LIVE: Bulls go for nine straight, sweep of Pacers

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LIVE: Bulls go for nine straight, sweep of Pacers

Friday, March 18, 2011
Posted: 10:37 a.m.

Associated Press

Derrick Rose has certainly done his part offensively, but the Chicago Bulls have won a season-high eight straight and taken over the Eastern Conference lead primarily thanks to their outstanding defense.

That's exactly what's helped them cruise to three wins over the Indiana Pacers.

The Bulls try to extend their longest winning streak in six years and complete a four-game sweep of the Pacers for the first time since 1996-97 on Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Chicago (49-18) allows 90.9 points per game, the fewest in the league, but it's stepped it up a few notches over the past two weeks. The Bulls have allowed an average of 82.0 points during their win streak - their longest since a nine-game run from March 19-April 2, 2005 - to jump ahead of Boston for the top spot in the East.

Coach Tom Thibodeau's team took sole possession of the conference lead for the first time by beating Washington 98-79 on Tuesday, and a night after the Celtics pulled back into a tie, Chicago clamped down again defensively. The Bulls played a fourth straight game without Carlos Boozer (sprained ankle), but got Joakim Noah back from a one-game absence and held New Jersey to 34.9 percent shooting Thursday in an 84-73 win.

"That's what we've been doing the whole year, playing defense," said Rose, who had a team-high 21 points and has led or shared the team lead in scoring during each of the past eight games.

"If our offense isn't going, and that rarely happens, we rely on our defense. That's what we did tonight, make it tough on them. At first, they were getting everything they wanted. Then we just closed down the paint and rebounded the ball."

The 73 points matched the fewest Chicago has allowed this season, a low-water mark Indiana knows all too well. The Pacers (29-39) have averaged 82.7 points and shot 36.2 percent in three losses to the Bulls this season by an average of 17.6 points, which included a 92-73 defeat without Danny Granger on Dec. 13 at the United Center.

Tyler Hansbrough also missed two of the losses, but he'll be on the floor Friday for the Pacers.

He's been a revelation lately for Indiana, averaging 25.2 points in his last five games heading into TD Garden on Wednesday, but the Celtics did plenty to frustrate Hansbrough and the Pacers. Indiana had a 49-36 rebounding edge but shot just 37.5 percent - including 4 of 14 from Hansbrough - in a 92-80 loss.

With Charlotte's loss at Houston, however, the Pacers stayed a half-game ahead for the East's No. 8 spot - which would match them up with the Bulls in the first round.

"It is definitely a lesson, and it's tough," Granger said as Indiana fell to 1-13 against the conference's top five teams. "It's virtually impossible to come in here and win, when you're not really going to the line a lot. It's tough but you got to play through it."

It's unclear if Boozer will be healthy enough to return Friday, but the Pacers would certainly prefer if he missed another game. Including last season with Utah, Boozer has averaged 23.4 points and 11.6 rebounds in his last five games versus Indiana.

Granger has averaged 27.5 points in his last four home games against Chicago.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

If the Bulls were doubting Thomases before Sunday afternoon, Isaiah made them pay for it dearly with each turn of his hand, each herky-jerky dribble and each devastating floater.

Perhaps wiser to their errors, the Bulls will go into Game 5 in Boston with an Isaiah of their own in the starting lineup, as Isaiah Canaan will make the start at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

Having been banished to the inactive list and end of the bench, Canaan's best moments under the United Center lights had been one-on-one matchups with his teammates hours before the real games began.

So being tossed in with 2:15 left in the first quarter and the Bulls already behind 13 points presented both opportunity and some nerves given the stakes. Having played a total of 92 minutes since the calendar turned to 2017, beggars can't be choosers.

"Throughout the season you just wonder when that opportunity is going to come," Canaan said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. You never can see what it may be, from going from not playing for the second half of the season mostly to playing in the most crucial time of the season in the playoffs, I guess God just sent me a sign to mentally be locked in and really battle your faith."

He responded by pressuring Thomas in a way Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams couldn't with any effectiveness, probably due to his quickness and similar build to Thomas.

"My job is to make his job miserable," Canaan said. "He's a great player and he can find different cracks, but I'm just going out there trying to interrupt their timing, try and milk as much time as I can off the shot clock and just keep him uncomfortable. Not let him get settled in for what they want to run, so I'm just out there to make him uncomfortable and speed him up."

Canaan scored 13 points in 33 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers and being a +11 while on the floor, so it's easy to see why Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn't going to mess around with the Grant and Carter-Williams combo that hadn't done much of anything in the friendly confines of the United Center over the weekend.

"I really thought he did a good job picking up the ball and pressuring the pickup point a full 94 feet," Hoiberg said. "I thought his initial ball pressure was good. We have to get off to a much better start if we want to have any chance of winning another game in this series. That's two games in a row now we've gotten ourselves down 20 points and fought all the way back."

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Still, Thomas scored 33 points and exploited a once-aggressive Bulls defense that seemed to be on its heels for most of the second half against Thomas, leading to Hoiberg's claims about Thomas carrying the ball to give himself an advantage in his hesitation moves.

Hoiberg wouldn't revisit the topic before Monday's practice and praised the Celtics guard who's battling through the devastating loss of his sister, who died right before the series opened in Boston last weekend.

"I'm a huge Isaiah Thomas fan. He's as big a competitor as we have in our league," Hoiberg said. "Obviously, he's as tough a guy to guard as we have in our league. I think the world of the kid, especially what he's going through now, how he's fought through that and like I said last night, he's a warrior to go out there and do what he's done so far in this series."

Thomas has averaged 25.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting with six assists and four rebounds per game. At times, the Bulls' size has bothered Thomas at the rim, particularly Jimmy Butler coming over to help alter his share of attempts, but since the Celtics have altered their approach Thomas has found easier traction to the basket.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens inserted Gerald Green in the starting lineup and the move has worked masterfully, with Green scoring 18 points with four 3-pointers and one highlight-worthy baseline dunk.

It's rendered Robin Lopez effectiveness to a minimum, as he was an unsung hero on the offensive glass in the first two games, meaning Stevens' move to play smaller was a risk, albeit a calculated one.

The Bulls didn't adjust at all to it in Game 4 after the Celtics won decisively Friday night, but changes besides Canaan have to be in store if the Bulls hope to come home looking to clinch a berth in the second round as opposed to fighting off elimination in Game 6.

"It changed it entirely. Obviously when it was big-big, we dominated them," Dwyane Wade said. "Dominated them defensively, incredibly. They made adjustments, we didn't need to because we were up 2-0. Then coming off Game 3, we felt watching the film we played with low motor, not enough energy so we didn't feel the gameplan was the key. 

"But it was coming out of Game 4. So now it's a few adjustments we hope to make and hopefully it makes a difference."

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