Hamilton's fourth-quarter absence a mystery


Hamilton's fourth-quarter absence a mystery

HOUSTONAt first, it seemed like a byproduct of last seasons injury-plagued campaign. Now, with the Bulls struggling and not executing in close, late-game situations, the fact that veteran Rip Hamilton has been nailed to the bench just seems odd.
Sure, in Wednesday nights loss to Houston, Hamilton only shot 2-for-10 from the floor, making it somewhat justifiable that he didnt see any fourth-quarter action, even though the shooting guard is one of the few players on the roster who has experienceand successcoming up big in those situations. But when coupled with the fact that after he went 7-for-10 in another narrow defeat at Portland, the teams previous loss in their current three-game skid, its more puzzling.
Youre going with the group thats playing well at that particular time. Its not about individuals, its about the team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. This team Houston is a tough team to cover defensively. So, I thought Taj and Jimmy coming in got us going in the right direction.
True, Butler is deserving of more playing timeGibson, who has closed out games for Carlos Boozer since the starting power forwards arrival in Chicago, long ago has been Thibodeaus go-to player of choice down the stretch, unless Boozer has it going offensively, as he started to late in the Rockets loss, but thats another story for another time, or even one thats been told beforeas this writer advocated Wednesday morning, and the second-year swingmans energy, defensive play and athleticism has definitely given the Bulls a shot of adrenaline when hes on the floor. But even if its offense-defense substitutions needed to get Hamilton on the court late, for a team mired in struggles scoring the ball and without the necessary poise needed to win tight games recently, its a mystery why a player known for stepping up in the clutch doesnt get the opportunity to show what hes capable of.
Hamilton answered those concerns diplomatically, perhaps out of deference for Thibodeaus track record or maybe because after the end to his successful run in Detroit was tainted by the implication that he wasnt as much as of a team-first player that he seemed to be for his entire career prior to the allegations that surfaced before leaving the Pistons. Either way, he wouldnt bite.
The one thing youve just got to do is just cheer for the guy thats out there. Hopefully we get the win, so you just try to stay positive with it, he calmly said afterwards. Like I always say, whatever they need me to do, Im going to do. If its play whatever, Im going to play. Just trying to stay positive, just try to keep getting better each and every day.
When I came to Chicago, it was just one of those things, Hamilton cryptically continued. I didnt want to get caught up in anything else.
While Hamilton will never admit to acknowledging that hes starting to approach the twilight of his careerand why would he, as hes displayed on multiple occasions this season, even on the Bulls current road trip, that hes still capable of being a major offensive forceone has to think that the whispers about him being the same player and being potential trade bait before the league-wide deadline so the organization can avoid the luxury tax have affected him. Although he reported to training camp in tip-top shape after privately being challenged to step up his game, the party line about protecting his health has to be wearing thin.
But Hamilton continues to be the good soldier, maybe thinking about his future legacy as a player, with respect to post-career opportunities, possibly wondering how it could help his perception when he inevitably moves on or even, more innocently, just not knowing why hes not given the chance to display his crunch-time chops. Regardless, no matter how much it bothers him, a player who makes good decisions, consistently knocks down shots off set plays and has done so for literally decades, going back to his national-championship days in college, let alone in the NBA Finals for Detroit, its hurting the Bulls even more, at least until another late-game primary optionoutside of Joakim Noahs big-man playmaking, Luol Dengs slashing-and-cutting game, and Nate Robinsons overall fearlessessemerges.

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Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

Winning a game against a LeBron James led team has proven to be an easier task than most for the Chicago Bulls in the last couple regular seasons.

And winning without James has proven to be a herculean task for the Cleveland Cavaliers since his return in 2014.

So putting those two events together seemed to produce an inevitable result at Quicken Loans Arena, with James out due to illness, as the Bulls pulled away from the Cavaliers 117-99 Saturday night.

The win marks the fourth straight for the Bulls, pulling them over .500 for the first time in nearly two months and they lead the season series 3-0 over the NBA Champions.

Of course, if James were healthy perhaps the Cavaliers would look more cohesive but without him, only Kyrie Irving was in double figures amongst the starters for most of the night. Irving was unguardable with 34 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

After the lead rose to 20, Irving went to work to get the Cavaliers back in it by scoring eight in the quarter and cutting the lead in half with 2:30 left. But without James, the Bulls were able to hold off the Cavaliers with baskets from 
Cristiano Felicio and Nikola Mirotic, who had his second straight big game with 14 points and 10 boards.

A third-quarter flurry from the Bulls gave them some breathing room after a back-and-forth 24 minutes. The Cavs threatened to blow the game open with a 65-59 lead to start the third but the Bulls quickly turned the tables, getting stops and leaking out for fast breaks.

Dwyane Wade corralled weak-side rebounds and popped it ahead to Butler and Bobby Portis for layups. 

Butler then hit two triples in succession to give the Bulls a 76-67 lead.

He struggled from the field but hit four triples on his way to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and Wade was one rebound short—one Felicio rebound attempt with seconds remaining, from getting a triple-double with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes

But the 3-point shooting has been a welcome addition since the trade of Doug McDermott, their best 3-point shooter.

Denzel Valentine followed up his sterling showing Friday night with another competent and confident performance, hitting three triples to score 11 and at least competing on the defensive end.

Cameron Payne made his debut as a Bull and hit two triples in the first half, both passes off the ball as he hasn't had enough time to grasp the offense, only going through a morning walkthrough with the coaching staff after the team arrived in Cleveland.

All in all, the Bulls had their ninth game with 10 or more triples, hitting 15.