Rose, Bulls own second half in statement win

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Rose, Bulls own second half in statement win

Friday, March 11, 2011Posted: 9:25 PM Updated 10:50 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Its said that revenge is a dish best served cold and the Bulls served the visiting Hawks with a not-so-delectable treat Friday evening at the United Center, following a disappointing collapse in Atlanta last week.

Led by league MVP favorite Derrick Roses 34-point night, Luol Dengs co-starring effort while dinged up and a stifling defensive performance, Chicago (46-18) clipped Atlantas (37-28) wings, 94-76.

Tonight, they were just giving it to me, said Rose, who scored 18 of his points in the pivotal third quarter, afterwards. I always say Ive got to learn how to get fouled and me going to the hole just attacking, putting pressure on them made them decide whether to jump or just let me have a layup.

Chimed in Deng: Its fun playing with Derrick and were all glad hes on our side. When he gets it going, its tough to stop and it makes it easier for all of us out there.

The game began in a low-scoring affair as both teams got off to an abysmal start shooting the ball mostly due to Atlantas poor shot selection and Chicago simply struggling to find the mark.

Deng was a game-time decision because of a bruised left thigh suffered Wednesday in Charlotte and looked no worse for the wear with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, carrying the home teams offensive load.

Aging veteran Kurt Thomas (four points, 13 rebounds) made contributions on both ends after earning the starting nod with Carlos Boozer sidelined due to a sprained left ankle.

With Boozer out, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau tinkered with the rotation and rested both Rose (34 points, five assists, six rebounds) and Joakim Noah early, in addition to fellow starter Keith Bogans, who was typically replaced midway through the first period.

Dengs efforts and a stout team defensive effort offset a strong start by former Bulls fan favorite Kirk Hinrich (11 points) in his first game back in the United Center since being traded to the Hawks and Chicago held a 22-20 advantage after the first quarter.

As a leader, he stepped up. Thats what hes supposed to do. It shows what kind of player he is, what kind of teammate he is, said Rose of Deng, his fellow captain. He gave us all hes got.

One of the early substitutes, C.J. Watson, made his presence felt early in the second period, providing energy, instant offense, underrated playmaking and building upon his solid body of work the entire second half of the season as Roses understudy.

Rookie Omer Asik, who has been drawing more and more fan support, joined in the fun with a pair of monster two-handed slams, as if to further display the emergence of the entire Bulls bench. Still, the Hawks remained resilient and with instant offense from sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (another former Bulls player) combined with forward Josh Smiths (15 points) interior efforts and Hinrichs timely scoring, the visitors erased Chicagos slim cushion and tied the contest midway through the quarter.

Upon the return of Rose and Noah (11 rebounds), the excitement quotient definitely went up. Roses swashbuckling penetration is always a crowd-pleaser, while Noah diving for a loose ball near the Bulls bench, with his body horizontal to the court, also garnered the approval of the United Center audience, but the Hawks kept it a tight-knit affair.

Despite a late scoring burst from Rose, the Bulls trailed 50-48 at the intermission, following a deep jumper by All-Star swingman Joe Johnson (16 points) before the halftime buzzer.

Chicago nursed a slight edge to begin the third quarter with Roses offensive assertiveness the catalyst and continued tough team defense supporting the All-Stars scoring efforts. Atlanta hit a major scoring drought, only scoring two points in the halfs first seven minutes, enabling the Bulls lead to balloon to double digits, with Roses determined drives and acrobatic finishes a constant.

My shot wasnt falling. I was just trying to get to the line, Rose explained. They were going over the screen and it left me with the big, one-on-one and I was trying to make their bigs into shot-blockers.

Rose had previously struggled to get to the free-throw line earlier in the season, but made up for an off night shooting from the field with his ability to draw fouls and manufacture points from the charity stripe while eventually finding his touch from the field.

With Deng as his offensive sidekick, Thomas and Noahs co-ownership of the backboards and energy off the bench from Gibson, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 72-60 advantage.

We just tightened things up, said Rose. All things were cooking for us in the second half on the defensive side.

Added Deng: Our bigs were amazing. Our bigs were great. Last time we played down there, they kind of bullied us around, they got their way.

Kurt Thomas was great on Al Horford, who had his way with us the last time, continued Deng, who said his thigh was a little tight after the game. The team, defensively, in the second half was great.

A typical push by the Bulls' reserves allowed the home team to extend the squads lead, as Dengs usual go-to guy presence with the second unit sparked the collective effort. The visitors tried to mount comeback attempts, but Chicago continued to deny them easy opportunities and in Thibodeau-speak, finished the defense, with defensive rebounding and any chance for sustained progress by Atlanta was futile at the periods midway point.

While the home fans requests for veteran reserve Brian Scalabrine may have been a bit premature, the tenor of the contest was such that it was understandable why the Chicago loyalists believed the game was in the bag, even if Thibodeau wasnt absolutely positive yet. Chipping into the deficit started to seem impossible for the Hawks, as their harried shots were more often than not off the mark and after a late scoring flurry by Rose, the gap widened even further.

Thibodeau eventually acknowledged victory and inserted newly-acquired swingman Rasual Butler, who knocked down a three-pointer off a Rose assist before the Chicago native exited the game. Also, the crowds wish was granted, as Scalabrine not only checked in, but hit a deep jumper, much to the delight of the entire United Center.

Afterwards, the Bulls were nonplussed when asked about gaining ground on the Celtics Boston lost to Philadelphia Friday night, putting Chicago within a half-game of the Eastern Conference leaders for the top spot in the East.

Bostons Boston. All those teams Miami, Boston theyre going to do what they do, said Deng. Were really focused on us.

Concurred Rose: If us winning games put us in the number-one spot, thats great. If not, were still trying to play hard.

Rose took it a step further, stating that the teams focus wouldnt be swayed by even Saturday nights celebration of the 20th anniversary of the franchises first title, an event that will bring Bulls legends like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant the latter pair was courtside for the evenings win back to the United Center.

I know tomorrows going to be a big celebration, but whats the celebration if we lose? Were not trying to do that, stated Rose. Were trying to focus on winning. The celebration is great, I hope that Im able to do that one day, but were just trying to focus on Utah.

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.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”