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Bulls kick up their heels in win over Dallas
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By Sam Smith | 1.24.2015 | 2:17 a.m. CT
There are certain accoutrements required for the Texas two step, like the plaid shirt, perhaps a bandana, cowboy boots and a big belt buckle. That sounds like the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler of good ‘ol Tomball, Texas.
And Friday Jimmy B. did a nice dance on the Dallas Mavericks, helping the Bulls complete their favored kind of Texas two-step with a 102-98 victory over the Dallas Mavericks one night after the Bulls walked all over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
Don’t mess with the Midwest.
“We showed what we can do on the road and played the style of basketball that we normally play,” said Butler, who was back to his soon-to-be All-Star form with 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. “It means we can beat any team when we put our minds to it. I feel like we're deep and we play hard. If we do what we're supposed to do, we can beat anybody."
The Bulls, seemingly sinking just days ago, appear to have surfaced and are motoring ahead. They can now go back to counting the successes with their third win in the last five to raise their record to 29-16, a solid 53-win pace. The Bulls went to 16-6 on the road, the league’s third best road record behind Golden State and Atlanta. Perhaps not quite time to break up the team yet.
“I think when you go through adversity like that (six losses in eight games) you either go two ways," said Joakim Noah, who returned from missing four games with an ankle injury and had a solid six points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes. "You either come together or you start to point fingers. And that's not who we are. At the end of the day, I think everybody wants to win here. It was definitely a humbling couple of weeks. We're not satisfied; we know we have to get better. I think we're all more than capable of doing that."
The way the Bulls played the last two games, holding the defending champion Spurs to their lowest point total and shooting of the season and then in the second of a back to back Friday holding the league’s No. 2 scoring team to 10 points below its season average, suggests the capabilities are there.
The Bulls also got 20 points from Derrick Rose, 18 in the first half when the Bulls took control of the game after a 30-21 first quarter.
“We needed to be tougher,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle as his team fell to 30-14. “We need to be more hit first. The first quarter was our undoing. The rest of the game was pretty even. I thought their shotmaking, our inability to make key stops -- they got two or three threes, they got some tip-ins -- it just set the wrong tone for the game.”
A lot of that was Rose with back to back threes that stretched out the first quarter lead to 22-12 and then a driving score shortly thereafter. Rose scored just two points in the second half. But Butler responded impressively after halftime with 11 third quarter points while becoming the focus of the Bulls offense.
The Bulls with Butler and Rose have become adept at exploiting matchups. One of coach Tom Thibodeau’s favorite late game strategies of late has been a one/three pick and roll featuring Rose and Butler with another guard playing, either Aaron Brooks or Kirk Hinrich. The Mavs play a relatively small backcourt with Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis, and the Bulls took great advantage. Rose with the help of active Bulls interior defenders had a strong defensive game against Rondo. With Noah or the teaming of Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol, the Bulls were active in denying Rondo the interior. Gasol had 13 points and 16 rebounds, his 25th double/double, which is tied for the league lead. Plus, his defensive rebounding turned the Mavs into a one-shot and out jump shooting team and thus stymied their flexible offense.
Rondo finished with almost no impact and six points and four assists. With about five minutes left in the game, Carlisle benched him for the rest of the game. Rondo not creating havoc in the lane is a detriment since he is such a poor shooter.
The Mavs, like teams have in recent weeks, put a strong defender on Butler. Butler had sunk back in January, averaging about 15 points on barely 40 percent shooting. But he had 17 points on just nine shots against the Spurs, and Friday became the prime offensive option late.
The Bulls repeatedly had Rose and Butler in pick and roll, getting Monta Ellis onto Butler with switches. Earlier in the game, Butler continually took the smaller Ellis into the post. As the Mavs adjusted later, taking out Rondo and putting Ellis on Rose, Thibodeau countered with the Rose/Butler pick and roll that forced Ellis back on Butler. Butler took advantage, making a key 10 footer over Ellis with 1:54 left for a 99-91 lead. Butler also stripped Dirk Nowitzki of a rebound with 4:42 left, leading to a pair of Brooks free throws for a 95-85 Bulls lead, the largest of the fourth quarter.
The Bulls would hang on down the stretch despite a staggering 24 turnovers leading to 32 Dallas points when Rose with 6.9 seconds left and the Bulls leading 100-98 drove into a triple team. Rose missed in what seemed like a foul, but he then chased down the rebound. The Mavs had to foul with a tenth of a second left with no chance for a last shot.
“We knew what we had to do,” said Butler, “and we finally decided to buy into it and get it done.”
That was in reference to a team clear-the-air-session after the loss in Cleveland Monday and a pair of dynamic back to back defensive performances as the Bulls pounded the Mavericks on the backboards 47-30.
Gasol was terrific again with also some of the best defense he’s played for the Bulls this season in help situations. Taj Gibson, with 15 points and seven rebounds, had one of his more energetic efforts and a trio of powerful interior moves for scores earlier in the fourth quarter which enabled the Bulls to create that 10-point margin after going into the fourth quarter leading 80-75.
The Bulls also got Tony Snell’s best game of the season. Snell, starting again for the injured Mike Dunleavy who missed his 12th consecutive game, scored 10 points. He had a dozen points in each of the previous two. But against the Mavericks, Snell made aggressive moves to the basket instead of standing outside waiting for a shot. He did make a pair of threes, but he also was more engaged in the offense. And the Bulls even opened the game going to him on their first two possessions. Someone check to see if Thibs is possessed.
“We just want to win,” said Noah. “We just have to get into a rhythm and sometimes a humbling experience is good. We want to take it step by step, keep our mindset on improving, and I think we will alright.”
It did show how vital it was to have Noah back in the starting lineup as the Bulls had their best defensive opening quarter in weeks as they raced to a 10-2 lead to start. Noah’s help defense on the first several Dallas possessions contributed to misses while Noah got to the rim as well with a well timed pick and roll with Butler.
“I got a little winded, but it just felt good to be out there," said Noah.
Otherwise, it was left early to Rose, who had an amazing quarter with 13 points, three of three pointers, a steal and a block.
“That's what a star point guard does,” said Butler. “It's easier to play with the lead."
The Bulls closed the 30-point first with a long armed driving slam dunk from Snell and a spinning postup score from Gibson that began to display the Bulls many offensive possibilities.
The Bulls pushed the ball much more, which suits their offense. It’s perhaps one reason they fare so well against Western Conference teams, an 11-6 record, which is a slightly higher winning percentage than they have against Eastern Conference teams. So much for the mighty West, though the Bulls Tuesday open their six-game Western Conference trip against dominant Golden State. The Bulls sometimes tend to walk themselves into games, which you can’t do against the more open style Western Conference teams. The Bulls are better when they play faster, and they showed it again against the Mavericks. Active offense tends to put some energy into their defense. And though a team meeting Tuesday is being credited for this new defensive spirit, it seems no coincidence it’s coming against Western Conference teams after that stretch against Eastern teams. Of course, the Bulls are in the Eastern Conference and have to beat those teams in the playoffs. So perhaps it’s not a perfect indicator. But it does suggest what might work better, and the Atlanta Hawks are one of the league’s highest scoring teams.
Nikola Mirotic made a three early in the second quarter for a 36-28 lead. But with Snell emerging and Noah’s return, Mirotic’s playing time is again shrinking as he played just two minutes. He likely will fall farther out of the rotation once Dunleavy gets back.
Rose pushing the pace when he returned in the second quarter got Hinrich a three for a 43-32 lead. Hinrich was two of two on threes with an efficient eight points in his private redemption game after his three-shot foul against the Mavs last month let them escape Chicago with a double overtime win. The Mavs use a zone defense more than any team in the league. Some have suggested when Gasol and Noah were having difficulties on defense adjusting to one another the Bulls do the same. Thibodeau is generally opposed to zone defenses as it confuses the rebounding responsibilities. And that’s what happened to Dallas as the Bulls twice gathered in misses for scores with the Mavs on a zone while trying to have another answer for Rose’s quickness into the lane. Rose did show an enthusiastic fist pump on a tough three-point play for a 50-42 lead. But turnovers thwarted the Bulls as the Mavs closed within 54-51 at halftime.
It was all Butler in the third quarter as he set up Snell for a three as the Mavs began to double team him and generally used his strength to batter Ellis and hold him on the other end to 17 points. Dirk Nowitzki with 24 points led Dallas. Gibson also had some nice passes out of the post to shooters for scores while Butler added three assists and two steals in the third to his 11 points. Still Dallas hung in by five.
Noah opened the fourth quarter with a rolling slam dunk on a set up from Rose and it was a familiar sight with Noah and Gibson diving on the floor for a loose ball to get a tie up. Brooks, who had a quiet offensive game, made a big floater and pushed the ball to a running Gibson for a score after the Mavs got within 84-81. Nowitzki still can make big shots and did. But the Bulls had answers with Gibson, Butler and then that last Rose saving offensive rebound.
It was a Rose move of two quick steps for the ball and then slowing up with two slow steps to get the ball and move it to Hinrich, who held it and then passed to Gasol to effectively end the game. It would conclude a heck of a dance against two of Texas’ best.