Deng's balanced attack propels Bulls over Pacers

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Deng's balanced attack propels Bulls over Pacers

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011
Posted 9:30 p.m. Updated 11:46 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With their superstar still ailing, the Bulls didnt miss a beat Saturday night.

Although they again allowed an inferior opponent to stick around three quarter, a huge fourth-quarter push increased Chicagos current winning streak to five games, as they knocked off the visiting Indiana Pacers, 110-89.

It was a victory with equal parts unselfish offense, stout defense when it mattered and enough out of Bulls stars and supporting-cast members alike. In the grand scheme of things, casual observers may consider it just another win against subpar competition especially after beating fellow Eastern Conference contender Orlando the previous evening but to the game-by-game Bulls, it was much more significant.

WATCH: Ronnie Brewer posterizes a Pacer

When you look at your season, this game had just as much value as last nights game. The perception is last night was a big game, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Well, tonight is big. It counts just as much.

A looming subplot entering the contest was the health of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose. Rose (20 points, seven assists), whos suffering from stomach ulcers, had a quiet first half just five points on 1-for-7 shooting but exploded after the intermission, hitting his first four shot attempts (all jumpers off the dribble), then taking over the game for a stretch in the final stanza.

I took it easy in the first half and in the second half, I just tried to be aggressive, taking shots they were giving me and they were just falling, said Rose, who admitted he felt sore afterwards. Theres nothing to complain about. Everybodys feeling good, were winning and were just trying to keep this thing going.

We won. Thats the biggest thing. Theres nothing to say about it, continued Rose, who hasnt eaten a solid meal in days. Get these wins out of the way now, rest up and hopefully get better.

Although the Bulls start to the contest wasnt exactly crisp they didnt shoot the ball proficiently at the outset and allowed Pacers power forward Josh McRoberts (20 points, eight rebounds) to score seven of Indianas first nine points solid defense permitted them to take a slim lead over their divisional rivals.

However, Chicagos balanced offensive approach couldnt withstand the Pacers perimeter-oriented attack, as starting wings Danny Granger (17 points, six rebounds) and Mike Dunleavy (13 points) wreaked havoc from the outside.

In fact, the visitors went on to build a slight cushion, as point guard Darren Collisons (11 points, eight assists) playmaking and the ability to spread the Bulls defense then attack by either bombing away from deep or efficiently slashing to the rim but the lethargic home team made a late rally, fueled by Luol Dengs (19 points, eight assists, six rebounds) aggressive start to the contest, to cut the deficit to 27-25 at the conclusion of the opening period.

With Granger, Indianas leading scorer, paired with the Pacers second unit against his counterpart, Deng, and the Bulls reserves, both teams essentially canceled each other out at the start of the second quarter, with their respective small forwards carrying the offensive burdens.

That even nature of the close-knit affair took a turn toward the Bulls favor upon Carlos Boozers (24 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) reinsertion to the contest. Aside from his typical low-post scoring and rebounding contributions, Boozers passing he got reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver (16 points) going with a kick-out pass that led to a three-pointer; Korver scored on two more trips soon afterwards, including a rarely-seen drive on the baseline that was finished with a nifty reverse layup also benefited his teammates.

When hes shooting like that, it opens so many screens for us, praised Thibodeau. He played such a terrific game. it looks like hes getting his legs under him again.

Indiana hung around, however, buoyed by the play of backup point guard A.J. Price (12 points), but after both squads filtered their regulars back into the contest, Chicago took command, rattling off eight uncontested points before Pacers head coach Jim OBrien attempted to put a halt to the onslaught with a timeout.

Whatever instructions were meted out appeared to have been followed the Bulls ragged play certainly helped the visitors cause as Indiana battled back before the half and Chicagos lead evaporated to a 55-51 winning margin at the break.

After halftime, Rose began to assert himself as a scorer. Indiana countered by going to McRoberts, whose activity, athleticism and energetic play on the interior gave Chicago fits, prompting Thibodeau to put a temporary cease to the proceedings.

The remainder of the period was evenly played the insertion of Taj Gibson (four points, seven rebounds) improved the Bulls defensive effort and after a Rose three-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer, Chicago entered the final frame with a 77-72 lead.

Rose came out like gangbusters in the fourth quarter, wowing the United Center crowd with two early scores before giving way to backup point guard C.J. Watson for a breather.

It just shows you the type of competitor he is. Hes our leader, hes our MVP this year. Hes been doing it all for us, night in and night out. We expected him to be out there tonight, veteran Kurt Thomas told CSNChicago.com. I wasnt concerned at all. I felt he was going to do what he needed to do to get his mind right and get his body right before the game.

Added Rose: I like pressure. If anything, it makes me play harder and makes me perform better.

Additionally, Dengs strong all-around play persisted, as he mixed inside and outside scoring, a solid effort on the boards, nice playmaking from the wing and tough defense on Granger, all aiding Chicago in putting Indiana in a double-digit hole.

A downer for the Bulls came when Gibson, after stepping on teammate Ronnie Brewers (eight points, five rebounds) foot, appeared rolled his right ankle. Gibson writhed in pain on the court before being helped up he seemingly couldnt put weight on the injured ankle and needed assistance to walk off the floor and headed directly to the locker room early in the period.

WATCH: Gibson discusses ankle injury

I just remember Granger cutting down the lane, I went to help and I dont know if it was just me or if I tripped over somebodys foot. My foot just came in just twisted in the same injury from before, earlier this season. I just went down, recounted Gibson, who told reporters an X-ray on his ankle came up negative and was diagnosed as a sprain.

I thought it was pretty serious because it was the same exact spot same exact place I turned it a couple months back and the pain was way worse than what happened last time I did turn my ankle. I was a little scared and at first, I couldnt put pressure on it. I was nervous.

Korver returned to the contest and added to the home teams momentum by draining two jumpers and while the Bulls werent efficient, they played stifling defense against the Pacers.

However, it was Brewers powerful, two-handed flush over McRoberts plus the foul that blew the game open even wider and resulted in the unraveling of the Pacers.

WATCH: Brewer describes dunk

Deng dropped it off to me, McRoberts jumped and I got the and-one. It was a good play, it was good that the crowd got into it and I was happy I made the free throw, said Brewer, who was exuberant after the spectacular dunk. I think I over-celebrated, but I think I was in the heat of the moment.

McRoberts was assessed a technical foul following the ensuing free throw for shoving Boozer while jostling for the rebound. Then, OBrien received his second technical of the contest and was ejected.
After defeating the Pacers, Bulls players gave credit to head coach Tom Thibodeau for making sure they focus on the task at hand; meanwhile, Thibodeau admitted he doesn't even know what the Bulls record currently is. (AP)
Chicago went to Boozer to seal the deal, but the gap was large enough that Thibodeau elect to use reserve forward Brian Scalabrine, a fan favorite whose appearance brought delight to the fans.

In addition to their prize of Big Macs for the Bulls reaching triple digits, the crowd also received another treat: Chicago maintaining their dominance at home.

With the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls will head into a five-game West Coast road trip next week, starting with a reunion with former coach Vinny Del Negro Wednesday in Los Angeles. Similar to Saturday night, the plan is for the team to not look past any opponent.

Our confidence is high. Any game we go into, we expect to win. Most of the time, were not worried about opponents; were just worried about what to do. Its all about us and thats a winning attitude, Deng told CSNChicago.com. Coachs challenge is getting us fired up and our challenge the captains and as a team is to be ready for the game. Coach has been doing a good job preparing us, making sure every theres a reason and we havent really relaxed yet. Thats how you win and thats how were winning.

Added Thomas: All were focusing on is the Clippers. Thats our next game, thats our next opponentI know you hear it all the time, but thats been our mentality 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.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”