Turn back the clock: Thomas gives Bulls big lift

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Turn back the clock: Thomas gives Bulls big lift

Monday, Jan. 24, 2011
Posted 9:21 p.m. Updated 11:04 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

It wasnt turn-back-the-clock night at the United Center, but Kurt Thomas certainly had a flashback. The second-oldest player in the NBA, Thomas is known for his defensive acumen and ability to knock down the occasional mid-range jumper, but Monday evening, he had an offensive explosion to help lead the Bulls (31-14) past Central Division rival Milwaukee (16-26), 92-83.

The Bulls were briefly hit with another case of the slow-start blues at the games outset, hitting just two of their first 10 shots and allowing Milwaukee to jump out to an early lead. Bucks center Andrew Bogut (eight points, 18 rebounds, three blocked shots), well aware of the wily ways of Thomas (22 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks)ironically, Boguts replacement late last season after the Australian went down with a season-ending injurydominated the boards early on, but the veteran struck back by finding his touch and burning his former teammate with his trademark mid-range jumpers off pick-and-pop scenarios with Derrick Rose (21 points, 10 assists).

Coming off the pick, just being aggressive and trying to attack, that opened everything up, explained Rose, who told reporters afterwards that hes happy for the Bulls three days between games so he can get treatment on his gimpy back. Bogut had to jump at my jump shot or contest my layup, and he Thomas was right there by the free-throw line. We wanted him to shoot the shots that he was taking.

Speaking of Rose, while he did knock down an early 3-pointer, his newfound ability to get to the line was evident, as he helped keep the Bulls afloat with free throws. That, along with his playmaking and Thomas shooting, was Chicagos primary sources of offense initially. After storming back to overtake the visitors, the Bulls held a 19-18 advantage after the opening period.

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Thomas continued to burn his ex-employers with his old-school gamehoop aficionados might remember he led all of college basketball in both scoring and rebounding as a senior at TCUand was the catalyst in the Bulls building a slim cushion by the midway point in the second quarter.

Derrick, he requires so much attention out there. He was able to find me and fortunately, I was able to knock down a few shots tonight, said Thomas. The open shot was there. The way that Milwaukee was playing defense tonight, they were really playing off of me. I knocked down the first two or three shots and the shot was just there, so I continued to fire away.

I think Ive been known as a guy who can hit that shot my whole career, he continued. If the shot is there, I definitely I have confidence in myself that I can make it.

They the Bucks definitely know that I can make that shot.

Added Rose: Kurt, we had to keep going to him. He was hitting every shot and my job was to get him the ball.

They were playing off of him. They were playing two people on me; when I drove the ball, Bogut was on me, he went on to say. He was wide open, so I was throwing it to him every time.

Thomas former coach and teammates acknowledged his success against them had a lot to do with not just the veterans ability, but knowledge of the game, not to mention their system.

Kurt had a great night for them. He knows our stuff backwards, said Bogut. He knows where to get to and where our help is going to come from.

Chimed in Bucks head coach Scott Skiles: No matter who was on him, we just didnt get back to him fast enough. Kurt is a really smart player.

In the first half, he was open, continued the former Bulls coach. In the second, he still hit some contested shots.

By the time O.G. (as his current teammates call him) headed to the bench for some much-deserved rest, the Bulls had found their groove. Behind the floor generalship of backup point guard C.J. Watson (eight points, three assists), the team was playing with tremendous energy and extended their lead to a comfortable double-digit winning margin, aided by designated sniper Kyle Korver (eight points, five rebounds, three assists) finding his groove.

Watsons play permitted Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to give Rose an extended breather and demonstrated his growing comfort level in Watsons style of running the show with the second unit and starters alike.

Rose and Thomas returned late in the period to find a group already playing active defense. Before the break, Rose gave the home fans a thrill with an acrobatic layup just prior to the halftime buzzer, sending his Bulls into the tunnel with a 48-32 lead.

Thomas resumed right where he left off, hitting his first two shot attempts of the third quarter before Bogut swatted his next jumper. With all the focus on Thomasthe fans and Milwaukees bench, as well as the Bucks on the floorit opened up things for Chicagos other players and both Rose and Carlos Boozer (14 points, nine rebounds), who had a quiet first half, took advantage.

Roses bursts of speed, dynamic change-of-direction moves and graceful yet powerful finishes at the rim electrified the crowd and although Chicago enjoyed a comfortable advantage, Bucks starting swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts (30 points)Roses college teammate in his lone season at the University of Memphiscontinued to torment the Bulls with his versatile scoring ability, almost doubling his first-half point total in the third period alone.

Tonight he got it going; its great when he does, said Skiles of Douglas-Roberts. The key for him is on a night when he doesnt have it going, how he can help us.

Added Douglas-Roberts: I just tried to bring energy to the game for us. I have to come out and be aggressive.

Once I got it going, my teammates did a great job of looking for me coming off screens.

Despite a lackluster end to the quarter, the home team maintained a 68-58 lead going into the games final frame.

The Bucks further sliced into their deficit in the fourth quarter, making it a single-digit contest before Luol Deng (nine points, seven rebounds) awoke from his offensive slumber. However, even with the contributions of Deng, reserve Taj Gibsons (six points, seven rebounds) interior activity and Boozers low-post presence, the collective efforts of Bogut, Douglas-Roberts, starting forward Ersan Ilyasova (17 points), veteran point guard Keyon Dooling (13 points, 10 assists; starting in place of injured second-year star Brandon Jennings) and reserve forward and defensive stopper Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute (eight points, seven rebounds) kept Milwaukee competitive.

As the games stretch run approached, the ever-persistent Bucksnot the most offensively-proficient squad, they made the necessary corrections on defense to limit the Bulls scoring; as Chicago fans are well aware, a Skiles-coached team never shies away from a grind-it-out gameinched closer, as the Bulls couldnt find an answer for Douglas-Roberts unorthodox yet fluid game.

With just under two minutes remaining, Rose managed to steal away a sure Bucks defensive rebound, then dish off the ball to Boozer to put the Bulls up by 11, prompting Skiles to call a timeout. The Bucks responded, as Ilyasova knocked down a 3-pointer on the subsequent possession.

But Rose wasnt done. The All-Star point guard crossed over a defender, then hit a tough shot in traffic, giving Chicago a double-digit lead once again. Milwaukee valiantly fought backIlyasova hit another long bomb with less than a minute to play, cutting the deficit to seven pointsbut time wasnt on the visitors side.

It was, however, on the side of Thomas, a 15-year veteran still capable of shouldering the offensive load, at least for one night.

Kurt had it going, said Thibodeau. All year, he has been ready to play and did a great job for us, especially since he stepped in.

Concurred Rose: Hes the reason why we won tonight.

After he hit like two or three shots, hes going to want it every time, so I just kept giving it to him, continued the 22-year-old, who exclaimed, Not playing! when asked if he even knew anybody as old as Thomas. He was feeling it tonight.

Although Thomas laughed off a reporters question about whether the United Center fans M-V-P chants were for him instead of Rose, in this victory, he was indeed the Bulls most valuable player.

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.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."