Chicago Bulls

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.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft