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Bulls win after outshooting the Bucks
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We know the sports axiom that a player doesn’t lose his starting job when he is injured.
Except perhaps if his team needs that player to help stabilize its reserve unit and depth.
The Bulls Saturday held on for their first win of the preseason, 91-85 over the Milwaukee Bucks. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Gasol even had to return to the game in the fourth quarter to help secure the victory after the Bulls’ 13-point fourth quarter lead supplied by the starters shrunk to four with more than seven minutes remaining. Gasol, along with Jimmy Butler, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists, helped stanch the flow of Bucks’ easy baskets and the Bulls pulled away.
It was a terrific game for the starters with Derrick Rose getting 16 points with three-of-four three-pointers in 22 minutes, playing his first second half minutes of the preseason along with Joakim Noah, who had 10 points.
The larger change, however, was the first professional start for Doug McDermott, who did well with Mike Dunleavy out with some minor knee soreness. It was called more precautionary and preseason for Dunleavy. But it raised an intriguing alternative for coach Tom Thibodeau, who praised McDermott afterward. McDermott had seven points, eight rebounds and three assist in 31 minutes and three-of-six shooting.
“I thought very well, very well,” Thibodeau said about McDermott starting. “At times he’s unselfish to a fault. When he’s open, he’s got to shoot; same with Nikola [Mirotic]. He’s got to be better with that. Pass up open shots, then you end up settling for a tough shot. When you are open, you got to shoot. But the thing about Doug is the eight rebounds, too. That’s big.”
Though McDermott, as Thibodeau suggested, wasn’t as aggressive as he could be—it was his first NBA start, after all—and threw a few passes away, McDermott was again forceful to the boards and showed a knack for knowing where teammates were and making clever passes, including a highlight lob to Butler for a slam dunk.
With the starting lineup reinforced with veterans like Rose, Noah and Gasol, it should be easy and perhaps even advisable to fill in with a rookie. After all, it presumably would be less pressure and McDermott showed Saturday he could fit with that group as well as defend to their level.
The Bucks shot 35.3 percent with Ersan Ilyasova four of 20 as presumably they all felt good leaving his hand. Larry Sanders led the Bucks with a hey now 14 points.
Meanwhile, in the plus/minus analysis of results when you are on the floor, which is one of Thibodeau’s statistical barometers to measure the temperature of his team, all the Bulls’ starters were at least plus 17, including McDermott at that plus 17.
The Bulls stumbled Saturday each time they went to the bench with every reserve at least a double digits minus in the plus/minus measure.
“I like the way we started the game,” said Thibodeau of a 10-0 opening and 15-4 when Rose went out. They’ve (reserves) got to play a lot better. I think when they went in, it was 20-8, then it went 24-20. That can’t be. We can’t lose ground like that. You’ve got to get the job done. They’re more than capable. I know what goes into winning and you have to do that every day. You can’t skip that. I am very concerned about whether we’re making the necessary preparations to win. You’re not going to rest your way to success. You’ve got to get sharp fast.”
But what about this: Moving McDermott into the starting unit to help give him some cover and moving Dunleavy, who was a reserve for most of the previous five seasons before being en emergency starter with the Bulls last season due to injuries and trades, back to his reserve role?
It should not be looked at as a demotion since it isn’t; similarly with Taj Gibson, who comes off the bench but again played longer than Noah. Gibson had 11 points and four rebounds in 26 minutes.
But it could be the reserve unit needs a veteran like Dunleavy given Thibodeau has been using a new comer in Aaron Brooks and rookie Mirotic.
Such a move with Dunleavy might provide more balance for the starting and reserve units and take pressure off Mirotic being the only front court perimeter shooter for the reserves. It also would be a good addition in size as Dunleavy is 6-10 and taller, even, than Gibson.
Obviously, it’s a good dilemma to have with a rookie like McDermott, who a contending team can potentially consider a starter without having to worry about a plethora of rookie miscues.
McDermott even put the exclamation point on that 10-0 start with a three after Rose opened the Bulls scoring with a three as Rose’s shot looked much better. Kirk Hinrich’s shot also looked good, which is significant as he’s usually a slow starter. And Butler began to hit some from outside as well. He and Gasol effectively got to the free throw line, combining for 20 free throw attempts.
Early in the game, as he’s proved in the two previous preseason games, Gasol was if not quite a force, certainly an impediment for the Bucks offense. Gasol had a pair of early blocks leading to the McDermott three and forced drivers to alter their course. Never known for his defense because he doesn’t play with physical aggression, Gasol, nevertheless, is an effective and efficient defender with his size, length and athletic ability. He’s easily been the team’s best basket protector and shot blocker thus far and looking again like an All-Star big man.
“I think I can get better,” said Gasol. “I had some good stretches where I thought I played better, but I’ve always been an offensive minded player. I think my shot blocking has always been under the radar. But with this defense I will be in the paint a lot protecting the rim. I feel good. So I think I will have a pretty good season defensively, especially with this group of guys. They cover so much ground, a lot of length, athleticism and activity, so it makes things easy for everyone.”
It’s going to be a dilemma at times for Noah, who will be defending the perimeter big men, like Ilyasova. Noah can do it as he showed Saturday, but it takes a lot more movement than playing the big men inside.
Mirotic, who was hesitant and uncertain with his shot, was quick defensively, also with three blocks and adding a pair of steals. Advertised as the next Bob McAdoo, this game he was more like the next Bobby Jones.
And though Mirotic made some nice defensive moves, the reserves’ offense and coordination was lacking as the Bucks closed to 24-20 after one quarter.
Part of the attraction in coming to Milwaukee–other than to see what fluids Jason Kidd might be spilling this season—was a first good look at Chicago basketball prodigy Jabari Parker. Parker had 11 points on five-of-14 shooting playing more small forward and thus defended by the bothersome Butler. Parker wasn’t running the court that well, but his half court game was excellent with strong moves. He’ll be a rookie of the year contender.
“Collectively we did good,” said Parker, who spent one season at Duke after attending Simeon High School, where Rose went. “Just learning a little bit more, especially us [new players]. We had our younger guys in; they mostly had their veterans in at the end. The young guys got a chance to see how it’s played, but we gave a good battle. I’ve just got to learn every position. The four, I’m good at. Today, I had to play the three. Did real well, but still some things I’ve got to learn.”
The Bulls didn’t get much in the second quarter from anyone but Gibson as the Bucks got within 34-32 before the starters returned midway through the second quarter and built the Bulls’ lead back to 13 and 51-41 at halftime.
In that second quarter run, Rose had a long three and some bursts to the basket, Butler had a nice steal and runout for a slam dunk, McDermott had that lob pass to Butler and Gasol hit his jump shot and moved the ball cleverly.
Being a big believer in not allowing losing habits to creep in, Thibodeau stayed with his starters until late in the third quarter when they built up a 70-56 lead. In that stretch, McDermott hit on a nice catch and shoot, although he’ll need to run that baseline “floppy” action tighter as he tends to run a wide loop for now and not cutting close to the screeners like Kyle Korver did. Rose blew down court for a layup after a turnover and Noah outlet, Gasol had a long two on top and Noah and Gasol combined for a nice look to get Gasol free throws.
The Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 74-61 with both Rose and Noah finished after coming out late in the third. But Milwaukee came back quickly again to make it 74-70 Bulls with 7:41 left. Gasol went in for Mirotic and McDermott for Brooks along with Butler, Hinrich and Gibson. The Bulls’ defense stiffened and Butler had a runout score on a Hinrich pass, Gibson had a beauty of a baseline reverse, Pau made an elbow jumper and closed it out with his arms up rebounding in the Tim Duncan mode and free throws.
“We are all getting to know each other,” said Gasol. “Every individual is different, but I think we understand each other well. We have respect for the game and everyone here wants to win. And as long as we’re on the same page we should be fine.”
Though it also remains to be seen what names get listed on that first lineup page as the season progresses.