Rose, Bulls bash Boston; magic number is one

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Rose, Bulls bash Boston; magic number is one

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 9:52 p.m. Updated: 11:46 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After a close-knit first half, drama was an afterthought Thursday night at the United Center, as the Bulls cruised to a 97-81 victory over the Celtics in the highly-anticipated, late-season showdown between the two Eastern Conference powers.

A stellar all-around performance by Derrick Rose and stout defense led the way for Chicago (58-20), which reduced its magic number to clinch home-court advantage in the East to just one game.

It was one of our better games. I thought we played hard, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was a hard-fought game, but thats what we anticipated. Theyre a tough team, theyre a physical team.

We were attacking on both ends. Usually, when you hear attack, people think offense. But I think you have to attack both ways, continued the coach, whose team doubled Boston, 44-24, in points in the paint. Offensively, weve been pretty good for about 10 games now, but defensively, weve been sporadic.

Tonight was more of a complete game for us.

Concurred Joakim Noah: This is exactly what we needed. This puts us one step closer to where we want to be and this is just a big win. Great atmosphere in here tonight and it always feels great to beat Boston.

WATCH: Noah thinks Bulls can play even better

This was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere. I know Boston, they played hard as hell. We did, too. Got the job done, he added. We just turned it up a notch.

Boston (54-24) started the game by hitting its first four shots from the field, putting the Bulls on their heels with solid execution and prompting a timeout from Thibodeau. Chicago immediately countered with a 7-0 run with a balanced offensive attack, featuring all five Bulls starters getting on the board.

All indications early on were that the game would be a defensive struggle, so timely scoring contributions from the likes of Keith Bogans the much-maligned starting shooting guard hit two three-pointers in the opening period were more important than usual.

Tight officiating forced forwards Luol Deng (23 points, six rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (14 points, 12 rebounds) to the bench with two fouls apiece, and forcing Thibodeau to alter his rotation.

But when Celtics leading scorer Paul Pierce (15 points) picked up his second foul followed by a technical for arguing the call it appeared to ignite the Bulls, who built a brief double-digit lead, capped by Roses (30 points, eight assists) crowd-pleasing drive past All-Star point guard counterpart Rajon Rondo and subsequent circus layup finish. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls led, 26-18.

Nothing came easy for either team at the outset of the second, as the two stifling defenses forced contested looks. Celtics reserve forward Jeff Green and guard Delonte West were offensive catalysts for the visitors second unit, using their versatility to create matchup problems and provide scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates.

Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest and upon his reentry, Rose took it upon himself to carry the scoring load, resuming his offensive aggressiveness from the first quarter by getting into the lane and finishing at the rim or with finesse floaters. Having established himself as a scorer, the unselfish playmaker went into facilitator mode in an attempt to get his teammates in the offensive groove.

WATCH: Rose finds attacking Celtics easier without Perkins

Meanwhile, the Bulls defensive game plan to force Rondo into becoming a shooter was effective the gifted floor general was scoreless in the first half but the All-Star forward duo of veterans Kevin Garnett and Pierce, forced to manufacture their own offense, picked up the slack for Boston. Still, the Bulls held a 48-43 advantage at the break.

After the intermission when a bust of Scottie Pippen was unveiled inside the United Center a refocused Celtics team got back into the contest quickly, as Rondo utilized his speed to get to the basket and lead a Boston run that gave the visitors a brief 49-48 advantage.

Chicago countered with a spurt of its own, capped by a Deng fast-break dunk over Pierce that gave them a slight cushion midway through the third quarter.

Luol was tremendous in the second half, praised Thibodeau. He came out, he played great and he played with fouls. He came up with a lot of big plays.

Rose chimed in: This year, hes got my MVP vote. Hes been the most consistent this year.

Poor Bulls defensive transition, however, allowed Boston to get back into the contest, with Rondo leading the Celtics fast-break opportunities to get easy baskets and keep pressure on the Bulls, much to Thibodeaus displeasure.

But the Bulls increased their level of urgency, as varied scoring from Deng and blue-collar inside play from Boozer helped the home team increase its edge. Following a Rose 3-pointer on Chicago s final possession of the third, the Bulls led, 71-60.

Thibodeau kept starters Rose, Deng and Boozer in the game to start the final stanza and the move paid off, as Boozer, in particular, continued to have the hot hand, aiding the Bulls in increasing their double-digit lead.

From the moment the ball got tipped up to the end of the game, we shared the ball offensively, but more importantly, our defense was back, Boozer observed. We struggled on defense the last three or four games and tonight, you saw our Bulls defense and we needed it. The way we played the first half set the tone for the second half.

Bostons frustration and the games overall physicality manifested itself early in the period, when veteran Kurt Thomas and Celtics sixth man Glen Davis the powerful pair had been getting chippy since they were first matched up in the contest got tangled up, with Davis earning a loose-ball foul for pulling down (and falling on top of) Thomas, and Thomas receiving a technical for his subsequent gestures toward Davis.

Soon afterwards, both teams hit a scoring drought much more costly for Boston, as the Bulls had plenty of breathing room midway through the quarter, and when Rose knocked down a triple from the wing to put Chicago up 17 points, the uphill battle for Boston became that much more formidable as the games stretch run approached.

We finally played defense toward the end of the game. I think we stepped it up, guys made an extra effort to contest everybodys shot and when were rolling like this, were pretty hard to beat, said Rose. Were not worried about clinching or anything. Were just trying to get better every game.

We know that we could meet them, so when we came out, we wanted to play hard, play aggressive on both ends and move the ball because theyre a good defensive team, and make it tough on them the whole night, he continued. Usually, theyre a great defensive team, but tonight, they just had trouble with it.

The Bulls didnt look back and now stand on the brink of earning home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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.

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.