Rivalry revived? Bulls can't stop Knicks on Xmas

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Rivalry revived? Bulls can't stop Knicks on Xmas

Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010
Posted: 1:36 p.m. Updated: 3:48 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEW YORKWith previous Christmas Day contests between the Knicks (18-12) and Bulls (18-10) in mind, the Madison Square Garden matchup between the two formerly fierce Eastern Conference rivals didnt quite live up to prior classics, as a turnover-plagued Chicago effort eventually succumbed to New Yorks offensive-minded approach, 103-95, Saturday.

Chicago got off to quite the inauspicious start, turning the ball over on its first three possessions. Knicks star Amare Stoudemire (20 points, nine rebounds, six blocked shots, seven turnovers) made a big impact from the outset, scoring the initial pair of baskets for the home team, then drilling Derrick Rose (25 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, six steals, seven turnovers)after an initial reach-in foul on forward Wilson Chandler (15 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks)sending the Bulls superstar sprawling.

The games physicality was a persistent pattern throughout, especially as it impacted Rose, who shot only three free throws on the night, despite constant forays to the basket and being on the receiving of numerous knocks from the Knicks.

Im not going to stop coming. One day Im going to get calls, so thats what Im going to continue to do, said Rose. You can look and see how many times I went to the line tonight.

Carlos Boozer concurred, Hes attacking the basket, just like anybodytransition and halfcourt. I thought he could have got a lot more calls going his way. The refs didnt see it that way. Were not going to cry about the referees, but I think he puts as much pressure on the basket as anybody in the NBA and for him to shoot only three free throws is shocking. For D, I just tell him to keep going, keep attacking; hopefully hell get the callsbut he more pressure on the basket than most guys I see, so for him to only shoot three free throws is uncommon, weird. But were not going to cry about that.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau refused to let that be an excuse for the loss.

You dont want to take away from his aggressiveness. I think you want him to attack the rim and then when the second defender is there, make the decision at the rim, so if hes there, now find the open man. Hes going to pull a lot of people with him. We want him to keep going. Hes driving the ball hard and we want him to get to the line more, so were going to encourage him to continue to drive and to drive with force, and hopefully, you can get some calls, said Thibodeau. We didnt have a problem with the officiating. Youre on the road, some calls arent going to usually go your way, so we have to be able to play through those things. We cant allow that to affect the way we play and defensively, I didnt think we played our game. The rebounding was very goodI thought that right from the startbut our defense, thats a big part of it and it wasnt.

After the games uneven beginning, both teams settled into more of a flow, with each preferring up-tempo styles. Rose began to assert his will on the affair; in his trademark swashbuckling fashion, he attacked the rim successfully and was aided by Boozer (26 points, 19 rebounds, seven turnovers) muscling up putbacks on the interior.

Roses aggressiveness led to a cross-match battle of sorts with Stoudemire, who made a clean block at the summit of a Rose transition layup, which the All-Star point guard pointedly acknowledged. On the other end, Stoudemire was perhaps a bit overzealous in forcing his offenseRose balanced his penetration with looking to distribute the ball, as well as knocking down perimeter jumpers and making some football defensive back-type steals of Knicks outlet passesbut due to Chicagos poor shooting and turnover issues, the home team still maintained a 21-20 advantage after the first period.

A disjointed opening of the second quarter for the Garden guests allowed New York to slightly surge, as the Bulls carelessness with the ball persisted. Boozer remained Chicagos focal point early in the period with mixed results, but a quick individual spurt by backup point guard C.J. Watson helped keep the visitors in the game.

Thibodeau briefly opted for a small-ball lineupwith Boozer needing a blow, he briefly went with Watson, starting small forward Luol Deng (15 points, six rebounds), Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korverand the size disadvantage paid dividends for the Knicks, as they went scored five points on one trip down the floor. Thibodeau quickly sent Rose and starting center Kurt Thomas back into the contest.

The adjustments and Korvers marksmanship again made the game a neck-and-neck affair, but New York backup point guard Toney Douglas continued to be the scourge of Chicagothe second-year reserve went for a career-high point total in last months

Knicks win at the United Centergiving his team some scoring punch off the bench in a brief stint.

Underrated rookie Landry Fields (14 points, 11 rebounds) continued a quietly productive outing with his solid all-around play, as did Boozer for Chicago, mostly by virtue of finishing strong on the interior, albeit not as efficiently as he would have liked. With the final seconds in the first half winding down, a Rose drive-and-dish to Boozer for a open 15-footer with no time remaining gave the Bulls a 54-52 lead at intermission.

After a disappointing first half of play, Deng started the third quarter by making the first two Chicago baskets, although that bit of good news was tempered by Thomas picking up his fourth foul.

I thought he had two tough calls, Thibodeau said of the veteran ex-Knick Thomas, who played solid defense against his former Phoenix teammate Stoudemire. Two tough calls put him on the bench.

The game evolved into a back-and-forth affair, with each squad throwing haymakersa Rose runner, plus the foul; two powerful Stoudemire dunksat the other, but even with the game close, the Knicks clearly had the momentum, as point guard Raymond Felton (20 points, 12 assists, five steals) hit a 3-pointer and a layup (sandwiched around a Bulls shot-clock violation) that led to a subsequent Thibodeau timeout to quiet the raucous crowd.

With the entire Garden behind them, New York gradually built a small cushion behind transition play and perimeter shootingsharpshooting forward Danilo Gallinari (15 points) stood out in this departmentits two trademarks under Knicks head coach Mike DAntoni, not to mention Feltons blend of scoring and playmaking.

They spread you out. They play four perimeter players, so you have to trust that your teammates are going to pull in and also get out to that 3-point line. If the trust isnt there, you start inching out towards the 3-point line, now youre going to give up a dunk. If you pull in too much, we dont get back in front of the ball quick enough, then youre going to be vulnerable at the 3-point line, said Thibodeau. Its a multiple-effort type game, so youre going to have to do more than one thing and sometimes you can play good, solid defense for the majority of the shot clock and they still end up with a high-percentage shot because youve got to be able to go to the second and third and fourth effort with them, the way they shoot the ball.

Rose told CSNChicago.com: I think it was our defense. I think that just playing the way that we play normally on the defensive end, with first stopping the ball and our help-side, but it all starts with trusting each other. But it was just one of those games.

The Bulls, however, battled back and capped by consecutive video-game highlights by Roseand in-and-out dribble to a reverse layup, then a nifty spin move in transition for another layup on the subsequent possessionthey briefly regained the lead before, typical of the close-knit affair, the Knicks again surged ahead late in the quarter to head into the final period up, 85-83.

Still playing greyhounds chasing the rabbit early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls were forced to play catch-up with the Knicks and were further hampered by Thomas picking up his fifth foul. The games pace slowed to a crawl, as things got chippyin particular, between Rose and Stoudemire, who was perhaps frustrated by Boozers surprisingly stout one-on-one defense against himbut New York, buoyed by its energetic fans, had momentum on its side midway through the period.

Thats just basketball. Stoudemire was trying to stop me from going to the hole and that was about it, Rose explained about the hits he took from the New York big man, which surprisingly werent called fouls, although they occurred after Rose was first fouled by another Knicks player. Its going to get physical, especially if somebody keeps driving. Hes a big man, thats what hes supposed to do.

It was just a basketball playId get tired of it if another player kept driving to the hole, too, if that was someone else, Rose added, when pressed by reporters to state his opinion on whether he believed Stoudemire took a cheap shot at him. I really dont know. I really didnt pay any attention to that, but both timesuntil I looked backI thought the foul was on him.

It got heated up for a minute, but its nothing more than that, he eventually acknowledged.

Chicago simply couldnt get over the hump and despite neither team seemingly able to make a shot for an extended stretch, the Knicks eked out enough points to add to their advantage. The visitors drought was more severe and combined with the officials calls not going their way and timely New York scoring, things looked bleak for the Bulls heading into the games stretch run.

When the double team is coming quick, which it was, we have to make quick decisions and we have to have great spacing. Now, it should result in easy offense. Anytime you can get two defenders on the ball, thats what you want, and then your ball movement should take over. Your second and third pass, if you move the ball to the weak side, youre going to have long close-outs and you should be able to attack, so we have to do a better job with that, Thibodeau explained about the Bulls offensive lapses. The initial spacings fine, but then we have the ability to sustain the spacing through the second and third option. Then, after the double team occurs, they were coming off the passer on the cut. Weve got to space better.

Added Boozer, We got double teamed. They did a good job of putting us in the trap. We tried to get the ball out to the right spots, but we needed more movement, more guys cutting, more guys helping us out. Consequently, because we didnt have guys moving to the open areas, it put us in a tough position to try to make a play out of a double team.

A Chandler layup off a Felton lob pass gave the Knicks their first double-digit lead as the game approached the two-minute mark gave the Bulls impetus to finally score, but Chandler then answered with another jumper to again increase New Yorks winning margin to 10 points. Chicago would make another push, cutting their deficit to six points with a minute and change to go.

Alas, yet another turnoveron a miscommunication between Rose and Thomascompounded by a Chandler layup on the ensuing possession sealed the Bulls fate. Despite a final last-gasp effort, there would be no Christmas miracle on the 34th St. on this day.

This is a great place to play. Great arena, great fans. Their team is good again, so its alive. Great history in the building. We had a great opportunity today to play on Christmas Day. I thought our effort was there. I just didnt think we played as well as we were capable of, said Thibodeau. I thought we were ready to play. I thought we had a good practice yesterday, I thought walk-through was very good. I just didnt think we executed as well as we would have liked.

Rose lamented the lost opportunity, but in his usual manner, is already looking forward to the next chance to get a win.

We couldnt get a rhythm on the defensive side or the offensive side, said Rose. We just let them come in and do whatever they wanted to do.

The good thing about is we play tomorrow, he continued. We let this one go tonight. We didnt play the way we were supposed to play, but we get the chance to take it out on Detroit. Thats the good thing about it.

But following his teams second loss to the Knicks this season, Rose did leave the famed arena with a message: Were going to get them. Im not worried about that. Were going to get them.

Maybe a revival of the rivalry that was in his heyday when Rose was in grammar schoolcomplete with physical play, superstars on both sides, nationally-televised showcases, postseason-bound teams and allis possible after all.

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.

Dwyane Wade would like clarity on Bulls' direction before making decision

Dwyane Wade would like clarity on Bulls' direction before making decision

If there’s one thing that’s been in short order for the Bulls over the last year or so, clarity would be first on the list.

So Dwyane Wade would certainly like to have a little of that before heading into the summer of evaluating his place with the franchise and whether or not he’ll pick up his $23.8 million option for next season.

The Bulls’ front office signed players like Wade and Rajon Rondo last summer for the “now”, and then traded dependable veteran Taj Gibson for the “future”, along with management’s repeated flirtations with the prospect of trading Jimmy Butler for the last two years.

The only thing consistent about the Bulls’ front office strategy has been the inconsistency and their desire to have flexibility in the future. For the now, they’ve positioned themselves to have flexibility to go in one direction or the other, to be contenders or hit the button on a rebuild that could take years to recover from.

Wade has called his experience a mostly positive one, although there’s been some hiccups in his return home to Chicago. After Friday night’s series-ending loss to the Boston Celtics, Wade called it a “weird season” and seemed to echo the same big picture feelings Saturday.

He also seemed to shoot down the thought of being a prime recruiter for the franchise even if he does opt-in, considering his role in bringing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami to help the Heat win two championships and get to the NBA Finals in each of the four seasons they were together.

“It happened at a time in Miami where it just so happened one of my good friends is one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball on the planet (James),” he said. “This is now. It's a different time. It's all about the picture that's presented to everyone here and what the goal and future is gonna look like. It's not just about, 'oh we have Dwyane'. Dwyane ain't gonna play that much longer, not forever.”

Wade had five 30-point games in 59 games this season, being on pace to play 71 before breaking bones in his right elbow in mid-March. His numbers weren’t too dissimilar from last year in Miami, with the exception of more 3-point attempts at the urging of the roster construction.

Repeating that type of performance in Year 15 is feasible, one would think, even if he’s closer to the finish line than starting blocks.

“If I could say anything, if there’s one word I could pull out it’s just different,” Wade said. “I expected it to be different. I only played in one organization my entire career, but the biggest thing is I came here and I was embraced. Not only by the city, by up top. I was embraced by the coaches, the players, and it was some good moments and some bad moments, just like every season. But I don’t regret my decision at all.”

Wade has at least a month or so before he believes he has to truly think about what he’ll do, and let management know that in exit interviews at the Advocate Center Saturday afternoon.

“We just talked face to face and touched bases,” Wade said. “We really left it at as we would touch base in a few weeks. No matter where I’m at in the world, we’ll fly and meet somewhere and talk about it.”

Somewhere, he’ll also have a conversation with the player he came to Chicago to pair with in Butler, as one can’t help but think their futures are inextricably tied. If Butler goes in some trade, one would think Wade wouldn’t be gung-ho about signing back on to play with Romper Room.

Being on a team where he’s not as depended on nightly for it to be successful could factor in, as he was the second-best player behind Butler. One wonders if he would be better served as the third-best option or even fourth—meaning he would likely be on a team contending for a championship if he were to fall on the pecking order.

“I have a great luxury. I don't need to ring chase, but I can,” Wade said. “It's a great luxury to have if I want to do. Or I can be a part of passing down my knowledge to younger players. It's either way. Whatever I decide, I'm going to embrace whatever role I have on a team. That's sometimes being the second option. Sometimes I'm going to be the first. And sometimes this season, I had to be the third or fourth.”

[MORE: BullsTalk Podcast - Top-seeded Celtics too much to handle for Bulls]

Considering he’ll be 36 next January with 14 years of NBA wear and tear on his body, that paycheck might not be enough to keep him around.

“Well, obviously it is a Dwyane Wade decision. Jimmy is, you know, a huge component in me being here. You know, what’s his future like? But at the end of the day it is a me decision,” Wade said. “But everyone knows that Jimmy’s my guy, and I’m here because of our conversation [last summer]. But a lot of it depends on the whole big picture. Not just one piece. Jimmy’s a big piece, but it’s a big picture as an organization. Just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.’’

But on the other side, he also arrived in Chicago due to perceived disrespect from a Miami Heat franchise that didn’t pay him what he deemed worthy. Opting out after one year of a big deal to face an unknown market is a risk considering the salary sacrifices he made with the Heat.

“I don’t really go with the signs, I’m not a predictable person, I don’t think,” Wade said. “I don’t know. It’s not a bad thing for me. I’m in a good situation. Whether there’s a lot of options or not, I’m in a very good situation. As a player, you can decide what you want to do. And I have a lot of money to decide if I want to take it or not. It’s not a bad thing, because I worked my butt of for it over my career, so no rush in my mind.”

That’s where the clarity comes in, as Wade indicated the front office said it wants a clear path moving forward. On a team that had so many young players thrust into prominent positions then shuffled out of them, one wonders if they’ll pick a few to grow with and then try to replace the rest with veteran reinforcements to maximize Butler’s prime and Wade’s time.

Either way, the limbo is a bit old, it seems from all parties involved.

“Yeah, we definitely talked. We said it to each other. I think they want a defined vision and view of where they're going too,” Wade said. “And as players, with player options, you want that too. I want that. I want it smack dead in my face. Of how it's gonna be. And from them, too. What their thought of my role or position could be here. All of it. It's not just one-sided. It's definitely from both sides.”

“I look forward to the opportunity where we sit down and have that face to face about what both sides wanna to do. Either way it goes, whether it’s me here, not here, it'll be something that's mutually talked about. I'm a firm believer in talking to people, and I will never make a decision and not tell them I'm making a decision, whether I come back or not, I'll definitely talk to those guys and be very open about where my mind is and what I'm thinking and I want them to be the same way.”

Communication was a big part of the Wade experience this season, whether he returns or not. He seemed to be more invested than people would’ve expected earlier in the season, before the Jan. 25 loss to the Atlanta Hawks where the Bulls blew a 10-point lead in the final three minutes.

Wade and Butler called out their teammates in the postgame, followed by Rondo crafting an Instagram post the next day calling out Wade and Butler. It was a firestorm of the worst kind.

Some would’ve called it necessary considering Wade’s standing in the league but the Bulls believed otherwise, fining Wade and Butler and then benching the two the next game against Miami.

It seemed to sting Wade, who believed his opinions were valued by the organization because of his experience, and that type of pushback had never happened to him in Miami.

“As a player, obviously I want to use my voice the way I want to use it,” Wade said. “As an organization, they didn’t appreciate the way that it was said _ not what I said, but the way I said it. As I told Gar, I respect the decision on whatever they decided to do. I respected it, just like what I decided to do when I said what I said. My biggest thing with my message was just wanting to _ you can always look back on it and say, yeah, I could have done this, I could have done it differently.”

He tried to laugh it off in his media session but it clearly bothered him, at least in hindsight.

“You’ve got young guys, their whole career is in front of them,” Wade said. “I do things a certain way. I’ve done it in Miami. It’s just the way it is. I would do it again if I’m put in that position. But I respected their decision to fine me. I didn’t like the benching part. But I definitely respected their decision to fine me. It’s their organization. And what they decide from at the top, you live with it.”

But the difference between how Wade saw things and the young players dealing with inconsistencies was a direct result of how the team was put together and the fact the Bulls had a young coach in Fred Hoiberg who’s still learning his voice.

His level of patience in any process—even franchise purgatory—has to be speculated about. Most believe he wants to play two more years and evaluate his career from there.

“Losing, like I said, it’s never easy, especially when you’ve won championships before. Whenever you lose it always sucks, but you sit back and reflect on the positive, you look at the things that came out of it, and there’s always some good, more than bad. When you’re playing basketball for money at the top level, it’s not all bad. I definitely don’t regret my decision of being here this season.’’

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

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USA TODAY

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

Championship moments rarely occur in the first round. With a playoff format that drags the postseason out for more than two months, with playoff series taking as long as two weeks, the second season feels like just that. It’s far too early to say what exactly Friday night in Chicago will mean for the top-seeded Celtics, but a sense of a team coming together under unfathomable circumstances may prove to be the turning point in a season that a week ago appeared hanging by a thread.

It happened in three parts.

On the floor the Celtics looked every bit the part of a 51-win team that edged out LeBron’s Cavs for the top spot in the East. Brad Stevens’ small-ball approach came full-circle as the Boston guards lived in the paint against the Bulls, kicking out to open shooters for 16 3-pointers that helped the Celtics put away the game (and series) midway through the third quarter.

Avery Bradley starred for a second consecutive night, tallying 23 points while making Jimmy Butler work for his, while eight different Celtics hit a 3-pointer and the team shot 49 percent. For the first time in the series the Celtics looked dominant, like a team poised to contend with the Cavaliers for supremacy in the East.

“It felt good to play Celtic basketball again,” Avery Bradley said. “We were all smiling, having fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s how hard we worked this entire year, to play that type of basketball.”

Isaiah Thomas was naturally somber much of the series. The well-documented death of his 22-year-old sister put a damper on the series before it began, and the MVP candidate understandably chose not to address it on the few occassions he spoke with the media. But Thomas looked more like himself as the series went on. Not only did his numbers improve, he appeared more vocal after made baskets, laughed off trash talk from Bulls point guard Isaiah Canaan, and engineered the Celtics' offense to near-perfection.

His defining moment came late in the third quarter with the Celtics nearing a 30-point lead. After a hard foul he gathered his four teammates in a huddle near the baseline and shouted that the series for the Bulls was "a wrap for these m------------!" This was the same player who two weeks earlier was brought to tears prior to Game 1, and who will bury his sister on Saturday in Tacoma, Washington. Under unthinkable circumstances, Thomas averaged 23.0 points and 5.7 assists in 34.8 minutes in the series.

“I feel like he has grown,” Al Horford said. "And we all have in a way with all the adversity that has gone on. It could have easily gone the other way, but I feel like especially tonight when we got the game in hand, in control, we all just kept on repeating to stay focused to keep it going, keep pushing. We didn’t want to give them any life and we were a focused group and we were enjoying the moment.”

Thomas' journey won't get easier. He'll have another short turnaround to get ready for Sunday's second-round matchup against the Celtics. But like his teammates did in Games 3 and 4, when Thomas flew by himself to Chicago following his return home to Tacoma to mourn with his family, they'll have another opporuntity to grow closer. Brad Stevens kept an incredible perspective on the situation throughout the series, and applauded his team for doing the same while still fighting for wins.

"Bigger things than basketball happened, and that took precedent and it takes precdedent," he said. "I was really proud of our guys for how they treated each other, how they stood together, stuck together. And how nobody pointed fingers, they were just a great support for one another, especially Isaiah."

When Thomas does return, and when the Celtics gear up for their next postseason journey, expectations will have remained the same. Though the Wizards were one of the league's best teams in the second half, and with John Wall and Bradley Beal playing on another level, it'll take more performances like Friday night - both on the court and collectively staying together - for Boston to advance. A 2-0 hole against the Wizards will feel a whole lot different than it did against the Bulls.

That sort of letdown doesn't feel like it will happen again. Though no one would have wished such tragedy to force it, the Celtics came together at a critical moment and came out better for it. Their work isn't done, and they know it. But the way they were able to handle the adversity in Round 1, anything seems possible for Stevens, Thomas the top seed in the East.

"We just try to stay the course in the day-to-day. And if that results in us winning more games or winning in the playoffs, or whatever the case may be, there’s only one goal in the Boston," Stevens said. "Seventeen (NBA championship) banners above us. We don’t have a choice. We only shoot for one thing there."