Mr. Clutch: Rose's buzzer-beater rescues Bulls

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Mr. Clutch: Rose's buzzer-beater rescues Bulls

MILWAUKEE - Cold-blooded. Thats the only way to describe Derrick Roses performance Wednesday night, particularly his game-winning shot at the buzzer.

Love it. As a kid, those are the things that you dream about and it felt good, man, said a happy, yet calm Rose afterwards. Youre on the road, playing against a team thats giving you their all and you hit a nice shot like that.

Facing an opponent that was tired of getting bullied, the Bulls (33-8) needed every bit of Roses marvelous all-around performance to hold off the Bucks (15-24), 106-104, at the Bradley Center.

What can you say? Another big shot, played hard all game, big play after big play. Jo had a great game, big tip-in late and our defense wasnt very good, but I thought Taj gave us a good lift, Carlos got some scores for us, Ronnie was real solid, bench came in, did a good job, but weve got to get our defense going, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was a great play by him. He took the clock down, he didnt leave any time because you felt like, whoever had the ball, they were going to score next and thats not usually our style, but I give them a lot of credit.

Despite Roses brilliant showing, a pesky Milwaukee team, buoyed by a career-high night from unheralded forward Ersan Ilyasova (32 points, 10 rebounds), hung around for the entire contest and it wasnt until the contests final moment that the visitors were ensured of their eighth consecutive victory.

At the outset of the contest, it was a spirited, fast-paced, back-and-forth affair, mostly devoid of defense in front of a crowd that was least half filled with fans who had made the relatively short trip from Chicago. Perhaps former Bulls big man Drew Gooden (27 points, six rebounds) was inspired by their presence, as he dominated in the early going, carrying the home teams offensive load with 16 first-quarter points.

The visitors, as usual, were led by the scoring and playmaking stylings of Rose (30 points, 14-for-14 free-throw shooting, 11 assists, eight rebounds), as the reigning league MVP sliced his way into the lane at will to either finish strong at the rim or dish off to his teammatessuch as Joakim Noah (20 points, 10 rebounds), who converted chances around the basket, Carlos Boozer (15 points, six rebounds), whose mid-range jumper was accurate in the early going, and Ronnie Brewer (seven points, five rebounds, five assists), once again starting in place of the injured Rip Hamiltonto propel his team.

Milwaukee countered with swingman Carlos Delfino to aid Gooden, but at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a 33-30 edge.

Led by the energetic and determined play of Taj Gibson (10 points, seven rebounds)including a half-court alley-oop finishthe Bench Mob made a push at the beginning of the second quarter to give the Bulls some breathing room with an 8-2 run. The hosts, however, fought back behind the reserve perimeter trio of Beno Udrih (11 points, seven assists), Mike Dunleavy (eight points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Shaun Livingston, to once again make it a close-knit affair and eventually, take the lead.

Thibodeau reinserted his regulars and his squad responded by not only regaining the lead, but creating some separation, mostly as a result of Roses penetration, the burgeoning post-up game of Noah, who logged his first career triple-double when the Bulls faced the Bucks in Chicago on Feb. 22, and improved defensive focus. At the intermission, the Bulls took a 55-50 advantage into the tunnel.

Chicagos defensive intensity waned after the break, but with continued offensive efficiency, the visitors maintained their slim cushion over the Bucks, who ran their offense through big men Gooden and Ilyasova.

Those guys, they scored a lot. Their frontcourt scored a lot of points. Its kind of unacceptable, said Noah. Ilyasova is just playing great. Hes rebounding the ball, hes very active, he shoots the ball well, hes a good defender, he can switch and he can do a lot of things out there.

Boozer, Noah and Rose remained the Bulls offensive focal points, as mid-range shooting, strong interior play and effective floor generalship, respectively, were the individual bread and butter for the triumvirate.

But Milwaukee kept coming and with the Bulls having ball-security issues, Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings (11 points, six assists) coming alive, Ilyasova finding his groove and second-year reserve big man Larry Sanders providing a jolt of energy off the bench, the contest was too close for comfort.

Through three periods, the game was tied at 73 apiece and the visitors were in for a battle heading into the games final stanza.

Milwaukee plays tough. Every night they play tough, said Thibodeau. Gooden and Ilyasova played great for them. Jennings didnt shoot a high percentage, but he was in the paint. Udrih was in the paint. We turned the ball over, which I thought really hurt us. It put them in the open floor and that gave them too many easy baskets17 turnovers, 25 pointsso we made it hard on ourselves, too.

Added Luol Deng: Theyre playing well. They just beat Philly. Its hard to beat a team four times in such a short time, so weve been seeing them a lot. I know theyre sick and tired of us coming in here, winning and beating them at home, and they really came out tonight and fought hard. Plus, theyre trying to get to the playoffs. We played hard, but I really thought throughout the game, in spurts, they played a lot harder than us. We just hit big shots to win the game.

Chicagos reserves held down the fort early in the fourth quarter, but even after Thibodeau got his starters back into the contest, the Bulls couldnt pull away from their pesky hosts. Meanwhile, Ilyasova continued to dominate for the Bucks, hitting an array of bucketsjumpers and layups alikeand put the home team up with just over four minutes to go by hitting a three-pointer that made it 93-91, suddenly making it a reality that the divisional rivals could pull of the upset.

But going into the games stretch run, Rose went into takeover mode, spurring MVP chants from the crowd, Noah cleaned up on the glass and Deng (12 points), battling an injured left wrist that clearly affected his ballhandling, knocked down big shots in clutch situations to create a gap between the Bulls and their scrappy opponents.

However, the never-say-die attitude of the Bucks, coached by former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles, paid off and after a call awarding possession to Chicago was reversed, Udrih hit a layup to even the contest at 102 all with 42.9 seconds left.

Rose was sent to the line with 32.5 seconds to go and drained a pair, but on the subsequent possession, Ilyasova rebounded a Jennings miss to tie the game at 104.

Following a timeout with 18.1 seconds remaining, the Bulls got the ball into Roses hands, he let time drain off the clock and knocked down a step-back jumper over Jennings at the buzzer, sending the Chicago portion of the crowd into hysterics, while silencing the Milwaukee loyalists, all while wearing his trademark deadpan expression on his face as his teammates mobbed him upon the ball going through the net.

Its great, man. Its a great feeling. If anything, were just happy that we got the win and trying to keep this thing going. Were playing pretty good, got to polish some things up still on the defensive end and play together, said Rose. It gives me a lot of confidence, man. I remember a few years back, I was missing those shots. I think its a thing where you just learned from it, knowing what they give you. My last couple end-of-game shots have been floaters. Seemed like he was backing up a little bit and I just pulled up.

Beyond Roses shotthe Chicago natives first true buzzer-beater to win a game with all zeroes on the scoreboardDeng saw the win as another step in the teams development.

I always say weve just got to find a way. Were getting better at it this year compared to last year and as the years going on, were really getting better at finding ways to win," Deng explained. "The way the game was going, we had turnovers and it shows a lot of maturity, each individual and also as a team. Were really getting better and its going to help us later on in the playoffs. I thought last year, just losing to Miami, there were certain times as a team, where we didnt step up to what was going on at the end of the game and I think were better at it this year."

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

Jimmy Butler didn't come close to following in his trainer's footsteps, but Mr. G. Buckets Unplugged still proved enlightening.

Following a wild Thursday, Butler hopped on the phone Friday afternoon from Paris to chat with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about the deal that sent the former face of the Bulls to rejoin Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Butler wanted to be labeled as the face of the franchise, but his comments seem to reflect the old adage "be careful what you wish for."

"It doesn't mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn't as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That's all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I'm trying to do.

"Whatever they want to call me... face... I don't even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I've learned? Face of the team, eventually, you're going to see the back of his head as he's leaving town, so no thanks."

Whoa.

Butler also spoke about trying to block out all the trade rumors while on vacation in France:

"I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it. 

"It's crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can't get mad at anybody. I'm not mad - I'm not. I just don't like the way some things were handled, but it's OK."

Butler doesn't have to be the sole face of the franchise in Minnesota on a team that has two of the top homegrown young stars in the game in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

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.