A hot Dunleavy cools Miami


Dec 15

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The first half Sunday in Miami, a 39-32 Bulls lead on the way to a 93-75 Bulls victory, was painful for so many. Little babies cried, women fainted, men lost their hair. Thibs paced, but Mike Dunleavy, scoreless at the break, relaxed.

“We came out and were going to kind of slow roll them in the first half,” Dunleavy offered playfully. “Then coach really wanted to unleash me in the second. That was the game plan all along. So I just knew I had to be ready.”

Yes, the Bulls are beginning to have some fun.

“Your typical Sunday in Miami,” quipped Dunleavy, whose 19 third quarter points broke open a stagnant game. “It seemed like everybody had a big Saturday night.”

So even after 13 first half turnovers, including seven straight late in the first quarter into the second, the Bulls rolled over Luol Deng’s Heat for their fourth win in the last five, an East best 11-3 on the road and 15-8 overall.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who are willing passers that hit you when you’re open,” said Dunleavy, who was seven of eight in the third. “We’ve got a lot of weapons, guys coming off the bench, guys we can throw it to in the low post. You name it, we got it. I think our offense is coming around. And I think we can still get a lot better. That’s the nice part about being 22 games in. We’ve got room for a lot of growth.”

It was a salient point as this higher scoring Bulls team which has the greatest increases in points per game scored and points given up from last season–though still top 10 in team defense–has with the return of Derrick Rose, addition of Pau Gasol and emergence of Jimmy Butler perhaps more true scoring options than in decades.

“We don’t care who scores,” said Rose. “As long as you’re making the game easier for everyone else, that’s what it’s all about on this team. Every night it can be someone different. Jimmy (Butler) played through his illness. At first it was tough, but we found a way to get out in the game and it started by running, playing defense, rebounding, making sure we put pressure on the offensive end.”

Butler, fighting flu and defending former teammate Deng, had 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and 10 trips to the free throw line while Deng had 17 points and 10 rebounds. The Heat was without the injured Chris Bosh while Dwyane Wade matched Deng with 17 points. The Bulls were again without Joakim Noah with a sprained ankle. Before the game, coach Tom Thibodeau estimated rookie Doug McDermott would be out four to six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery Saturday.

But Taj Gibson starting again for Noah was one of the few Bulls attacking early, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds. Gasol had a tough night with nine points and nine rebounds to stop his streak of eight straight double/doubles, and with six turnovers. Rose after a slow start had 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, including five straight points to get the Bulls’ lead back to 20.

“Just put it in my mind: It’s still the fourth quarter no matter what the score is I still have to be myself in the fourth quarter,” said Rose. “Thibs always tells me I should be more aggressive in the fourth no matter what the score of the game is. Just getting those reps; shooting mid range, getting my floater game together. Tonight I couldn’t hit any floaters. That’s rare for me; that’s normally my easiest shot. Tonight was mid range and finding ways to get guys the ball because Mike was on and the ball was moving.”

It’s an encouraging sign for the Bulls as Rose played his eighth straight full game without any ill effects, averaging 22.7 on about 53 percent shooting the last three. But it was more as the Bulls showed yet another way to win despite the slow start and Gasol having an untypical off game. They also got another timely boost from Aaron Brooks off the bench and four players with at least three assists with 21 on 33 field goals. Miami falling to 11-13 had just 12 assists.

“With what we have, there just shouldn’t be many nights where we struggle offensively,” said Dunleavy. “Because if the outside shots aren’t going, we have many ways to go inside. We can get to the free throw line, we can push the ball. Derrick end-to-end is one of the fastest guys in the league. We have a lot of options.”

Though it looked like the Bulls needed more in a brutally lethargic start for both teams after the Bulls gunned their engines in a 10-2 start behind Gibson’s aggressiveness. Miami came back as Rose drew a second early foul with a few Wade moves, though nothing scary. Wade was classy after the game coming to the Bulls bench to check up on Rose, and Wade eased through about 28 minutes with the 17 points. But a Hall of Fame career of sharp moves and harder falls has had its effect. If you don’t go for his pump fake, it’s tough for Wade to get off good shots or to the free throw line, where he was just two for two as Butler stayed down and into Wade, limiting his effect on the game.

These Bulls games with the Heat the last four years, especially when Rose was healthy, were the highlights of the season. Even the last two seasons when Rose was out, the thrill was the chance to beat the best and show what you might be even if generally overmatched. The bright sunny skies and balmy temperatures remain appealing, though less so the games, unfortunately. Yes, we miss you Lebron. So take the win and move on.

“Can’t say enough about Jimmy,” said Thibodeau, who then always goes on to say more. “Wasn’t feeling well; don’t hear boo. Just go out and do the job. Play great defense, make hustle plays; huge play in the fourth quarter got to the ball. Got to 15 and it was a great play by him to get us back and give us breathing room. I thought his second half was phenomenal.”

The play Thibodeau was referring to was impressive. The Bulls still were comfortably in control after Rose returned following a 12-3 Miami run to open the fourth quarter to hit an 18 footer and then a three for an 80-60 Bulls lead with about eight minutes remaining. It wasn’t like a Miami team that can take a few days to score 20 points was going to rally.

But Butler displayed the unique ability that should make him a first team all-defense player this season.

With the Bulls leading 84-66 in the midst of Rose’s run of 11 points in less than seven minutes, Butler blocked a Wade shot. Miami recovered and Butler then stole the ball in the same sequence. Terrific stuff, really.

After that fast Gibson-fueled start, the Heat hit the Bulls with a 13-2 run. Though you got a feel for the sort of game it could be—fortunately many were watching Sunday football—as the Bulls committed an astounding seven straight turnovers in the last four possessions of the first quarter and first three of the second, three straight to end the first by the usually sure handed Gasol.

Then in a one-minute stretch early in the second quarter Brooks made back to back threes—not passing to anyone as you began hoping the Bulls would shoot as soon as they got the defensive rebound—and then one of his how-did-he-make-that drives. And less than four minutes into the second quarter after seven straight turnovers, the Bulls were leading 22-20.

Thibodeau, always the tactician, then gave the media a post game clinic on avoiding those turnovers.

“You have to be strong with the ball, utilize pass fakes, look the defense off, shot fakes, know when you put the ball down help is coming,” said Thibodeau. “You have to make the right play. Then you have to sustain your spacing through a second or third option.”

He seemed unprepared to consider the qualities of South Beach.

The Bulls, though staggering, were able to muster a 39-32 halftime lead amidst serious concern Miami would meet its goal of scoring more points than the daily temperature, which was 74. So in the end there probably was some celebrating in the Heat locker room.

Dunleavy can enjoy life with a bit of irreverence and insouciance, but he’s serious about the game, unselfish to a fault, though anxious to step into the needed shot. The Bulls saw it last year in Game 3 of the Washington playoff series, a player who doesn’t seek out shots or complain if they don’t come his way, who’ll play a role or star if it’s needed.

“With Mike, the way he can shoot the ball, we know what type of player he is,” said Rose, who often compliments Dunleavy’s unselfish nature. “The last couple of games (I mentioned in interviews) he’ll go a whole game and not shoot the ball and not score; he’s very professional about it. Tonight it shows you, hit four threes; they were huge shots. But we don’t care who scores. As long as you’re making the game easier for everyone else that’s what it’s all about on this team.”

But when Dunleavy began hitting in the third quarter, the Heat was toast. The first shot was over Deng on a switch as Deng was trying mostly to thwart Butler. Then it was back to back as Rose assisted on three straight scores in the Bulls 22-6 run to break open the game and Dunleavy closed the third with a drive and kick from Butler, a pull up in transition from Kirk Hinrich and a third three in the quarter on a Brooks pass.

“Everything is just easy,” Dunleavy explained about that sort of roll. “You get the ball and let it fly and you know it’s going in. It’s a great feeling to have. There’s not much suspense as a shooter when you get in those zones. It was a lot of fun. Just moving the ball. That’s the benefit of good ball movement and guys finding me. Just a variety of different ways to get some shots and guys did a good job of looking for me. I was able to knock them down. It’s sort of like the NBA Jam arcade game. Honestly, you get to that third one where you make three in a row and then if you make four, you know you’re in a zone and keep shooting it. We ran a play where I came off a screen and knocked down a midrange shot. I think that was the third shot I made. I kind of knew at that point that I had it going and I really started looking for my shot after that.”

The Bulls led 72-48 after three, and though Miami made a short run, it was productive for the Bulls. Because it put Rose in position to make plays and he did, scoring five quick points as soon as he reentered the game. It was just 14 points, but another big step for Rose in continuing to play well and making big plays late.

“I’m good,” said Rose. “Just putting every game, every performance behind me. Looking at a lot of film, seeing where I can do better, seeing what defenses are giving me.

“I’m still not getting double teamed, so that’s a good thing,” Rose said with a smile. “I don’t have to use that much energy. Still trying to find ways to win the game without overusing myself when I’m out there. I think I’ve been doing an all right job with it.

“Last time,” Rose said about his 2013 comeback, “my mind wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I wanted too much, too bad at the time; I wanted to prove a lot of people wrong. This time around it’s totally different. I’m at peace with myself. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my game and I know within the game I can have a quarter where I can have 15, 20 points in a quarter. So I’m just trying to read the game, see who’s hot, see the mismatches and make it easy for everyone else because that’s when we tend to play our best basketball.”

It wasn’t their best, but it was good enough to turn a day that started with rest to one that was worth the effort.

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