Rose rejects Raptors; Bulls lead East by three

434011.jpg

Rose rejects Raptors; Bulls lead East by three

Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted 9:44 p.m. Updated 11:19 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Letting an inferior opponent hang around for an entire game isnt exactly ideal for success as the postseason approaches. But the Bulls (56-20) refused to allow the lowly Raptors (20-55) to overtake them and eventually dispatched their guests, 113-106, Saturday night at the United Center.

A now-familiar dominant performance from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and a balanced effort from his supporting cast particularly reserve forward Taj Gibson allowed Chicago to increase their first-place lead in the Eastern Conference over idle Boston and Miami , as well as tying San Antonio for the best home record in the NBA (they are a game behind the Spurs for the best mark in the league, which would give them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs), with six regular-season games remaining.

Boozer: Only a matter of time before Rose takes over

I dont want to take away from a win because you have to win different ways. The bottom line is getting a win, said Thibodeau. It was a tough game. But in the end, I thought we did the things we needed to do.

Carlos Boozer chimed in: It wasnt the defensive game that we wanted to play, but they have a lot of one-on-one guys, we were coming off a back-to-back, they were ready for us. With that being said... we get better and tighten up our game. Im just happy we came out with the win, really, he continued. Most games in the NBA are close games.

Ill take our team in a close game against anybody and I think were ready for that. weve pretty much seen everythingI think were prepared for whatever we have to face.

Surprisingly, the usually revenge-minded Bulls got off to one of their chronic slow starts against the Raptors, who took them down in the teams last meeting in Joakim Noahs return from thumb surgery. Noah sat this one out, missing his third consecutive game while nursing a sprained ankle.

WATCH: Bulls still bothered by loss to 76ers?

After Toronto got off to a 13-7 lead in the early going propelled by the outside marksmanship of promising second-year swingman DeMar Derozan (26 points) Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had enough and halted the game for instructional purposes.

Rose (36 points, 10 assists, three blocked shots) appeared primed to go off on one of his trademark individual runs and while his personal efforts were effective in getting his hometown team back in the contest, he got help from the likes of Luol Deng (17 points) and Gibson (15 points, nine rebounds), who came off the bench to spark the Bulls with his strong interior play.

Taj was great, praised Thibodeau. Defending, challenging, great effort on the boards. We were searching. We needed some energy.

A quick four-point spurt at the end of the period Rose slashed his way to the rim for a layup, followed by Ronnie Brewer (six points, six assists, five rebounds, two steals) stealing the ensuing inbounds pass for a point-blank finish of his own gave Chicago a 25-19 lead after the opening quarter.

Dengs hot hand persisted and Brewer continued to contribute early in the second, enabling the Bulls to maintain their lead, as is custom when Thibodeaus rotation gives the Bench Mob its turn.

Defense, solid ball movement and high-energy play were all in effect, as the collective effort of the second unit Gibsons rebounding prowess and Brewer, with his passing and acumen when operating on the baseline, in particular helped the home team hold the Raptors at arms length, despite the scoring of reserve guard Leandro Barbosa (18 points) and complementary inside play of active rookie power forward Ed Davis (17 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks).

Boozer (18 points, 10 rebounds) dominated the next stretch for Chicago, showcasing his full repertoire running the floor, hitting mid-range jumpers, finishing with touch and explosiveness, rebounding with authority and facilitating offense as a passer for the second straight night and carrying the team to a double-digit lead, 53-43, at the break.

My ankles feeling better. You can tell, right? I probably came back when I was 70 percent, 75 percent, but its gotten gradually better every day and I continue to rehab it, explained Boozer, who has pieced together three consecutive strong outings. I feel great and a lot of that has to do with the ankle getting healthy, so it makes me more active.

On the first four trips after halftime, the two squads exchanged two-point jumpers both teams played very perimeter-oriented styles for the early portion of the third quarter which better suited the Raptors, leading to the visitors significantly chipping into the deficit, mostly due to the play of point guard Jerryd Bayless (26 points, eight assists). Bayless personal scoring tear (14 third-quarter points) was enough to allow Toronto to knot up the game.

It became an offensive game and theyre quick. Theyre very good off the dribble. We had a hard time keeping the ball in front of us. We were low energy, said Thibodeau. They played hard, they played smart, they played unselfishly. They put a lot of pressure on us. Theyre an attack team and theyre a team that gets the ball into the paint.

Thibodeau also commented on the individual battle between point guards Rose and Bayless the pair, close friends, have matched up frequently back to their high school All-American days before entering the league in the same season remarking, They were going at him pretty good, too.

Rose didnt deny his coachs claim, but added that he relished the defensive assignment.

I was just trying to get at them defensively. Jerryd hit a lot of good shots. Just trying to contest them and make them all tough, but they were going in and some nights, its going to be like that, said Rose. Teams, towards the end of the game, tend to put me in more pick-and-rolls to try to get me tired, try to get me more fatigued to slow me down on the other end. But I love the challenge. My will, I think, is high and if anything, it makes me a better player, especially tonight.

We definitely werent sharp on the defensive end, he continued. In practice, coach's going to curse us out. but were used to it. Were used to him yelling. We always know we can get better, but weve just got to go out there and put more effort into it.

Rose, not being one to let an inferior opponent come into his building and pull any surprises against the top team in the Eastern Conference, responded with his own rapid point production, then swatted shots on subsequent Raptors possessions first a Bayless jumper from behind before going up, up and away to block the fast-break layup attempt of former Bulls teammate James Johnson as part of a 9-1 Bulls run to end the period. Chicago took an eight-point spread, 83-75, into the final stanza.

He was amazing on both sides. Offensively, he carried us. defensively, he got big plays. Big blocks, steals. I dont think Ive seen him that active. He was active on both sides, so it was amazing to see and he did a great job of leading us tonight, said Boozer. I think he can take over every moment were out there. He has the ability to pick and choose when he wants to take over.

In the third quarter, he ran away with everything and in the fourth quarter, he made the key plays we had to have to win the game. In my opinion, I think he always takes over. Its just a matter of when he wants to let you guys the media know.

Added Thibodeau: Hes played that way all year and I think whatever the game calls for, hes going to provide. He set the tone for us. we were flat most of night, he came up with huge plays throughout the game.

We needed all his points, we needed him to score, we needed him to run the team, we needed him to play defense.

Gibson started the fourth quarter with flair, first converting a Brewer alley-oop and later throwing down another dunk for a traditional three-point play, igniting the United Center crowd. Due to the scoring of Barbosa, Davis and DeRozan, however, the Raptors remained within striking distance and once again threatened Chicago s winning margin midway through the period.

As the games stretch run approached, the Bulls two primary catalysts on the evening Rose and Gibson each stepped up to hit timely buckets, aiding the home team in maintaining its slim cushion.

Sharpshooter Kyle Korver (10 points) was clutch late hitting a three-pointer after a key Boozer offensive rebound, then following a Bayless score with a jumper at the shot-clock buzzer, giving the Bulls a 107-100 lead with approximately a minute to go but Toronto refused to go away.

With the Bulls leading by five, Toronto sent Korver to the line with 16 seconds left and the sharpshooter nailed a pair from the charity stripe, making it a three-possession contest and putting the game out of reach for the Bulls plucky guests.

Finally, it was Rose who put an end to the shenanigans, hitting two foul shots and blocking a Barbosa layup to cement the win.

I just remember them celebrating after they won back in Toronto, said Rose. Just trying to pay them back.

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.

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Although the punches didn't connect, the NBA was not going to take the Robin Lopez-Serge Ibaka confrontation lightly, suspending each one game Wednesday afternoon.

Lopez served his time in the Bulls' surprising 117-95 win over the Detroit Pistons at the United Center. Per league rules, Lopez was not allowed on team property but he did speak to head coach Fred Hoiberg when the team returned from Toronto after the Bulls' heartbreaking overtime loss Tuesday.

Lopez will return to the Bulls lineup Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, a relief to the Bulls considering the league could've taken a harsher stance with Lopez — a two- or three-game suspension was being mulled at the league office, sources tell CSNChicago.com

Lopez was pushed into Ibaka after Jimmy Butler hit a three in the second half, and the two combatants squared off underneath the rim, with officials, teammates and coaches trying to separate them.

Ibaka appeared to have his arm reaching at Lopez's neck, prompting Lopez to swing at Ibaka. He missed, and Ibaka grazed Lopez's face with a wild swing of his own.

Both were ejected after being separated and shortly thereafter, the Raptors begun their run from being down 15 points to end the Bulls' recent mastery over them.

Despite the effect, Lopez had the full support of his teammates and coaching staff.

"I think you ask anybody in that locker room, Robin Lopez is one of the most if not the most popular guy on this team," Hoiberg said. "He's a guy that goes out and approaches his job the same way every day. He goes to work. He never complains. He does what's asked of him. Also if you asked them, they'd tell you he's as passionate of a guy as we have on this team as well. He's got a fire to him that you just don't ever want to take away."

That fire clearly got underneath Lopez and Ibaka, causing Lopez to lunge at Ibaka. Telling from the immediate reaction from the Bulls players and from Hoiberg and associate coach Jim Boylen, it seems as if it wasn't the first time Lopez's engine ran a little hot.

"This game gets very competitive obviously, it gets heated at times," Hoiberg said. "That happened last night. It's unfortunate what went down, but we've all got Robin's back. I think everybody in this organization, from the players all the way to up top, has Robin's back. We'll deal with it and move on. We'll be happy to have him in the lineup Friday."

Lopez averages 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game, slightly higher than his career averages through his nine NBA seasons.

Considering the play seemed relatively tame, it was slightly puzzling to see both players go at each other so ferociously but there appeared to be more to the story than first blush.

"There's always more going on than it appears," Hoiberg said. "You go back and watch on film, there's little jabs that happen in the course of the game and sometimes it reaches the boiling point. Robin is a guy that plays this game with a lot of passion, and you don't ever want to see something like that happen, but it did. And again, you move on."

Normally, Lopez attacks mascots during timeouts or pregame warm-ups, so nobody felt Lopez was looking for an altercation, and considering it only cost him a game — one the Bulls won anyways — Hoiberg didn't seem too stressed about it beforehand.

"Yeah, you know, Robin's going to have our guys' backs as much as anybody in the locker room," Hoiberg said. "Again, you look in that locker room, all those guys are going to have each other's back, Robin as much as anybody. Unfortunately, it happened. It looked like it was a little hip check, they turned around and got squared off, and we all know what happened. Again, we'll all be excited to have Robin back in the lineup on Friday."

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls blow out Pistons

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls blow out Pistons

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks go for season sweep vs. Stars tonight on CSN

Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

Blackhawks want to finish strong while staying fresh for postseason

David DeJesus Q&A: New CSN Cubs analyst on retirement, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon

How the White Sox and Tim Anderson came to their creative contract extension

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Expectations for John Hayden in the playoffs

Cubs remember Dallas Green's impact on Wrigley Field

Prospect Zack Burdi's focus in White Sox camp: 'Act like you belong'

BearsTalk Podcast: The three best defensive choices for Bears' first-round pick

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap