All posts by Jason Schwartz

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls shock Boston in Game One 106-102 to steal home-court from East’s #1 seed

One win down. Three to go. In what shall henceforth be referred to as the Bobby Portis Game, the Chicago Bulls stunned the #1 seed Boston Celtics by a score of 106-102 in the TD Garden to take a 1-0 series edge in this best of 7 first round clash.

Bobby Portis had far and away his best game as a Bull, scoring 19 on 8/10 shooting and 3/4 from deep while grabbing nine boards, the Arkansas product kept the Bulls in this game when it looked like Boston may take hold of the game. Ending the game with a +/- of +12, Portis’ confidence shown through at a critical time in this game when Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade were unable to find their shot.

In a back and forth affair throughout, this was by no means the prettiest playoff basketball on display thus far. There were turnovers, 35 total, poor shooting, neither team shot above 43 percent, and just overall sloppiness in this contest. But that didn’t mean this one was without intensity.

After tragically losing his sister Chyna in a car accident on Saturday, Isaiah Thomas somehow managed to suit up in Game 1 for the Celtics and did not disappoint. Thomas ended the game with 33 points, six assists, and five rebounds on 10/18 shooting in an inspirational effort by the diminutive guard. Thomas was able to get in the lane at will against this Bulls squad until Butler switched on to him in the last half of the 4th quarter. From that point on, Thomas found it much tougher treading as the Celtic offense struggled down the stretch with their best player being locked down by the Bull’s superstar.

In a first half where both teams probably felt fortunate to be in the game, the Bulls went into the locker room with a slim advantage 48-46. The Bulls were shooting a measly 2/14 from beyond the arc and only 38 percent overall. Meanwhile, the Celtics had turned the ball over 11 times before the break and had surrendered a whopping 16 offensive boards already. While both teams were feeling fortunate to be in the game, they also both were probably shaking their head at the inability to create a double-digit lead due to the other teams poor play.

In the second half, the difference came down to bench productivity and one team having Jimmy Butler. Both those landed in favor of the Bulls, as on top of Portis, Jerian Grant and Cristiano Felicio each contributed positive minutes with Grant hitting a huge three late in the last frame.

After that, Jimmy Butler did what he does best, try to single handedly close out games for this inconsistent Bulls squad. Fortunately, he was able to do so. Scoring 23 of his 30 points after halftime, Butler stepped up when his team needed him most, knocking down some clutch contested treys while the game hung in the balance. His defense down the stretch on IT also proved critical in shutting down the Celtics the last five minutes.

While Sunday night was a rare bright spot for this organization over the past few years, it wasn’t without its reminders of why the Bulls secured the East’s 8th and final playoff seed. Nikola Mirotic was downright horrific in Game One. In 19 minutes, the forward scored just four points on a dreadful 1/9 from the field including 0/5 from three. His defense also showed little to be desired as his mere presence on the court put the Bulls at a disadvantage on both ends. The Bulls will need Mirotic to step up his game if they want to take three more in this series to pull the upset.

Additionally, while the Bulls somewhat solved their woes in the 4th quarter, they still struggled to close out the game. Thanks to a couple unforced turnovers by the Bulls, the Celtics received ample opportunities to come back in the final minute of play. If they hit one of their open threes in that final minute, we could easily be talking about another 4th quarter meltdown for Los Bulls. Fortunately that was not the case, but again, they need to tighten this thing up if they really are going to push the Celtics in this series.

As for the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas was great. His effort was nothing short of herculean given what he went through over the last 24 hours. Unfortunately, there were times when he seemed to be on an island out there getting no help from his teammates. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley need to perform better than their 9/25 combined shooting night to take some of the pressure off of IT. Thomas ended the night with a +/- of +12 in 38 minutes of play. The Celtics can’t be that bad in the 10 minutes per game Thomas is on the bench, and with the bench combining for only 22 points, that was not the case on Sunday night.

Up Next: The Bulls will look to take a commanding 2-0 lead back to the UC on Tuesday night in TD Garden where the Celtics will be out for revenge.

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Note-A-Bulls: A blown 4th quarter lead leaves the Bulls on the outside looking in of Eastern Conference playoffs

In a game that had tons of presage hype, the actual contest itself didn’t fail to deliver, unfortunately it was the Toronto Raptors gobbling up the good side of the headlines after the Bulls lost to Toronto for the first time in 12 games 122-120 in OT. After the unfortunate passing of one of the great GMs in NBA history, Jerry Krause, mastermind behind the 90s Bulls dynasty all of yearn for, there was still an important game to be played.

Sitting a game and a half back of the 8th seeded Heat, the Bulls were playing in a tough arena against a good team, albeit one that the Bulls hadn’t lost to since New Year’s Eve 2013 in the Raptors. After 3 1/2 quarters, it appeared as if the Bulls would pick up a marquee road win and continue to terrorize the confused Raptors. But then, with 6:39 left in this one and the Bulls up a comfortable 15, DeMar DeRozan showed up and the Bulls forgot out to put the Ball through the cylinder.

The result, the Bulls shooting just 3/20 from the field over the next 11+ minutes of play including overtime, in a stretch that saw them score just six points over a full quarters worth of time. Give Toronto credit, they put the pressure on the Bulls with aggressive play and by hitting their shots to force the Bulls to tighten up.

The aftermath of this one is just as ugly as the game itself. The Bulls now sit in 10th place in the East, 2 games back of the Heat, with just 11 games remaining on their schedule. Robin Lopez will most likely be suspended due to a fight with Serge Ibaka we will take a look at later. And finally, adding injury to insult, Cristiano Felicio, the Bulls back-up to Lopez, went down hard on his tail-bone in the 4th and appeared to be in a considerable amount of pain so missed games for him are not out of the question. The Bulls will need a quick and decisive turnaround to put this game behind them if they want to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs.

 

  • The reason the Bulls had such a large lead late was due in part to the incredible play of Rajon Rondo. The Kentucky product had an astounding first half scoring 19 points on 7/8 shooting including a shocking 3/4 from deep. Rondo also added five dimes and even got to the line in the first two frames. Frankly put, this was the best half of basketball Rondo played all year.
  • Instead of creating spacing issues in this offense, Rondo was able to create space for those around him. Due to his prolific shooting effort, he was able to suck defenders into the lane with him as he either found a back door cutter or kicked it out for an open three. This is the man the Bulls front office was hoping for when they signed the veteran guard away from the Kings this past off-season.
  • Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and Rondo’s night was no different. He ended up shooting just 2/8 after the break and committed two vital turnovers to fuel the Raptors come back. Rondo’s rise and fall in this one embodies what this game, and season, have turned into for this once proud franchise.
  • Jimmy Butler did everything he could to prevent a meltdown in this one. Butler ended the night with an impressive line of 37 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists to go with an impressive 12/14 from the charity stripe. 24 of those points came after the second quarter, as Butler seemed to be the only Bull attempting to close out this game with any sense of urgency. Unfortunately, as we all know, that was not enough as his tough jumper towards the end of regulation came up short forcing the Bulls into an overtime they would not prevail in.
  • The Sportscenter highlight of the night came not from any basketball being played on the court, but rather, a scrap that broke out after a missed shot. Robin Lopez appeared to accidentally stumble into Serge Ibaka after the forward grabbed a rebound. Ibaka then appeared to give an elbow into RoLo’s back. The two proceeded to get up close and personal, both just missing each other in big swings at the others expense. The two players got ejected, and with Felicio’s injury less than a quarter later, the Bulls were left extremely thin in the front court.
  • The Raptor’s star of the game as hands down DeMar DeRozan who finished with a line of 42 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. While DeRozan attempted a staggering 38 shots, his playmaking in the fourth quarter is what lead to the Raptors to a 34-19 edge in the period to stretch this game into the extra frame. With fellow backcourt mate Kyle Lowry out an extended period of time, DeRozan has been forced to step up the workload and has done brilliantly to keep the Raptors n a top 4 position in the East.
  • Up Next: the Bulls face what feels like a do or die game at home against the Pistons on Wednesday night.

Note-A-Bulls: Boston hands the helpless Bulls their fifth straight loss 100-80

I’m not sure how many doom and gloom articles have been written about the Bulls this year, but there’s about to be one more added to the list. In what can only be described as an absolute thumping, the Bulls (31-35) lost to the Celtics (42-25) on Sunday afternoon 100-80 in a game that somehow wasn’t as close as the score indicated. There are numerous stats that illustrate the Bulls ineptitude in this contest but I think one stands above the rest. With under 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, the Bulls had amassed a grand total of three field goals and had managed to turn the ball over six times. Their turnover to field goal ratio was an astounding 2:1 with under 10 minutes to go in the first half.

This one started bad and stayed ugly as the Bulls managed to score a measly 26 points in the entire first half. That was “good enough” for lowest mark of any NBA team at the half this season and only three more than the Bulls franchise low of 23 in a half.

There were several issues with the offense, especially in the first half. The most glaringly obvious were the spacing issues. There were times in the first half when there would be four of the five Bulls on the court on the same side of it. Or four Bulls clogging the lane at the same time. These issues are pretty predictable for anyone who looks at the Bulls roster and fails to see a premier outside threat. But there were some possessions that were just downright laughable, even for this space challenged squad.

Of course, there were other offensive issues as well. Turnovers remained an issue for this squad, and general shot-making was a challenge to say the least. The Bulls actually managed to find some open looks despite their spacing problems only to clank the majority of their opportunities. The Bulls finished the first half 11/43 from the field, 25 percent. It’s hard to stay in any game shooting at that clip, especially against a quality team on the road.

Dwyane Wade had one of the more memorable quotes of the day in a post-game interview where he was asked about minutes for potentially ill-prepared players on the roster. His response: “I wish upper management could be answering these questions. Because I’m tired of answering them” (via KC Johnson). Wade’s candidness about the front office is rather refreshing in the midst of a five game losing streak. I’m sure Bulls fans would like a similar explanation as far as what exactly Gar Forman and John Paxson are planning in terms of the future of this roster.

Wade however, didn’t exactly back up his post-game talk on the court. The Marquette product finished the game with just 8 points in 26 minutes while accumulating a career-worst +/- rating of -37. That’s a hard number to reach being on the floor for just over a half of basketball. Wade wasn’t particularly bad (minus a defensive gaffe in the first), but if you’re not part of the solution than you’re part of the problem. So he gets a black mark for that reason alone.

Elsewhere, Cameron Payne, the Bulls newest addition, continued his struggles. Having been given the backup point guard duties and seeing an increase in playing time, Payne showed he still has a long way to go before having an impact in this league. Payne scored 7 points and added 3 assists in 20 minutes on 3/7 shooting. However, he also managed to turn the ball over a concerning 5 times and generally showed little grasp of the flow of the offense. Things weren’t much better on the defensive side of things as Payne was constantly being taken off the dribble leading to easy baskets in the paint for the Celtics.

It’s hard to give an MVP to anyone for their performance yesterday, but Robin Lopez would have been the most deserving. The starting center scored 13 points on 5/6 shooting and displayed his normal hustle to grab boards even when things were getting out of hand. Say what you will about his skill, Lopez always goes 100% and never takes a play off.

For Boston, Isaiah Thomas did his thing, going for 22 points on an efficient 9/14 shooting. Al Horford also had himself a nice game scoring 12 while grabbing 7 boards and handing out 6 assists. The Celtics will need Horford to have  well-rounded game if they are going to pull the upset of the Cavs in the playoffs this year. Boston needs that balance on the roster as they can’t solely rely on Thomas to do it all come playoff time.

Next Up: The Bulls travel to Charlotte tomorrow to take on the Hornets in an attempt to halt their five game skid.

Note-A-Bulls: The Strive for Five comes to a halt with crushing 125-107 defeat to the Nuggets

Well, things started out well in the Bulls (30-30) quest to win their fifth straight game and move into a tie with the Indiana Pacers for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Instead, we saw a beatdown at the hands of the Denver Nuggets (27-33) in the second half on Tuesday night as fans found out what this team looks like when Jimmy Butler has an off night. The result, a humbling 125-107 defeat at the United Center with the Nuggets outscoring the Bulls 69-48 in the second half.

Things didn’t start off terribly for the suddenly hot Bulls. Bobby Portis was hitting some shots, and the Bulls were dominating the offensive glass securing 10 offensive boards compared to the Nuggets one in the first half. While they never pulled away, the Bulls largely controlled the play in the first two stanzas with the score sitting at 59-56 in their favor. In reality, the Bulls should have had a larger lead at this point in the game. The Bulls showed signs of pulling away in this one but either a poor turnover or a clutch Denver three would pull them back within reach. Eventually this would come back to haunt the Bulls as the play shift decidedly in the final two frames of this one.

The Nuggets had balanced scoring in this one, with seven players scoring at least 12 points, but it was the play of Danilo Gallinari and Nikola Jokic that were the difference in the second half. Jokic kickstarted things doing it all by himself. Between putting back his own offensive rebounds, hitting un-assisted outside jumpers, or setting up his teammates for easy layups, the Nuggets Nikola willed his team back in front in the third quarter. Once Jokic had put the Nuggets in front, Gallinari ensured they would stay there. Danilo hit three huge long-balls in the second half and kept the Bulls defense of-balance on his way to a game high 22 points on 7/10 shooting (3/4 from deep).

On the other end of the floor, the off-ball movement was nonexistent. There was a lot of one-on-one play and very few screens to create any type of separation from the defense. There was poor shot selection, little communication, and for once, the Bulls didn’t have Jimmy Butler to bail them out. Butler ended with a pedestrian line of 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also managed to make just three of his 13 shots from the field on the night. You could tell he wasn’t confident in his shot from the get go passing up open jumpers he would normally put up without hesitation.

Shockingly, the offensive hero on the night was Rajon Rondo, although he still managed a +/- of -15 on the night. But Rondo was miraculously hitting jumpers pretty consistently throughout the night shooting 8/15 from the field and even knocking down a trey. However, Rondo is long past the point of being able to carry on offense on his own, and this night received very little help. Wade ended up with a quiet 19 points, but no one else on the Bulls ended up with more than 12 points (Bobby Portis).

We all knew the Bulls winning streak wasn’t going to last forever. However, with a chance to push that streak to five at home against the Nuggets on two days rest, you expect better than this. The offense was stale, the defense showed no ability to adapt as they continuously went under screens despite Denver’s hot shooting, and no one stepped up to cover Jimmy’s off night. There were flashes of good, such as Bobby Portis finding his stroke and Cristiano Felicio

bringing his energy to go a perfect four of four from the floor. But there were too many negatives to really enjoy those, whether it was Cameron Payne going 2/10 from the field, or Portis continuing to struggle on the defensive ends to stay in front of his man or grab a rebound in traffic.

Next Up: The TNT Bulls are back to take on The Beatles, err, the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at the UC probably sans Kevin Durant after his injury last night.

Bulls flat-line at the deadline, wave goodbye to Gibson, McDermott, and a future pick

Well the trade deadline has come and gone, with no superstars swapping teams on the final day. To the delight of many Bulls fans, Gar Forman and John Paxson were able to complete a trade to avoid sitting on their hands yet another year. To the disgust of Bulls fans everywhere, this trade makes absolutely no sense. To be fair, this trade doesn’t ruin the franchise in the way Sacramento trading for 25 cents on the dollar to get rid of Demarcus Cousins, but this trade just makes you want to scratch your head. Trades are either supposed to make you better in the present or the future, ideally both. GarPax managed to somehow diminish both of these prospects with this one. While this wasn’t a blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination, there is still a lot to break down here so stick with me here.

First let’s get to the deal itself. The Bulls receive: Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, and Joffrey Lauvergne in exchange for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 2nd round pick. So essentially, the Bulls are giving up the best player in this group (Taj) as well as a draft pick, while also disposing of the man they gave up two first round picks for (McDermott). In exchange the Bulls received one rotation player (Payne) in their ongoing struggle to find a serviceable point guard. And while Payne is a nice player and has some upside, he has pretty much the same skill set as the other 17 point guards on the roster.

Payne hasn’t gotten much of a chance to prove himself yet playing behind Westbrook for his first season and a half in the league, but one thing is already brutally clear, he is just as bad of a shooter as the other Bulls point guards. He is making only 32 percent of his outside shots, 38 percent total. That is basically Rajon Rondo level of clogginess (yes I made up that word) you are hoping to be your future 1. Sure he’s quick and athletic with a long wing span, but somehow manages to only be a mediocre defender so far in his career.

Meanwhile the Bulls gave up their best outside threat, and their best two-way player outside of Jimmy Butler. I want to take a moment to thank Taj Gibson, as so many others have, for his time as a Bull. The dude was the consummate professional during his tenure in Chicago. The guy was benched in favor of two players who were atrocious on the defensive side of the ball because they could hit mid-range jumpers (Gasol and Boozer) for most of his time here and never said a word about it. All he did was show up, do what was asked of him, and somehow remain a consistent contributor to this team despite the madness going on all around him. He will be sorely missed in the Windy City and I wish him the best of luck in OKC.

Back to the Bulls plan, and I use that word loosely. As far as I can tell, GarPax are trying to clear up cap space for this Summer in an attempt to build around Jimmy. I am only speculating because the majority of insiders and experts are just as confused about what the end goal is here as anyone else. The Bulls have stock-piled four point guards (MCW, Rondo, Grant, and Payne) hoping that one of them can stick with the team as a mainstay. Wade and Rondo are signed through next year but that is still up in the air as Wade has a player option and who knows with Rondo. The only asset the Bulls have at this point is Jimmy Butler as their draft pick this summer won’t even be anything to brag about.

At this point I think all Bulls fans can do is wait and see. Personally, I have lost all patience with Forman and Paxson as they have shown no direction at all with this franchise since it was clear Rose would never be the same after his ACL injury. This trade is no exception to the theme of these last handful of years. But hey, the Bulls are in the playoffs if the season ended today so we have that to look forward to.