suddenly, Clevelands previously uncontested looks were now defended a bit more closely and thanks to Roses penetration ability, outside shooting and distribution, Chicagos offense ran a lot more smoothly en route to seizing both the lead and the games momentum.

Now that they were rolling, everything flipped for the Bullsshots that were rattling out before now either dropped through or were tipped in, while the Cavs couldnt buy a basket, shooting an abysmal 3-for-21 in the period, compared to 61.9 percent for the home teamand a double-figure advantage was built, energizing the previously dormant crowd and prompting Cleveland head coach Byron Scott to call a timeout. With Roses personal mini-exhibition no longer necessary for Chicago to snap out of its malaise, the Bulls cruised to an 85-70 lead after the decisive third quarter, during which the visitors were outscored, 32-9.

In the early portion of the final stanza, the Bulls endured a return to offensive stagnation, which, coupled with Powes scoring contributions, permitted Cleveland to whittle Chicagos winning margin down to double figures. Hickson gave the Cavs an additional boost and all of a sudden, the game was once again a tight-knit affair, as the Bulls failed to capitalize on numerous offensive possessions.

The tension got thick late, but Clevelands offensive inefficiency was enough for Chicago to sustain a winning effort, even with the Bulls missing multiple key free throws late; as opposed to throughout the whole game, as they shot a respectable 21-for-26 for the evening. Maybe it wasnt most beautiful thing to watch, but the fans got their moneys worth, as Dengs game-ending free throw earned the crowd free Big Macs.

I knew they were big free throws. I know how much the fans love Big Macs. I just thought Id play some games and miss the firstno, Im kidding, said Deng. Im really glad I made it. The fans have been great all year.

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.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Zach LaVine quickly made a name for himself as a prolific, epic dunker.

The recently acquired Bull won both the 2015 and 2016 Slam Dunk Contests and has plenty of awe-inspiring in-game dunks as well.

The video above has a few of LaVine's best efforts.

His signature dunks in the dunk contests were the 2015 dazzler when he caught the ball from behind the backboard and went through his legs before slamming it and the through the legs from just inside the free throw line dunk in 2016.

For in-game dunks, the time he posterized Alex Len in November was an instant-classic. It's not everyday a 7-footer gets dismissed with such authority.

Of course, LaVine's ability to dunk at this prodigious level is in question after he tore his ACL this past season. If LaVine can come back to anywhere near full strength, look for some impressive highlights from the former dunk champ in a Bulls uniform.