Tag Archives: paul pierce

The Bulls are coming? The Bulls are coming?

I know the Bulls still are an eighth place team in the Eastern Conference. Eighteen NBA teams have better records. No one buys foam fingers to wave, “We’re No. 19!”
But suddenly, quietly, without any trades or coaching firings, the Bulls have won seven of 10 games, gotten wins against the top four teams in the Eastern Conference—in Boston Thursday 96-83, and earlier over Cleveland, Orlando and Atlanta—won three straight by double figures and an average of 20 points per game and rank in the top five in the NBA in the key defensive categories.
“It’s probably the most complete game we’ve played all year with controlling it and that’s something we’ve been working on,” said Derrick Rose, who scored 17 points to support Luol Deng’s 25, but also nine in the fourth quarter with two highlight play drives down the stretch. “Everybody’s getting healthy and we’re just trying to compete now.”
And in the end, the Bulls did it with defense in a crucial segment with less than four minutes remaining and the Celtics, behind all game, ready to steal it with a Paul Pierce three to get within 86-80.
“Bottom line is we made some plays when we had to and we had a couple stops when we needed to,” said coach Vinny Del Negro.
The Bulls came out of a time out looking to get John Salmons in the post with a mismatch on Eddie House. But the Celtics helped and by the time the ball swung back around Deng had to rush a jumper that spun in and out on a night he was a sharp eight of 13 shooting.
Deng was really good in his matchup with Pierce, who led Boston with 20 but on six of 18 shooting as Deng easily won their battle.
“Deng is very good over the years and over the past few years he’s shown what he can do for that team, his improved jump shot from the mid range, you have to honor that, and I didn’t do a good job of honoring that tonight, and he knocked it down all night,” said Pierce “For a guy who hasn’t been an All Star in this league, he’s about as good as it gets without being an All Star.”
Pierce got a switch on Joakim Noah, who was dominant on the defensive boards and finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, his 19th double/double of the season. Noah stood his ground and kept Pierce on the outside. Pierce took an 18 footer that missed, and Rose did a nice job of tapping it to Taj Gibson.
Rose then had a runner just creep off the rim. Rajon Rondo took a screen from Pierce, who was playing power forward now with the Celtics having gone small, leaving Rondo a lane to the basket against Gibson. Gibson got a clean block, knocking the ball to Rose who pitched out to Deng. Deng missed the drive, but Rose got the rebound and hit Noah diving on a pick and roll and Noah was fouled. Noah made both free throws for an 88-80 lead with 2:17 left. Ray Allen then missed a three from the left wing and Gibson rose up in the middle for a huge defensive rebound.
Rondo went for a steal against Rose, who then blew past Rondo and all the way through the Celtics defense for a crossover layup at the basket and, effectively, the end of the game as the Celtics, quickly using fatigue as an excuse in their fourth game in five nights—as if no one in the NBA plays those schedules—pretty much gave up and fired up a few jumpers without much interest as the Bulls pulled away.
And perhaps as important as winning the game, the Bulls held off the Celtics down the stretch with their own big plays on both ends of the court.
“We knew it was their fourth game in five nights and we tried to keep the tempo up,” said Deng, who has 27 and 25 points the last two games and shot a combined 21 of 31. “What we did great was in the second half we came out and we knew they were going try to jump on us early and we did a good job. We played good enough defense, but we hit shots. We made plays, but we played well together. We shared the ball, we took good shots.”
It was an impressive all around effort. Every starter shot at least 50 percent and scored in double figures. The bench guys shot poorly, a combined six of 25, but Tyrus Thomas had four steals (after six against Detroit) and six offensive rebounds, and along with Salmons and Brad Miller all had at least five rebounds as the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics 50-39.
Yes, the Celtics were missing injured Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. But the Bulls dominated Thursday’s national TNT game from start to finish with the Celtics leading a total of 17 seconds after having beaten the Bulls previously by 28 and 26.
“They’re a different team than they were,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “We got our butt kicked in every fashion. The Bulls were fresh. They looked it. They looked athletic. They looked quicker. I thought they came with a sense of purpose.”
The Bulls even are now one game ahead of their pace from a year ago this time after 37 games and when the Bulls then were in their worst slide of the season, soon to fall nine games below .500. Because this is the time for the second long Western Conference trip of the season, a seven gamer over two weeks which starts in Golden State Monday after Friday’s home game against Washington. Nine of the next 10 games after Friday are on the road and 10 of the last 13 leading up to the All Star break.
But this is the best the Bulls have played all season with Rose back at a high level and making big plays at the basket, Deng shooting well again, Kirk Hinrich getting the ball moving with Rose, and Noah and Gibson attacking the boards, especially on the defensive end, like the Bulls haven’t had in more than a decade.
“I was pleased with Joakim and Brad and Tryus,” said Del Negro. “Our front line battled and that’s what you have to do. They got a lot of size, a lot of weight up front with Perk and Big Baby. We were more determined to play 48 minutes. We’ve been in some games in the fourth quarter that we’ve let slip away and we haven’t been able to finish some of them off. This is basically the same team we played last year in the playoffs. We’re without our leading scorer who is no longer with us (Ben Gordon), but we have Luol back in the lineup and he was fantastic. We caught them at a good time with Kevin and Rasheed out. They’re obviously a different team when they don’t have two star players. We’ve (also) had our share of injuries. You just have to go through it. Our guys battled all night.”
It was an excellent effort from the beginning with the Bulls jumping on the Celtics to start. Rose came out strong with that left elbow jumper he likes so much and a beautiful hesitation drive. But he ran into some questionable foul calls, one so egregious that TNT announcer Doug Collins gave it an “oh my” when he saw the replay. The fouls limited Rose to just eight minutes and those two baskets in the first two minutes in the first half.
“I was in foul trouble earlier in the game,” Rose noted of his fourth quarter play. “I knew that to get it going I just had to force myself being aggressively attacking the basket, taking shots they were giving me.”
The Bulls got on a 9-0 run after that second Rose score and led 29-18 after the first quarter.
In that run was what has quietly become a signature shot from Noah.
Yes, he has a shot, which differentiates him, at least, from Dwight Howard already, who has yet to have one shot other than a dunk in more than five years. A year ago, Noah wouldn’t even turn toward the basket with the ball. He’s hardly smooth or graceful, but he’s developed this very reliable left handed driving runner which has proven to be a very impressive and dependable shot. And with his off hand no less.
He’s got to be the league’s Most Improved Player this season given one of the more remarkable turnarounds. He gets just about every big defensive rebound, makes free throws (seven of eight Thursday), did a heck of a job fighting off the brutal Kendrick Perkins and has a bit of an offensive repertoire, amazingly enough.
Hinrich closed the first quarter with two daring driving scores while Thomas and Johnson applied defensive pressure.
“Our game is probably to just to go out there and play, push the tempo, rebound the ball and just try to make everything tough for them for tonight and it worked,” said Rose.
Thomas was disruptive with his steals and one time flying into the broadcasters chasing a loose ball. Though Thomas had one nice baseline dunk when Davis dropped off him to help, I’ve noticed Thomas not dunking in traffic since his return from injury and missing an inordinate number of point blank layups. There’s always been a question of Thomas’ appetite for contact and it will be something to watch, especially with Thomas’ energy playing such an important role in the last two wins.
“We just tried to play together a little bit better and develop the young guys with Joakim, Tyrus, and Taj,” said Del Negro.
Rose picked up that third first half foul on a ridiculous Davis charge drawn. But the Bulls stayed in with Deng’s jumper looking terrific (he hit all five shots and all six free throws in the first half), Noah with another rolling left hander and Noah blocking a Pierce drive at the end of the first half. The Bulls were also hustling on defense and Hinrich closed nicely on Pierce to force a 24-second violation as the Bulls stayed ahead 47-39 at halftime.“Give the Bulls credit,” said Rivers. “I thought they were well-prepared. Their game plan was to attack us off the dribble the entire night. Everybody. I thought the game turned personal in some ways. Guys (Bulls) were getting off and we were trying to go back at them. They have shot blockers when you get to the paint. Those are the best times to make passes back out And we just didn’t do it. I thought the warning sign for me came in the third quarter. I thought we tried to make a push right out of the box and within two, three minutes we couldn’t sustain.”
That was because Hinrich hit a three off a Gibson pass, Deng blew by Pierce for a running banker, Noah rebounded a Hinrich miss and Hinrich went back up with it and Gibson hit a jumper to give the Bulls a 60-47 edge.
The Celtics came back as Salmons shots were off and starting to be forced. When Thomas missed two free throws early in the fourth, Del Negro pulled him with Boston now within 72-67 and what appeared certainly to be another Bulls fade down the stretch without that closer.
But Deng hit a big 20 footer at that point and after Miller drew an offensive on Perkins, Deng stepped through for a jumper and was fouled to give the Bulls some room.
“My jumper was feeling good then I tried being aggressive off the dribble,” said Deng.
Deng again held off the Celtics with a nice baseline jumper off a good out of bounds play. The Bulls pulled back ahead 83-73 as Rose faked and flew by Rondo on the left and went up in the face of Perkins at the basket for a score. The Celtics had that last run in them within 86-80, but Noah and Rose cleaned it up from there.
It was the Bulls quicker, tougher, more efficient, the Celtics weary and with excuses. It must mean something.

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Del Negro says he’ll lobby for Bulls All-Star votes

It’s getting close to the time when coaches will begin voting for the All-Star reserves, and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro says he’ll be doing some lobbying for his players.
Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah figure to be in the conversation. After the fans pick the starters in the voting, all the coaches vote for reserves. Coaches cannot vote for their own players. The total votes are tallied for the seven reserves.
Rose is averaging 18.5 points per game, which ranks No. 1 in the East among point guards. That’s with Gilbert Arenas not eligible since he was suspended. Rose is 12th in the NBA in assists and fourth among East point guards behind Rajon Rondo, Arenas and Chris Duhon, the latter two not contenders. There’s a good chance Rondo will be picked as a reserve for the Celtics, who figure to have at least three All-Stars along with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The coaches, though, are not asked to differentiate between guard positions in voting.
The key for Rose might be if Allen Iverson, who could be voted as a starter, elects not to play as he’s suggested because of injury or if he falls out of the top two spots for guard starters.
Noah is second in the NBA in rebounding at 12.2 per game and one of nine players averaging a double/double with 10.8 points. Noah also is 13th in blocks with 1.74 per game. But with the Bulls five games below .500 entering Monday’s game with the Detroit Pistons, both Bulls players are questionable because the coaches generally tend to reward players from winning teams. Plus, when the coaches vote next week the Bulls will be on a western road trip, where they usually don’t fare well.
None of the Bulls players ranked in the top five in fan voting, which concluded with paper ballots Sunday and on line ballots next weekend
“Derrick started off slow with his ankle, but if you look at his numbers the last month and a half he’s been very productive in a lot of areas,” said Del Negro. “The same with Joakim. Joakim has been very consistent from Day 1. He’s second in the league in rebounding and up there in double/doubles. He’s been fantastic. Offensive rebounds, especially, but rebounds in total. Those are both guys you have to look at. And hopefully they will get serious consideration because they deserve it.
“I’ve had other coaches (contact me),” said Del Negro. “I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do, but there’s ways to put a bug in different coaches ears you know or know well. I’ve had coaches send letters, phone calls or emails or texts. I’m going to do some things. I’m not saying what I’ll do because I want to concentrate on the games. It’s more important to worry about the wins and losses, but if there’s a way to help my players get in that game and they deserve it I’ll do it.
“I think it’s (good for an organization to do to),” said Del Negro. “It shows support for the effort the guys are putting in. I think our guys are deserving. You’ve got to do it the right way, but let their play dictate the All-Star play and usually it does. There are always issues about some guys making it, but that’s out of your control. I hope they both make it and I think they’re both deserving.”

All-Star voting and Vinny speaks

The NBA Thursday released its first All-Star game fan balloting results, and another year seems like it may go by without a Bulls player being voted to the All-Star team, which would make 11 years.
The fans select the starters and the coaches vote for the reserves. The way the Bulls have been playing this season, it may hurt the chances of anyone from the Bulls getting a coach’s vote, though it seems Derrick Rose remains a possibility.
Rose will be invited to the weekend of events in Dallas to play in the rookie/sophomore game, likely along with Taj Gibson. Rose may also be invited to defend his skills challenge championship from last season’s All-Star game.
In the first balloting, Rose was fifth among Eastern Conference guards, Brad Miller was 10th among East centers and Luol Deng was 11th among East forwards. Joakim Noah, perhaps the team’s most consistent player this season, was not listed on the ballot as the committee of media members preparing the ballot apparently did not know he was a starter although he started much of last season and in the classic first round playoff series.
Here are the East leaders:
Forwards:  LeBron  James (Clev) 649,327; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 533,187; ChrisBosh  (Tor)  303,550;  Paul Pierce (Bos) 131,379; Josh Smith (Atl) 109,404;Danny  Granger  (Ind) 100,122; Andre Iguodala (Phi) 75,146; Michael Beasley(Mia) 58,461; Hedo Turkoglu (Tor) 55,416); Rashard Lewis (Orl) 46,073; LuolDeng (Chi) 37,428.
Guards:  Dwyane  Wade  (Mia)  672,227;  Vince Carter (Orl) 292,002; GilbertArenas  (Was)  212,526; Ray Allen (Bos) 208,276 Derrick Rose (Chi) 196,059;Allen  Iverson (Phi) 136,976*; Joe Johnson (Atl) 118,964; Rajon Rondo (Bos)113,371; Jose Calderon (Tor) 68,084; Mike Bibby (Atl) 48,935.
Centers:  Dwight  Howard  (Orl)  625,279;  Shaquille  O’Neal (Cle) 206,657;Andrea  Bargnani  (Tor) 67,310; Al Horford (Atl) 52,747; Andrew Bogut (Mil)45,920;  Brook  Lopez  (NJ)  39,420;  Jermaine O’Neal (Mia) 38,956; RasheedWallace  (Bos)  36,855;  Kendrick  Perkins  (Bos) 19,408; Brad Miller (Chi)17,188; Tyson Chandler (Cha) 14,062; Samuel Dalembert, S. (Phi) 13,969.
If it holds to form, which seems likely, the East starting lineup will be as it is with LeBron James and Kevin Garnett at forward, Dwyane Wade and Vince Carter at guard and Dwight Howard at center.
The obvious choices, it seems to me, for reserves are Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Joe Johnson. That would leave three spots with Gilbert Arenas, Josh Smith, Brook Lopez, Andre Iguodala and Rose leading candidates.
In the Western Conference, the starters from the initial results are: Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki at forward, Kobe Bryant and, amazingly, since he has yet to play, Tracy McGrady at guard and Amar’e Stoudemire at center. The McGrady situation is intriguing as the Rockets continue to hold him out, allegedly for injury. Steve Nash and Chris Paul are close behind and league officials likely are hoping they pass McGrady in later results.
The delicious irony in the West is with the Spurs, who objected in previous years when Tim Duncan was listed as a center in an effort to purge the ballot of undeserving big men given the league requires 12 centers to be listed. Feeling Yao Ming would get so many votes from Asia, the Spurs requested—and the NBA complied—for Duncan to be listed as a forward. Now, Duncan is fourth among forwards without Yao among the leaders as he’s out for the season.
Meanwhile, back at the Berto Center, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro addressed rumors his job is on the line given the team’s slump and spate of recent blowout losses. Here are some of Del Negro’s comments to reporters Thursday:
“It’s easy to sit back on the sidelines, and everyone has all these great ideas and all these things that people think they know what they’re talking about. But until you live it and do it, no one has an idea. All you (reporters) have to write and do your job and come up with stories and things, and that’s all great, and you have to do that, but you guys really don’t know what it’s like, because you’ve never done it. My thing is, I’m a fighter. We fight as a team. We stick together as a team, and that’s all you control is your effort, your preparation, the opportunity that’s ahead of you. The NBA is tough. Pro sports is tough. You can’t be soft. You got to after it. Guys want to rip your heart out. And you just got to be tough enough to continually persevere and find ways to get better. You can’t take a position like this and not think you’re going to get criticized. It’s part of the deal. If you can’t live with criticism and the heat, then you shouldn’t take the job. You shouldn’t be in pro sports. You got to be able to suck it up and understand it. I get frustrated too, when we’re not playing well. But you just got to keep on pounding the pavement and go to work.”
The Bulls open a stretch of six consecutive home games starting Friday against Golden State. I have personally heard no indication the Bulls are planning to make a change. Of course, I’m not exactly consulted on these things.
I also must say I’ve seen many coaches in this position before with fans screaming for their job and national commentators predicting their departure. Vinny has continued to deal with everyone on a professional basis, hasn’t lashed out bitterly like Tim Floyd was fond of doing toward the end of his tenure and has given no indication it is interfering with his preparation.

The NBA’s Mariano Rivera returns to Chicago

Joe Dumars, the Detroit Pistons general manager, calls them the Team Mariano Rivera guys.
They’re the players who come into the game to close out your win, in basketball to shut down the opponents by making the big shots down the stretch.
“It’s who can make that Mariano Rivera team,” said Dumars. “I don’t know how many others are out there. I know Kobe’s (Bryant) on there. I know Paul Pierce is on there, and I can name some other guys. But he’s on there, too. He’s proven he’s a closer.”
That’s former Bull Ben Gordon, who was in Chicago Wednesday for his first return as a member of the Pistons after leaving the Bulls as a free agent last summer. Gordon remained uncertain about playing coming into Wednesday’s game after missing the previous two Pistons games with a sprained ankle.
And while the Pistons, without injured Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Charlie Villanueva, would miss Gordon, who is averaging  19.8 points per game for 16th in the league, it’s become apparent the Bulls are missing Gordon as well.
Or at least what Gordon did, which was make big shots at the end of games, if not always the last one, and create pressure for the defense, which opened teammates for presumably better shots.
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro in preseason talked about the end of games where the team might miss Gordon most, and that has developed, though to sign Gordon without trading anyone would have taken the Bulls out of competing for the possible 2010 free agency class.
An example was the end of the Bulls loss to the Bucks Monday, and not because Brad Miller missed the last shot on the pass from Derrick Rose. It was the correct play with Rose trapped and Miller open. And guys miss last shots, as Gordon did often as well.
But in the last two minutes among those attempting field goals for the Bulls were Miller, Lindsey Hunter and Joakim Noah. None of them scored.
It’s remained an issue for the Bulls, one they’ve pretty much been unable to address in the first month of the season, finding that scorer to make and take the big shots down the stretch.
Gordon, without rancor and in his usual matter-of-fact manner, said he has watched some Bulls games and doesn’t think they’ve replaced him. Gordon made a point to commend his former teammates, but he said:
“I watched a few games and at the end it was basically, with the addition of D. Rose a year ago, there were two guys who could make big shots. Now it looks like it’s only him. John (Salmons) can make big shots and Luol (Deng) can make big shots, but I think last season the team relied on me and D. Rose to make plays down the stretch. It looks like it’s just him right now, but I’m sure they’ll be fine with the guys they have.”
Gordon’s point is there are shots and there are shots. They all count toward the total, but there’s a mindset to finishing, to being the ninth inning last out guy versus the setup man or even the starter.
“I think it’s important to have guys who not only are capable of making big shots, but who actually welcome big shots,” said Dumars. “He’s proven that’s who he is. He’s a closer. He’s done that here in Chicago for, I don’t know, four, five years from the time he got here. As a rookie, he closed out games. That definitely appealed to me.
“He’s made them when they count,” said Dumars. “That’s a commodity that if you have a chance to acquire you do. I don’t think there are a lot of guys like that you can just name and say, ‘These guys are closers.’”
Though Gordon insisted the return to Chicago didn’t mean that much to him as friends and reporters mentioned it more than he thought of it. Though he did say he’d hoped to be at full health.
“It’s frustrating being hurt,” Gordon said after Pistons shootaround Wednesday morning at the United Center. “I pride myself on not missing games. I’m frustrated because I don’t know if I’ll be able to play or not. I like to be 100 percent coming here the first time.
“Chicago is a great city,” Gordon said. “I had great times here. There’s definitely things about the city I’ve missed. I’m happy about where I am now and I feel I made the right decision.”
Gordon said he pretty much expected the result once a deal wasn’t agreed on in the summer of 2008 and he had to sign the qualifying offer for one year.
“Just moving my stuff was the hardest part,” laughed Gordon. “It’s like a family (in Detroit). They made me feel right at home right away. (But) Chicago has a lot of good players. So I didn’t have any bad feelings about (being let go). It is what it is.”
And it’s understandable given Gordon declined $50 million contracts two consecutive summers and the Bulls committed to trying for a potentially higher level free agent.
But in being near the bottom of the NBA in scoring, the Bulls have to feel the effect of losing Gordon.
“I think Chicago misses him a little bit,” said Darrell Walker, the native Chicagoan and former Bull who is now a Pistons assistant. “They’re my team to scout so I‘ve watched them. They don’t really have a guy to go to, to close a game. Derrick’s a good player, but in my opinion he’s not a closer yet.
“For all Ben’s fault, what people thought he had, that he was too short, can’t guard, whatever, he can close a game,” said Walker. “That’s important. As an NBA coach you’ve got to have guy you can go to and know he can close and he is a closer. That’s what Chicago is missing, I feel.
“He’s been great for us,” said Walker. “It’s a new system for him. He’s trying to fit in. But he’s playing good basketball. Ben also creates a lot of stuff for teammates. He’s coming off screens, guys are trying to hedge out and he’ll make that little pocket pass to a big for layups
“I like Salmons a lot,” Walker continued. “He’s no Ben Gordon. Nothing personal. I like Salmons a lot, but he’s not Ben. It’s too bad he couldn’t stay here. But we got him. He’s a professional. If I’m a team paying a guy, this is a guy you don’t have to worry about. He’s going to be in the gym. He takes care of his body. He does the right things. He doesn’t get in trouble. It’s what you want.”

Celtics send message to Bulls: Not this time!

You are not supposed to be able to send messages this early in an NBA season. But it seemed the Boston Celtics air mailed one to the Bulls Friday in Boston’s bruising 118-90 stampede over the Bulls.
Having had to listen for almost six months about how evenly the Bulls played the Celtics in last spring’s memorable opening round, overtime filled series, the Celtics’ play spoke eloquently that things are different now and you kids are not quite ready.
Forget overtime. This one was over before anyone had much time to sit down.
“They played intense defense tonight,” said Derrick Rose, who had a quiet 10 points and two assists, reported a modicum of ankle soreness in what looks like an ongoing watch and was dominated by Rajon Rondo.  “I’m happy this is early in the season so we can come back and learn from it. It took a long tome for us to get in a groove.  I’m still trying to find my groove out there.”
Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and the Bulls did have five players scoring in double figures. But the game in no way resembled the spirited opening win over the San Antonio Spurs.
“Not to use the easy excuse, but we just didn’t play the same way as we did in the opener,” agreed Kirk Hinrich.  “Defensively, we weren’t helping each other.  It just didn’t seem like the intensity was there.  Offensively, we didn’t play together.  We tended to go off on our own and we struggled as a result of it.  Hopefully we can take this as a learning tool and go down to Miami (Sunday) and play better.”
Sure, you can bring out the excuses, like playing the second of a back to back, arriving late in Boston and then being awakened in the wee hours by a fire alarm in the team hotel.
I’d say Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were bigger warning bells as it was such a complete domination that you were reminded more of a boxing match being stopped early. Like the beaten boxer pleaded, “Would someone answer the door!”
The Bulls managed to get through the first round. But they were being counted out before the second was over.
“I didn’t think it started bad,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro of the Celtics 21-17 first quarter lead.
Though I’d disagree since the Bulls shot five for 20 in the first quarter with John Salmons zero for four and now five for 29 through two games.
Someone give him an eye test.
“I thought we were alright in the first quarter,” said Del Negro. “We just couldn’t make shots, but I liked some of the things we did. I didn’t like our physicality tonight. We were a step slow on our shows defensively, and then we couldn’t do anything offensively and put any pressure on them. And then once they got on a little bit of a roll–that’s what good teams do—it’s hard to stop.”
We’ll get into it more, but it was pretty much over less than four minutes into the second quarter when the Celtics scored eight straight to take a 29-19 lead and basically led by double digits the rest of the game, mostly close to 30 and at one point by 31.
And while Thursday’s home win over the Spurs raised notions that the Bulls were better off without Ben Gordon given their fluid ball movement, balanced scoring and improved defense, Friday’s loss shouted for someone to shoot the ball as Salmons was two of 14 and Luol Deng two of 8, though in just under 20 minutes played.
It raised for the Bulls the classic backup quarterback situation: Where’s Derrick Byars now that we need him!
Byars was the rookie shooting guard recently released, though he’d hardly be playing ahead of Salmons and Kirk Hinrich, the latter with 10 points, though zero for five on threes. Fourth guard Jannero Pargo was six of 12 for 13 points. Plus, Gordon never had much success against Boston until last season’s playoffs as they usually played him with a big, stronger guard. Other than playoffs, Gordon has scored more than 20 points against the Celtics just once in his career.
The bigger issue was the guys who were there, and that they certainly aren’t at the level of the Celtics. It’s hardly an indictment as perhaps only one or two other teams in the NBA are for now.
But you’d like to make a better showing.
The Celtics were ready even as the Bulls players sought to downplay the first meeting since the playoffs. The Celtics staff had watched carefully Thursday’s win and saw the Bulls crashing the offensive boards against the Spurs. That left opportunities to run as long as the Celtics rebounded, and they did, catching the Bulls late in transition too often.
Rookie Taj Gibson got a lesson from Garnett, who had 16 points in just under 25 minutes. Gibson got caught out of position trying to help, giving Garnett open looks. Fellow rookie James Johnson got his first playing time late when the game was decided and doesn’t look ready to contribute as he seems uncertain of what to do when he’s in the game.
Noah did his best to fight off Kendrick Perkins, who was getting deep position, and lost his cool on one occasion and drew a technical foul trying to slam the ball out of Perkins hands after Perkins had backed him deep with force. Noah also continues to have trouble setting a screen as he again was caught moving for an offensive foul.
But overall Noah was probably the Bulls best player on the floor. He fought on the boards, sneaking a few lefty hooks by the Celtics and even hit another perimeter jumper with his whirling tornado ball. When I asked him about hitting a jumper after Thursday’s win, Noah brightened excitedly and declared, “You saw it!”
He extended a fist, which I realized after a few seconds was an invitation for a neo five. I know he’s skinny, but I still back off when a seven footer offers a fist toward me.
Hinrich had 10 points and a team high seven assists, but was taken advantage of by the taller Marquis Daniels in the post when the Celtics opened up the game in the second quarter.
Tyrus Thomas had a distracted night with 10 points, eight rebounds and five missed free throws in 24 minutes. He continues to spend way too much time complaining about fouls after every miss, and when the Celtics blew away the Bulls in the third quarter he was back arguing as Pierce ran ahead and got wide open for a second consecutive three with the defense scrambling to find five players with four bodies.
Though Miller did get a bit of revenge against Rondo when he bashed Rondo with an elbow setting a screen about eight minutes into the game. It clearly was a foul, though it wasn’t called and Garnett actually was called for a foul on the collision and Miller got two free throws to bring the Bulls within 15-13.
Yes, that was the highlight of the game for the Bulls. The Celtics with their precision offense were executing the Bulls to death: Salmons followed Pierce over a Perkins screen and Noah was caught in the middle leaving Pierce wide open for a free throw line jumper. Eddie House, with 22 and a series of daggers in that Game 7 Boston win last spring, repeately got open off weak side screens with the Bulls collapsing toward the lane as the Bulls did a terrible job identifying the shooters.
The Celtics led 50-35 at halftime as the Bulls were 12 of 19 on free throws and 11 of 38 on field goals, including  one of eight on threes. They’re now five of 31 on threes through two games, and they’re just going to have to…practice.  Salmons isn’t a knock down three point marksman, but his career average is a respectable 36 percent and 41.7 percent last season. He can shoot. Hinrich is a career 38 percent three point shooter and 40.8 percent last season. Pargo is a career 36.5 percent three point shooter. They can make them. I’d keep trying.
Yes, I’ve been avoiding it, but there’s no avoiding that third quarter in which the Celtics were virtually perfect. Actually, the Bulls were pretty good in the third. They shot 54.5 percent and had eight assists on 12 field goals.
And ended up being blown away.
Because the Celtics were amazing.
“Paul said when we came into the locker room (at halftime), ‘Lets open up the third real big and lets be aggressive,’” related Garnett
It started badly for the Bulls and never stopped.
Rondo, who had two points, eight rebounds and 16 assists and was magnificent, grabbed offensive rebounds on the first two Celtics shots, the second setting up a Pierce three. Deng then missed badly, Rondo rebounded and got it to Pierce for a jumper and-boom!—the Bulls were down 20.
The Bulls actually ran several nice plays then, a Noah high low assist on a nice Rose baseline cut, Noah inside on a pass from Hinrich and Noah bulling it up lefthanded. Though when this was going on Allen, who had 20 points, was hitting a pair of threes as he lost Hinrich on a back door cut and then on a screen. So the Bulls scored three straight times and now were down 23.
It was then that Thomas got caught arguing, and he was fouled. But you don’t always get the calls. The Bulls began sagging inside  to try to contain Rondo.
“Rondo did a great job getting into the lane and we did a good job making the extra pass,” said Pierce, who was seven of seven in the third for 20 of his 22 points. “I just was converting on them. I made a couple and then, as a scorer, when you make one or two in a row, you feel like you’re on fire. Rondo getting to the lane, finding me in the third quarter and we was able to break the game open.” 
So Pierce got wide open on top for a pair of his five threes in the third, sending the Bulls into a timeout with 6:50 left and trailing 72-45.
This would have been my talk in the huddle: “Anyone got that guy!”
Last season, the Bulls after a home opening win were blown out in Boston in Game 2. The Bulls would take it again if they were playing a seventh game in the playoffs against the Celtics.
“It was an early season test for us,” said Del Negro, “and we didn’t respond real well.”

How some see the Bulls and NBA this season

So what’s the view of the Bulls from the outside coming into this season? It seems actually a bit more optimistic from the Vegas guys than it does from the NBA guys. Which I actually think is a good thing for the Bulls as the Vegas guys’ jobs depend on paying closer attention to all the teams.
The NBA released its annual survey from its general managers last week and earlier this week I received a look at the odds from Bodog.com.
Bodog.com analyzed each team and is suggesting, at least on the Bulls, that no one exactly replaces Ben Gordon, but that Derrick Rose is the leading scorer at 18 points and with seven assists followed by John Salmons at 17 points. Sort of the scoring being made up across the board. The odds service listed those numbers for an over/under figure and listed other Bulls as follows: Luol Deng, 15.7; Tyrus Thomas 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds; Joakim Noah at 7.4 points and eight rebounds.
Like the general managers, the bodog folks had the Lakers the favorites to win the championship followed by the Cavs and then Celtics and Spurs.
The Bodog.com estimates had the Bulls at 45-1 to win the title, tied for 11th with the Pistons, Hawks and Heat. That would have the Bulls in chances tied for fourth in the East, and I think they’d take that today if they could. The odds listed the Wizards, Raptors and 76ers just behind the Bulls. After the Spurs and before the Bulls’ group were the Magic, Nuggets, Trailblazers, Jazz, Mavericks and Hornets.
The estimate had the Bulls regular season win total at 41.5, though I assume that rounds up. In wins, that put the Bulls tied for fifth in the East with Washington, which, at this point, I think the Bulls also would take. The oddsmakers had Atlanta better with 44.5 wins, but Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and Toronto just behind at 40.5.
That seemed relatively positive for the Bulls as a fifth spot in the East gives a team a good chance to make it to the second round of the playoffs.
The GM’s didn’t seem as sanguine about the Bulls.
There were some 60 categories and the Bulls and their players barely registered.
The only recognized Bull in the regular voting was Derrick Rose, fourth behind Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Aaron Brooks as fastest with the ball.
There were “others receiving votes” in most categories. Tyrus Thomas got into that list for Most Athletic, which was led by LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith. The only other Bull mentioned was in the “others” category as well with John Salmons in the Doing the Most with Least. The leaders were Mehmet Okur, Matt Bonner, Chuck Hayes, David Lee, Luis Scola and Hedo Turkoglu.
Here are some other leaders according to the GM’s
Toughest: Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade.
Highest IQ: Steve Nash, Bryant, Garnett and Jason Kidd.
Taking the Last Shot: Bryant, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony
Head Coach: Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan.
Most Improved Teams: Wizards, Clippers, Thunder, Raptors
Biggest Offseason Impact: Vince Carter, Ron Artest, Richard Jefferson, Shaquille O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace
Most Underrated Moves: Anthony Parker, Antonio McDyess, Rashed Wallace, Trevor Ariza, Brandon Bass, Shawn Marion.
Best Leader: Chauncey Billups, Bryant, Tim Duncan, Garnett, Kidd, Nash, Paul.
Best Finisher: James, Wade, Howard, Bryant.
Best Passer: Nash, Paul, Kidd.
Best at Getting Own Shot: Bryant, James, Wade.
Moving without the Ball: Richard Hamilton, Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen, Kevin Martin.
Best Shooter: Ray Allen, Jason Kopono. Also receiving votes were Joe Johnson, Kyle Korver, Rashard Lewis, Kevin Martin, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and J.R. Smith.
Best Home Court Advantage: Cleveland, Utah, Lakers, Portland
Most Fun to Watch: Lakers, Orlando, Denver, Cleveland, Golden State, New York.
Player to Start Franchise with Today: James, Howard, Bryant.
Most Likely Breakout: Kevin Durant, Anthony Randolph, Russell Westbrook, Louis Williams.
Best Point Guard: Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash.
Best Power Forward: Duncan, Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki
Best Center: Howard, Duncan.
Best Shooting Guard: Bryant.
Best Small Forward: James, Anthony.

Bulls Rookies Look Good Despite Summer League Loss

LAS VEGAS — So who is he? Someone suggested James Johnson is like Lamar Odom. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro mentioned fellow former Wake Forest star Rodney Rogers. I heard Paul Pierce. In any case, as the Bulls opened their Summer League schedule Tuesday with a 95-83 loss to the Golden State Warriors, it seemed clear Bulls No. 1 draft pick Johnson has some very special talents.
“I like what Taj (Gibson) and James did in their first game,” said Del Negro, who watched from the stands on the UNLV campus as assistant Bob Ociepka coached the team. “Taj, I liked his activity. He kept a lot of basketballs alive. Had (a team high) seven offensive rebounds. (For Johnson), a guy with that much bulk and weight, the way he can move and handle the ball, his agility is impressive for a guy his size. We’ve got to get a little weight off him. He knows that. But he can do some things you can’t teach. He’s unselfish, he’ll pass. Guys will enjoy playing with him. (Johnson) has a feel. He has those easy, soft passes you can catch. He can block a shot, rebound, take it off the glass, start your break for you. He can fill the lane. He can finish. You saw him off the dribble on the break cross a guy over, finish at the rim. With the versatility you get from that it opens things up for other guys.”
Johnson finished with 21 points on nine of 13 shooting with eight rebounds to tie James Augustine for scoring honors. Gibson finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds in the kind of workmanlike effort you are often going to see. His energy and effort level is virtually constant as he appears always in motion. He had a perfectly timed face up block on center Jamal Sampson he wasn’t credited for (it’s Summer League) and some nice hustle plays and effort follows around the basket. He also ran down forwards who had leaked out and at least kept them from easy scores as they had to restart the offense because of his hustle. Plus, he was impressive for a rookie trapping and disrupting some pick and rolls to give the guard time to recover.
The Warriors Anthony Randolph dominated the Bulls inside and had a Summer League equaling record 42 points. Yes, they keep records of this stuff, too. Let’s say the defensive system may not be fully implemented yet. Randolph tied the record held by Von Wafer and Marcus Banks, so it’s not exactly a ticket to Springfield.
“I’m just going to go out and supply energy off the bench,” said Gibson. “It was tough out there. They were calling fouls every time you touched him. (Randolph shot 21 free throws while Gibson was called for nine fouls as there aren’t foul outs after six). Randolph’s a phenomenal player. I learned a lot playing against him. Coach Del Negro told us to go out and have fun and play, learn one thing at a time and try to master it. I just tried put in a lot of effort and help the team. Unfortunately we had a tough loss. But I look for a turnaround tomorrow.”
Johnson expressed disappointment as well about losing, though the game got away with some poor guard play and forced shots after the Bulls had gotten within a point midway through the third after a shaky start from the rookies. Starting guards DeMarcus Nelson and Anthony Roberson were a combined seven for 25, though Warriors rookie Stephen Curry offset that with three of 15. The Bulls bench combined to shoot 0-11, scoring two points and committing 12 fouls.
Though the players always give lip service to the result, Summer League isn’t about that. It’s about seeing if guys will compete, how their skills manifest in an NBA setting, even if there aren’t many high level players yet.
Johnson was impressive. You could see the Bulls brass watching having to muffle smiles of satisfaction given it was just the first game. But Johnson showed he can fill up the box score. He had a block and a few steals, though credited with one. His defense was shaky at times and he got caught a few times a bit straight up with the ball and had it stripped. But he showed he can make plays, and it’s what the game is about.
He came out a bit tentative and it was Augustine, the veteran from the U. of lllinois, who was impressive early in hitting the boards and scooping up loose balls and scoring. Augustine hit 10 of 11 shots, including a pair of nice top of the key jumpers not usually in his repertoire, along with seven rebounds.
The Warriors took a quick 22-13 lead and Johnson got himself going with a pull up from about 18 feet. Johnson has an unusually high arc on his shot, somewhat like Carlos Boozer, still rumored with the Bulls as Boozer was on WMVP radio Tuesday talking about how he’d like to play for the Bulls. My sense is it remains a long shot, though the Jazz continue to talk with numerous teams, including the Bulls. And on some level after watching Johnson, I’m not sure I’d want a playing-for-a-contract Boozer monopolizing the offense to get his 20 points.
“I don’t want to shoot it like a string,” Johnson said. “I like to shoot high arc so I have a better chance to bounce in if I miss.”
Johnson also hit a three pointer and once he got into the game showed the ability to score from a variety of places. I can see him playing a lot of small forward with Luol Deng at power forward in a more athletic, versatile lineup.
Johnson teamed with Gibson on a nice hi-lo with Johnson scoring. Johnson liked to take the ball in the backcourt and attack, once finding guard Nelson running the wing for a layup. Johnson broke up a pick and roll nicely for one of his steals and was quick to begin the break, scoring on a drive and slam dunk, a nice spin out of the post and a scoop on the drive around a few jumpers.
Though the Bulls couldn’t do much to stop Randolph and only got within six late.
“I’m definitely not satisfied with my performance and I’m going to work hard and bring it harder tomorrow,” said Johnson. “I didn’t want to start my day losing. We’ll talk it out and hopefully we can leave the summer league with a winning record.”
Johnson doesn’t seem yet to talk about himself much, though Augustine was impressed.
“Johnson has a great game,” he said. “He can post up, play outside, go to the basket, handle the ball on the fast break, guard bigger guys with that bigger body.”
Augustine also was impressive and I can see him being that extra big the team has been considering adding. I’d rather have a motivated, hard working guy than some older veteran, like a Mikki Moore, in a role in which he won’t play that often.
Augustine was on that 2005 Final Four Illini team before being drafted in the second round by the Magic and playing little. Losing confidence he went to play in Spain last season and says he’s returned with a new game and a new attitude.
“I scored, but that’s’ not what I’m known for,” said Augustine. “I’m going to try to rebound, try to play good defense. Do what it takes to help the team win. I made the decision last year to go to Spain and work on all aspects of my game and I wanted to come back here to hopefully show all the teams no matter who it is that I’m here to play and I have a new game and I’m here to show them that.
“My mental aspect was the thing held me back the most,” Augustine conceded. “It was something coach (Stan) Van Gundy told me, that I had the talent to play in the league but I had to have faith in myself. That’s the main reason I went to Spain. To have the faith to take the open jumper, have the faith to use my skills. Maybe a year or two ago I would have thought about (not shooting the jumper) and passed to someone else. That’s what I’ve been working on, my mental game. Go out there and play and show my skills and that I can play at this level.”
I believe he can and I’m certain Gibson and Johnson can. It was an impressive debut for the two No. 1 draft picks. The Bulls continue Summer League play Wednesday afternoon against the Bucks, whose rookie point guard Brandon Jennings has been impressive here.
Meanwhile, in case you missed it, the Boozer saga continued Tuesday as Boozer was on WMVP radio and said the Jazz told him he’d be traded and Boozer suggested he could be a drawing card for what he claims is his good buddy Dwyane Wade. Boozer also said despite being a free agent he’d be interested in signing a long term deal with the Bulls. My guess is it’s Golden State radio next. And then maybe Miami and Detroit.
“I definitely heard a little rumbling about it,” Boozer said about being traded to the Bulls. “Whether it will go down or not, that’s kind of between the Jazz and Chicago. But obviously if I did get traded to Chicago, I’d love to be a part of the Bulls. (The Bulls are a) great organization, top notch from top to bottom. They do things very professionally there. At the same time, they have a good group of talent there. Obviously with Derrick Rose at the helm and being rookie of the year last year and having some very good talent around him. Very good team. If I was able to come there, I’d bring a lot, especially in the low post and being a leader as well. We’ll see what happens. Me and D-Wade are very close. We talk quite a bit, but that’s a decision he has to make with himself and obviously if I did come to the Bulls, I’d love to have D-Wade play for us. At the same time, D-Wade is like me and wants to win a championship bad. If I was able to go to the Bulls and get D-Wade to come, we’d be right there at the top.”
The feeling around the NBA is the Jazz will match Portland’s offer sheet for Paul Millsap, and then have to trade Boozer. Though the luxury tax consequences don’t kick in until after the February trading deadline. There is no hurry. The notion is the Jazz would want Boozer out. I still cannot see the Bulls, even if the Jazz wanted just expiring contracts and made a deal with the Bulls, keeping Boozer beyond this season. I doubt the Bulls are about to give up two players to get a look at Boozer coming off a surgery, and unless they do, they would not be able to pay Boozer and go after another free agent. I personally don’t see how you win with an undersized, oft-injured forward like Boozer. Plus, Boozer is a notoriously poor defender and would it be worth it for the next season to allow Boozer to push up his numbers at the expense of playing Johnson and Gibson, who look like they can be nice pieces? As I’ve written before, I think it’s doubtful. But I have been waiting and the Bulls are not seeking my advice on this.