Bulls take down the Nets, close 2010 in style

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Bulls take down the Nets, close 2010 in style

Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
Posted 4:34 PM Updated 5:53 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

If good tidings are the most important thing about heading into a new year, then 2011 should be a good one for the Bulls (21-10), as they outlasted the lowly New Jersey Nets (9-24), 90-81, Friday afternoon, in their last game of 2010.

The matinee affair wasnt a classic performance, but as Chicago has demonstrated lately, grinding out tough wins is somewhat of an art form.

Well take the win. Youve got to win different ways. We were struggling offensively, but the defense was good, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I thought every time we got an eight or 10-point lead, we got a little loose and they kept fighting, kept coming back.

Offensive execution wasnt much of an issue for the Bulls in the early going, as the home team got plenty of opportunities with Carlos Boozer (20 points, 15 rebounds, four assists) as the focal point, as hes been in recent outings and while they capitalized at a decent rate, the visiting Nets, in turn, shot the ball at an even better clip.

The injury-riddled guests from New Jersey knocked down perimeter jumpers a pair apiece for wings Travis Outlaw (16 points, six rebounds) and Stephen Graham (16 points, seven rebounds) early while focusing on getting center Brook Lopez (19 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots) open looks.

Additionally, Boozer picked up two quick fouls, depriving Chicago of his all-around game, although both Derrick Rose (19 points, eight assists, four rebounds) and Luol Deng (19 points, eight rebounds) each got off to strong starts. Still, the contest was a surprisingly tight-knit affair, with the Nets actually surging ahead to briefly lead, before the Bulls ended the first period with a 23-21 advantage.

With Boozer back in the game to start the second quarter with the teams second unit, the Bulls tried to push the tempo as head coach Tom Thibodeau has been consistently preaching as of late but while that approach had mixed results, a combination of attacking the basket, high-energy play and Boozers impact widened Chicagos winning margin while Thibodeaus regulars rested.

To start the second quarter, I thought our bench came in and gave us a really good lift. Part of that was Carlos being out there because he came out early in the first, so it gave us a post presence with that second unit and it opened up some things. But when we got the lead, the last six minutes of the second quarter, our defense just wasnt sharp, observed Thibodeau. I thought that group played well Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson; I thought Omer Asik gave us good minutes, Taj Gibson I thought they were very active.

However, as the Bulls intensity waned, the Nets, led by Lopez interior scoring and an unexpected boost from Graham, got back within striking distance. A wholly uninspiring affair in general, Chicagos play was lackluster enough to again surrender the lead to New Jersey late in the period, but a 3-pointer by Brewer (10 points) along with fellow reserve swingman Kyle Korver (nine points, three assists), Brewer provided the Bulls with a big lift salvaged Chicagos lead. At intermission, the Bulls led, 46-44.

Low energy and we didnt come out aggressive, and we didnt hit the shots that we normally hit. Thats what put us in a hole a little bit, Rose explained. Hopefully tomorrow, youll see a different team.

It was just one of those games where you try your hardest to do whatever youre trying to do, but by that time, the games going. We didnt start playing hard really until towards the end, continued the All-Star point guard, who believed the games early start might have thrown the squad off their stride. Thats tough, man. Usually youre taking naps right now or heading to the game, but thats why its the pros. Thats why its the NBA. Its going to be a challenge.

Deng started the second half by hitting jumpers on back-to-back Bulls possessions and the team as a whole proceeded to show that they indeed had some life, exemplified by a tremendous hustle play by grizzled veteran Kurt Thomas (seven points, six rebounds, two blocks).

I thought Lu got us going to start the third. I thought his movement without the ball he got some open looks I thought that got us going again, praised Thibodeau. Hes provided basically whatever weve needed in each and every game, whether its defense, rebounding, scoring, passing. Hes an all-around player, hes an unselfish player and hes a guy you can count on.

But New Jersey, confident from playing their supposedly superior opponents basically to a standstill in the first half of play, didnt immediately fade away.

Although it wasnt an overwhelming display of stellar basketball by Chicago, the Nets showed enough flashes of what has earned them an annual spot at or near the bottom of the leagues cellar for the home team to maintain a slim cushion over the visitors. Despite clearly not hitting on all cylinders, the Bulls were up, 70-63, heading into the final stanza.

A sense of urgency didnt miraculously appear in the fourth quarter, so New Jersey took advantage, again threatening Chicagos comfort level, prompting a timeout by Thibodeau to make adjustments. Whatever Thibodeaus strategic changes might have been, they didnt immediately resonate with his team, as the Nets, with the playmaking of point guard Devin Harris (10 points, nine assists) leading the way, kept the pressure on the Bulls, drawing within two points midway through the quarter.

As if a light switch went on, the Bulls picked up the pace and thusly gained some breathing room from the visitors, mostly by virtue of Boozer making an impact in either subtle or overt fashion, complimented by Roses playmaking.

Though Thibodeau was clearly displeased that his team didnt finish the game in stronger fashion, the home team did enough to salt away the contest and go into the next calendar year on a high note, despite a valiant New Jersey effort late.

This is fine. A win is a win. I remember playing my heart out and losing. It hurts. A win is a win in this league, man, said Rose. No matter how pretty it is or whatever last-second shot or whatever Ill take a win over anything.

Boozer rationalized: Our energy has to be there on both sides of the ball and right now, were grinding games out. Were not having too many easy wins, but another mark of a good team is a team that can find different ways to win. We are playing without Joakim still. We havent talked about it very much, but he makes the game a lot easier for us and with him not being in there, were finding new ways to win.

Much-maligned starting shooting guard Keith Bogans, a well-traveled NBA veteran, explained to CSNChicago.com that these growing pains are expected and the fact that the team is winning, despite not playing at their peak, is a blessing.

As long as we get a win we probably didnt win the way we wanted to the main thing is to get as many wins as we can, go back, fix it in practice or when we talk about it watching film tomorrow. But this is the NBA. Youve got to get as many wins as you can and get ready for the postseason. Every game is not going to be the way that we draw it up or we want to win, so depending on the situation, weve just got to pull it out and work on it after that.

Were still a young team thats learning to play together. Its not going to happen overnight not like with Boston, whos been playing together for years so its going to take some time.

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.

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

Taj Gibson began working on his 3-point shot as early as this past offseason. That work in the gym from beyond the arc continued into training camp, the preseason and eventually the regular season.

The eight-year veteran didn't attempt his first 3-pointer until the 21st game of the season, and that came in the final minute as the Bulls trailed by nine against the Pistons. Gibson's 27-foot heave from the left wing was off, and he proceeded to play the next 17 games without attempting another.

But recently Gibson had a conversation with head coach Fred Hoiberg, who knew the 31-year-old power forward had been putting in additional time to work on his corner 3-pointers. Hoiberg told Gibson he believed in his corner 3-pointer and that he'd allow the Bulls' forward to shoot them in games.

On Jan. 10, Gibson took a pass from Rajon Rondo midway through the first quarter and hoisted a 3-pointer from the left corner. He connected, marking just the second made 3-pointer of his career, and his first since the 2010-11 season.

Between triples Gibson, always a reliable midrange shooter, attempted and missed 22 3-pointers. But with the added practice time and confidence, and a blessing from his head coach, Gibson believes the 3-pointer can become an asset, going as far to say he’d like to shoot two triples per game.

There is, however, one aspect of the shot still standing in his way.

"When you get out there you never really realize how far it is until you're lined up and the crowd is like, 'Shoot it!'" Gibson said after Thursday's practice at the Advocate Center. "Your teammates are behind you, but it's fun. Hopefully (I) look forward to trying to make some in the future."

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Gibson attempted two more triples in Saturday's win over the Hornets and another in Sunday's win over the Grizzlies. All three were off-target, but just seeing Gibson step into the attempts and fire with confidence was a sight for sore eyes on a Bulls team lacking from outside.

Through the season's first half the Bulls rank last in both 3-point field goal percentage (31.7 percent) and 3-pointers made (6.4 per game). Their 276 total made 3-pointers as a team are less than two pairs of teammates (Houston’s Eric Gordon and James Harden, 301; Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, 283).

The Bulls' expected top 3-point shooters – Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine – have combined to go 114-for-350, or 32.5 percent. Starters Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade haven’t fared much better, albeit on fewer attempts, while Chicago's trio of point guards have made 29 percent of their 144 3-point attempts. Simply put, there's ample opportunity to see what Gibson can do from deep without messing up the team's current perimeter shooting.

"It's something that he worked on a lot in the offseason. So yeah if he's open in the corner we want those shots," Hoiberg said. "It’s obviously a huge part of today's game. The 3-point shot, to have multiple players that can stretch the floor out there, those teams are really hard to guard."

Gibson's not the only Bulls big man experimenting. Robin Lopez said he, too, has been working on his outside shot in practice. Gibson joked that Hoiberg hasn't yet given Lopez permission to fire away from deep, while Hoiberg cracked that Lopez might be jealous of the 5.2 3-pointers his twin brother, Brook, is attempting this season in Brooklyn.

Lopez, like Gibson, has always had a dependable midrange shot. Per NBA.com, his 44.4 field goal percentage on midrange shots is fifth among centers this season.

"That’s something I've been working on more this season. I don't know if it's game-ready yet. That's more of a confidence issue," said Lopez, who added he's been working with assistant coach Pete Myers on the shot. "I think the way the NBA is going, I don't see why not. If Brook can do it, I definitely can."

Lopez is 0-for-5 from distance in his nine-year career, including 0-for-1 with the Bulls this season. But the defensive-minded center knows the ever-changing NBA game now includes teams wanting to get as many perimeter shooters on the floor at once. If he and/or Gibson can eventually be part of that, he knows the difference it could make.

"I think it's wonderful for the game. I think there's a real premium on skill at all positions on the court. I think that's going to continue. You're going to have more skilled and more talented big men," he said. "There's always a new breed of big men right around the corner."

Bulls Road Ahead: Trying to get back to .500 yet again

Bulls Road Ahead: Trying to get back to .500 yet again

Mark Schanowski and Mark Strotman break down what the Bulls need to do to get back on track on this edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

A stellar win over the Grizzlies on Sunday has all but been forgotten, as the Bulls lost to the Mavericks on Tuesday. Now back under .500 for the fourth time this season, the Bulls will have to regroup as they prepare for a back-to-back against the Hawks and Kings.

See what else they had to say in this week's Bulls Road Ahead.