Unconcerned with style, Bulls look to go up 3-0

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Unconcerned with style, Bulls look to go up 3-0

Thursday, April 21, 2011Posted: 12:35 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISThe mood in the visiting locker room at Conseco Fieldhouse was one of weariness. After three off days between Games 2 and 3 of their first-round series, the Bulls were sick and tired.

Not literally, of course, but of the same general tone of reporters questions. To paraphrase the overall content: How come you havent dominated the Pacers?

Were not worried about that. We have our own belief. If we win the game, we win, said a testy Carlos Boozer before the teams Thursday morning shootaround. Obviously we want to play better, but at the end of the day, were up 2-0 and were looking forward to Game 3.

Added Joakim Noah: Ive never been up 2-0 in a playoff series in my lifeso, letdownI wouldnt call that a letdown at all. I understand that theres high expectations for this team, but at the end of the day, were up 2-0 and we have areas we can improve in, and we can do that and thats whats so exciting. We know that we can get better.

READ: Pacers' Collison a game-time decision

Were the No. 1 seed, but were still hunting. Weve never been in this position before, so I think it doesnt matter. I dont think anybodys lost their hunger because were a No. 1 seed, he continued. I feel like when you lose that hunger, youre never going to be in the hunt for a title. You dont make it far without hunger. You have to be a hungry group, regardless of the cards that are given.

The opinion of others doesnt matter. Its just people. Its just stories being written. At the end of the day, we understand what we need to do and we understand that were not playing our best basketball and the only thing that matters is what we think in this locker room. Theres a lot of speculation and things that are said, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what we think of each other and going out there and winning ballgames.

Now, nobodys truly doubting that the Bulls will conquer Indianaexcept the bold young Pacersbut the manner in which theyve performed thus far in the series doesnt exactly inspire confidence, let alone championship hopes.

The so-called issues that have emerged for the Bullsa lack of a second scoring option, a mild downturn on defense, inconsistent play from the post tandem of Noah and Boozer and less productivity from the second unitare certainly problematic for the time being, but observers dont seem to be taking into account that maybe the Pacers are actually better than their losing regular-season record indicates.

WATCH: Leaning big on Rose? Bulls shrug off criticism

To me, its crazy because if you look at all the other teams and I keep saying, Indianas a good team. I think people are not giving them respect because theyre the eighth seed, but I think people forget that a couple years ago, when we were the eighth seed, we took Boston to Game 7. Teams get better as the year goes on, just because a lot goes into the season. They could be a great seven-game team and not a great 82-game team. Its sometimes focus. A lot goes into that, Luol Deng told CSNChicago.com. Defensively, theyre making us work. A lot of teams, we stop their first option and theyre gone. This team is going into their third, fourth option and you cant ask for more.

Theyre looking to shock the world and let everyone know, but I think theyve showed us enough. Theyve showed everyone enough that they could play with us and theyve earned our respect, he went on to say. A lot of other teams could have lost those games or one of those games and I really think that even though people arent happy with the way were winning, I just want to win. I really dont care how it comes, buzzer-beater or whatever, at the end of the day, as long as I go home with the win, thats all that matters.

Earlier in the season, even when expectations for the Bulls werent as high, there was grumbling about the closeness of contests against supposedly inferior competition and it seemed that their blue-collar style wasnt fully appreciated. As the squad continued to win games, improve and go on to secure the best record in the league, that talk ceased.

Maybe its time to take a trip down memory lane. Better yet, pay closer attention to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, the ultimate pragmatist.

READ: Deng all about defense against Pacers

Each game is important and if you start looking at all the other things, thats where you lose your focus. The way we approach it is we just concentrate on exactly whats in front of us. Theyre a hard-playing team, they had to play well and hard down the stretch to get in and Im expecting a tough game tonight, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose streamlined approach has filtered into the subconscious of his players. This is the playoffs. If you study whats going on in the playoffs and you study whats gone on in the past few years, this is not uncommon. Teams are good. Theres going to be tight games, theres going to be tough situations. You have to endure through everything.

You look at last year. The Lakers had a tough first-round series and they ended up winning the championship. I know in 08 with the Celtics, we had a tough first-round series, so thats all part of it. You have to be able to get through those things, he continued. Im just concerned with winning. Others may be more concerned with aesthetics. Im concerned with winning. As long as we win and we learn, and we correct and we improve, thats all I want us concentrating on.

There you have it. Keep worrying about the nature of the Bulls wins, while they remain concerned about the final result.

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.

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

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USA TODAY

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

Championship moments rarely occur in the first round. With a playoff format that drags the postseason out for more than two months, with playoff series taking as long as two weeks, the second season feels like just that. It’s far too early to say what exactly Friday night in Chicago will mean for the top-seeded Celtics, but a sense of a team coming together under unfathomable circumstances may prove to be the turning point in a season that a week ago appeared hanging by a thread.

It happened in three parts.

On the floor the Celtics looked every bit the part of a 51-win team that edged out LeBron’s Cavs for the top spot in the East. Brad Stevens’ small-ball approach came full-circle as the Boston guards lived in the paint against the Bulls, kicking out to open shooters for 16 3-pointers that helped the Celtics put away the game (and series) midway through the third quarter.

Avery Bradley starred for a second consecutive night, tallying 23 points while making Jimmy Butler work for his, while eight different Celtics hit a 3-pointer and the team shot 49 percent. For the first time in the series the Celtics looked dominant, like a team poised to contend with the Cavaliers for supremacy in the East.

“It felt good to play Celtic basketball again,” Avery Bradley said. “We were all smiling, having fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s how hard we worked this entire year, to play that type of basketball.”

Isaiah Thomas was naturally somber much of the series. The well-documented death of his 22-year-old sister put a damper on the series before it began, and the MVP candidate understandably chose not to address it on the few occassions he spoke with the media. But Thomas looked more like himself as the series went on. Not only did his numbers improve, he appeared more vocal after made baskets, laughed off trash talk from Bulls point guard Isaiah Canaan, and engineered the Celtics' offense to near-perfection.

His defining moment came late in the third quarter with the Celtics nearing a 30-point lead. After a hard foul he gathered his four teammates in a huddle near the baseline and shouted that the series for the Bulls was "a wrap for these m------------!" This was the same player who two weeks earlier was brought to tears prior to Game 1, and who will bury his sister on Saturday in Tacoma, Washington. Under unthinkable circumstances, Thomas averaged 23.0 points and 5.7 assists in 34.8 minutes in the series.

“I feel like he has grown,” Al Horford said. "And we all have in a way with all the adversity that has gone on. It could have easily gone the other way, but I feel like especially tonight when we got the game in hand, in control, we all just kept on repeating to stay focused to keep it going, keep pushing. We didn’t want to give them any life and we were a focused group and we were enjoying the moment.”

Thomas' journey won't get easier. He'll have another short turnaround to get ready for Sunday's second-round matchup against the Celtics. But like his teammates did in Games 3 and 4, when Thomas flew by himself to Chicago following his return home to Tacoma to mourn with his family, they'll have another opporuntity to grow closer. Brad Stevens kept an incredible perspective on the situation throughout the series, and applauded his team for doing the same while still fighting for wins.

"Bigger things than basketball happened, and that took precedent and it takes precdedent," he said. "I was really proud of our guys for how they treated each other, how they stood together, stuck together. And how nobody pointed fingers, they were just a great support for one another, especially Isaiah."

When Thomas does return, and when the Celtics gear up for their next postseason journey, expectations will have remained the same. Though the Wizards were one of the league's best teams in the second half, and with John Wall and Bradley Beal playing on another level, it'll take more performances like Friday night - both on the court and collectively staying together - for Boston to advance. A 2-0 hole against the Wizards will feel a whole lot different than it did against the Bulls.

That sort of letdown doesn't feel like it will happen again. Though no one would have wished such tragedy to force it, the Celtics came together at a critical moment and came out better for it. Their work isn't done, and they know it. But the way they were able to handle the adversity in Round 1, anything seems possible for Stevens, Thomas the top seed in the East.

"We just try to stay the course in the day-to-day. And if that results in us winning more games or winning in the playoffs, or whatever the case may be, there’s only one goal in the Boston," Stevens said. "Seventeen (NBA championship) banners above us. We don’t have a choice. We only shoot for one thing there."

BullsTalk Podcast: Top-seeded Celtics too much to handle for Bulls

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AP

BullsTalk Podcast: Top-seeded Celtics too much to handle for Bulls

In the latest episode of the BullsTalk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Stacey King break down the final game of the Bulls' season, a 105-83 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series.

Also, hear postgame press conferences from head coach Fred Hoiberg and All-Star forward Jimmy Butler. And the guys look ahead to the offseason and the NBA Draft.

Listen to the latest episode below: