Not pretty, but Bulls pull out another tough win

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Not pretty, but Bulls pull out another tough win

Thursday, April 21, 2011Posted: 9:00 p.m. Updated: 11:55 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISIt feels amazing, but were not satisfied. It feels good to be in this position, but we know that we want more, Joakim Noah said while picking out food from the postgame spread in the empty Conseco Fieldhouse visiting locker room.

After surviving the worst shooting night of the season from his star teammate and an overly physical contest from the opposition, the Bulls center had a right to feel gratified.

Despite Derrick Roses 4-for-18 shooting, the Bulls fought off the defiant Pacers, 88-84, Thursday night, to win Game 3 of their first-round series and take a 3-0 lead with a potentially-clinching contest looming Saturday afternoon in Indiana.

Rose persevered through his horrendous evening shooting the ball to make a clutch, go-ahead layup with 17.8 seconds to go, setting the stage for the victory.

Hes a tough competitor, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Hes going to do whatever we need him to do at the end of the game and make all the big plays.

Compared to the last time the Bulls visited Conseco Fieldhouse, the atmosphere changed almost 180 degrees, as the previously sizable Chicago contingent in the arena was now substantially less. Pacers fans filled the building to the gills for the franchises first home playoff game since 2006.

Indiana point guard Darren Collison started the contesthe was a game-time decision after spraining his left ankle in the Bulls Game 2 winheartening the home crowd, which became even more boisterous when Carlos Boozer (four points on 2-for-10 shooting, 11 rebounds) picked up two fouls in short succession.

Its just how the game went. Didnt get any free throwsI guess I didnt get fouled out therebut well call it like it is. Well keep playing. I dont care about any of that stuff, said Boozer of his disappointing outing. I dont care about my numbers. I dont care if I shot great without getting any fouls called. All I care about is winning. This whole team is like that. All we want to do is win and thats why were in the position were in. We dont care about stats.

Were a team. Were not a one-guy team, were not a two-guy team. We need everybody in this locker room to win.

Taj Gibson, however, showed that he was more than prepared to get minutes, propelling the Bulls to a slim advantage with his high activity level, despite the low-post presence of Pacers center Roy Hibbert, the varied scoring of Danny Granger (21 points) and a game that was being officiated in a different fashion than the two previous affairs in the Windy City.

While the defense of rookie swingman Paul George (12 rebounds) and veteran reserve Dahntay Jones (who hadnt previously played in the series) limited Rose (23 points, 13-for-15 from the foul line, four steals, five turnovers), Luol Deng (21 points, six rebounds, six assists) picked up the scoring slack and after the opening period, the Bulls clung to a 21-17 lead.

Both Dengs hot hand and Gibsons energy persisted early in the second quarter, but the deep Pacers responded with surprise scoring from the likes of Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts to narrow the already-small gap between the teams.

By halftime, the Bulls had knotted the game up at 42 points apiece.

After the break, Collison made his presence felt, ceasing questions about his mobility with quick drives that ended with mid-range finishes.

The diminutive second-year point guard was about the only player interested in finesse basketball, as things quickly got heated in the physical contest, best illustrated by the small skirmish involving the mild-mannered Rose and longtime Pacers big man Jeff Foster. The latter fouled the MVP candidate hard, prompting Rose to respond by letting Foster know his feelings on the matter.

Thats their game planmake it physicalbut thats really fine with us. We have tough guys and were knocking down our free throws. If thats how the game goes, thats totally fine, said Deng. Theyre fouling hard when were driving. Weve just got to get up, go right back at them and make your free throws. This is their game plan. Its the playoffs, no layups.

Added Thibodeau: This is the playoffs. There are going to be hard fouls. In my eyes, thats what theyve been doing the whole series. Theyre fouling hard, thats part of their game and when it crosses over the line, I think the officials will make the call.

For Roses part, he was reluctant to talk much about the confrontation or the physical play afterwards, though his stony gaze when the topic was raised said it all, regardless of his typically downplayed response.

It got a little rough out there, but its basketball. They have something to prove. If anything, this is their last fight. Theyre back at home, they feel good when they play at home, they have a decent record at home and that was their game plan, said Rose. I got a little bit frustrated, but thats basketball. Thats his job. If you dont stand up to it, no one will. I was just trying to go to the basket and create contact.

Chicago kept the game close through Dengs continued production and a more unlikely source of offense, Keith Bogans (nine points, 3-for-4 three-point shooting), whose long-range shooting was a bonus, enabling the Bulls to survive in a game where Rose hadnt yet asserted himself offensively.

Every game is going to be different. My whole mindset is whatever the team needs at that point. I came out early, had good looks and I knocked them down, but I knew going down to the fourth quarter, he was going to take a lot of shots and in this series. Keeping Granger quiet is a big plus for us, and thats my job out there. Thats what Im going to try to do, said Deng, subliminally referencing Granger and his pre-series claim that the Bulls were beatable if Rose was ineffective.

We dont really care what anyone says. Theres going to be a lot of things that are being said. Derrick is a great player and if you try to stop him, what are you going to do, double team? If you do that, weve got guys who can make shots. Were really focused on what weve got to do. Theres a lot of ideas and a lot of guys saying stuff off the court, and weve got guys that play hard. Thats our goal every night when we step out there: Not think about whats being said and win that ballgame.

At the conclusion of three quarters, the Bulls led the intense affair by a slim, 65-64 margin.

Rose went back into attack mode, getting to the charity stripe repeatedlyhes frequently mentioned how he uses drawing fouls to stop opposing teams runsand his assist to Kyle Korver (12 points, 2-for-3 three-point shooting) for a transition three-pointer capped a 10-0 run that put Chicago back in the drivers seat.

Tyler Hansbrough (10 points), painted as a villain in Chicago after Game 1, scored four quick points to bring the hosts within a point of the Bulls, but Korver, who has been the bane of the Pacers with his marksmanship, hit another triple to quiet the increasingly raucous audience midway through the final stanza.

Im just trying to take shots that are there, Korver said. In the playoffs, the sets that we run, they work less and less because you run the same sets every game, they go over it in practice every day and youve got to have guys that can just break you down and play. Weve got the best one in the world in Derrick, so when theyre worried about him, thats when we have to really step up, move to the open spot, find the open seam and I just try to be one of those guys.

After a Granger jumper tied the contest at 84 with under two minutes remaining, the two teams exchanged defensive stops until the Bulls called timeout with 33.4 seconds to go, setting the stage for Rose to once again work his magic.

After struggling through a horrific shooting night, the South Side Chicago native worked the clock down until driving to the hole and finishing a left-handed layup with 17.8 seconds left to put Chicago by a basket.

Hes not going to shoot the ball great every night and I think because of his versatilityhe can score so many different ways; he can score in catch-and-shoot, he can score in pick-and-roll, he scores on the driveso if his jumpers not falling, hes going to drive the ball and hes going to get to the free-throw line, said Thibodeau of his star.

Indiana had a final possession, however, but Granger came up short on a three-pointer from the top of the key. Ronnie Brewer corralled the rebound and was subsequently fouled with 1.1 seconds on the clock. Brewer, playing with a sprained left thumb, knocked down both shots to seal the deal for the Bulls.

In the end, the Bulls won the in the fashion in which theyre truly most comfortablegritty, physical, intense and most of all, defense-oriented and tough-mindedregardless of what theyll spout about wanting easy victories.

Theres games that people were expecting us to win by a huge margin and went down to the wire, and we kept saying in the locker room, thats not how we wanted the games to be, but weve got to learn from it, said Deng.

Echoed Thibodeau: You have to win games different ways and I think weve learned each game. Youre playing the same team over and over and over again, so were locked into them pretty good, theyre locked into us, things are hard to come by. You have to be mentally tough, physically tough, you have to be able to endure and then you have to be ready for the next one.

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.

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA free agency doesn't officially begin until 11 p.m. Chicago time on Friday, but league executives have already gone into overdrive in their race to create the next super-team to compete with the Golden State Warriors.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey hinted he had a big move up his sleeve last week, suggesting the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Well, Morey unveiled that big move on Wednesday, rounding up a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts from all over the league to help him acquire Clippers' All-Star point guard Chris Paul before free agency even begins.

Paul met with Clippers officials on Tuesday, and basically told Doc Rivers he was going to sign with Houston as a free agent, so if the Clippers wanted to get anything for him, they better work out a trade right away. The return L.A. got in the 7-for-1 deal was hardly overwhelming, headlined by Chicago native Patrick Beverley and super-sub Lou Williams, and it showed once again how league executives are powerless if a star player decides he wants a chance of scenery.

Paul and James Harden wanted to play together, and Morey and his staff came up with a creative way to get it done. And, by all reports, Morey isn't done yet. The Rockets are hoping to swing a deal for either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony as a third star in the frontcourt, giving them a shooter's chance against the champion Warriors.

George is one of the biggest chess pieces being moved around boards in executive offices all around the league. Ever since George informed Pacers management he isn't interested in re-signing with the team, GM Kevin Pritchard has been searching for the best possible deal.

The Cavaliers would love to add George as the new third star on their super-team with LeBron and Kyrie Irving and send Kevin Love to the Pacers or to a third team that would provide Indiana with young players and/or draft picks.

Boston is hoping to trade some of Danny Ainge's treasure-trove of draft picks to bring George in, but only after they make a free agent run at Utah All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward, who played his college ball for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler. Remember, making a trade for George carries a lot of risk, since he's eligible to become a free agent next summer and could wind up being a one-year rental.

George has told anyone who will listen he plans to sign on with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, but will new Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson get antsy with all the trade interest in George and try to bring him in now? Is it worth it for Magic to give up young players like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson if he can just wait a year and sign George without giving up any assets?

We're already hearing reports of George trying to recruit Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson to join him on the Lakers when Klay becomes a free agent in 2019. And, speculation continues about LeBron heading west to join the Lakers if the Cavs come up short of a championship again next season.

So many questions as we approach the start of free agency. Where will Derrick Rose end up after a fourth knee surgery? Will the Clippers be interested in bringing Rose in to play with Blake Griffin and keep Lob City going? And what about veterans like Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague? What kind of market will they find with fewer teams having the kind of cap space we saw last summer?

And, where will Carmelo Anthony wind up now that Phil Jackson is out as Knicks President? Jackson might be the greatest coach in NBA history after winning 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers, but it was clear the Zen Master was overmatched as a front office executive. Phil didn't want to travel to scout top college prospects, didn't stay on top of day to day roster moves around the league, and insisted on saddling his coaches with running an offense that didn't translate in today's game.

Maybe now Jeff Hornacek will be able to run his up-tempo offense that had some success in Phoenix instead of Phil's beloved triangle. But don't count on Anthony being a part of next season's Knicks team. Reports out of New York suggest the organization is still intent on dealing Melo, problem is that nasty no-trade clause that Phil gave Anthony on top of a $127 million contract back in 2014.

In the coming weeks, you can count on hearing all kinds of Anthony-related rumors. Maybe a trade to Houston, Boston or even Philadelphia. And, if Melo is able to convince the Knicks to buy out the remainder of his contract, look for him to join forces with LeBron in Cleveland for a shot at that elusive championship ring.

The Knicks may have rid themselves of Phil’s front office mismanagement, but their roster is still a mess with no easy solutions in sight.

The great thing for NBA fans is the buzz created by all the speculation. NBA offseasons are the most impactful of any sport since the acquisition of a star player can cause a major shift in any team's fortunes. Unfortunately here in Chicago, don't expect any free agent buzz this year, unless you're excited about the possibility of a Dwyane Wade buyout.

Bulls Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear the Bulls are going in a new direction and will be patient and disciplined in their rebuild. That means no spending on veterans this summer as the front office keeps its power dry for some time in the future when the Bulls are closer to being a playoff contender again.

Player development will be the focus of the next couple seasons as Fred Hoiberg and his staff try to find out exactly what they have in young players like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, Cris Felicio and Niko Mirotic.

Ideally, the Bulls will lose enough games next season to put themselves into position to land a top-3 pick in next year's top-heavy draft. Paxson talked about building a contending team through the draft, and that will require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Adding a Michael Porter, Jr. or Luka Doncic to a young backcourt of Dunn and Zach LaVine and a promising "stretch 4" in Markkanen could be the foundation of the next Bulls playoff team.

So, while the league's top teams engage in a massive arms race to try to close the gap on the Warriors over the next few weeks, all will be quiet in the city of Chicago. The buzzword for Bulls fans for the foreseeable future is PATIENCE.

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

On the latest BullsTalk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Vincent Goodwill delve into the blockbuster news of Chris Paul being traded to the Rockets. Will any other teams try to go all-in?

With Phil Jackson parting ways with the Knicks, Goodwill shares the behind-the-scenes story of how James Dolan hired Jackson to run his franchise. 

Then, Schanowski sits down with the newest Bull Zach LaVine to discuss recovering from his ACL tear, his love of Space Jam and moving to Chicago.

Plus, the guys break down their first impressions of LaVine and his potential in a Bulls uniform, and how the new CBA is actually leading to teams getting rid of their stars rather than keeping them.

Finally, what will the Bulls do with Dwyane Wade, and where will Derrick Rose end up?

Check out the latest Bulls Talk Podcast right here: