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.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Spurs tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com, the only place where you can get the hometown call from Neil and Stacey.

Coverage begins at 8 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. Attempting to end perfection. The Spurs have been absolutely electric outside of San Antonio this season, winning each of their first 13 road games to begin the year. That's the second longest streak in NBA history, and the Bulls have actually lost two of three at home. The Bulls will be home underdogs as the Spurs look to make it 14 in a row. The good news is the Bulls have defeated the Spurs at home each of the last two seasons.

2. Battle of the two-way studs. There's a real argument to be made that Thursday's matchup will tout the two best two-way players in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is having his best offensive season to date, averaging 24.5 points on 46 percent shooting, 1.9 triples, and averaging nearly 91 percent from the free-throw line. Expect Jimmy Butler and Leonard to be on each other's rear most of the night in what should be one of the most fun 1-on-1 matchups in the NBA.

3. Questions at the point. For the Spurs, Tony Parker is questionable to play with a knee injury. If he can't go, it would be Nico Laprovittola and Patty Mills running the point. For the Bulls, Rajon Rondo is coming off a pair of ugly performances in Bulls' losses to the Mavericks and Pistons (and his suspension against the Blazers). Someone needs to step up at the point, and it could decide Thursday night's winner.

4. Pau returns to the UC. Though it didn't result in much success, Pau Gasol enjoyed two highly successful seasons in Chicago. The stat-stuffer was named an All-Star in both seasons, averaging 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games. He's now in San Antonio, filling Tim Duncan's role in the starting lineup. And though his numvers are down from a year ago, he's still capable of putting up numbers, especially against a Bulls' interior that has struggled of late.

5. Getting Doug McDermott back. Dougie McBuckets has been activated to the Bulls roster, and not a moment too soon. Since McDermott suffered a concussion on Nov. 12, the Bulls bench ranks 26th in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and 30th in 3-point field-goal percentage (23.5 percent). Getting McDermott back, even in a small role as he gets his legs under him, will be a major factor against a Spurs team whose offense continues to heat up in December.

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Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

AUBURN HILLS, MICH—Rajon Rondo almost made it to the quarter mark of the season without incident, but his frustrations got the better of him in Dallas last weekend in a situation with Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen.

He returned from his one-game suspension in a light mood, but didn’t take things lightly when addressing questions from the media after the Bulls’ 102-91 loss to Detroit.

Rondo admitted that he feels so strongly about things that he doesn’t let them go as easily as he should, which could have been the case with Boylen. Rondo threw a towel after an exchange with Boylen during the Bulls’ blowout loss to the Mavericks.

“That’s a good way to put it. Me as a player, a point guard, I have to handle a situation better,” Rondo said. “But when I feel a certain way, I’m gonna speak on it. My whole thing is always for the betterment of the team.

“If it comes off wrong or a certain way I’ll try to work on that. But for the most part I’m not a selfish individual, I try to do what’s best for the team, try to watch film with my teammates. That’s just part of the game, who I am.”

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When asked if he actually threw a towel at Boylen, Rondo quipped, “You gotta look at the film,” and tried to downplay the situation as best he could, noting the timing of the event in question.

He apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates and believes there won’t be lasting effects, although the Bulls are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

“Hopefully it’ll be the last three-game losing streak,” Rondo said. “It’s about how you handle adversity. We usually handle it well as far as bouncing back.”

Calling the incident “part of the game,” Rondo didn’t want to address specifics but given his history of instances such as these in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento, this one makes it a little harder to shake the reputation of being difficult to deal with.

“I have a good relationship with my team and I take pride in being a great teammate,” Rondo said. “I think we’re still on the same page. When you lose, things get blown out of proportion. When you win, it covers everything up. So we have to get back to winning basketball.”

His teammates have been supportive both behind the scenes and publicly, and were happy to have him back despite not being able to quell the losing streak.

“It was good. That's our starting point guard. We need veteran guys on this team,” Bulls guard Dwyane Wade said. “We need our bodies. He's our leader today so when we got down early he was the one who kept talking to us defensively. He's so smart out there on the floor, takes certain things away, get out in open transition. The reason we got back in the game, he did a good job of leading us in those moments.”