Thibodeau's Bulls can't solve his former team

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Thibodeau's Bulls can't solve his former team

Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010
Updated 12:36 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

BOSTON If pulse-pounding action, dramatic comebacks and extra periods werent involved, it just wouldnt be the Bulls and the Celtics.

The return of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Boston fan favorite Brian Scalabrine were overshadowed by a thrilling affair, in which visiting Chicago was just about left for dead, until an uphill battle against a seemingly-safe Boston lead left a raucous TD Bank North Garden crowd stunned.

Eventually, critical errors by a still-gelling Bulls squad and clutch moments from a veteran Celtics group would seal the visitors 110-105 overtime demise.

We couldnt get stops when we needed them. We made a lot of mistakes. Its always frustrating to lose, Bulls center Joakim Noah told reporters following the loss. Were not there yet, but were pretty close and were only going to get better. And when we do, its going to get real ugly for everybody thats talking real crazy. All the trash that people are talking right now, its going to come back and haunt them because when it counts, were going to be ready.

Behind its boisterous crowd, the Celtics initially threatened to run the Bulls out of the gym or so it seemed, as Boston point guard Rajon Rondo pushed the pace and created defensive havoc in his customary manner, while veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen complimented his backcourt mate with his typical smooth scoring.

To complicate matters, Chicago (2-3) had issues both protecting the ball and finishing at the rim, although the visitors did appear to make a concerted effort to get the ball inside. A brief pattern of Boston (5-1) going on a mini-run, followed by the Bulls storming back was established with Taj Gibsons patented baseline jumper, Noahs activity level inside and Derrick Roses usual strong penetration all serving as catalysts. By the end of the first quarter, the tide had turned, and Chicago held a 23-19 advantage.

The familiar issue of the Bulls reserves being unable to maintain the momentum established by the starters persisted, as the Bulls were held scoreless until midway through the second period. Bostons offense wasnt exactly prolific with its second unit in the contest, but reserve swingman Marquis Daniels provided a major spark, as his versatile and unorthodox game gave Chicago defenders fits.

Both squads regulars would eventually return to the game, but the Bulls remained out of sync, turnover-prone, lacking ball movement, facing foul trouble and unable to adequately suppress the Celtics attack. Bostons Kevin Garnett and his backup, Glen Big Baby Davis, went to work in the low post, contributing significantly to a 24-3 extended run to begin the quarter in which the Bulls were doubled up, 30-15. Noah (26 points, 12 rebounds; both were game-highs), Rose and Luol Deng made valiant efforts to get Chicago back into the game before halftime, but the Bulls would trail, 49-38 at intermission.

Each game, were finding out more and well continue to look at different combinations and see what works best for the team, observed Thibodeau about his bench. You have to see who functions well together and right now, were still searching and I think were capable of playing better.

Boston is a tough team. Theyre excellent defensively, they make it hard on you, theyve got great length, Rondos activity will really bother you. In the first half, we held onto the ball, we went one-on-one, you cant do that against this teamin the second half, we made quality decisions, we got better shots. Thats what you have to do against a quality team, continued the coach, who was particularly bothered by his teams 19 turnovers.

They have a lot of weapons, theyre experienced, they know how to work the game and theyre hard to guardthe thing that gets overlooked about them is not only their individual greatness, but their collective greatness and their willingness to share with each other. So that ball moves through that balls always hopping and that puts an enormous pressure on your defense. Your defense isnt allowed to set and thats something were striving for. We want to get to be like that.

A technical foul called on Noah as the first half ended appeared to have some carry-over to the third quarter, with the Bulls center and Garnett getting into some verbal posturing on the floor. However, while both Garnett and fellow preps-to-pros and South Carolina native Jermaine ONeal were effective inside for the Celtics, Gibsons youthful energy reigned supreme (Noahs ability to get to the line regularly and convert was also key) in the early portion of the second half, as his offensive efforts helped Chicago cut its deficit to single digits.

The Bulls still werent flowing offensively and though Gibson (18 points, seven rebounds) enjoyed a surprising advantage over the cagey Garnett (16 points, 10 rebounds) at power forward, his teammates scoring was intermittent and their frustration over this fact was apparent. Meanwhile, ONeal and Allen were the primary load-bearers for Boston, which maintained a safe distance from the Bulls. Despite Rose (18 points, nine assists) aggressively willing in a few buckets late in the period, Chicago was behind by a 72-64 margin after three quarters of action.

Ive got to get used to double teams. Every time I come off picks, its a double team. Theyre making me pass the ball, said Rose, who was hounded by not only the defensive-minded Rondo, but Bostons post players, who sacrificed open mid-range jumpers by Noah and Gibson in order to harass Chicagos point guard. Im not used to it, so I know Thibs is going to have something for that and were going to be ready next game.

How do we respond to the ball being forced out of Roses hands? Try to make plays. Obviously Derricks our scorer and Derricks our playmaker, and theyre trying to get the ball out of his hands, explained Noah. I think it should work to our advantage. When theres two defenders on the ball like that, especially when theyre trapping at halfcourt, its on us as big men to get the ball and make the play from there.

A promising beginning to the final stanza reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer finished off a nifty give-and-go with a dunk resulted in the Bulls trimming the Celtics winning margin to a two-possession game early in the period. Brewer, whose stint in Chicago thus far has been mostly uneventful, also contributed an open-court theft of Ray Allen, leading to an easy transition finish.

With mostly reserves on the court for both teams, the Bulls continued to chip away at the lead, closing to within two points approximately halfway through the quarter following a Brewer pull-up jumper and a dunk from rookie center Omer Asik. A three-pointer by backup point guard C.J. Watson like Brewer, an offseason acquisition who hadnt found his stride yet put Chicago ahead for the first time since early in the second quarter.

Suddenly, it was a back-and-forth affair, with Rose and Rondo exchanging successful forays to the rim and the games intensity fitting of the arenas festive environment. Out of a Bulls timeout, Kyle Korver committed a costly turnover, resulting in a Ray Allen transition layup plus a foul to make it a two-possession contest. While the floodgates didnt completely open, the momentum definitely shifted to the home team, who teetered on the edge of putting the game away once and for all.

But a resilient Chicago squad wouldnt let up, and after a pair of Deng (20 points, six rebounds) long bombs, the count was evened at 96 apiece. With 34.2 seconds to play and the score still gridlocked, a remarkable hustle play by the always blue-collar Keith Bogans he would dive after a deflected loose ball in the Celtics backcourt and call timeout gave the Bulls a final possession in regulation.

A final play a clear-out for Rose, defended by Rondo was drawn up, but after making his initial move to the basket, the Bulls All-Star point guard was jostled by Rondo (10 points, 11 assists, four steals), lost the ball and the Bulls were unable to get off a final shot.

I lost the balltheres nothing I could say to change that. I guess I couldnt get a shot off, said a dejected Rose. I dont know what it was, but the refs thought it was clean, so theres nothing I can say about it. I guess they made the right call.

We wanted to get the last shot. They were crowding Derrick, so we wanted to just go 1-4 flat and give him a chance to win the game, explained Thibodeau. It was a tough play. I havent seen it, but it looked like Rondo made a good play. There was some contact, it looked like it could go either way. It didnt go our way this time. We have to do better next time.

In the extra period, Bostons Paul Pierce who had a quiet game after surpassing the 20,000-point mark for his career in the Celtics previous outing, another overtime thriller against Milwaukee started the scoring with his trademark foul-line pull-up jumper. Gibson would counter with one of his own. A scoring exchange between the teams ensued, with Bostons Davis (15 points) knocking down a jumper, Korver hitting a huge three-pointer and Allen answering back in similar fashion, before a Rose drive resulted in a foul and two free throws.

This neck-and-neck action turned in the Celtics favor after another Pierce jumper, then a Bulls turnover that made the situation bleak for the out-of-towners, particularly after an explosive Allen (team-high 25 points) dunk over Korver that made it a two-possession contest. However, a Deng tip-in gave the Bulls hope, making it a 108-105 game with under a minute to play. Chicago would get a defensive stop on the next possession, but after a Noah rebound, the centers subsequent push up the court was poked away by Garnett, sealing the deal for Boston.

Garnett was behind me, so I couldnt see himI was trying to make a play. Big mistake. He reached on the rebound and I thought we had the numbers in transition and I should have slowed it down. We should have got a shot up in that situation, recalled Noah. Theres a lot more basketball to be played and as long we come with the right mindset every day and work on our defense, and work on what we need to work, were going to be tough.

Said Thibodeau: We would rather have Derrick with the ball, but Noah has made several plays very effectively like that. In that situation sometimes particularly against a defensive team like that your best look is going to be in transition. Youre not allowing their defense to set. Now, wed much prefer Derrick to handle it and make the decision, but those are things well work on and get better at.

We have high character on the team, theres a lot of toughness and theres a lot of fight in them. Were still not playing up to our capability. Defensively, I think we could do a lot better; offensively, were scoring the ball. Im not as concerned right now about our offense as I am about out defense.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.”