Category Archives: Post-Game

GM Forman to discuss Bulls’ coaching change

By Adam Fluck
Bulls General Manager Gar Forman will meet the media Tuesday morning from the Berto Center to address the organization’s head coaching change, which means Vinny Del Negro’s tenure in Chicago is about to end.
Tune in at Bulls.com to watch live video of Forman’s comments at 11 a.m. CT.
Del Negro was hired as the team’s 17th head coach in franchise history on June 11, 2008. After becoming the sixth Bulls head coach to guide his team to the playoffs in his first year, Del Negro’s Bulls again made the postseason this season. But he had some help from his top two players.
All-Star guard Derrick Rose was remarkable down the stretch, finishing second in the Eastern Conference in scoring (25.4 ppg) and adding 7.0 assists and 4.1 rebounds during the month of April, leading the Bulls to a 6-2 record.
Coupled with the return of center Joakim Noah, who missed 10 straight games (Chicago went 0-10) due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot from Feb. 27 to March 19, Chicago won 10 of its last 14 games and secured the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
A first-round meeting with LeBron James and the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers followed, in which the Bulls fell 4-1.
“You’re always disappointed when it ends,” Del Negro told BullsTV the day after the series ended. “It was a battle for us a lot of the season. The guys did a lot of good things and there was a lot of improvement in certain areas. But there is always that empty feeling at the end. You’re always finding ways to get better, individually and collectively as a team. I give the guys a lot of credit. They battled through a lot of injuries, adversity and distractions. They stayed together as a unit.”
When asked about the speculation surrounding his job security that day, Del Negro did not address specifics.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “All of those things are out of my control. I can’t control what people say or what they do or how they act. I can just control how I approach things in my preparation and how I get this team ready to play.
“My record speaks for itself,” Del Negro added. “But it’s not about me; it’s about the team, its players, and the direction the organization wants to go in.”
Del Negro will depart with a regular season record of 82-82. His teams finished 4-8 in its two playoffs series against the Boston Celtics (lost 4-3 in 2009) and Cleveland Cavaliers (lost 4-1 in 2010).

Bulls season ends with loss and questions begin

LeBron James was waiting for it, the subtle knuckleball of a question coming his way after his Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday eliminated the Bulls in five games with a tough 96-94 victory in the opening round playoff series.

James, who held together a shaky Cavs group that was feeling the pressure down the stretch with 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, called Derrick Rose a special talent who now is one of the top two point guards in the NBA. James said he wasn’t offended by anything Joakim Noah said as Noah was able to back up everything with his play on the court.
So wouldn’t Chicago, LeBron, be a nice place for a free…
James, wearing an oversized white sweater with an “LBJ” monogram bigger than Lyndon Johnson’s ranch, stopped me before I could finish.
“So I want to play with them?” James said with a laugh. I kind of figured that was coming.
“Those guys are great,” said James, going on without prompting. “First of all, I’m a fan of the game of basketball before I was a player. It just so happened with the God given abilities I have I was able to be successful in the game and be part of this league. Even when I’m done playing I still love the game. I watch the game every day. I know talent and those are two talented guys. They are going to be really good for this league for years to come.
“I know,” said James, walking away for the night and heading to Boston for the Eastern Conference semifinals, “I didn’t answer your question.”
And now that this season is over with another fun and entertaining first round playoff series, but again a first round elimination—”I don’t want us to be known as the team that always plays hard in the first round. The goal is to win the series and play in the big games,” said Noah—the big questions remain:
What is the fate of coach Vinny Del Negro?
GM Gar Forman said after the game no decision is imminent and the team, as usual, will do its post season evaluations.
Will the Bulls’ moves of letting go Ben Gordon and trading John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas for salary cap space pay off in the signing this summer of a major free agent star to add to the talent base of Rose, Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson?
“I think I am going to meet with them, the people in the front office, and just talk and see who we are going to get,” said Rose, whose brilliance with 31 points and six assists in Game 5 overshadowed even James with gasps and demands from the crowd to “stop that guy!” “It is going to be fun. We can get any one of them (potential free agents). We’ve just got to get the right one to fit the team. I’m going to have a say-so, but everything is going to be left up to the people in the front office. I wouldn’t say recruit like that, but Chicago is a great place, a great team, a great organization, the fans are great, so why not come there?”
And just who will be around to play with that free agent?
Certainly Rose and Noah. This series, if it wasn’t already clear, determined those two are untouchables. Bulls insiders confirm no offer could get the team to part with either one of them.
As for Hinrich and Deng, the off season will be an anxious one as both know they’ll be mentioned in trade talk and quite possibly be the bait for the sign and trade deal that a major free agent likely would desire.
“I think they’ve got good pieces, Derrick and Joakim and Taj and Luol, good, though guys,” said Hinrich, who has been a constant in trade rumors. “It’s a big summer for the organization. For myself, I’ve had a good time and enjoyed this year. I’d like to be back, if possible, but you never know.
“It seems every summer or trade deadline my name comes up,” Hinrich said with a wry laugh. “I don’t worry about it. This summer I’ll try to improve and get work in and work hard and be ready to go.”
Dressing near Hinrich in a relatively light Bulls locker room given the circumstances—those guys really did seem to like one another and get along well—Deng was getting up to leave. He was pleased to get through the season mostly healthy after a stress fracture last year and will play for the Great Britain national team summer, likely with former teammate Ben Gordon.
“Everybody talks about the future,” Deng acknowledged after an active 26 points and six rebounds with eight of 11 free throws. “We’ve got a lot of talent, a bright future. I’m sure the organization feels the same way. I’d love to be here my whole career. But you have to understand the business side. There’s always going to be changes. As a player and professional you have to work on your game. Every year is different.”
This one sure was with Rose hurt early in the season but playing through it without his usual explosion. Was the kid done already?
That led to a rocky start, a five game losing streak on the “circus” Western Conference trip in November, and then the December meltdown which produced a hysterical reaction and stories of the imminent firing of Del Negro.
The Bulls lost at home to 1-19 New Jersey, then went to Atlanta and lost by 35, lost by 32 at home to Toronto, lost by 26 at home to Boston and blew that 35-point lead at home to the Sacramento Kings and fell to 10-17.
But Rose recovered and so did the Bulls with a five-game winning streak out west in the January/February trip and suddenly the Bulls were 23-22 and moving up on fifth in the East.
Rose made the All Star team, the first Bulls player to do so since Michael Jordan, but Noah’s plantar fasciitis worsened and he went out. The Bulls got to 31-27 after the All Star break, but that game was the turning point as the Bulls beat Portland at home in overtime. But Del Negro played Noah longer than he was supposed to, Noah suffered a setback and had to sit out three weeks. The Bulls lost 10 straight and Del Negro had a confrontation with team executive John Paxson.
But the Bulls came back, winning 10 of their last 14 and the last three straight to make the playoffs, and James Tuesday admitted, yes, he wanted the Bulls.
Maybe a little to pay back the ills the old No. 23 put on the Cavs two decades ago, but more to get better prepared for what lies ahead.
“We knew this (Bulls) team would push us,” complimented James. “Honestly, we’d rather play Chicago more than Toronto. We knew we were going to get pushed a little more. Not taking anything away from Toronto (sure), but with (Chris) Bosh being out the rest of the season, it looked like they didn’t even want to make the playoffs at the end of the season, especially when you see that game in Toronto with Chicago. So with Toronto it probably would have ended the same way as last year (with an opening round sweep).
“When Chicago made the eight seed, I was excited,” said James, who did control his dancing this series. “Because we knew we had to be in tune on every possession. That team plays hard no matter the score or time, no matter what the series is.”
It’s the way you want to be known around your sport, and I didn’t take it as James just being kind to a loser.
Yes, the Bulls had their usual home big loss, as they always seem to do, like last year in Game 3 against Boston or in Game 3 in the conference semifinals in 2007 against Detroit.
And that Game 4 loss left a bad taste for the team about this series.
“It was tough, the games they really won, they blew us out,” said Rose. “If anything, we just wanted to come out here and compete and try to make the game close. I think if we would have made the game close in the other games, it would have been a better series. But, we let them get out and get their runs and they are the type of team where they are too good offensively where, if one person is going, all of them get going. I wouldn’t take anything back, if anything, we can learn from it and try to work on it in the future.”
But the Bulls pushed the Cavs to the brink Tuesday in the game everyone just gave them.
Cavs players were locking up late in the game, seemingly reluctant to shoot as the Bulls kept coming with two Rose jumpers coming out after being halfway down and an amazingly bad continuation basket for Rose being reversed perhaps costing the Bulls the game. James even was yelling at teammates to shoot in the fourth, and there was a scare for him as he finished the game shooting a left handed free throw because he said his right elbow gets numb on occasion.
This was met with near post game panic by the Cleveland media as one reporter suggested James see Dr. James Andrews and another asked if he could reassure the Cavs fans.
“I don’t know, honestly, what’s going on (with it),” Jame said “I’ve done tests to try and figure this thing out, but it almost feels like you hit your funny bone and it kind of numbs up for a little bit. After I shot the first (free throw late in the game), that’s exactly what it did. I’m not concerned. I just want to try and get a better sense of what it may be. But Cleveland fans have nothing to be worried about. I’m healthy, I’m ready and we are looking forward to the second round. They don’t have any reason to panic.”
I know Noah had some fun with Cleveland with his comments, and it was a tough game for him with eight points, nine rebounds and seven turnovers while Shaq banged his way in for 14 points and eight rebounds.
But you really feel sorry for Cleveland fans, even more so than Cubs fans. Cubs fans generally are so drunk and having a good time, it doesn’t matter much. And they are in Chicago. You are in Cleveland with the Indians failures of the 1990’s, the Browns famous fumble, the Cavs losses to Jordan, and now this and LeBron is a free agent.
And you can almost feel the anxiety in the crowd, especially as the Bulls wouldn’t go away in Game 5.
It really was a fun game with 16 lead changes and five ties. The Bulls again outrebounded the bigger Cavs with Taj Gibson game high with 11 and a big edge in second chance points.
Again, the offensive holes were too much. The Bulls were two of 10 on threes while the Cavs were 10 of 26, making as many as the Bulls shot, and the Bulls had to earn their points with Rose driving and mid range jumpers, the hardest way in the NBA.
Which means: Go for Joe Johnson, a three point threat to spread the court, or Chris Bosh, a postup threat the Bulls never really have had to draw the defense inside. Either way, you open the court with one or the other. The Bulls have made themselves attractive with talent, but it still remains a question how many top players will leave their teams and whether you can out together the right sign and trade as top teams like the Lakers and Mavericks are rumored, as well, to be interested in sign and trade deals for the top talent.
The Cavs got a 27-20 lead late in the first, but Rose came back driving and scooping and shooting just out of reach floaters that were driving the Cavs nuts. It was 27-26 Cavs after one.
The Cavs pulled ahead 55-48 at halftime as they got out running on several Bulls turnovers and James found Williams and Delonte West for threes, a dangerous sign.
But the Bulls were doing some good things with James as Deng was picking him up sooner and forcing the Cavs to run more clock. Deng and Gibson did have some issues trying to contain Antawn Jamison early as he led the Cavs with 25, but just five after halftime.
LeBron began to take some turns on Rose earlier than in previous games as the Bulls pulled within 73-71 after three as the Cavs realized they were not going to shake this Bulls team.
“I told him (after the game) I love his game,” said James of Rose. “He’s awesome. He started this season probably as the third, fourth, fifth best point guard in the league. Now he’s one or two. He’s an unbelievable talent. No guard in the league has the athleticism he has, the speed and quickness. Chicago has a good one. I was guarding him because that’s the one guy who could beat us, their biggest threat.”
And Rose almost won it in the fourth.
He had two jumpers in the last four minutes spin in and out, and seemed to have a three-point play with the Cavs leading 80-79 with 8:10 left. But the refs reversed the call and said it wasn’t a continuation, and then James went down and scored and was fouled for a crucial turnaround that maybe cost the Bulls a chance to win.
“It hurt,” said Rose. “I thought I picked the ball up. They say, usually after you dribble, if you got fouled and dribbled again, it’s not continuation, but I think I picked the ball up while I ran into him. They didn’t call it and it hurt us. They came down, got fouled and LeBron got an and-one or something like that. It turned the game around.”
This came after another awful series of plays in which Brad Miller got entangled with Shaq, a long time foe, and Shaq almost came out swinging like several years ago at the United Center. But Miller got called for the fouls, getting the Bulls in the penalty early, and then Shaq scored against Noah to give the Cavs the edge just before that Rose play. Noah was astonished at the disparity of foul calls.
“We fought hard all year,” said Noah. “This is unbelievable that you can fight like that and it can come down to one or two plays. But we cannot get down on ourselves because we felt everyone on this team gave everything they had, even with the losing streak, the controversies. I still think we can be mentally tougher, but I feel overall with all that happened, what happened with coach, the losing streak, we fought hard. I would go to battle again with every single one of these guys.
“It was frustrating (in the fourth) they are calling our bumps and this guy is 400 pounds and trying to dunk on me every time, but I’ve got to learn from it,” said Noah. “If one day we want to be a championship team, we’ve got to beat these guys.”
The Cavs looked like they had it going up 93-86 with 2:44 left. I could quibble with some of the defensive switching that left Noah on an island on James and caused some foul trouble, but the Bulls brought help better on James late when he was the main option.
The Cavs fouled after having that lead and the Bulls got within 95-92 with 1:11 left. Rose had a floater go in and out and after an Anderson Varejao turnover when the Bulls got a smart double onto James, Rose came out of a timeout and came up short on a drive left handed.
“Yeah, he played great defense (James),” said Rose. “I thought he was going to jump and I was going to jump into him. It messed me up a little bit, messed up my timing. Usually, I hit that one with my left hand because I’m kind of good going to my left. Tonight, it didn’t go in.”
James then made the first free throw for a four point lead with 7.8 seconds left before throwing the second wild left handed and Deng scored at the buzzer to get the margin within a basket.
“We had it in our grip,” said Gibson, clenching his fist for emphasis. “We made them beat us.”
And so ended 2009-10 for the Bulls.
Reporters extracted votes of confidence for Del Negro from Rose and Noah, and even some praise from James.
“Vinny has done a lot as coach,” said Noah. “He’s done a very good job. He’s someone who early on was on my side. I always appreciated that. He gave me an opportunity to play.”
“I would vote yes (for retaining Del Negro),” said Rose. “That’s a guy where we both came in. He let me have my freedom, but still coached me and let me make my mistakes. I watched film with him almost every day. He taught me a lot just on defense and on offense and what I was supposed to do. The decision really isn’t up to me. It’s up to the front office, so I’m just going to let them worry about that and just deal with it.”
"Vinny and that coaching staff had those guys ready," added James when asked. "They have a group of young talent that loves to play the game of basketball and they play hard. There was not one point where they kind of laid down. I'm not trying to make a pitch for Vinny because I know what's going on — 'Is Vinny in or is Vinny out?' That's not my job, but this team that we played in this series played hard."
And so the season ends and the questions begin.
Is Del Negro the guy to lead this team to that next level they all seek?
Will they be able to get those players who will make a difference?
It’s been a heck of a ride thus far, bumpy, sure, uncertain and entertaining, and it’s only just begun.

Bulls lose to Cavs to fall one game from end of season

The Bulls players and coaches were trying to explain what they thought happened in Sunday’s 121-98 Cleveland Cavaliers playoff win that gave the Cavs a 3-1 lead in this opening round series, the game that could be the final Bulls home game of the 2009-10 season.
Joakim Noah, who had the first 20/20 playoff game in franchise history with 21 points and 20 rebounds, thought the Bulls gave in mentally when the Cavs put a big blitz on them late in the first half into the third quarter, a 21-6 run over about five minutes that broke open a close game.
“I think we weren’t very tough mentally,” said Noah. “I think we were playing good basketball and all of a sudden it collapsed. When things aren’t going our way we can’t out our heads down. When things weren’t going our way, everyone had their head down. Even myself. I have to do a better job of bringing energy, making sure everyone is on the same page. From players to staff, everyone had heads down. To have a performance like this in this kind of game is disappointing.”
Derrick Rose, who had 21 points and five assists in facing a multitude of switching Cavs defenders, said the Bulls could have attacked more when the Cavs were in the penalty with almost six minutes left in the third quarter instead of shooting jump shots and could have come up with more variety on offense.
“When we had the lead (45-44 with 3:50 left in the first half), we should have run more effective plays,” said Rose, “guys scoring from certain spots or get fouled or run something to get more ball movement while we were in the penalty and attack, run some pick-and-rolls and attacked the basket. And even if you couldn’t make the shot, you could dump it off to a big and maybe they could get to the line.”
Kirk Hinrich, whom LeBron James had labeled before the game the Bulls’ X-factor whom the Cavs had to stop and who had 10 points on three of 13 shooting, said the Bulls just weren’t able to match the Cavs fury, especially on defense, and, of course, James, who had a fifth playoff triple double with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
“There’s a lot of stuff we could have done,” said Hinrich. “Most of the shots he made were tough shots. They took it to us, especially in the second half. They cranked up their intensity. The result was we got a little out of character on offense. They were putting up points fast. We haven’t been that type of team. When we feel the pressure to do that we struggle, settling for jumpers, not sharing the ball. They made some big jump shots, (Anthony) Parker, (Mo) Williams. They really took it to us.”
I was listening to all this and thinking I’d heard this many times before.
This, by the way, was not déjà vu, perhaps the most misused term in the English language, though since it is French we can understand since we never know what they are talking about. Though we are catching on with Noah. Déjà vu, by the way, is feeling you have experienced or witnessed something and actually have not. I am here, of course, to educate and inform.
Anyway, as for the past, I have heard these things said many times before by opponents of the Bulls and Michael Jordan explaining why they lost and what could they have done differently.
When, in fact, there was nothing because Jordan was better and James is better.
The Bulls tried, and did the best they could. You can pick at these things like rushed shots and open shooters and sagging confidence and certain substitutions. But the Bulls led the Cavs in fast break points 23-12. They led in second chance points 24-10. They outrebounded the Cavs 49-41 and 17-5 on the offensive boards, and attempted 12 more shots.
They didn’t play a bad game, though the Bulls shot just 37.4 percent. But the Cavs upped their defensive energy and James was just too much.
He faded back and hit threes, six of 9 among the team’s 12 of 25, including one stepping into a 45 footer to end the third quarter he called a regular jump shot.
“I can comfortably shoot that shot, probably half court or beyond.” James said. “I mean, it was a regular jump shot for me. Comfortably, I can walk and dribble into a halfcourt three. I’m doing pretty good so far with that shot.”
I asked James why, then, he didn’t shoot it more often. He did admit his percentage would go down some. The guy is playing an altogether different game form everyone else.
It would be bragging if you couldn’t do it.
“Those are definitely back breaking shots,” said James, wearing a “Witness” polo shirt as he talked with reporters. “I felt good, focused on this game as the most important game of the season for us. I wanted to force my will and get us the win. Now the most important game of the season is Game 5.”
It’s been something of a mantra for James, who is taking these playoffs far more seriously than he has any before, and certainly the regular season. I saw Jordan like this as well in 1991, sensing something the rest of us were uncertain about and putting everything into each game and making sure everyone else did.
James also closed the half holding onto the ball for a 22 footer with a second left to end an 18-7 run over the last four minutes to make it 62-52.
“Overall in the second half of the second quarter we took quick shots,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “They got out on the break and that put us on our heels and they got into the penalty with a couple of fouls. They got that cushion at half time. Momentum is a big thing. In the third quarter, we were just one pass and a shot. We were not making them guard enough. They got in the open court and they made shots.”
James made shot after shot, and then when the Bulls tried to collapse on him he fanned the ball out to Williams, who was three of six on threes for 19 points, and then ran the same pick and roll play with James and Antawn Jamison at least a half dozen straight times, and the Bulls couldn’t do much as they switched it often and Jamison posted or ducked under Luol Deng and finished with 24 points.
Talk about your X-factors, your Scottie Pippen guy. Does LeBron finally have him? Is it enough now to win a championship?
“Antawn was great,” said James. “His ability to shoot the bal from outside and drive. He’s one of those hybrid fours we have in this league like Rashard Lewis, Josh Smith, guys who do multiple things. Fours have a tough time guarding him and smaller guys hav a tough time because he posts and can shoot over. He’s a great X-factor. I do my job and Mo does his, and ‘twan is the X-factor and we have to have those games from him.”
This series reminds me of the Bulls in 1991 when they won their first title.
In the second round, they faced a team somewhat like today’s Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers with Charles Barkley, one star, and a bunch of role players like Hersey Hawkins, Ron Anderson and Armon Gilliam.
The Bulls won the first two games at home and then went to Philadelphia for a raucous Game 3 in which they fell behind by 20-plus points and then came charging back only to lose by two points. But like the Cavs in their two point loss in Game 3 in this series after trailing by 21, the comeback was a lesson for both teams, a wakeup for those Bulls to concentrate and a message for the 76ers you had to play your best just to barely win at home.
Back then, the Bulls came back and won Game 4 by double digits in Philadelphia and closed it back home in a tough Game 5. About a month later, the Bulls and Jordan had their first ever NBA championship.
You sort of get the same sense with these Cavs, especially with the mish mash of results going on in the Western Conference. Yes, Orlando remains a major obstacle in the Eastern Conference, but James, for all his dancing and posing, seems to be taking this quest seriously.
He showed up at the United Center for the Sunday afternoon game two hours before the rest of his teammates to shoot and practice.
“We just got fed up,” said Jamison. “After Game 3, our team was generally so frustrated knowing we didn’t come out prepared enough and put ourselves in a difficult position. We did a good job making it close at the end, but you can’t let a team like this (Bulls) get momentum and confidence. You saw what they did last year against Boston. I know (LeBron) was in a zone, really focused. Right before the game, he had that eye knowing he needed to go out and play a great game. He puts pressure on the defense, is a great defender, leader, communicating on the court, in the huddle. He did a great job setting the tone.”
I didn’t think so early as James had more rebounds and as many assists as shots in the first quarter as the Cavs led 24-21. Deng’s shot was pure and Noah had one of several instances where he got the rebound and either started or ran the entire break.
“We started off the game really well,” said Noah. “In the second quarter we were playing at a fast pace, putting Shaq in a lot of pick and rolls (five fouls in 17 minutes), and then we collapsed those last three minutes.”
The Bulls were ahead 45-44 thanks to 10 in the second quarter from Hinrich as James knew his stuff. The Bulls were 14-0 this season when Hinrich scored at least 16 and when Rose scored 31 and Hinrich 27 in Game 3, it was only the Bulls’ third playoff game in which both starting guards scored at least 25. The others were Jordan (36) and Sam Vincent (31) against Detroit in 1988, and Jerry Sloan (27) and Norm Van Lier (26) against the Lakers in 1973, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
But in that stretch with the Bulls ahead 45-44, James hit a three and then hit Anderson Varejao on a pick and roll. Varejao was fouled and missed the second, but Jamison got the rebound and scored. Deng missed a jumper and Varejao blocked Rose as the Cavs did a better job of closing on Rose in the lane.
“They were playing great defense,” said Rose. “And they were hitting all their (contested) shots. LeBron was penetrating and kicking and he was hitting great shots, crazy shots. That’s why he’s one of the best players in the NBA, if not the best. If anything, they outhustled us and we were settling for jump shots. They kept switching and putting different people on me throughout the game. One person would contest the shot and then there’d be a different one. We’ve got to find a way and do it quick.”
Rose sprained his ankle early in the third and the Bulls called a timeout, but Rose came right back and said he’d be fine for Game 5 in Cleveland Tuesday.
The Bulls had a chance, but started the second half missing their first six shots, all outside jumpers, and then the Cavs took over.
“I’ve done some great things in the past, I’ll do some great things in the future,” said James. “But we’re in the present now, and I’m feeling pretty good.”
Shaq, who was ineffective again and LeBron got his wish with J.J. Hickson playing as much and scoring 10 off the bench, did get a dunk. Jamison got a three-point play getting that switch onto Deng, and then Jamison had a driving score. He had a dozen in the third and James 11, the Cavs hit 12 of 18 shots and only Noah was able to do much with 14 points. But it was over.
“It came down to LeBron and Jamison. We could not control them,” said Del Negro. “We had been doing a good job of keeping them (especially James) from the middle. Their other guys made some plays.”The Cavs took a 21-point lead five minutes into the third, kept it throughout the quarter and never led by fewer than 20 the rest of the game and by as many as 29 long after the starters had departed.
And now it may be down to the last game for the Bulls. James is averaging 35 points, nine rebounds and eight assists and the Cavs are going back home for Game 5.
“We definitely don’t feel sorry for ourselves,” said Noah. “We’ve been pretty tough and resilient all year. That’s something I’m proud to be part of. I feel we got through a lot of adversity this year. Right now it’s tough because we just lost a game, but we’ll have practice and be ready to go to Cleveland.”
They hope not to be another step on the Cavs climb to a title. Win or Cancun for the Bulls. The Cavs have greater ambitions.

Bulls get Cavs’ attention with big Game 3 win

The NBA’s winningest team, the championship favorite with the certain MVP and one of the league’s defensive rocks has needed LeBron James to hit an extraordinary and unexpected number of fourth quarter jump shots in Game 2 for the Cavs not to be trailing the Bulls in this first round playoff series.

Could this be Boston 2009 redux? Is the year old starring series coming back?

Can the Bulls take the powerful Cavs to the limit after winning Game 3 in the United Center Thursday, 108-106?

“We knew. We believed we can play with them,” said Luol Deng, who had his second straight 20-point game and drew a potentially game changing charging foul on James with just over a minute left. “A lot of people didn’t. A lot of people looked at the game and the team and the stars and were questioning. Now we forget about this game and focus on the next one.”

It’s 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the United Center, and if you are the Cavs maybe you are beginning to sweat a little bit.

Sure, the Cavs hold the 2-1 lead, but the Bulls have mostly outplayed and outcoached them, the Bulls shredding the vaunted Cavs defense with a solid game plan that is enabling James to have big games—he added 39 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals Thursday—but is isolating his teammates.

Derrick Rose, with 31 points and seven assists with zero turnovers, has, amazingly, been just about offsetting James in averaging 27.3 points and 8.3 assists in this series.

“DRose was huge for us,” said Joakim Noah. “Those floaters. They are huge. They better try to find a way to get the ball out of his hands because he is doing his thing.”

Kirk Hinrich came through with 27 points, five rebounds, five assists and four of four three pointers.

“I think he was really the X-factor tonight,” said Mo Williams. “He made plays off the ball, he made shots, he also got the ball off the screen and roll.  We have to make an adjustment going into Sunday about how we’re going to play against their guards.  Both of those guys get them going.  When you have both of those guys playing particularly well, you’re going to have a long night.”

The Cavs pulled out all their tricks, including James defending Rose, not successfully, down the stretch, and scrapping their size advantage for a small lineup to get back in the game after trailing early in the third by 21.

“He does a lot of ballhandling so as a team, we don’t want to put me on him for a long period of time,” James said. “But in a game like this I felt like we had an opportunity to win and he was playing particularly well, so I wanted to switch off on him. He’s a tremendous player. It was a great game by him, a great game by their team. But we’ll see as the series goes on if I do move onto him a lot or if I don’t.”

Yes, the Cavs did make a terrific run as they ended up launching 35 threes, 15 in a desperate fourth quarter which ended with an Anthony Parker’s half court heave for the win that went off the side of the rim.

But the Bulls were better virtually all game, really, the better overall team for the last two games but for that fabulous James closing stretch in Game 2.

During the regular season, the Cavs were sixth in fewest points allowed, fourth in best defensive field goal percentage and second in overall defensive rebounding. The Bulls, conversely, were in the bottom third in scoring and shooting.

But the Bulls have averaged 105 points the last two games. They’ve shot 46 percent and had 24 more field goal attempts than the Cavs the last two games.

They are outworking the Cavs, and the Cavs have to be asking themselves some serious questions:

— Can they continue to play Shaq, who has been ineffective verging on pathetic the last two games, averaging seven points and 5.5 rebounds and again having to sit out the fourth quarter. Even James admitted the Cavs were better playing small when they got back in the game, and the Cavs might go back to athletic J.J. Hickson instead of Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

— Can LeBron get enough help? Yes, Mo Williams had 21 points Thursday and Antawn Jamison 19, but most came late when the Cavs were clawing to get back in and firing threes. The Bulls strategy of playing James straight up with Deng, who has done a good job, and staying with the others has left James scoring too much and the others watching way too much.

“We felt like in Game 2 they hit a lot of shots and those guys were not going to hit those shots throughout the series,” said Noah. “Our defense was good. We stuck to our game plan. LeBron coming down the lane, we tried to take that away as much as possible and force other guys to make jump shots.”

— Can the Cavs stop Rose, or do they have to change their trapping strategy the way Rose has dissected their defense. For the second straight game the Bulls have had five players in double figures while the Cavs Thursday had just three.

“They do a good job of exploiting what we do defensively,” admitted James.  “We are a spread the floor team.  But they did a good job getting into the paint and they’re hitting jump shots right now.  Derrick Rose is hitting a lot of jump shots, Kirk is hitting a lot of jump shots.  (Giving up) 104 points is not our M.O.  Shooting over 50 percent against us is not our M.O.  They shot the ball particularly well.
“They had a small line-up,” noted James, who said he decided on his own to switch defensive assignments late onto Rose.  “We’ve been really, really good this year when we play small.  We become more athletic, we become faster and that helps our rotation move faster.  That doesn’t take away from our big line-up because we can also go big, but we play really good basketball when we’ve been able to go small.  If that’s something that’s going to be successful for us, then we have to do that.”

James is said to be a coach on the floor, and more.

Yes, the Bulls have the Cavs questioning themselves, and not just because the Bulls won a game.

But after that devastatingly poor start in Game 1, the Bulls outscored the Cavs by one point in the last three quarters of Game 1, were within three points with under five minutes in Game 2 and tied going into the fourth quarter, and outscored the Cavs by a wide margin the first three quarters of Game 3. The Bulls are not exactly getting blown out.

No one is changing their predictions, but the Cavs have to realize now this is a series.

They have the best player, but in Rose and Noah, the latter with 10 points and 15 rebounds, the Bulls have the next two. And Deng has outplayed Jamison, the supposed final Cavs championship piece.

The Cavs plan has been to put up a big defensive wall against Rose early with their big bodies, and then late use an aggressive trap picking up him at half court. The Bulls took advantage, and made some nice adjustments that got Hinrich going after a slow first two games.

The Cavs bigs can’t play the pick and roll no matter what Shaq says in his fantasies.

They tend to lay back and zone the middle. So the Bulls took advantage of that by deploying Hinrich off more middle screens and dribble handoffs to get shots with some room and Hinrich responded with a brilliantly, efficient shooting game, nine of 12 field goals for those 27 points.

“I was feeling good,” said Hinrich. “Guys were finding me. I felt the first couple of game I was not asserting myself. I really didn’t give myself a chance to have an offensive game. It was a different mindset for me tonight.”

The Bulls also used Noah effectively again as a middle decision maker.

There’s a lot of criticism of Noah in the screen/roll with Rose given Noah is not a great shooter, though he is improved and was four of four on free throws as the Bulls shot 25 to 31 for the Cavs, a much better ratio than in Cleveland.

When the Cavs trap Rose on top, he releases the ball to Noah near the free throw line, and Noah has been able to pick apart the Cavs slow defensive rotations with crisp interior passing, an impressive skill as Noah had five assists and Taj Gibson a pair when he filed that role with Noah in foul trouble parts of the game.

The Bulls also did a good job fronting the post, which slowed the Cavs tremendously to start.

“We allowed them to get in a comfort zone,” James said about the Bulls 32-21 first quarter. “They were making jump shots and we allowed them to get rebounds. We did not have a lot of energy to start the game. We started the game too lax. I don’t know why. We didn’t have a sense of urgency to start the game.”

That’s nonsense.

What happened is the Cavs plan is to go into Shaq to start, a traditional strategy to open the floor and get the defense to sag in. But Noah and later Brad Miller did a terrific job fronting Shaq, who doesn’t move well, denying the initial postup and getting the Cavs trying to repost, which takes time and gets everyone standing.

It’s not a good strategy anymore because Shaq is petrified wood.

That game lulls your offense to sleep and is only effective if Shaq can score. He couldn’t, and the Bulls burst out 8-2 as Rose was simply exploding through the traps for 15 first quarter points, even an off balance three with the shot clock going off.

The home crowd among some not so nice shouts were chanting “MVP” for Rose to counter James’ supporters back home.

“Did not listen to them,” Rose offered with a shy laugh. “Almost passed out. Hopefully one day. Not this year. I’m just worried about winning right now.”

The Bulls’ goal, even though the Cavs were 45-5 this season when scoring more than 100 points, was to speed the game, and they pushed effectively, Deng running out when James beat him and the Cavs poor in transition defense with their loafing big men.

Shaq even missed an open slam dunk late in the second quarter and the Cavs obviously felt so badly for the ancient warrior Delonte West later had a steal and open layup but waited to give it to Shaq for a dunk so Shaq could have some points.

Del Negro also got his point across as when Shaq led with his elbows, he was called this time for the offensive foul.

Though after the game I wondered if the Bulls were getting a raw deal as I saw league vice president Stu Jackson, who supervises officials and games, in private conversations with Cavs GM Danny Ferry and then with coach Mike Brown. It didn’t seem right the Cavs could do that much private lobbying after the game with the league official who potentially can have so much influence on the way the game is called.

Though earlier in the day, perhaps it was balanced off as NBA commissioner David Stern, after meeting with sports editors, declared the Bulls back.

“We’re doing great in L.A., Boston’s setting records, the Bulls are back, Dallas is an exciting team,” Stern said in responding to a question suggesting the league is helping New York. “People are saying,’New York who?’

“The Bulls have done a terrific job, probably the best job on an ongoing basis,” Stern said of the team’s marketing efforts. “The Bulls’ attendance is wonderfully out of sync with their record. They have marketed to their fans. They have persuaded their fans that they are in this for the long run. They’ve built a roster of players that are going to be there as the team improves.

“As impolitic as Joakim may be, he’s a hell of a player,” Stern continued. “And Derrick Rose isn’t so bad himself. … They’re playing exciting basketball.”

It was a terrific game, though not so easy on the nervous fan.

After going ahead 68-47 midway through the third quarter with Noah imploring the fans to get up and cheer as the Cavs went into a timeout, Noah soon got a third foul—”stupid, stupid, stupid,” he said of himself later–the Bulls fell into their rut of shooting jumpers and the Cavs went on an 11-0 run to get back into the game.

Deng helped hold off the Cavs at the end of the third with perhaps his best move ever as a Bull, a cross over to leave James swiping at air, drive to the basket and reverse for a score, the crowd gasping in appreciation.

“I tried to drive middle, he reacted and I put it behind my back and went to the basket,” said Deng a lot less interestingly than the play.

The Bulls were still hanging on ahead 84-73 after a Hinrich three with about nine minutes left when James blew by Hinrich for a dunk and Noah committed his fifth and West hit a three to make it 84-78 with 8:48 left. Uh oh.

Parker hit a three off James’ penetration to get it within five with 7:40 left.

But the Bulls made play after play to keep the lead, Rose finding Deng for a dunk, Rose with another floater. The Cavs had gone small by then with James and Jamison their tallest players and the game became more thrilling.

James went onto Rose with the Cavs trailing 94-90 with 4:39 left and stopped his first shot. But Rose then made two straight for a 98-92 lead.

“I just tried to get him off balance,” said Rose. “Usually my speed really gets people off balance. He’s big, but he’s got quickness. So it is kind of hard. We wee just trying to keep the pressure on.”

James then scored twice and Rose missed on a drive. LeBron came roaring down the left side and Deng stepped in and got the charge. LeBron said block. The referee called charge as the ball went through with the Bulls ahead by six with 1:18 left.

“I saw me and Luol, I saw Luol backpedaling,” recounted James .  “Me, as a driver, I’m watching his feet to see if he’s stationary or moving.  I thought he was still backpedaling.  As soon as I saw him backpedaling, that’s when I decided to take off.  They called a charge.  I haven’t seen a replay, but I know exactly what I’ve seen on the court with the defender right in front of me.”

“I just wanted to get in front of him,” said Deng. “The ref took a while (to make the call) As I wa son the floor I was thinking, ‘I hope this is not an And 1.’ I was happy to see  the ref point the other way.”

Judgment call. LeBron gets 95 percent of them. Not this time.

Noah then stripped James on a drive and the Bulls hung on despite missing four of eight free throws in the last 26.9 seconds.

“It’s great for our confidence as a young team to beat a team like this, a team that has the best record in the NBA, a team that everybody says is going to win the championship,” said Noah. “To be in a situation like this, to play in an environment like this, for us is huge From the beginning of the series, we felt like we could play with them.”

Bulls are kings for this day in beating Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers after losing 108-106 to the Bulls Thursday in the opening round playoff series have decided to stay in Chicago and wait for Game 4, now a 2-1 lead in the series.
That’s right, the Cavs don’t want to go Cleveland, either.
But the Bulls have guaranteed at least a return trip for Game 5 with the victory.
“Can’t wait,” deadpanned Joakim Noah. “We can play with this team.”
The Bulls showed it for the second straight game, and this time got the victory and perhaps put a little concern in the heads of the Cavs by taking a 21-point third quarter lead and then holding on and making big plays down the stretch, including LeBron James trying to take on Derrick Rose and the Bulls All Star guard beating James twice in a row, first with a double fake move beating James and score and then a pull up jumper as Rose glided left across the lane and scored.
Those two scores gave the Bulls a 100-92 lead with 2:46 left, and then Luol Deng drew a charge against James and Joakim Noah stripped James on a drive and the Bulls were able to withstand three straight missed free throws to hang on for the victory.
“I was feeling good for the best player on their team to be sticking me,” said Rose, happily. “The best player in the NBA to be sticking me feels good. So why not take your shot at it.”
The Cavs did and Rose with 31 points, seven assists and zero turnovers won that mini battle as James scored 39 points, including 24 in the second half.
“We started the game too lax,” said James. “We didn’t have a sense of urgency. We didn’t have a lot of energy to start the game. As much as we crawled back in, it didn’t matter.
“I put myself on (Rose),” said James, whom many joke does coach the team. “They do a good job of exploiting what we do defensively. They did a good job of getting into the paint and hitting jump shots. Derrick Rose is hitting a lot of jump shots. Kirk (Hinrich, with 27 points on nine of 12 shooting) is hitting a lot of jump shots. (Giving up) 104 points is not out m.o. Shooting over 50 percent against us is not out m.o. They shot the ball really well from outside.”
The Bulls finished shooting 50 percent against a Cavs team that prides itself on defense.
They were virtually even in rebounding and the Bulls made five of 12 threes, with Hinrich a smokin’ four of four.
Deng scored 20 points while Shaquille O’Neal was again ineffective with six points and four rebounds and left on the bench in the fourth quarter as the Cavs tried to steal the game back playing small and spreading the court.
The Cavs did get within 94-92 with 4:17 left, but the Bulls never gave up the lead as Deng answered there with a drive past Anthony Parker and pullup seven footer before Rose’s two plays scores against James.
It was great theater as the two best players on the floor went at it, and Rose triumped.
“It surprised me a little bit (James guarding him),” said Rose. “But it was fun out there.”
Rose even was serenaded by fans with “MVP” chants after that sequence with Noah, typically, urging the fans to stand and yell as Rose outplayed the expected MVP, James for those moments.
It was special to see.
“I almost passed out (hearing that),” laughed Rose. “Maybe one year; not this year. I just want to win games right now.”
Hinrich did miss a pair of free throws with 36.9 seconds left and a 103-96 lead, and then Rose split a pair after a James there. Anderson Varejao then made one of two to pull the Cavs within 105-103 with 10.1 seconds left as coach Vinny Del Negro called for the intentional foul.
Brad Miller, probably the team’s best free throw shooter, then made two for a 107-103 lead with 6.2 seconds left. But the Cavs didn’t quit. Mo Williams knocked in a three, and then Deng was fouled and made one of two for a three-point lead with 3.5 seconds left.
But the Cavs were out of timeouts and Parker had to try a half court heave that grazed the rim to end the game.
“Usually when you bring good energy and a sense of urgency good things happen,” said Del Negro. “We shot it better. But Cleveland is No. 1 seed for a reason. We’re going to have to play our best basketball Sunday to even the series up. We put a little pressure on them.”
Now the Cavs have to respond. We’ll see what they have.

Bulls go down 2-0 to Cavs, but may have a plan

The Cleveland Cavaliers Monday needed probably the world’s best basketball player having one of his best ever playoff games to beat the eighth-seeded Bulls at home, the 112-102 victory sending the Cavs up 2-0 in this playoff opening series.
So if you are the Bulls you don’t feel great about losing, but you know now you can play with this team and you’ve come up with a game plan to beat them.
Now all you have to do is take it back home for Game 3 at the United Center Thursday.
“I think we played real hard tonight,” said Joakim Noah, who led the Bulls with 25 points and 13 rebounds, seven offensive. “They hit some real tough shots down the stretch (15 of LeBron James’ 40 in the last eight minutes). They did not get fazed by our runs. We can’t get discouraged. We’re down 2-0. They did what they were supposed to do.
“They just took care of what they had to,” said Noah. “At home, we’ll have our fans ready for the next game and we’ll be ready to go.”
If the Bulls attack the Cavs as they did Monday, running the floor before the defense could set, switching effectively on the inside to ward off penetration, making James work on defense so he couldn’t play free safety and cause turnovers for fast breaks, stay away from the jumpers as Luol Deng was slashing more for 20 points and get a boost from the bench like Flip Murray’s 14, then, perhaps, there’ll be a series here.
This is supposed to be just a warmup appetizer for the top-seeded Cavs, and so far they do have two double digit wins.
Now, they have to take it on the road, and we’ll see whether they have that championship look they insist is theirs and whether the Bulls have the moxie to stand in the way and at least take the series back to Cleveland.
Of course, the joke is no one wants to go back the way Noah playfully inflamed the locals with mocking comments about Cleveland. You had to be there at practice Sunday as Noah said it all with a laugh and a wink, as he does many things, but it also was another impressive sign of leadership.
Everyone knows what that brings: The wrath of the community. They make fun of their city, as anyone living in Cleveland would. After all, as someone noted, the fish can’t even stand the smell of the lake. Don’t let some outsider do it, though.
But the subtle message was lost on the Clevelanders.
After the Bulls were dominated in Game 1 Saturday and Shaquille O’Neal was celebrated as an actual, living NBA player with 12 points and five rebounds, Noah was, in effect, saying to his teammates he’d take the wrath of the community and the pressure of the game and you all can relax because he’d be there.
So after a pedestrian 10 points and eight rebounds and foul trouble in Game 1, Noah ran Shaq out of the game, and ran by just about everyone on the Cavs, almost all the way to an improbable victory.
“He was great,” said Deng about Noah. “He played hard. He gets rebounds and gave us second chance points. That’s what he’s done all year.”
The Bulls were tied at 77 entering the fourth quarter and trailed just 91-88 with six minutes remaining.
The Cavs then scored on their next seven possessions with unlikely Jamario Moon hitting his third among four three pointers in five attempts, and James with three back breaking scores, a drive and step in fake by Noah for a layup, and then a pair of 20 footers isolated on the right wing, both defended well by Deng and Kirk Hinrich.
That put the Cavs up 107-98 with about 90 seconds left, and Moon clinched it with another three.
“He was probably the main reason we won,” said James, generously.
It was a heck of a run for the Cavs and mostly by James, who was jawing with the Bulls bench as he knocked in those jumpers, the Bulls taunting him to shoot as he’s not known for his perimeter game and James, to his credit, answering.
“They were talking the whole game,” said James. “Every time I caught the ball there (Bulls bench), they were daring me to shoot the ball, telling me I couldn’t shoot or ‘You can’t make jump shots, so take the shot.’ So that’s what I did. They asked me to shoot a jumper and I did that, over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.”
You gotta give it to him as the Cavs fans had to give it to the Bulls No. 23 two decades ago.
“It’s a sight to see,” marveled Antawn Jamison. “To see how close the game was and to see him take over you have to realize you are witnessing history.”
I know, I know, we are all witnesses. Boring.
“You could see it in his eyes,” said Jamison. “Guys like that strive off those moments. He was in a zone.”
But it took that from James and unlikely shooting from Moon for the Cavs to escape.
“That’s shots you want (James) to take,” said Deng, who also had six rebounds and five assists. “We did a good job keeping him out of the paint. He was hitting some unbelievable shots, fading back. You’ve got to live with that.”
I agree, and I thought Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro played it right. You can second guess taking the ball out of James’ hands. But the Cavs are best when James involves his teammates, as he did in Game 1. When he had to pretty much go it alone you’ve got your best chance because he has to be super. It was the Bulls bad fortune he was.
“We wanted to win (and are disappointed),” said Deng. But we are (also) happy. We’re going back home and the way we played is encouraging. We’ve got to come out and play like that again. If he keeps hitting shots like that the whole series, we’ve got no chance. We just have to play him like we did tonight.”
I agree. I thought the Bulls had a good plan and it produced results.
For one, Deng got off that line at 20 feet and began going to the basket against James. It was illuminating in the locker room to listen to he and Rose before the game discussing the angles of where Deng could cut from in order to get a slashing score from Rose and when he has to stay home to spread the court better for Rose.
After they finished a 10-minute discussion on it, Deng said, “I have a good feeling about tonight.”
And Deng played a big part.
One of the things you have to do with James is keep him active on defense. He likes to cheat and play the lanes like a free safety, drop down toward the post, stunting and disrupting plays. The Bulls committed 14 turnovers in Game 1, and James was a big part of that by dropping low off Deng to squeeze the court.
Deng went aggressively at James, who had to work hard to stay in front of Deng. And while Deng had a good game, what was more important was James could not help out and the Bulls committed just four turnovers.
“I did a good job slashing in there and not settling for jump shots like I did in the first game,” admitted Deng.
The Bulls made a few subtle switches, and I thought they worked out well. In Game 1, they played a cross match with Kirk Hinrich on Mo Williams because Williams is the better scorer and Rose is the weaker defender. But the result was Williams with 19 because the Bulls use Hinrich as a help defender on the big men.
By guarding Williams, Hinrich was too far on top. So the Bulls switched Rose to Williams. Rose has been better on defense lately, and Williams was just two of eight for 12 points while Hinrich played Anthony Parker. Parker did have three three pointers, but Parker plays below the foul line in the corner, so Hinrich was able to help more inside by not having to go so far and the Cavs bigs were less effective as Anderson Varejao, Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas combined for 18 points and 16 rebounds after 22 points and 22 rebounds in Game 1.
It, obviously, was more than that helping as the Bulls switched the bigs on screen rolls since Taj Gibson, Noah and Brad Miller aren’t particularly overmatched by the slow Cavs bigs and it didn’t compromise the defense with the screen rolls, thus keeping the Cavs more on the outside.
Yes, they hit shots, but that’s way more difficult on the road, especially for reserves like Moon.
“If anything,” said Rose, who had 23 points and eight assists, “we’d rather have (James) hit those shots than drive to the hole and get other people involved.”
Another key was transition.
The Bulls got out and pushed the ball much more, which enables Noah to use his edge running the court, and also doesn’t allow the lumbering Cavs’ bigs to set up their defensive wall that so inhibited Rose.
Rose was 10 of 24, but he also had those eight assists with just one turnover after seven in Game 1, and especially in the third quarter the Cavs spent a lot of time chasing. The Bulls want to get the game over 100 points, which they did, and then it changes the personnel and the Cavs have to rely more on modest talents like Moon, Delonte West and Parker. Del Negro also did a nice job getting Murray in against West, whom Murray was able to overpower and finally get some scoring off the bench.
“I’m pleased with the effort, not the result,” said Del Negro. “I think our guys feel better than they did the other (game) in terms of how we played. We were sharper and much better off the glass. If you go into the fourth quarter tied (on the road) you have an opportunity, which is what we were looking for. I thought we played well enough to steal a game, but they earned it.”
If I had a quarrel with the Bulls, it was they weren’t as physical as I’d like to have seen them. But they don’t have the depth to match the Cavs, so that’s an issue. You wear guys down in the playoffs with hard screens all game and it catches up to you late. The Bulls don’t do enough of that and the Cavs enjoyed 66.7 percent fourth quarter shooting.
Though there’ll be replays of James huge slam dunk over James Johnson in the first quarter, I thought Johnson came in with the right attitude to play James aggressively. I thought he did a good job staying in front of James most of the time and should get some time on James the rest of the series. He committed fouls, and James felt them. That’s what you have to do.
“He came out with a lot of energy,” James acknowledged of Johnson. “Bench players do try to make their mark on the game. I felt I could slow down and counter his energy. I did that and got in attack mode.”
The Bulls also made a point to not allow Jamison to rest and roam around like he did in Game 1, and had Taj Gibson go at him. Gibson had 11 points and seven rebounds, and Jamison played just three minutes in the fourth quarter.
“Taj has been huge for us all year,” complimented Noah. “He’s someone who works hard on his game. We wouldn’t be in this position if not for Taj Gibson. He is an underrated player with what he brings to us.”
The game began with the expected booing of Noah, who’d had some fun at Cleveland’s expense with some derogatory comments about Cleveland not necessarily being a great place to visit. Or live. All in fun, though.
Noah was booed on introduction and most every time he touched the ball, and the scoreboard posted his quotes from Sunday’s practice of Cleveland, “I don’t know about Cleveland, man. There’s nothing going on. It’s bad, man. It’s bad……What? That Cleveland sucks?”
Noah said he’d been booed many times before.
“My whole life,” said Noah. “College. Boston, they don’t like me there. They don’t like me here, either. It’s OK. I have my friends. I don’t care.”
Noah also joked when asked whether he regretted what he said that it’s not like people are vacationing in Cleveland.
“What’s so good about Cleveland?” Noah asked.
Oh, right. The Cavs.
They got ahead 28-22 after one quarter as James had 10 points, including that hammer dunk after blowing by Johnson.
But this wasn’t the same, tentative Bulls team from Game 1, and they showed in an impressive stretch midway through the second quarter that turned the game.
Noah sealed O’Neal and scored, Deng jab stepped LeBron and shot over him, Deng ran out on a forced James jumper and dunked as James got no help, Rose hit from on top, Noah scored on a clever interior pass from Deng and Noah tipped in a Rose drive, again the Cavs unable to build that defensive wall against Rose as the Bulls’ transition left the court more open.
The Bulls pulled within 52-50 at halftime, and James was the only Cav in double figures. Good sign.
When he scores and doesn’t involve his teammates as much, the Cavs stop moving on offense and it makes their defense more passive.
The third quarter was a beauty with 15 lead changes and seven tied as the Bulls continued to push the ball, and Gibson scored twice inside down the stretch of the quarter while Noah blew by Varejao for a layup to tie the game at 77 after three.
But the Bulls could never get the lead after the Cavs opened the fourth with a Jamison runner, a West spin by Hinrich and a Moon three.
“We had a lot of guys (five in double figures) make big plays and big shots, and that’s what we need,” said Rose.
The Bulls never backed down, and there was one impressive sequence when Moon blocked a Noah shot with the Bulls down 89-84. But then Deng hustled back and blocked a Williams fast break and Noah ran out and scored to get the Bulls back within three, the closest they would get.
“We couldn’t pull away,” lamented Rose. “They’d make a big shot or make a big play.”
J.J. Hickson, who’s been benched with Shaq back, signaled like a baseball manager signals for a closer—James was actually asked by a Cleveland sycophant after the game if he discusses these things with baseball’s Mariano Rivera—and James came in and did close it out.
“I feel the fourth quarter is when I make my mark as an individual. I’ve always been a confident player. It’s a great feeling on every shot to believe it is going in no matter who is guarding you. They call me The Closer every time I come in in the fourth quarter,” said James, who made 16 of 23 shots. “That’s my time to put the game away or do what I do best, and that’s just try to close the game the right way. Am I always successful? Not all the time, but it makes me stronger when I’m not always successful. I know how to react the next time I’m in that situation. So it’s great to actually live up to what those guys now are starting to call me, The Closer.””
It was 85-82 when he reentered and the Bulls scored on eight of their next 10 possessions. But James answered every time, including a big three over good defense from Noah at the 24-second clock for a 99-93 lead with 4:20 left. James followed that with a pair of free throws, a drive and those two jumpers, scoring on five straight possessions to refuse to let his team lose.
“I don’t think we’re discouraged,” said Noah. “If anything, we’re motivated and think we can win, especially oin our home court. It will be exciting to play in front of our home crowd in Chi. We’re looking forward to it, enjoying the competition, living in the moment and trying to win against one of the best teams in the world.”

Bulls have a foul taste about Game 1 and want change

Derrick Rose had just made one of those plays in the Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers Saturday, a double move, slipping the trap on top, driving into the lane, changing direction, getting banged again by Shaquille O’Neal, who got credit for a block.

Rose paused and bent a bit, as if saying to himself, “What do I have to do?”

Rose never says much to referees, or anyone, really. None of those histrionics after every drive or screams of faux pain with every contact. Rose does it the way the NBA asks, being professional and classy and allowing the officials to do their job.

But not much later in a stoppage of play he wandered over to one of the referees and said:

“I did not make it into this league by shooting jump shots.”

Silence. There was no response.

Derrick Rose was the No.1 overall pick in the 2008 draft with the reputation of a player who could not shoot. We know differently, and Rose has worked to become better. But how do you become the consensus best player in the draft when you are not known as a shooter? OK, so you are a guy who drives the ball.

But in the Bulls 96-83 loss to the Cavaliers Saturday, Rose with 28 shots—and not many jumpers—got two free throws, both on a drive with 3:11 left in the game and the Bulls trailing 88-77.

So you mean to tell me Rose was on the floor for more than 40 minutes, he was the focus of the entire Cavs defensive game plan and he attempted 27 shots to that point, about double the next most on the Bulls, and he never once was fouled?

Not once!

Not by Shaq lumbering around and jumping in front or LeBron coming up from behind for those blocks, the usual one or two being goal tending which aren’t called, by Anderson Varejao trapping him and chasing Rose everywhere and a guard deep in his grill?

These must be the greatest defensive players in the history of basketball to come up with almost a dozen blocks and never once make enough contact to foul maybe the fastest guard in the NBA, a fearless competitor who got inside the paint 18 times for shots.

And not once did anyone make any serious contact with him!

“We need to put more pressure on them,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after practice Sunday. “I wasn’t happy with us only getting 11 free throws. We need to not settle and attack off the dribble and get to the line more (eight of 11 free throws overall). We have a tendency to settle for jumpers.”

Del Negro is right, but he needs to do something about it.

I mention this is considering the bracelet I wear that reads, “WWPD.”

That being What Would Phil Do.

Phil would note that Anthony Parker, who needs a roadmap to find the lane, got more free throws than Derrick Rose. How is that possible? Phil would put the referees on notice they are not treating his team fairly. Actually, he’d have said it before the game to let the officials know he’s watching.

Yes, Phil got fined last week $35,000 for noting how many free throws Kevin Durant shoots, which was the NBA’s way of sending a message to all the other coaches. And Phil makes $12 million annually and no one else does, certainly not Vinny.

Sorry, but in the playoffs you have to stand up for your team. And for your best player.

This kid is being treated like a pinball. OK, that’s an ancient reference, though the last video game I played was pong where a dot bounces back and forth off immoveable objects. Yes, that was Rose in Game 1.

Vinny needed Sunday to make this about the referees. I do argue against that at times, and the NBA has been warning coaches and players to stop it. But then you see James scream like he was knifed every time he goes to the basket and Rose keeps his mouth shut and merely surveys his bruises after the game.

I won’t make this argument for Kirk Hinrich, who didn’t attempt a free throw in Game 1, but he generally doesn’t attack the defense, certainly not like Rose.

I thought Rose was terrific Saturday and had no problem with his 28 shots. He doesn’t want to take them, but when he looks around and no one can hit a shot and the game is getting away, what else can he do?

Del Negro defended him Sunday and he was right.

“I did not agree with that (criticism about) 28 shots,” said Del Negro. “We need Derrick to score and get to the basket. He has to cut down on his turnovers (maybe if someone can make a shot and the Cavs can’t send three guys at Rose every time). We need to play well defensively, get out and run and get easy ones and make them guard. There were too many one pass shots. We have to do a better job moving the ball and taking higher percentage shots.”

That’s true, and Del Negro went through all the usual stuff about boxing out, moving the ball, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Yes, the Bulls do have to move the ball better, though to free up Rose. The Cavs are attacking on his first penetration. He’s got to give it up, swing the ball and then get it back for more side isolations.

There was this fuss about Shaq and he likened himself to a diesel truck. I agree. He can’t turn. He had 12 points and five rebounds. C’mon. Hakim Warrick does that in 25 minutes, too. Let’s not get carried away.

Rose, as usual, showed unusual equanimity about his dilemma.

“That’s the way they call the game,” he said. “I can’t say nothing about that. Hopefully, the refs look at what they are doing. We’re still gonna go out and play the game and see if we can get some calls. I know one day it’s gonna change. I cannot get mad. I learned from the New Jersey game (seven turnovers) the refs weren’t calling it right and I got frustrated a little bit. It’s got to change one day.

“The only thing I’ll tell you,” said Rose, “is it’s gonna change one day and when it does it’s going to be scary.”

I also happened to get a message this weekend from one of the coaches whose team is in the playoffs. He had watched the Cavs and Bulls and commented, “It’s like a middleweight against a heavyweight.”

Yes, that is what generally happens in 1 vs 8 matchups, though Rose, not surprisingly, could see only positives in that.

“I want to make history by beating them,” said Rose. “I’ll probably never have this chance again, or if I do hopefully I’m in their position (being No. 1 vs No. 8). I know for the future I’m probably not going to get another chance like this (to upset a No. 1 seed), being this big an underdog. That’s why we want to put it all out there.”

Hey, maybe he knows something about the team getting free agents we don’t.

Still, the Bulls didn’t play very aggressively in Game 1 and got pushed around by the Cavs. The players pretty much acknowledged that and insisted it would be different for Game 2 Monday, that they might be stepping up in class.

Maybe look like at least light heavies.

“Yeah, definitely,” said Joakim Noah. “We were a little bit timid yesterday. We’ll be ready to go Monday. All this is a great learning experience. We’ve just got to keep fighting. They’re very good. There’s no denying that. But at the same time we feel we can compete with them and feel we can win Monday.”

The Bulls certainly looked and sounded confident and relaxed. As Noah spoke, the reserves were involved in heated one-on-one games with Noah providing exclamations of support. James Johnson was impressive, and the hope is he gets some time against James Monday as Johnson can at least deliver some hard fouls. It is time to show some of that kickboxing expertise.

Actually, Joe Alexander was one of the best, though the rap on him has been—fair or not—he’s best at playground one-on-one and up to three-on-three games but suffers in full court games.

Noah said he enjoyed watching so much because he went through that trail by fire of his own.

“You get tired and you really get (upset) at the coaches (calling fouls),” said Noah. “It is adversity at its rawest. It’s interesting to me.”

Noah said his games were with “Tyrus and big Pookie.”

Asked who was Pookie, Noah exclaimed, “Aaron Gray! C’mon, man, you forgot the pookster!”

But it should be no joking come Monday evening.

“We definitely talked about it today,” said Rose. “We’ve got to go out and be totally opposite of how we were last game. I think we were not that aggressive on the defensive end. We have to have some type of swagger or nastiness about ourselves. You’ll see tomorrow.

“No excuses,” said Rose. “Tomorrow we’ve got to come out and start hitting people. No And 1’s. We got to hit people first. If somebody comes down the middle, we’ve got to be aggressive. Tomorrow’s gonna be an aggressive game.”

Bulls lose Game 1 to Cavs; need to make changes

The first game of a playoff series is something of a feeling out process, getting a sense of what your opponent will do and where you are.
The Bulls, in losing Saturday 96-83 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, not only are trailing 1-0 in the series. But it should be obvious—and to no one’s surprise since the Cavs had the best record in the league—the Cavs are a much better team with LeBron James casually scoring 24 points, Mo Williams adding 18, Shaquille O’Neal returning with 12 points and three blocks and Anderson Varejao with 15 rebounds off the bench.
The Cavs took away the Bulls hopes and strength with a 50-38 rebounding edge, matching them in fast break points and holding a 38-14 edge in inside points through the first three quarters before finishing 42-26.
“They’re big,” noticed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “They keep coming at you.”
That’s because the Cavs loaded up for a championship drive after last season’s conference finals loss by adding O’Neal and Antawn Jamison, and they feel it is their time.
“We’re confident,” said James, deigning to remove his sun glasses as he spoke to reporters after a long post game break. “Our goal now is to win an NBA championship. We have the look of a champion.”
There was little doubt of that Saturday as the Bulls had the look of a team just grateful to be there, satisfied about having closed the season strong with 10 of 14 to vindicate themselves after a 10-game losing streak in March.
So you say, maybe it was just nerves as the Bulls fell behind by 22 early in the third quarter before getting it together and getting within seven a few times midway through the fourth quarter.
“We can’t wait to play (Game 2 Monday),” said Derrick Rose, who led the Bulls with 28 points and 10 assists. “I know I can’t (wait).  It’s going to be a fun series. This is something I live for. I think about every day, every minute of the day, playing against the best team in the NBA, one of the best players in the NBA.”
But if the Bulls have any intention of winning—after all, what are you here for otherwise?—or making it a competitive series, there are going to have to be some major changes.
Look, you can say the Bulls outplayed the Cavs in the second half, outrebounded them 20-19, outshot them 45-41 percent, held them to four of 14 on threes after halftime and forced eight turnovers. If only the Bulls could have hit a few more shots, eh? But you are kidding yourselves. The Cavs aren’t quite the truly great team yet, so they took their foot off the gas a bit and began casting jumpers with a 22-point lead.
“It doesn’t matter,” said James when asked about maybe giving the Bulls life. “We wear down teams. We don’t always win by 20, 30. In the end, we won by 13. That’s still psychological (because) it was a tough game for them. We let them back in the game because we turned the ball over 18 times. Probably 14 were unforced and they were able to convert when we missed easy jumpers. Winning by 20, 10, five, if we take care of business we’ll be fine.”
No, the Bulls didn’t put the slightest scare into the Cavs, and, frankly, didn’t come at them very hard. So much so that James almost was apologizing for them.
Yes, there was some yakking late in the second quarter when Brad Miller took a James elbow that cut his chin and drew a foul.
“Just taking an elbow to the damn chin and bleeding. My foul,” Miller observed wryly.
Joakim Noah, who was booed relentlessly because of a few runins he had with James, including daring to challenge James for acting like a horse’s behind when James was dancing during one big win over the Bulls, exchanged some words with James. And given it was the playoffs, at least the players finally stopped hugging one another after the game.
“At the end of the day I have no friends in that locker room except Danny Green,” said Noah. “I don’t know nobody on that team and I don’t care. I just want to win.”
It was a rough game for Noah, pushed around by O’Neal, and victimized by a pretty O’Neal spin move that was reminiscent of the days when Shaq could shake.
“That’s the patented move,” offered O’Neal, proud of his return after being out almost two months with a thumb injury. “I’ve been doing it for years. That’s the ‘Diesel Truck with No Brakes’. You see when I get into that move, people get out of the way because they know I’m (going) and don’t have any brakes.”
Noah was flummoxed trying to deal with O’Neal, getting into foul trouble and with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“He knows how to use that 350 pounds,” Noah sighed.
Which is where the changes have to start. I doubt after all Noah has done this season to help the Bulls into the playoffs, Del Negro would try, but the Cavs made it clear they are better, they know they are better, and the Bulls played like they know the Cavs are better.
Again, it has to be about so called “junking up” the game when you are such a big underdog, doing the unexpected and untraditional, and forcing the opponent into radical adjustments.
The Cavs responded with the better subtle adjustments Saturday, like getting Noah stuck on Jamison a few times and Jamison getting easy looks and James going right at Hakim Warrick when he got into the game as Warrick really cannot play threes.
So start with Noah. Or, actually, don’t start him.
Change the lineup—no offense to Noah—and start Brad Miller, who is better on Shaq and whose foul trouble won’t matter as Shaq was tiring at about 20 minutes and limited to just under 25.
The Bulls need to get Shaq moving on screen rolls as he doesn’t play them, though when asked about it after the game he said he was great at it.
“I’ve been here 17 years and I haven’t been beaten on screen/roll yet,” insisted O’Neal. “Not that I’m a great pick and roll defender. It’s just the game is called differently for me, so I have to be careful (read that unaggressive). I’ve been around. No one has beaten me with that yet. They want to run. We can run. It’s gonna he hard for people to run and bang with me. I’m built for both.”
OK, I’d take that chance.
Publicly, it would be viewed as a demotion, but I believe Noah is too much a team player to care. Miller matches better with Shaq and can pull him out on the pick and pop. Or not, as Shaq doesn’t go out to contest shots.
“I think Noah is a valuable piece,” reminded Cavs guard Williams. “And he has to go to sleep worried about what he has to do with Shaq on Monday.”
Instead, Noah can match against Varejao, who killed the Bulls with that game high 15 rebounds, four offensive as the Cavs doubled the Bulls on second chance points.
“Varejao’s activity,” noted Del Negro. “You always have to know where he is. You have to get a body on him.”
Noah has the body for that.
The Bulls have to win that hustle board to have success against a team like the Cavs, and they were dominated instead.
I’d change most of the matchups because the Bulls stayed traditional and it was fatal.
Taj Gibson cannot play Jamison, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Deng cannot play James. Look, no one can play James, but you have to also put your players in position to succeed.
Rose, even with some questioning about 28 shots and seven turnovers, was breathtaking and the only serious scorer for the Bulls. And this was with the Cavs playing bumper pool with him. No one came out on Noah. They left Gibson alone. Sometimes Varejao came out and trapped Rose near halfcourt. Whenever Rose went inside, the Cavs closed with multiple big men and Rose took a pounding.
He desperately needs help and didn’t get much Saturday. And he still scored 28 points! Remarkable.
Hello, Joe Johnson. Help!
Right now, they’re keeping that guy on me until I pass the ball,” noted Rose. “Joakim was a little bit off in the beginning of the first quarter (shooting unguarded) and the first half, but those are shots that they are going to have to take. Brad, Joakim and Taj, if they make some shots, it frees me up and frees everybody else up.”
If “if’s and buts” were candy and nuts…
They don’t generally make those shots.
As I said to open the series, I’d get Kirk Hinrich on James. Not only to draw him into ignoring his teammates, but Hinrich will play him tougher than anyone. It was disappointing to see the Bulls play the Cavs with too much respect, so much so James almost apologized for them.
“I’ve been in playoff series before where guys tried to hard foul me, put me on the ground,” said James, suggesting this wasn’t one. “I’m not saying Brad was trying to do that.”
It’s OK with us. Go ahead.
As LeBron said, “Harness our emotions? There’s no such thing in the playoffs.”
So I’d play Hinrich on James, and though it probably isn’t fair to him because he’s played so little—which is a lost opportunity for this time of year and this situation—I’d probably give James Johnson a run at James because Johnson is big and athletic and maybe can bother him and will play physically if asked. He’ll probably get foul calls, and the Bulls got more than their share, especially Noah.
“I know we’re playing against an All-Star like Shaq, somebody who has been in this position many times, won a lot of championships, but if I say anything about calls, is that a fine or something like that?” Noah wondered. “I’m not criticizing anybody. Of course I’m biased. Overall I don’t think some of those calls were fair.”
Then I’d put Deng at power forward to play Jamison.
The Bulls got tricked on matchups several times, Noah caught on Jamison when Miller was in guarding Shaq, and Jamison had a few key scores coming up on top off screens.
Deng is more similar to Jamison and can follow him outside and give him trouble with those inside flip shots. Plus, you have to get Deng some confidence as he was five of 15 shooting for 12 points, again often stuck on the weak side watching too much. He’s a good rebounder. Let him get inside.
And then you also make yourself a bench.
The Cavs reserves, particularly Varejao, were far more effective while Del Negro doesn’t use his bench much. But you mix up the starting lineup and that gives you some different looks off the bench. Then you play Flip Murray with Rose as Murray can space the court reasonably well with his shooting and the Cavs quietly respect him as one of the Cavs told me he was one of the toughest players they’ve ever had. Also, he had a nice run Saturday with nine points in 11 minutes.
The Cavs off guards don’t beat you, anyway, and you have to get Rose more space.
I’d isolate him more on the side or on top and not put him that screen/roll so much as well.
The Bulls just made it too easy on the Cavs Saturday.
Jamison abused Noah late in the first quarter after Deng actually got a call on a charge against James. We thought that was illegal. But the Bulls got caught in a bad mismatch right away as the Cavs went with their quicker, smaller lineup while the Bulls got stuck with Miller on Varejao and Noah trying to corral Jamison. It was a disaster as the Cavs went from leading 13-10 to a 32-18 lead after the first quarter. As Jamison had nine after Shaq had seven to open the quarter and the Bulls seven turnovers with the Cavs smothering Rose.
“I wasn’t really happy with the way I played today,” said Noah. “I feel like I have to come out and bring a little more energy. We had that one stretch where we kind of lost it a little bit in the first quarter, but besides that, we fought pretty hard as a team. We just have to really understand that we can play with this team, and we can compete, but at the end of the day, they won the game. It doesn’t matter if we lost by 20 or one, we lost, and we’ll be ready to play on Monday.”
James wasn’t unusually aggressive in the game, though he got into it  a little bit with Miller in the second quarter when they both got technicals as James pushed off hard when Miller was grabbing him to stop a score. The Bulls went with Warrick, who tried to post LeBron, and made one score. But LeBron caught him right away on a back cut for a slam dunk, which you have to avoid to keep the fans from their frenzy.
Gibson got welcomed to his first playoffs with a couple of blocked shots with James coming from behind as James got  four of the Cavs’ impressive 12, and the Cavs led 56-41 at halftime.
It looked over when the Bulls got caught helping—bad idea—and Williams and Anthony Parker opened the third with a pair of threes, Shaq got that spin on Noah and Jamison got a runout as the Cavs went up 68-46.
Yes, the Cavs seemed rested and ready and a little prickly about the criticism they took for sitting James to end the season.
“I think there were a lot of things written, a lot of opinions that people had,” said Williams.   “I think with us, we have a bunker mentality where we are worried about home (and) the 15 guys in the locker room, including the coaching staff.  We knew that a lot of things were going to be written and a lot of things were going to be said, and we knew that the rest was good.  It showed today.”
And James insisted he let everyone know in a pregame speech what this is all about.
“This is what we all have waited for,” he said he told the team.  “‘This is why we play hard – throughout the whole season, throughout the regular season and throughout practices – is to get to this point.’  As much as we loved the regular season, we love the postseason even more. Once we got here the day before the game, we were all prepared.  We were all mentally focused and I knew the guys were ready to play.”
Though they seemed to lose some interest with that big lead. We’ll see if that helps the Bulls’ confidence or helps wake up the Cavs to finish.
The Bulls threw some zone at the Cavs in a nice adjustment, and the Cavs fell for it with a lot of jump shots and a scoring drought of more than seven minutes. The Bulls got some amazing drives and floaters from Rose, and suddenly it was 68-58 with a murmur in the crowd.
Gibson missed a wide open jumper to try to get it to eight, and then James scored on a pair of drives to close the third with the Cavs up 13.
Deng finally got a nice cut and score on a Rose pass and Noah began to feel confident in that unguarded elbow jumper. Murray hit a three and Gibson a 15 footer to get the Bulls within 78-71 with 7:25 left. Still, you felt it was the Cavs’ game.
Jamison hit a 20 footer, but Murray got a runout slam on a pass from Rose after Varejao missed a small. Still seven with 5:36 remaining. But Delonte West and Williams answered with jumpers, Rose was still out of bounds in just missing a terrific inbounds play Del Negro drew up, and Varejao began getting open diving to the basket as the Bulls reacted too slowly to his roll. The Bulls defensive philosophy is to blitz the screen/roll, but Varejao cut them up diving quickly and there was no rotation to help.
The Bulls also continued to switch the pick and roll too much, leaving some bad matchups, instead of playing hard over the screens.
And when James ran out and was fouled after a Deng turnover, he signaled with his arm extended, so at least the Bulls kept him from dancing. That three point play gave the Cavs a 91-79 lead with just over two minutes left to effectively clinch the win.
“Give Cleveland credit,” said Del Negro. “It’s a long series (they hope). Our guys are excited about it. They know we can play better than we did tonight. We have to get off to a better start. We were back on our heels a little bit. We fought back and cut it (the lead) a little bit and then LeBron made a couple of plays.”
That’s not enough. Make them react. Make them think. Make them adjust. What have you got to lose but a series you are supposed to lose?

Bulls beat Bobcats; look out Cavs, here they come

They beat Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday 98-89 to get into the playoffs, and now this improbable Bulls team gets LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Bring ‘em on, starting Saturday 2 p.m. to open the playoffs in Cleveland.
“To me what this is about is my team sacrificing everything they’ve got to get in order to make it to this stage,” said Joakim Noah, who with Derrick Rose combined to drag this Bulls team back to 41-41 and the playoffs. “Now we’re playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and everyone thinks we’re gonna get our (butts) whipped.
“You know what,” said Noah, sucking on his second bottle of celebratory beer in the loud post game locker room. “We’re going to shock the world. That’s pretty cool, right?”
Yes it is, however it goes, and it was one of the best finishes a Bulls team ever has had to a regular season, including victories in ten of their last 14 games and winning three straight they had to get, all against teams with better records, with no room for error. It’s hardly the best Bulls team, and one with long odds to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs against heavily favored Cleveland.
But it is a confident team that was accepting hand shakes and congratulations from new Bobcats owner Jordan, who graciously went around to every Bulls player in the locker room after the game to congratulate them.
It was a show of respect, and one well deserved, less so for finishing .500, but for the way the Bulls persevered through a troubling season of coaching uncertainty, major trades, disastrous blown leads and big losses, free agent player departures, crippling injuries and just lately management controversy with coach Vinny Del Negro.
But the players refused to yield, and the close of Wednesday’s clinching game as Toronto won again was symbolic, almost a fictional story, like Rocky, as guys like Rose, Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich were literally wobbling around down the stretch, trying to hang on like boxers with a lead and out on their feet, Noah and Rose combining for five late turnovers.
“My mindset,” said Del Negro, “is going with the guys who got us here, fatigued or not they have to step up and that’s what they did.”
Rose finished with 27 points and five assists, including several electrifying drives late that left you shaking your head at the pure greatness and a cold blooded three with the clock winding down midway through the fourth to hold off any rally.
Noah ended with 21 points and 13 rebounds in another racehorse effort of constantly beating the defense up and down the court and scoring on tip ins and follows and making clutch free throws in the fourth quarter.
“We’re going to the (bleep) playoffs,” Noah exulted running into the ocker room from the court. “All this (stuff) and we’re still going to the playoffs.”
Yeah, take that!
In these three biggest games of the season against the longest of odds, Noah averaged 16 points and 16 rebounds while Rose averaged 30.7 points and 6.3 assists on 57 percent shooting.
It was impressive and inspirational to watch and you felt in the post game locker room a strong feeling of accomplishment mixed with relief and possibility that was most eloquently expressed by Noah, who’s grown so quickly into the leader of this team.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Noah, his smile so deep from the moment the game ended you couldn’t peel it off his face. “I really feel like we’re deserving. Anyone who sees the Chitown Bulls, I want them to say, ‘They play their (butts) off.’ and I think that’s what we’ve done the last few games.
“I’m just so proud of my team,” said Noah. “I’m feeling good right now. It feels so good to win, man. It’s hard to explain. At any level, there is nothing better than being in the locker room winning. And now the real fun begins.”
This one was all about a great win and the days ahead, but Noah was asked about the incident involving Del Negro and John Paxson and why he was angry being asked. Noah said he wasn’t, that media people just didn’t understand what was significant.
“I feel like we were fighting for our lives and giving everything we’ve got,” said Noah. “Who wants to talk about something that happened last month? Talk about guys who play hurt and try to do whatever they can to win a basketball game. Look at Taj (Gibson, with 11 points and 13 rebounds on his aching plantar fasciitis), look at Kirk. Brad is old and he’s getting shots in his (butt) just to play a basketball game for two months now. Talk about that. That’s what he has to do to get ready to play. It goes on and on.
“That’s all about team and sacrificing everything they’ve got in order to make it to this stage,” said Noah. “People can say he (Noah) is acting like a fool and this and that, but I’m having fun, enjoying this, loving my life. I’m playing NBA basketball against the best team in the world in the playoffs and my goal is to try to try to shock the world.
“At end of day in the course of this series our goal is to win,” said Noah. “But it’s all about going out there and saying we gave everything we’ve got. I want people to think, ‘You guys gave everything, gave your best.’ And I think our best is better than people think.”
It was just enough again Wednesday in the season’s 82nd game as the Bulls jumped on the Bobcats for a 33-26 first quarter lead and then 57-43 at halftime, though the Bulls seemed on the verge of breaking it open late in the second quarter with a 52-37 edge. But it’s still a team that relaxes with leads and they couldn’t make the Bobcats, who had clinched a playoff spot already, give up.
Coach Larry Brown said before the game he’d play his regulars for the good of the game, and Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace kept the Bobcats in early. They seem to have little chance against Orlando because they lack scoring.
And who knows with Jackson.
He can get going, as he was at times Wednesday, though she spent much of the first half screaming at Del Negro about how much better the Bobcats were.
Rose said the Bulls plan was to try to get that big lead early and get Brown to give in the game and go to his bench and save his regulars.
“We were pushing ourselves that first half, playing hard,” said Rose. “We felt we could take control of the game. The second half they came out and made a run (within 65-60). We played good defense and somehow we got the win.”
The Bulls were sluggish to open the third and looked in trouble when it got to five.
But Noah got a dunk sealing his man on a pass from Deng. Rose then blew through the defense on a fast break, scoring the team’s next eight points in a “hop on guys I’ll take you there” moment to get the lead back into double figures going into the fourth quarter.
Brown pretty much threw in the towel then after Tyson Chandler took a hard fall and stayed down a while and the Bulls got through the fourth with another late Hinrich three putting it out of reach.
And Rose’s prediction of weeks ago of guaranteeing the playoffs—which I’ll admit I doubted the way they were playing—came true.
It’s also why after that loss to the Nets last week when Rose had seven turnovers he told me the next day he wasn’t making any Sunday against the Raptors. And he didn’t have any until a questionable late one when the game was decided and he really was fouled.
Rose said he gets inspiration from a book, the Seeker, which suggests saying things out loud and they will come true. It’s become something of a life philosophy for him, sort of a power of positive thinking for the new age. When we were talking Saturday after practice and he said he wouldn’t commit a turnover Sunday, I said, “You better not say that.” He never hesitated, and Wednesday he said that’s also why he made the prediction. It’s also something of self motivation, putting demands on himself and then forcing him to follow through.
“We deserve to be here,” said Rose of the playoffs. “We’re a young team, but we have a lot of confidence and trust in one another. It will be a great challenge playing Cleveland. It’s going to be fun. We’re going to go out and fight. That’s all I can say.”
The Bulls and Cavs tied the season series 2-2 with the Bulls winning in November in Cleveland when the Cavs got off to an uncertain start and in Chicago April 8 when James sat out. The Cavs beat the Bulls at home Dec. 4 by 14 and March 19 at home by seven. Shaq is questionable having been out so long with a thumb injury, but this Bulls team suddenly is feeling very confident.
After all, it was a year ago they weren’t given much chance against the Celtics. But Rose went into Boston and stole Game 1 and turned that series on its head and it’s what can happen in the playoffs when you have a star, which Rose truly is now with this latest run of brilliance. There isn’t a point guard in the NBA who is tougher to stop.
“No one will pick us,” said Miller with 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench. “We’ve got to go out and play our game and enjoy ourselves and see what happens.
“This season has been crazy,” agreed Miller. “This has been the biggest roller coaster season I’ve ever been on. We come back off the West Coast trip winning five of the last seven and everyone is, ‘Oh, my god.’ We’re climbing up the seedings. Then I don’t know how we sustain 10 (losses) in a row. Honestly, if you had told me we’d lose 10 in a row in March and make it and we’d get to .500…it shows a lot of will.
“Obviously, Derrick has matured,” said Miller. “This last week and a half in crunch time. And Joakim with his energy. We’ve got guys who truly want to be in the playoffs. You don’t really get that a lot. You’ve got a lot of players who talk about it. We had to go out and play our (butts) off to get there.
“We lose to Jersey and it’s ‘How can you guys lose to Jersey?’ Then we come back with a great game against Toronto,” said Miller. “Obviously Boston and tonight. It shows the growth on this team. This team shines well under the gun in big games. These were playoff games. We had to win. It was in our hands and we did it.
“We’re playing great basketball now,” said Miller. “Obviously, we’ve got one hell of a challenge, a 60-some win team. But we’ve shown we can beat anybody and lose to anybody. It’s going to be fun.”

Bulls overcome Celts with Pax and Vinny a sidebar

This wasn’t Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich Tuesday who combined for 69 points, including 27 of the team’s 34 in the fourth quarter, to beat the Boston Celtics 101-93 before a raucous, playoff like crowd at the United Center.
No, it was more like Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. Like Gail Goodrich and Jerry West. Like Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Like Bob Cousy and Sam Jones.
This was a backcourt duo for the ages as the Bulls now will make the playoffs if they defeat Charlotte Wednesday or if the Toronto Raptors lose to the Knicks.
“We’re just having trust and confidence in one another and we’ve been playing good basketball,” said Rose, who scored a career high 39 points and drove All Star and top defender Rajon Rondo from the game late. “It was one of those days. Some days it’s a whole bunch of turnovers. It was one of those days I hit almost everything. It’s my teammates who give me the confidence. I love playing here and being in tough situations, which makes me go out and perform. Kirk was huge knocking down shots, stepping up and making big plays. He’s one of our leaders. Everyone, the younger guys, look up to him.”
And the Bulls are a game from not having to look up at the eight playoff teams. Their destiny, as it were, is in their hands again after a second playoff style effort in which they outworked a Boston team playing its regulars with Paul Pierce with 28 points and Ray Allen with 25.
The Celtics now fall to fourth in the Eastern Conference and are likely to open the playoffs against the hot Miami Heat and potentially face Cleveland in the second round. The Celtics were hoping to avoid both, so it was no late season, Cavs like team.
But the Bulls dominated the boards 49-40 with Joakim Noah with nine points, 16 rebounds and three blocks (Rose was all over the place and also had three blocks) and Luol Deng with seven points and 12 rebounds. The Bulls committed just eight turnovers and shot 56.4 percent after halftime with Hinrich and Rose combining to shoot 26 for 42 overall.
With Boston relentlessly closing to within 90-86 with 1:48 left, Hinrich knocked in a big three from on top, sending the Celtics into a timeout and Noah running to Hinrich and rubbing his head.
“I don’t play with his pony tail when he make shots,” joked Hinrich. “He should leave my hair alone.”
Pierce then drove and was fouled for a pair of free throws. The Celtics cut off Rose and he found Hinrich in the left corner. Nate Robinson, who’d replaced Rondo with six minutes left, flew by Hinrich. Hinrich coolly stepped in for a 17 footer and 95-88 lead.
Allen then missed. Kevin Garnett got the ball, but Hinrich ripped it away and got it to Rose who ran ahead for what looked to be his second spectacular dunk of the game.
Earlier, Rose had a reverse two handed over the head tomahawk on a breakaway that would have had Stacey King making another commercial if the game wasn’t on TNT nationally.
“I’ve been planning that one for about three months,” Rose admitted. “I didn’t have the opportunity. I got it and tried. I did it to try and help my teammates get the edge. We’re playing in our building and the crowd likes to see exciting plays, so why not try.”
So on the way to another one of those—Rose said he was planning a one handed jam with his arm cocked back—his leg gave out and he was just able to get the ball over the rim and in to essentially end the game with the Bulls ahead 97-88 with 26.6 seconds left.
“I was happy I made it,” said Rose. “Or I would have been on TV somewhere with everyone making fun of me.”
The Celtics weren’t laughing, falling to 50-31 after giving it their best shot with the starters all playing big minutes and Garnett a reasonable 28.
“You saw Derrick Rose, you saw Kirk Hinrich. They really caught fire,” said Pierce. “That’s pretty much what it was. Those are the two leaders, the two scorers. They stepped up when it was needed.”
It should have been a heck of an uplifting night, and it was, especially in the wake of the equally big win in Toronto Sunday.
But just prior to the game YahooSports published a story detailing an altercation between executive vice president John Paxson and coach Vinny Del Negro, allegedly over Noah’s limited minutes schedule from his plantar fasciitis.
That line of questioning occupied much of the post game discussion, though it didn’t seem to bother the players much.
I get the feeling they have seen this before and know management and Del Negro have been an odds and no one will be surprised if Del Negro is relieved of his duties after this season.
The Bulls officially responded it was “an organizational issue” and it would be handled internally.
Though I write on the Bulls web site, that’s really all they tell me as well.
But players generally don’t worry about what they say and seemed pretty buoyant about the results of the game and even the line of questioning.
“Honestly, I didn’t hear anything about it,” said Deng, smiling. “I don’t think it’s affecting us at all. There’s always going to be news and that’s great for you (media) guys. It’s something to write about us.
“How did you hear about that?” Deng asked. “I stay away from all that. I’m sure those guys will solve it. It’s nothing more than guys being competitive. I’m sure it happens more in this league. I don’t think every team has snitches like we do.
“What happened, happened,” said Deng with a shrug.
So what did happen?
I’d heard some stuff about a dispute, but didn’t think much of it as there have been plenty over the years. Scott Skiles and Paxson used to have them. Jerry Krause had them all the time with Doug Collins and later Phil Jackson.
But I guess this got a bit physical, though it sounded a bit like one of those pushing scenes you sometimes see on the court when guys look like they want to fight but don’t.
I wish it wouldn’t have happened as I like Paxson and I like Vinny.
And they both were pretty fiery players in their time.
There’s obviously been some uneasiness throughout Del Negro’s tenure with rumors he’d be fired when the Bulls were nine games under .500 last year. Then after those blowout losses and 35-point lead lost to the Kings in December, there was a spate of national stories Vinny was to be fired any day. He obviously wasn’t, though he wanted a vote of confidence from management and mostly those are stupid as coaches generally get fired right after them. So management didn’t say much other than he was the coach.
Then Noah’s plantar fasciitis began to become serious and he had to stop playing. Noah went out Feb. 5 and missed seven games and the All Star break.
The medical opinion, as is known with plantar fasciitis, is you have to be careful and work back slowly or you can go back to ground zero and have to start over again.
So Noah was put on a very limited schedule. The next three games he played seven, 12 and seven minutes with his limitation increasing to 15 to 20 minutes.
Then came the Feb. 26 game with Portland with the Bulls facing a tough month in March. The Bulls were up to 30-27 and Vinny sensed some momentum he wanted to keep going. The Bulls got into a tough game with Portland and Noah came off the bench and was huge. Vinny got greedy going for the win in the overtime game and played Noah 27 minutes, almost double his time.
The next day was a disaster as Noah had that huge setback and was ordered out by the doctors at least three weeks, or 10 games.
The Bulls without Noah lost them all.
Things were edgy with Del Negro after that as Noah came back to a schedule of increasing minutes. By March 30 it was up to 25 minutes and the Bulls were monitoring it closely feeling they still had a shot at the playoffs if they could keep Noah playing.
So here were the Bulls again in a tough game against a good team, and Vinny’s former team, the Suns. Vinny went two minutes over with 27.
It didn’t seem like much, but he had been instructed.
I heard various versions of the story and only one staffer and no coach was witness. As far as I can tell, Paxson loudly challenged Del Negro about going over the limit again. These kinds of post game discussions are frequent, and I know even mild mannered Steve Kerr said one he had early with Mike D’Antoni led to bad feeling and D’Antoni’s eventual departure.
Now all of this stuff is subject to he said/she said as there really were no witnesses.
So supposedly Del Negro got up from his chair to come at Paxson. Or Del Negro got up and Paxson got in his face and pushed him. Paxson supposedly challenged Vinny. I also heard that Vinny welcomed it and said something like c’mon. I really don’t know whom to believe and what happened and didn’t talk to either Vinny or Paxson about it.
Here was Vinny after the game:
“All those things are internal. I have no comment. Whatever happens between the organization and myself…is internal. I focus on what I can control, preparation for the game and getting players ready. We’ve been battling a lot of adversity all season. Guys stayed together, showed great character and kept on fighting for eachother. I go about my job every day no matter what happens. I’m a competitor and love competing and the challenge and all the other things that happen stay internal.
“Of course (I wish it would not come out). That’s the NBA and things happen, practice or different situations things are going to come out. It’s part of the deal. You handle it and move forward and show leadership toward the team and go about your business. Things happen. There’s a lot of emotion involved in this game. A lot of things happen on a daily basis.
“The focus is on the game. I don’t waste my time with that stuff. I focus on the playoffs and getting ready to play. Now, we’ll focus on Charlotte. All that other stuff is irrelevant.”
Del Negro said the dispute didn’t enter into his thinking at all regarding not playing Noah but 12 seconds in the New Jersey overtime game. He credited the team doctor, Brian Cole, and trainer Fred Tedeschi with getting Noah ready to play at the level he’s at now (46 minutes Tuesday) and acknowledged sometimes with a competitor like Noah you have to protect him from himself and Del Negro said he feels “we’ve handled that right.”
I can see both sides. Vinny, like all coaches, works essentially day to day, and he was likely trying to sneak out a few minutes here and there for a win and hoping no one would notice. Noah having the relapse was a disaster. The Bulls view Noah, as we’ve seen from extraordinary performances of late, as a key part of their future and don’t want to risk injury and felt they knew best how to use him to push for the playoffs. Del Negro apparently saw it differently in trying to pile up wins when he could.
Not one person I spoke with said anything about anyone being punched or there being a fight. There seemed to be a lot of yelling, though it didn’t seem to faze Rose.
“What happened?” said Rose in a veteran response.
“I never heard about it. If it did happen it slipped past me,” he said. “I really don’t watch that stuff. When are around us, they’re always kidding around, joking around, talking. I guess they’re doing it behind closed doors. When they’re around us, they’re professionals.”
Noah was a bit annoyed, though made the point that whomever was leaking the story was more trying to distract the Bulls and perhaps cost them a playoff chance. Maybe it was Jay Triano.
“I think that that’s none of your guys’ business,” said Noah. “Things happen in a team and an organization. But that has nothing to do with you guys. We deserve not to have these problems talked about right now. We’re fighting as players. We’re giving everything we got. I don’t think it’s fair for us as players to be talking about that stuff. It’s nothing. Really, it’s nothing.”
And it did take away from a brilliant Bulls game in which they outworked and were tougher than the Boston bullies.
Garnett screamed obscenities, as he generally does, and Kendrick Perkins lumbered around yelling at everyone, even drawing a technical foul after he was awarded a three point play. It’s not just age now for the Celtics as they added Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson and when you start to add dogs you can find fleas. Too big Glen “Baby” Davis wallowed around and got a few shots blocked as he leads the league by far in that dubious category and classy guys like Ray Allen and Doc Rivers have to be wondering what the heck is going on.
It was a brutal start with the Celtics ahead 20-17 after one as the Bulls shot 28 percent from the field and 28.6 percent on free throws. It was not looking good.
The Bulls got it going in the second quarter with Hinrich on the way to his season high finding his shooting almost unerring.
“I feel I’m doing a better job of staying in the flow of the offense,” said Hinrich. “There are stretches of the game I don’t feel like I’m getting opportunities, but I’ve stayed patient. Derrick’s been drawing so much attention I’m getting good opportunities and have been able to knock down some shots.”
Quietly, Hinrich has three games of at least 23 in the last six games.
The Bulls went ahead 37-29, but Garnett and Pierce combined on a late surge to bring Boston within 44-41 at halftime.
The Celtics looked like they were taking control behind Pierce, going ahead 57-50. But Noah hit a jumper and a hard drive faking Garnett and going over Perkins and responding to the three-point chance with a bold fist pump. He was again bringing the life back to the Bulls.
“The intensity was there,” said Hinrich. “We knew we had to win in Toronto. We had to win tonight. Our mindset was refuse to lose.”
Still, the Celtics held on 68-67 after three.
Yes, it was winning time, and it went to the Bulls this time.
The Bulls opened the fourth with six straight, the last two on a Brad Miller miss that Rasheed Wallace grabbed and somehow pushed back into the basket that got a good laugh except on the Celtics bench. Miller then got a layup on a pass from Jannero Pargo, and then they turned it over to Rose and Hinrich, who were absolutely brilliant.
Rondo is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and a likely first or second team all-defensive player. Rose made him look silly and Rivers had to bench him.
Like all teams, the Celtics were doubling, leaving a man behind the primary defender to put up a wall, trapping on occasion. Nothing worked as Rose got anywhere he wanted and made jump shots, tear drops, leaners, layups and when he didn’t Hinrich was there for a pair of threes down the stretch, the Bulls with the Celtics answering almost every time scoring in their last seven possessions and nine of their last 11.
Yes, and this is a pretty good Celtics defensive team, if not the one of a few years ago, and Garnett played down the stretch.
“It’s a tough back to back,” said Hinrich of Game 82. “We’ve got one game to determine our fate.”