Previous ArticlesBulls dodge Bobcats bite this time
Bulls stop Bucks here in Milwaukee
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 31
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
Now that was fun, assuming you were Nate Robinson or Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng and the Bulls Wednesday in a mostly runaway 104-88 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
There was the Bulls’ single engine prop aircraft, Nate Robinson, taking off for his first dunk of the season.
“My teammates have been (teasing) me all season, talking about how I’m a slam dunk champion and I didn’t get no dunks,” said Robinson, who led the Bulls with 24 points, including 16 in the second quarter when the Bulls took a 20-point lead. “My fans have been asking me when I’m going to dunk again so hopefully they’ll get off my back and I don’t have to dunk no more this season.”
There was again super sub Jimmy Butler, the Marquette product, taking a lob pass from Deng for an alley-oop slam dunk in a new statement in a burgeoning Lob City East.
“Lu keeps throwing it higher and higher to see how high I can go,” said Butler, back in a reserve role with Deng’s return but no less effective with 18 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes. “We came out of the huddle (late in the third when the Bucks cut the Bulls lead to eight) and he said we’re going to run (the lob). So it’s going up there.”
Butler, who was left out of the All-Star’s freshman/sophomore game, finished the slam dunk grabbing the ball near the top of the backboard in making a case for the slam dunk contest.
The Bulls went on to close the third leading 79-68, and then applied the defensive tourniquet that had shut off the Bucks’ first half offensive flow and enabled the Bulls to take a 55-37 halftime lead. Forcing six turnovers and the Bucks only shot in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter blocked, the Bulls pulled away to an 86-70 lead to open the fourth. And then Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, held to six of 18 shooting and 15 points after a 35-point explosion against the Bulls earlier this month and mocking Robinson’s aerospace antics, got himself ejected with 2:54 remaining and the Bucks still hanging in, down 94-84.
Jennings drove from the left side, his elbow flaring out into Robinson. Jennings was called for an offensive foul and lost it, delivering some apparently offensive and foul language at referee Zach Zarba and getting ejected. Jennings revved up and buzzed the sideline as he jetted toward the locker room, thrusting his jersey into the crowd.
“Tonight, I think Nate got the best of him in this one,” said Butler. “He (Jennings) was extremely frustrated. Nate was knocking shots down (nine of 11 and two of three on three), and was really into him. He wasn’t letting him have anything easy. Nate also felt disrespected at home. He was doing Nate’s airplane. I don’t think Nathanial Cornelius Robinson liked that too much.”
Hey, it’s January and it’s Milwaukee. How can you not be having fun?
“I’m going back to being the old Nate,” said Robinson. “Having fun and bringing energy and playing as hard as I can and not worrying about making mistakes and looking over my shoulder, playing as hard as I can and for as long as I can no matter if it’s 30 minutes or 30 seconds. I’m back to my old ways and it’s working for me.”
Who knew he was being serious before. Sort of in Nateland he was, and there was plenty of uncertainty among the Bulls about how long Robinson would last with his unguaranteed contract. He was not so quietly, as he does everything, making it known he wasn’t happy or in his Peter Pan mode about limited playing time and opportunity, and Nate doesn’t exactly need an actual person to talk to. He just talks.
But he also seems to have had a talk with himself and realized that he can help this team, the team needs his ability to create shots and provide a spark off the bench, if not always the non stop chatter. Robinson was going at it pretty strong after the game with Richard Hamilton as the two apparently had a 100 fingertip pushup wager on who would dunk first. Hamilton was objecting and Robinson began yelling that bald Hamilton looked like a tennis ball. Joakim Noah had apparently joined in the wager with a few bucks, and when Robinson came down after the dunk he turned to the bench and yelled, “I want my money.” Yes, this is a wild and crazy team.
But Robinson has come through on the floor, especially lately averaging 18.7 points the last three games and has scored in double figures the last seven games.
That boost with Butler going back to the bench enabled the Bulls reserves, even with Taj Gibson starting for Carlos Boozer, to outscore the Bucks reserves 50-25 in an overall domination. The Bulls in going to 28-17 remain atop the Central Division and 3.5 games ahead of Milwaukee. The Bulls also had a season high 66 points inside, a 17-14 edge in fast break points, 27 assists to 17 for the Bucks, forced 19 turnovers that led to 24 points and had 10 steals, three by Robinson after he had three blocks in his last game. Boozer, by the way, suffered a mild hamstring strain during Monday’s game and could sit out another game after not missing a game in almost two seasons.
“Getting the lead, and the fact that we’ve lost a couple of leads (including being up 27) against these guys before, we didn’t want to let our guard down,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as the Bulls won for the sixth straight time in Milwaukee and set one of those NBA nouveau statistic marks winning a 41st straight game when they score 100 points.
I know. So why not score 100 every time?
“We had a lot of guys step up,” said Thibodeau. “I thought Taj (Gibson) was terrific stepping in for Carlos (with 12 of his 14 in the first half). I thought Nate and Jimmy gave us a big lift. I thought Luol’s (13) rebounding and Joakim (12 points and 12 rebounds) was solid throughout, he played big minutes and anchored the defense.”
It was pretty much from the start a game for the Bulls as the Bucks led by Ersan Ilyasova with 18 points, mostly late, had their excuses with a game Tuesday in Detroit, after which their plane wouldn’t start. Which is always best to find out on the ground. So they didn’t return to Milwaukee until about noon before the game. They were having a shootaround on the arena floor when the Bulls arrived after having enjoyed the delight of a night in Milwaukee when the streets are lined with brats and cheese.
“They did something different than they usually do against us,” said Monta Ellis, who was overwhelmed by the Bulls taller and rotating shooting guards. “They really played a three-guard, then put Deng at the ‘4.’ Or they had Butler at the ‘4.’ It was something different. We made mistakes. They capitalized and came out with the win.”
It’s sort of the new, evolving Bulls lineups and rotations, somewhat incomplete as yet with Boozer going out. But with Deng’s return and the emergence of Butler, Thibodeau has diverted more than usual from his standard rotations, playing Butler with Deng, Robinson with Kirk Hinrich, going Wednesday with smaller and quicker lineups that gave the Bulls some speed with Gibson at center, Deng at power forward and Butler at small forward. Hamilton has generally been getting one run each half with a start in the first and third quarters, replaced Wednesday by Marco Belinelli and Butler going in late to play the bigger spots as a backup as well with Boozer out.
They are some new looks for the Bulls and has given the team some additional athleticism on the floor — who knew they even had plays for lobs — and quickness without surrendering any defensive edge.
“Jimmy plays everybody,” said Thibodeau. “It doesn’t matter whether he starts or comes off the bench. He can guard, score, play multiple positions, make hustle plays, a multiple effort guy. He’s a big part of this team rebounding the ball, getting up the floor, spacing, getting easy baskets. Taj has been playing better and better, also. You can use him on fours and fives, which allows you to do a lot of switching. I thought he got good, deep post position. He made all the right reads. We were tied together. Everyone covered for each other.
“With Jimmy and Lu it gives us flexibility to go big at three, small at four,” said Thibodeau. “Each guy plays both positions. So you can out quick the big guys and post the small. It becomes a power game, which allows us then to get back and set our defense, and we are much tougher. We have a pretty good group of guys in terms of having a serious approach, being there early, staying late, learning multiple positions and this all comes into play. The most important thing is to know what your job is. The next is to do your job. But you can’t do your job if you don’t know what it is. So it’s important for everyone to learn and know multiple positions.”
So that’s the Do Your Job secret. Know your job and do your job!
Wednesday’s win was as good an example of that as any as the Bucks without ill starter Larry Sanders brought in Sam Dalembert, who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Hey now! But it was Gibson who was the rock as Thibodeau called multiple early postups for Gibson and he responded with a strong start blowing Ilyasova out of the way and a 23-19 Bulls lead after one quarter.
It was good for Gibson, who’s had an irregular season after signing his contract extension with less offensive production. But the start in place of Boozer seemed to lift him. I began to ask Gibson about his first start, and he interrupted me to say, “It’s my second start.”
Actually, I was going to ask about his first start for Boozer with Noah missing a game earlier this month. He’s no Pau Gasol ever saying he should be starting. Gibson is a terrific teammate and always on the bench first up welcoming and cheering teammates. But you could sense he loved getting out there after the warmups. Look, someone has to sit. It’s a good thing for a team.
“I played my game, be aggressive,” said Gibson. “I know my looks. Attack the paint and not shy away. I know I can be a starter one day. But whenever I get the chance to start, I go out for my teammates and that’s what I was trying to do tonight. The way Thibs went to the early post felt good. I just fed off the guys.”
And the guys always notice.
“We know what Taj brings to this team,” said Noah. “Half the things he does you can’t even see in the stat sheet. He has to double Jennings on the pick and roll and then run back to get Ilyasova. That’s very, very hard to do and not a lot of guys in the NBA can do that. We’re a team of fighters. Everybody plays for the right reasons. Somebody goes down, there’s somebody there to step up.”
Cue Nate, the constant motion man.
He tortured Jennings in that second quarter, a 32-18 Bulls margin, shooting seven of nine with three steals helping on Ellis and then concluding the quarter with that first slam dunk of the season, which had become a subject of some discussion since Robinson is a three time All-Star slam dunk champion, though one time with 12 do overs and he is really about 5-6 or 5-7. I asked Thibodeau about the milestone and he mostly stared at me silently.
Better to talk to Nate.
“That surprised everybody, including myself,” Robinson said of the bounce pass he took from Deng coming in from the right side and going off one foot. “I probably have one dunk my whole career off one foot. This is the second one.”
Robinson was a late Bulls addition this season and said he wasn’t concerned before Thibodeau contacted him as he thought he’d play in the NFL this season if he didn’t land with and NBA.
It’s Nate’s world.
”I was going to (try for a) tryout (with the Seahawks) and play football,” said Robinson. “If no team wanted me for basketball I was going to play football.”
Robinson at the University of Washington also played football and was a cornerback. He made a famous interception against Washington State when they were ranked No. 3 in an eventual triple overtime win.
The Bulls led 55-37 at halftime as it’s an unusual experience to be at a BMO Harris Bradley Center game with the Bulls. There really are more Chicago fans and it’s odd to hear scores for the visiting team get more response. Milwaukee is one of few NBA arenas now where media sit near the Bulls bench and it’s revealing to see players who don’t even get into the game, like Vladimir Radmanovic, up and slapping hands after big plays, dunks and threes. When Robinson isn’t in the game he comes down the entire bench exchanging hands greetings with all the players when someone hits a three. He’s not sitting much.
The Bucks got going early in the third, pulling within 69-62 before the Bulls regained momentum with a Noah jumper, a slick Gibson pass for a Noah dunk and then Butler’s lob score for an 11-point lead after three before the Bulls pulled away in the fourth.
“Just guys having fun and playing mistake free basketball,” said Robinson. “Playing as hard as you can and winning.”