April 15, 2013
Only the sports media could possibly have categorized Miami’s win over the Bulls yesterday as a “revenge” game.
On the one hand, there was the mighty Heat, a reasonably healthy 60-win team with the league’s MVP and two other top 10 players seemingly cruising toward their second straight NBA title.
On the other hand, there was a weary, injury-riddled Bulls team missing its superstar, All-Star center, starting shooting guard and top reserve while fighting what appears to be a losing battle for the fifth seed in their conference.
So you’re telling me the presumed champions needed revenge? Revenge on what, exactly?
Yes, Chicago ended the Miami’s 27-game winning streak a couple weeks back, relegating the Heat to second place in the list of longest win streaks in NBA history. Remind me to shed a slow crocodile tear for them.
(Of course, some people insist on referring to Miami’s streak as “the modern record-breaking streak,” which is somewhat disingenuous, considering I don’t remember any of these people talking that way about Houston’s 22-game streak from a few years back. But whatever.)
Meanwhile, the Bulls fought on, even though the battle seemed largely hopeless. With Derrick Rose still recovering from knee surgery, Chicago’s only real advantage over Miami is size. Only Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson — which made up the largest part of the size advantage — missed the game due to their respective injuries (plantar faciitis for Noah and a sprained knee for Gibson).
Not surprisingly, the Bulls were noxious on offense.
Nobody other than Daequan Cook (4-for-6) managed to hit at last half of their shots. The starting frontcourt of Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng combined to go 15-for-39. The starting backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Marco Belinelli went 5-for-20. Nate Robinson shot 5-for-16 off the bench, Nazr Mohammed was 0-for-1 and Malcolm Thomas didn’t attempt a shot in his three minutes of playing time.
The Bulls shot 35.4 percent from the field — including a miserable 32.1 percent on two-pointers — and managed only 24 points in the paint while missing 10 of their 21 shot attempts at the rim (per Hoopdata).
The most damning stat of all was mentioned in the AP recap: the Bulls finished the game with more personal fouls (30) than field goals (29).
The defense didn’t show up, either. The Bulls once again gave up 30 first quarter points — the third time that has happened in the past four games — and ultimately allowed the Heat to score at a rate of 108.4 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference). They did manage to limit Miami to 6-for-17 shooting from three-point range, which is meaningful given that the Heat rank second in the league in three-point percentage at near 40 percent.
Unfortunately, the Heat still managed to shoot 51 percent overall…and they might have won by a much wider margin had they not missed 14 of their season-best 41 free throw attempts.
All those fouls might give you the notion that the Bulls were mounting stiff resistance to Miami’s scoring attempts. This was not the case, as evidenced by the fact that the Heat were 21-for-28 (75 percent) at the rim, including 5-for-5 by LeBron James, 4-for-6 by Dwyane Wade, and 2-for-2 by Chris Bosh. Even Rashard Lewis was 1-for-1 from the rim in what may have been Lewis’ first layup attempt in three seasons.
Far too many of Chicago’s defense possessions went down like this: a Bulls perimeter defender easily beaten off the dribble, a flat-footed Boozer standing stock still but making a half-hearted and fruitless reach in toward the ball, and a layup for the Heat. It was like a recurring nightmare.
It underscores Boozer’s main weakness. He does a great job on the boards, and actually grabbed 20 rebounds in this game, but he has no lateral movement and couldn’t protect the paint if the life of everyone on earth depended on it. Of course, Carlos wasn’t signed for his interior defense, because the Bulls already had Noah for that. Only Noah wasn’t around, nor was Gibson, who is the team’s next best interior defender.
Thus the layup drill for Miami…and all the long-distance chuck ups by the Bulls.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We’re small. When you take 26 3s it means (in this case) those were probably the right shots. We’re playing small, we’ve got four perimeter players out there with Carlos (Boozer). Those are the shots that present themselves. I think what happens when you do that is your offense picks up but your defense suffers. The value of both Taj and Joakim are the fact that you can stay big when teams go small, because of their feet. But that being said we’ve got other guys that can get it done. We just didn’t get it done.”
And how can they get it done?
Said Thibs: “We just have to keep moving forward and concentrate on improving. Hopefully we will get a couple of guys back soon. I don’t want us thinking about the playoffs. I want us thinking about the game (Monday) against the Orlando Magic.”
It was standard Thibs-speak.
Chicago (43-37) is now a full game behind the Hawks (44-36), and although some believe the Bulls prefer the sixth seed to the fifth, I personally feel a first round date with the Pacers would be significantly more difficult than facing the Nets. Of course, some of the argument then shifts to the potential second round opponent…but maybe all this is thinking too far down the line. And possibly meaningless.
Said Hinrich: ”No preference [on who we play]. We need to play these last two games and get a healthy as we can be.”
Health would be nice.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
April 12, 2013
I’m going to miss Nate Robinson.
I’m jumping the gun here. I know that. The regular season isn’t even over yet, the playoffs haven’t started, and nobody has any idea what the Bulls are going to look like next season.
But what we do know is this: Robinson is a minimum contract player who was signed as a one-year stopgap while Derrick Rose recovered from knee surgery. When Rose returns, and with Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague on the books for next season, it’s not unreasonable to assume that little Nate will be doing his thing elsewhere in 2013-14.
Talk about a team getting its money’s worth, though. Chicago signed him on July 31 last year almost as an afterthought. All Robinson has done is go on to give the Bulls 18.9 points and 6.2 assist Per 36 minutes while shooting 40 percent from three-point range, making him the team’s only true long-range threat.
According to Basketball-Reference, Nate leads the team in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.511), Assist Percentage (31.7) and Steal Percentage (2.3). He’s second in Player Efficiency Rating (17.8), True Shooting Percentage (.541), Offensive Rating (109) and Offensive Win Shares (3.5). He also ranks third in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.142) and fourth in total Win Shares (5.8).
Without question, Robinson leads the team in exciting plays. He also leads the team in frustrating, head-scratching, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” plays. It’s all part of the package.
With Rose still watching games from a luxury box in the United Center, Robinson is the team’s most explosive offensive player and the only guy who can really break down the defense on his own. He has boundless energy and absolutely never gives up. He orchestrated a near comeback against the Raptors on Tuesday night by exploding for 14 points in the fourth quarter. Last night, after the Bulls fell behind 23-6 in the early going, Robinson erupted for 14 points in the second quarter to help pull the Bulls to within 59-54 by halftime.
The Bulls still had their fair share of struggles in the second half. They fell behind 79-64 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter and looked a little outmatched. Then Jimmy Butler — who had another fantastic game — pilfered back-t0-back passes for a couple breakaway dunks that breathed life back into the injury-weary Bulls.
Chicago later responded to a series of consecutive misses by the Knicks with a 22-footer from Marco Belinelli and back-to-back threes by Hinrich and Butler. And Butler was fouled by Jason Kidd on his triple, and he knocked down the ensuing free throw for a four-point play. More misses by New York were met by a Butler free throw and a buzzer beating three-pointer by Robinson to move the Bulls to within 82-80 heading into the fourth quarter.
Behind Robinson — who scored 10 fourth quarter points — the Bulls led by as many as nine points in what could have been the final frame. But Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith led the Knicks back…and Anthony missed a long jumper at the end of the fourth that could have won it. Instead, Robinson and Luol Deng combined to outscore the Knicks 13-4 in overtime, thus ending New York’s 13-game winning streak.
Little Nate finished with a season-high 35 points in 33 minutes. Robinson was 10-for-18 from the field, 5-for-11 from beyond the arc and 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.
Said Carlos Boozer: “It was amazing, man. He just took the game over. He just snapped, I don’t know what happened out there, but he just got the switch on and took over the fourth and obviously took over overtime. He’s the reason why we won.”
With all due respect to Boozer’s opinion and Robinson’s performance, Nate wasn’t the only reason the Bulls won. Another big reason was defense. Anthony scored 36 points…but he was 13-for-34 from the field and 0-f0r-4 on threes. Much credit for his lackluster shooting goes to Butler and Deng.
According to ESPN Stats and Information: “Carmelo Anthony was 6-17 when guarded by Jimmy Butler, including 2-10 outside 5 feet. Carmelo was 4-10 in the first half against Luol Deng, and Deng didn’t guard him at all in the second half.”
Not surprisingly, ‘Melo was gnashing his teeth on sour grapes after the game: ”They can have it. They can have it. They can have it. They can have the regular-season wins. They did a great job at beating us four times. We’re not worrying about them at this point.”
In case you’d forgotten, the last time the Bulls beat the Knicks, Anthony said: “They beat us three times. At this point, it is onto the next one. We are not worried about Chicago at this point. They do what they do and we will see them again.”
Yeeeeeaaah. I’d say Anthony is a little bitter.
The Bulls also did a defensive number on Smith (11-for-27) and limited the Knicks to 33 percent shooting from downtown. New York still had a strong offensive game overall, scoring at a rate of 108.4 points per 100 possessions, but Chicago’s D at forced them into a lot of difficult, uncomfortable outside shots while shutting down the paint, forcing the Knicks into 19-for-29 shooting (48 percent) at the rim (per Hoopdata). Not bad considering Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis) and Taj Gibson (sprained left knee) are still out.
Of course, the Bulls also benefited from injury for a change. New York was without a whole host of big men: Amar’e Stoudemire (knee surgery), Tyson Chandler (bulging disc in back), Kenyon Martin (sprained left ankle), Kurt Thomas (stress fracture in the right foot), Marcus Camby (plantar faciitis) and Rasheed Wallace (left foot surgery).
Beyond that, Butler continued to thrill and delight, once again playing big minutes (50) and putting up big numbers (22 points, 9-for-15, 2-for-3 on threes, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks and 2 assists). This kid is all arms and legs and endless hustle. He works incredibly hard and has no fear. Can you believe the Bulls snagged this kid with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft? If visions of a Rose-Butler backcourt don’t have you excited, then you’d better check your pulse, because you might be dead.
The Bulls also got strong contributions from Boozer, who had a double-double (15 rebounds and 13 points) despite shooting 3-for-11 and committing 5 turnovers. Luol Deng returned from his hip injury to chip in 16 points and 8 rebounds. And Rip Hamilton was surprisingly aggressive, scoring 14 points, dishing out 8 assists and compiling a team-best plus-minus score of +20 in 26 minutes.
And so Chicago’s enigmatic season continues. Since March 23, they’ve beaten the East’s four best teams (Heat, Knicks, Pacers, Nets) while losing to three of the worst teams in the conference (Pistons, Raptors, Wizards). In some ways, you can kind of understand why Anthony is so dismissive of a team that can play like world beaters one night and then play like the world has beaten them the next.
Said Gibson: ”It was a big win. It seems that we don’t really get any respect around the East. … We tried to make a statement. We tried to let people know that we’re still a tough team. We got a lot of injuries. A lot of people don’t understand we’ve had a lot of injuries on this team throughout the season and we’re still playing well. But with this team, you don’t know what you’re going to get. We lose to below-.500 teams, and we come out and beat some of the best teams around the NBA.”
Well, yeah, it’s hard for a team to establish consistency when it’s nearing 200 player games lost to injury, as the Bulls are. But as wildly unpredictable as they often are, this Chicago squad still competes hard every night. And if ‘Melo and other Eastern Conference teams aren’t worrying about them…they should be.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
April 10, 2013
Rip Hamilton finally returned after a 19-game absence due to a bulging disc in his back. This was a rather unexpected development considering Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Hamilton was “not real close” to a comeback just last Friday. As it turned out, Hamilton’s surprise return was one of the few things that went right for the Bulls last night.
Other things that went right included Carlos Boozer’s near triple-double (19 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) and Jimmy Butler’s coming out party (48 minutes, 28 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals). Simply put, Butler was on fire, shooting 10-f0r-12 from the field, 3-for-3 from three-point range and 5-for-6 from the free throw line.
Past that, I suppose you could mention Nate Robinson’s fourth quarter scoring explosion that nearly helped the Bulls rally for a comeback win. The key word being “nearly.”
Instead, the Bulls suffered another curious and frustrating home loss to a lousy team. Prior to this, they had also lost home games to the Bobcats, Cavaliers, Hornets and Suns, all of whom have a date with the upcoming NBA draft lottery. Given that the Bulls (42-35) are now three games behind the Brooklyn Nets (45-32) for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and just a half-game ahead of the sixth-place Atlanta Hawks (42-36), those losses are a very big deal.
I suppose not much else could have been expected last night. After all, despite Hamilton’s return, the Bulls were still without Derrick Rose (left knee rehab), Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis in the right foot), Luol Deng (sore hip) and Taj Gibson (sprained left knee). That group includes a superstar (Rose) and two All-Stars (Deng and Noah). It also includes three of the team’s best defenders (Deng, Gibson, Noah).
That latter part may help explain why the Raptors — who rank only 17th in Offensive Efficiency at 102.5 points per 100 possessions — shot better than 51 percent and scored at a rate of 116.1 points per 100 possessions last night (per Basketball-Reference).
With Gibson and Noah out of action, you would assume the problem was interior defense, but it wasn’t. The Raptors attempted only 12 shots at the rim…22 fewer than the Bulls had (per Hoopdata). But Toronto went 7-for-7 from 3-9 feet, 5-for-7 from 10-15 feet, 10-for-24 from 16-23 feet and 7-for-18 from three-point range.
This isn’t standard behavior for the Raptors. On the season, they rank 22nd in field goal percentage (44.4 percent) and 26th in three-point percentage (33.9 percent).
Chicago’s defense had a lot of trouble locating DeMar DeRozen, who scored a team-high 20 points by going 1-for-1 at the rim, 1-for-1 from 3-9 feet, 2-for-2 from 10-15 feet and 4-for-7 from 16-23 feet. Amir Johnson (13 points, 5-f0r-8, 11 rebunds) also had his way. Ditto for Kyle Lowry (13 points, 10 assists, 2 steals). Rudy Gay added 19 points and Terrence Ross came off the bench to score 13, for a total of five Raptors in double figures.
It was just that kind of night.
Of course, the Bulls didn’t do themselves any favors by falling behind 18-3 less than six minutes into the game. Chicago’s offense — which ranks a lowly 24th in Offensive Efficiency at just over 100 points per 100 possessions — tends to come and go in spurts. And slow starts are often damning.
Said Butler: ”We dug ourselves a huge hole at the beginning of the game. It’s hard to claw out of those holes.”
Thanks to Robinson’s fourth quarter eruption, the Bulls made the Raptors sweat out this win, which Lowry said was something his team could build on, although you have to wonder what a 30-48 team can build with only five games left in their season.
It was something of a crazy finish, too. The Bulls were down 101-97 with 10 seconds left with Robinson at the line for a couple free throws. Nate hit the first but missed the second. There was a scramble for the rebound that ended with Robinson seemingly saving the ball from going out of bounds and throwing it to a waiting (and wide open) Kirk Hinrich at the three-point line. Unfortunately, the officials blew a whistle, although they weren’t sure why exactly.
After a video review, the refs called a jump ball between Boozer and Gay. Neither player was able to win the jump, but Boozer was able to rip away the loose ball and threw it back to Robinson, who couldn’t handle the pass. Nate barely managed to save the ball from going into the backcourt before heaving up a 41-foot desperation shot at the buzzer.
It wasn’t even close.
Said Robinson: ”I took my eyes off the ball. I saw Kirk to my left wide open. When Booz threw me the ball he threw it kind of fast and I was in pass motion to throw it to Kirk and I took my eyes off of it.”
These are the things that happen when your margin for error is basically nil.
The one nugget of hope I took away from this game was the play of Butler and what it could mean for the future. ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell touched on this topic too: Butler could be the long sought after answer to Chicago’s shooting guard quandary.
This issue has dogged the Bulls for years. Even back when Ben Gordon was scoring 20 points per game, the Bulls were looking for someone like Butler (which is why they acquired Thabo Sefolosha on draft day back in 2006). A long, strong, durable two guard who can defend like an animal and provide scoring in a variety of ways.
Rip Hamilton has been a bust and probably won’t be back next season. Marco Belinelli has shown glimpses here and there, but he’s a free agent this summer and who knows how that’s going to turn out. And Butler has shown more potential than Belinelli anyway.
In 15 games as a starter this season, Butler is averaging 15.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 46 percent from the field and 42 percent on threes. His shooting is still spotty and inconsistent, but his defense and hustle more than make up for it. Plus he rebounds like a small forward, which is a real luxury.
If Butler could maintain that level of play as a full time starter, just imagine a starting backcourt of Rose and Butler. The speed. The athleticism. That would be a truly dynamic duo.
Said Butler: ”It brings a smile to my face, obviously. But I try not to get too caught up in the future because it’s not promised. You never know what could happen. Right now I live for the moment and I praise every moment that I’m given because it’s a blessing. But knowing that they want me to be here alongside Derrick, [Luol Deng], and all these other guys, that makes me smile.”
It could be making Bulls fans smile a lot the next few seasons too.
Still, this season isn’t over yet, which isn’t lost any anyone, much less Butler.
Said Butler: “The future? Hell, tomorrow’s not even promised, not to even think (about) next season. We’ll just keep going right now, keep winning these games and go into the playoffs.”
And what happens come playoff time is anybody’s guess.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
April 8, 2013
Tom Thibodeau has made the phrase “we have more than enough to win” famous over his three seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bulls. In fact, it has become a much-needed rallying cry for his players. The ones healthy enough to actually play at any rate. As Jimmy Butler has said more than once, when you keep hearing it, you start buying into it.
But stop and consider the origin of the phrase. Why has Thibodeau needed to utter it so often it has become the team’s unofficial motto? The answer is simple: the Bulls always have a lot of injuries.
During Thibodeau’s first season as head coach, the Bulls lost 61 player games to injury. Most of that was due to the extended absences of Carlos Boozer (23 games) and Joakim Noah (34 games). Nonetheless, the Bulls went on to win a league-best 62 games and Derrick Rose was named MVP.
The injury problem was even worse the following season, as the Bulls lost 100 player games to injury during the lockout-shorted 66-game season. Rip Hamilton (38 games) and Derrick Rose (27 games) made up the bulk of those missed games, although C.J. Watson (17 games) and Luol Deng (12 games) were up there too. Nonetheless, the Bulls once again finished with a league-best record of 50-16.
As for this season? The Bulls are already at 172 player games lost to injury. And counting. And sure, Derrick Rose (76 games) is responsible for a big chunk of those lost games, but Hamilton (31 games), Kirk Hinrich (22 games), Taj Gibson (13 games) and Noah (12 games) have also missed long stretches.
Yet the Bulls and their fans have bought into the “more than enough to win” concept. And why not? They’ve had plenty of big wins this season. A couple weeks ago, they enjoyed big wins against the Pacers and Heat. Then this past week they pulled off a brutal back-to-back series that started in Brooklyn and ended at home against the Magic despite essentially using a 6.5-man rotation.
We have gotten rather spoiled to this gutsy team grinding out impressive wins. So spoiled that tough losses — like last night’s defeat in Detroit — feel kind of shocking even though they shouldn’t.
I’ll admit things seemed promising with the return of both Noah and Marco Belinelli. Of course, the Basketball Gods giveth, and they also taketh away. To wit: Luol Deng missed the game with a sore hip.
Despite having a net gain of +1 warm bodies, the Bulls just looked…tired.
It was evident in their jumpers, as they went 5-for-19 from 16-23 feet and 3-for-15 from three-point range (per Hoopdata). It was also evident at the foul line, where they went 16-for-25.
It was evident in their transition defense, which allowed 16 fast break points. It was also evident in both their interior defense (the Pistons were 20-for-26 at the rim) and their three-point defense (Detroit went 9-for-18 from downtown).
Finally, it was evident on the boards, where they were outrebounded 40-33.
Boozer had a nice game (21 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), Jimmy Butler was solid (14 points, 2-for-2 on threes, 4 rebounds) and Noah looked sharp during his limited stint (21 minutes, 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal). But the team really had no zip to speak of. Not even Nate Robinson, who scored 18 points but needed 19 shots to get there.
And so Chicago’s 18-game winning streak over the Pistons came to a sour end. I guess nothing lasts forever.
Still, it was a little hard watching Brandon Knight (20 points, 7-for-12, 5 assists), Jonas Jerebko (17 points, 7-for-8, 9 rebounds) and Charlie Villanueva (12 points) light the Bulls up. I can’t help but feel that a even a slightly healthier Chicago team would have shut the Pistons down and won this in a blowout. Instead, it was the Bulls finishing on the wrong end of a 14-point loss.
As usual, the Bulls offered no excuses after the game, and Thibs again stressed the need for focus, intensity and maximum effort. And I have a feeling his players will respond and beat the Raptors on Tuesday night.
The Bulls (42-34) are still fifth in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Nets (44-32) and one game ahead of the Hawks (42-36). And they remain something of a mystery — a proud and hard-working but injury-riddled team that can either win or lose against anybody on any given night.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
April 5, 2013
The 2012-13 Chicago Bulls are not winning an NBA title.
Derrick Rose is probably not going to play a single game this season.
The Bulls will not be fully healthy — or even close — by the end of the regular season.
Their absolute ceiling is a second round playoff elimination. If they make it that far.
But games like this are why I love this team.
The Bulls have had plenty of ready-made excuses all season…but they have refused to cash in on any of them. They won’t roll over for anybody and they never quit. Results may vary and even disappoint, as they did recently in come-from-ahead losses to the Mavericks and Wizards, but this squad gives their fans everything they could ask for under the circumstances.
Effort. Heart. Resiliency. Teamwork. Every night. Without fail.
The Nets had every reason to succeed last night. They were back home after a long road trip. They got Joe Johnson back from injury. They got a first quarter blitzkrieg from Brook Lopez and a terrific all-around game from Deron Williams (30 points, 9-for-16, 10 assists). They even led by as many as 16 points in a game that — with the Bulls and Atlanta Hawks creeping up on them in the standings — they absolutely had to have.
Meanwhile, the Bulls had every reason to lay down and die. Rose (left knee rehab) is still out. Ditto for Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and Rip Hamilton (back spasms). The best news the Bulls have gotten lately was that the left knee injury Taj Gibson suffered against the Wizards was only a minor sprain. But he will still miss the next several games recovering and obviously won’t fully heal until the offseason.
So for those of you who enjoy simple math, the Bulls were down their one and only superstar, their All-Star center, and three key rotation players. Almost half a team. And it was a full half a team out after Kirk Hinrich fouled out with 3:38 remaining.
I have to admit, things looked pretty grim when Lopez exploded for 18 points on 8-for-9 shooting as the Bulls fell behind 26-13 after 12 minutes. It had all the makings of one of those games.
But the Bulls stuck with their game plan and slowly chipped away. Offensively, they leaned on Carlos Boozer, who followed up a one-point first quarter by scoring 9 in the second, 10 in the third and another 9 in the fourth. Boozer finished with a gaudy stat line of 29 points on 12-for-22 shooting to go with 18 rebounds and 3 assists. How huge was his work on the boards? By comparison, Brooklyn’s entire starting lineup had 23 rebounds…and Lopez finished with only 5.
Overall, the Bulls won the rebounding battle 46-30, which included a 13-7 edge in offensive rebounds. They also scored 21 points off 16 turnovers by the Nets.
What’s more, Chicago’s defense turned Lopez — who was the unquestioned hero of the first quarter — into the game’s biggest goat.
How many times does someone score 28 points on 10-for-19 from the field and 8-for-10 at the line and still end up looking like a fool by the final buzzer? It happened in this case. Lopez scored only 10 points on 2-for-10 shooting over the final three quarters while (as noted) getting outrebounded by Boozer, Jimmy Butler (10 rebounds), Nazr Mohammed (9 rebounds) and Luol Deng (7 rebounds). Not a great stat when you’re the tallest guy on the court.
Lopez was at his absolute worst down the stretch.
The Nets were still leading 91-90 with about a half minute left when Lopez threw an ill-advised pass that got intercepted by Nate Robinson. On the other end, Lopez was late on a defensive rotation, which allowed Robinson to hit a go-ahead floater with 22 seconds to go. Back on offense, Lopez got caught with the ball under the basket and had his layup stuffed by Mohammed. The Nets were forced to foul Daequan Cook, who went 1-for-2 at the line, and then they got one final shot. Which ended up being a 17-foot baseline jumper by Lopez.
He missed that one too.
After the game, Lopez was blaming nobody but himself: “Let’s start with [the turnover]. I felt like I was in the key for a little, so I was looking through my options of where to kick it out to. I was trying to find D-Will or Joe Johnson. It was just a terrible play on my part. The next play D-Will hit me with a good pass, and I didn’t finish strong enough, and the same thing happened on the next play: I got a good look and it didn’t go down. But at that point though you can’t really blame the last play for what happened previously.
“We shot ourselves in the foot, no question, or rather I shot [us] in the foot.”
In all fairness to Lopez, the Bulls did some sharpshooting of their own. After going a dismal 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) in the first quarter, the Bulls went 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) in the second, 13-for-26 (50 percent) in the third and 11-for-18 (61.1 percent) in the fourth. They also went 4-for-6 on three-pointers in the second half.
This despite being forced to get 11 minutes out of Vladimir Radmanovic.
Said Robinson: ”For us, it’s big. Kirk fouled out. You got Marco out. Rip out. D-Rose out. Taj out. Guys are just stepping up, man, and that’s what teams do. You got Jo out and [Mohammed] stepping in for him. These guys are coming in and it’s like old school wrestling. Tag team. You know when one guy goes in, tag him, the other guy go out. Back and forth. We just got to keep playing and keep doing that, we’ll be OK.”
Despite being down half a team, the Bulls used the “Thibodeau Rules” to grit out yet another game that — all things being equal — they probably shouldn’t have won. Those rules are reasonably simple:
Defend, Play Together, Rebound, Work Hard on Every Play.
Said Thibs: ”It’s not happenstance that we went out and won. If we put the work into it, the magic is in the work. If you put work into it and you do the right things the results will take care of themselves and that’s the way we want to approach it.”
On nights like this, it’s pretty hard to argue with the coach’s mantra that the Bulls have more than enough to win on any given night, regardless of who’s able to actually suit up.
Said Butler: ”I think whenever you hear it enough each and every day you start to buy into it. Thibs is constantly saying that, we’re constantly saying that. And we know that we have enough to win because even though [our injured teammates] aren’t on the court with us, they’re with us spiritually. Whenever we come into that locker room they’re saying things that they see from the TV. They’re always helping, just maybe not physically out there on the court with us.”
Butler is definitely drinking Thibodeau’s Kool-Aid…and it’s showing in his performance. The second year man had another strong all-around game: 16 points, 10 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot.
There were other contributors, like the ever-ready and every-steady Deng (18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal), the always exciting and often frightening (on both ends) Robinson (12 points, 5 assists, 1 steal) and the ancient Mohammed, who played big minutes (37) and responded with 9 rebounds, 4 points, 3 blocked shots and an assist.
More than enough to win indeed.
And the win made a huge difference in the standings. The Bulls (41-33) are now only a game behind the Nets (43-32) for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. What’s more, Chicago owns the tiebreaker after winning the season series with Brooklyn 3-1.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself or anything, given that the Bulls and Nets are neck-and-neck, and the Hawks (42-34) are right there as well. But the Bulls have to feel pretty good about their chances down the stretch. Here’s a peek at their remaining games:
@ Detroit Pistons
New York Knicks
@ Toronto Raptors
@ Miami Heat
@ Orlando Magic
That’s six lottery teams and two playoff teams that might be resting players and/or not going full steam ahead.
Of course, you never know. Recent wins over the Pacers, Heat and Nets have shown the Bulls can play with anybody. But those losses in Dallas and Washington showed they can also lose to anybody…even after dominating most of the game. And with all the injuries, you just never know how things are going to play out.
But regardless of how it all pans out, Bulls fans have to be pretty proud of their team. Those guys never give up.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
April 3, 2013
Remember back in late January? Early February? Things were looking up for the Bulls. They weren’t just thinking about making the playoffs. They were taking aim at the second or third seed in the Eastern Conference. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were named to the All-Star team. An early March return by Derrick Rose looked like a real possibility. Optimism abounded.
Then things started to fall apart.
There were injuries, injuries, and more injuries. The offense withered. The defense took a few steps back. Players started looking both mentally and physically fatigued. The team slumped in February (5-8) and had to win four out of their last five games in March to finish the month .500 (7-7).
After last week’s big win over the Heat — which was Chicago’s third in a row — it appeared the Bulls were turning things around. Unfortunately, they then suffered a fourth quarter collapse in Dallas, had to come from behind to beat a bad Pistons team at home, and then suffered another late collapse last night in Washington.
Losing to the Wizards felt much worse than losing to the Mavericks. Getting beaten by clutch shots from Dirk Nowitzki is a little different than getting beaten by clutch shots from A.J. Price (10 fourth quarter points) and Trevor Ariza (7 fourth quarter points).
While John Wall (27 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) was doing the superstar thing and Washington’s role players were delivering, the Bulls were unraveling physically and psychologically, which sort of made this game a microcosm of the season.
Already without Derrick Rose (left knee rehab), Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and Rip Hamilton (back spasms), the Bulls lost Taj Gibson again after he reinjured his knee in the second quarter.
Gibson was pretty upset afterward: ”That’s what happens when you rush back and try to help your team win. I’ve still got an MRI [Wednesday] but hopefully it’s not as worse as before. But it was real painful … it’s similar. But it’s all about how it’s going to feel [Wednesday]. I hope there’s no swelling. But that’s what they said, the same injury, the same MCL sprain, but we don’t know the [degree] just yet.
“I just did a basic rotation. Tried to slide, and it just buckled on me. It was real painful. I tried to just play through it because I kind of got nicked up the last couple games and kept playing. I came down the court and just told [coach Tom Thibodeau] to take me out and just went to the back. I just knew it was real painful, I just couldn’t keep going. I didn’t want to hurt my teammates.
“It’s kind of difficult to put pressure on it, but that’s how it is when you kind of sprain it. I’m just hoping that I have nothing torn but it basically feels the same as when I hurt it the first time.”
As if losing Gibson wasn’t bad enough, the Bulls lost Kirk Hinrich with 3:19 left in the game. Hinrich — who has been nursing a variety of injuries all season — didn’t get hurt, though. He just lost his nut. He argued a call. And argued it. And argued it some more until he finally got the boot.
Mind you, at this point the game was still very winnable. The Bulls were only down a point (83-82). Hinrich couldn’t have lost his cool at a worse time.
But it happened. John Wall made one of the two technical free throws the Wizards received via Hinrich’s meltdown and now the Bulls were down 84-82. Less than 30 seconds later, Jimmy Butler made an aggressive drive and got fouled. Remember how he missed those two critical free throws in the loss to Dallas? Remember how I said he’d make the shots if put in a similar situation?
I was wrong. Jimmy bonked ‘em both.
Nate Robinson was able to tie the game with a 21-footer, but after A.J. Price put Washington ahead again by nailing a 13-footer of his own, Robinson drew a foul and, like Butler before him, went 0-for-2 from the line.
Mind you, both Butler and Robinson are 80 percent foul shooters.
Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe it was nerves. Whatever the case, those four misses were fatal. The Wizards made more plays down the stretch, Ariza knocked down clutch free throws with eight seconds left, and the Bulls came away with another frustrating loss.
Said Butler: ”It’s frustrating. That’s the word that I would put on it. You look over at Nate, he’s cussing himself out. It’s tough knowing that the game’s kind of on your shoulders you missed two. It’s devastating to us personally as a team and all of our fans.”
Of course, clutch scoring — or the lack thereof — wasn’t Chicago’s only problem last night. The Bulls got outscored 13-2 in fast break points and lost the rebounding battle 51-45.
Said Hinrich: ”We need to execute what we need to do to win the game. We knew transition was going to be a big part of this game and rebounding and we didn’t play good in either regard tonight. We have to have our edge and also we have to be right. We have to go out there and be able to take away the other team’s strength. We just couldn’t do that today.”
Then too, the Wizards used a solid defensive strategy against a Chicago team that ranks 24th in three-point percentage (34.2%) and 27th in field goal percentage (43.6%): They packed the paint and forced the Bulls to launch shots from the outside. According to Hoopdata, the Bulls attempted 22 shots at the rim versus 25 shots from 16-23 feet and 23 shots from three-point range.
Considering the Bulls shot 39 percent overall and were -10 in free throw attempts, you can see that strategy worked out pretty well.
The Bulls were just terrible in the second half, shooting 7-for-22 (31 percent) in both the third and fourth quarters. Butler, Hinrich and Luol Deng went 3-for-16 during that stretch. Carlos Boozer (19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) went 9-for-18 and was the team’s best scoring option…but he got only three shot attempts in the fourth quarter and wasn’t really involved in the offense.
So there you have it. The Bulls lost ground in their battle for the fourth or fifth playoff seed in the East. And the prospects are grim. Belinelli, Hamilton and Noah remain day-to-day. Gibson will be out for a few games at least, and maybe longer. And I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that Rose won’t be coming back this season.
Mind you, that’s pure speculation on my part, especially considering there has been next to no news of note in that regard (other than Rose’s obligatory “I’m not ready yet” statements and guys like Bo Jackson and John Wall advising Rose not to return before he’s ready). But given how cautious Rose and his people have been approaching this situation, it seems highly unlikely that he will make his return with nine (or fewer) games left in the regular season. Heading into the postseason — when the stakes and physicality go up several notches — is not the time to work in a superstar coming back from a serious injury. And if Rose truly was considering trying to play this season, he might now find Gibson’s post-game comments ringing in his ears.
That’s what happens when you rush back and try to help your team win.
So where does this leave the Bulls?
Said Boozer: ”It is (important to get into a rhythm). But how can you do that when you’ve got so many guys that are important to you out? There’s got to be a mix of doing the right thing but at the same time we’ve got key guys we have to get back before we can get consistent. But the guys that are playing are playing great. We’re super shorthanded, we’re playing heavy minutes against different matchups and having a chance to win every night. Our goal is to be healthy going into the playoffs but we’d like to get a good rhythm before we do that.”
That pretty much says it all. It’s hard to get into a good rhythm when so many players are out with injury, but players are out with injury so you can’t get into a good rhythm. Boozer hopes his team will be healthy by the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine that happening. It hasn’t been the case all year and I can’t see that all turning around in the next couple weeks.
And unless it does, the Bulls — despite all the effort and grit they’ve shown this season — will be dead men walking.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
April 1, 2013
One day after a gut-wrenching come-from-ahead loss in Dallas, the Bulls flipped the script and pulled out a come-from-behind home win over the Pistons. Of course, the quality of competition was a bit different, given that the Mavericks are making a surge for the playoffs. All the Pistons (24-50) have to look forward to is the NBA draft lottery.
The Bulls have now won 18 consecutive games against their one-time rival. Detroit is stuck being the Washington Generals to Chicago’s Harlem Globetrotters. Not that the Pistons conceded this game.
Far from it.
The Pistons burst out of the gates with fire in their eyes and had the Bulls down 14-2 less than four minutes into the game. Chicago was missing field goals, bricking free throws and turning the ball over while the Pistons were calmly executing their offense and knocking down wide-open shots.
So much for a gimmie game against a bad team.
The Bulls fought back to within 24-20 by the end of the first quarter, but the the second and third quarters followed the same disturbing pattern as the first. The Pistons would extend their lead, the Bulls would cut into it, then the Pistons would extend their lead again, and the Bulls could cut into it again.
Then Luol Deng happened.
Maybe he was inspired by watching Dirk Nowtizki’s clutch performance against his team on Saturday, or maybe the loss was inspiration enough, but Deng scored Chicago’s first eight points of the fourth quarter. That stretch included a play in which Deng missed a layup, sneaked around a couple Pistons to steal the offensive rebound, and hit a follow-up shot while getting fouled.
Pure will power.
After three free throws by Taj Gibson and an 18-footer by Nate Robinson helped finally push the Bulls ahead, Deng orchestrated another huge sequence. First, Deng followed a Jimmy Butler steal by splashing home a three-pointer to put the Bulls up 88-84. Two possessions later, Deng assisted Robinson on a triple that pushed the lead to 91-84 with 3:55 left.
To be honest, I kind of thought that was the game, but these Bulls never do things the easy way.
The Pistons sandwiched a layup by Greg Monroe and a three-pointer by Rodney Stuckey around a missed three by Deng to quickly pull back to within 91-89.
Deng responded with a strong drive that drew a foul, but unfortunately Lu only connected on one of his foul shots. In some ways, that was the story of this game, as the Bulls earned a season-high 40 free throw attempts but missed 13 of them. Had they been able to make the most of their freebies, this game might not have gone down to the wire.
Then again, if wishes were fishes, the world would be an ocean.
After the teams exchanged misses, Stuckey made a layup that again cut the lead to a single point (92-91) with 1:27 remaining. But it was Deng to the rescue again. After running down the shot clock, Robinson drove in for a layup that missed, but Deng was there to corral the rebound and laid it in for a 94-91 lead that effectively sealed the game. The teams exchanged some misses, Daequon Cook hit a free throw, and Stucky drilled a meaningless three-pointer as time expired to make the final score 95-94…but Deng’s put back was the capper.
Deng finished with 28 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Jimmy Butler — once again starting in place of Marco Belinelli — had 16 points, 5 steals, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 blocked shot. The Bulls also got strong contributions off the bench from Robinson (16 points, 3 assists, 2 steals), Taj Gibson (11 points, 4 boards, 3 blocks) and Cook (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists).
This was one of those games where all you can do is take a deep breath and be grateful for the comeback.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We dodged a bullet. We were fortunate, got out of a hole. … We were just trying to find a way in the end. I thought it was the hustle plays.”
As usual, the bullet was dodged with several men down. The Bulls were again without Derrick Rose (left knee rehab), Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and Rip Hamilton (lower back spasms). Despite the lack of warm bodies, despite shooting 39 percent and losing the rebounding battle 45-37, despite the awful performance at the free throw line, the Bulls still managed to pull out a gritty win.
Said Gibson: ”Because we believe in each other. And we’ve got guys that could be starters anywhere else. But they’re just humble and they understand what they have to do and nobody’s pointing fingers. Nobody’s like, ‘It’s all about me.’ It’s all about the team, really, and that’s how we’re playing. And we understand that we’re playing for something great. We’ve got a great chance to do something special this year, and we just keep playing.”
An utterly fitting description of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
March 31, 2013
When Luol Deng nailed a three-pointer to give the Bulls a 97-85 lead with 4:07 left in the game, it honestly looked like the Bulls had this game pretty much wrapped up.
As it turns out, not so much.
Dallas closed out the game on a 15-1 run as Chicago’s offense — which had been pretty darn good all game long — went into a coma. Here’s a breakdown of what happened over those final minutes:
3:40: Nate Robinson turnover (bad pass)
3:15: Kirk Hinrich missed three-pointer
2:48: Luol Deng missed three-pointer
2:47: Offensive rebound by Jimmy Butler
2:28: Hinrich turnover (traveling)
1:51: Deng missed 18-footer
1:28: Butler missed layup
1:08: Deng missed layup
0:41: Robinson missed layup
0:41: Offensive rebound by Carlos Boozer
0:41: Foul drawn by Boozer
0:41: Boozer 1-for-2 from the free throw line
0:15: Vince Carter is forced to foul Butler
0:15: Butler 0-f0r-2 at the free throw line
0:01: Robinson missed three-pointer
Turnovers. Missed jumpers. Missed layups. Missed free throws.
In summary: everything that could have gone wrong…did go wrong.
And while the Bulls were struggling to find the rim, Dirk Nowitzki was giving them the superstar treatment.
After missing a three-pointer with exactly one minute remaining, Nowitzki drilled a corner three seven seconds later to draw the Mavs to within 97-95. It was a dagger. A tired-looking Luol Deng — he played 41 minutes — went around a screen instead of fighting through it. That was all the daylight Nowitzki needed. You can’t go around a screen on somebody like Dirk Nowtizki. I’m pretty sure Lu knows that. But fatigue can affect decision making. It sure seemed to in this case.
After Boozer missed one of his two foul shots, Nowitzki spun baseline and knocked down a 12-footer over Butler to move Dallas to within 98-97.
As noted above, Butler could have given the Bulls a two or three-point lead had he just knocked down one or both of his free throws. But he didn’t. Obviously, that had a major effect on how the Bulls defended the Maverick’s final offensive possession.
Dallas was rotating the ball and the Bulls were switching like crazy. Nowtizki — who was stationed outside the three-point line but to the left of center — found Carter at the top of the key. Robinson had to run all the way over from the left side of the court to try and contain Carter’s drive, only little Nate slipped and fell. Carter took a few clunky steps in the direction of the basket, which forced a mini-collapse by Deng. Carter made the right move, hitting a suddenly open Nowitzki, who naturally hit the three.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “We had a slip, and we were in a scramble. I thought there may have been a travel there, but that’s the way it goes.”
Now the Bulls were down two points with 2.9 seconds left. And we all know how that turned out.
Of course, had Butler hit both free throws, the Bulls could have simply defended the three at all costs. That would have been the only shot that could have beaten them…and this squad is pretty darn good at defending the three (currently fourth in opponents three-point percentage). Even if Butler had knocked down only one of his foul shots, the Bulls could have covered the long-range shooters, forced Dallas to hit a contested two, and the worst-case scenario would have been overtime.
But things didn’t work out that way. And Butler was crushed.
Said Butler: “I’m not going to say I was nervous, because I was really confident. I’m supposed to be a good free throw shooter, [but I] missed two. I don’t care what anybody says; that’s the reason we lost that game. I don’t care what my teammates say; I know better. If I would have made those two, we would have been up three, and then we just make them go to the basket. This one’s on me without a doubt, and that’s that.”
I feel for the kid. But you know, it’ll make him stronger. I bet next time he’s in this situation, he knocks ‘em down.
Still, this loss wasted a terrific offensive performance by a Bulls team that doesn’t have many of those. They finished with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 55.0 and scored at a rate of 112.5 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference). Carlos Boozer (25 points, 11-for-16, 11 rebounds), Luol Deng (25 points, 10-for-17, 7 boards) and Nate Robinson (25 points, 7-for-7 on threes, 6 assists) were all on fire.
Unfortunately, Nowtizki (35 points, 14-for-17, 5-for-6 from downtown, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) was absolutely unstoppable.
Said Robinson: ”He was on fire. It was like a video game.”
There’s no time to rue the one that got away though. The Bulls face the Pistons tonight.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
March 28, 2013
Last night’s game had two possible outcomes for the Chicago Bulls: Either make history or become a footnote to it.
They made history.
Unless you just arrived on earth from another star system, you likely already know the Miami Heat entered this game having won 27 games in a row, which represents the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Going in, some people felt that Miami’s streak was even more impressive and historically significant than the 33-game romp the Los Angeles Lakers went on during the 1971-72 season.
As Shannon Owens of the Orlando Sentinel put it: “Honestly, even if the Heat fail to break the Lakers’ record, this should still go down as the greater accomplishment. There is no comparison to the pressures today’s Heat team faces versus yesterday’s Lakers. ESPN and social media didn’t exist 41 years ago. And the quality of competition Miami is playing against is far superior.”
LeBron James himself said: “Back then, the leagues were separate. It wasn’t a full league at that time; the ABA and NBA leagues spread apart. So some of the greatest players weren’t even in the [NBA] at the time.”
I’m not so sure.
To me, this is a case of chronological snobbery, that wonderful little logical fallacy that something from an earlier time — be it thinking, art, science, or sport — is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present.
After all, while there are some factors (as noted above) that favor Miami’s 27-game streak, there are also a few that tilt in the favor of L.A.’s 33-gamer. For instance, the Heat live in an era of private jets, massage therapists and various other creature comforts that NBA players in the 1970s probably never even dreamed of. The 1971-72 Lakers had to take commercial flights, endure layovers and wash their own uniforms. Seriously.
And if you think today’s NBA schedule is unkind, talk to anybody who played back then. In those days, playing three nights in a row was accepted and standard practice. In fact, the 1971-72 Lakers played four sets of back-to-back-to-back games during their 33-game winning streak.
Then there’s the simple fact that Lakers great Elgin Baylor retired before L.A.’s winning streak began. Meanwhile, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain were both still very good but also past their respective primes (Wilt retired in 1973 and the Logo called it quits in 1974). By contrast, the Heat have the world’s best player in his prime and at the absolute top of his game…not to mention two other top 10 players in their primes.
Finally, as ESPN’s Rick Reilly put it: “If the competition is so superior now, as James says it is, how come two of the three greatest streaks in league history have come in the past six years? Why are four of the top seven from 2000 and later?”
The reality is, there’s no need to demean what that Lakers team accomplished in order to promote what the Heat have been doing. Their streak is truly amazing on its own merits, regardless of comparative rankings.
During their 27-game run, the Heat beat good teams (Clippers, Grizzlies, Hawks, Knicks Pacers, Rockets, Thunder), bad teams (Bobcats, Cavaliers, Kings, Magic, Pistons, Raptors, Timberwolves) and everybody in between. They blew teams out. They came back from huge deficits. They won 13 consecutive road games.
They didn’t lose. They just didn’t lose. For 27 games. Amazing.
Chicago’s season hasn’t been quite so sublime. It’s been plagued by injury, inconsistency and the mystery of when (or whether) Derrick Rose will ever come back from injury. There were rumors he would make his comeback against the Heat last night. Anyone who’s been following the Rose saga knew better. Rose and the Bulls are being as cautious with this situation as humanly possible. There was absolutely no way Derrick was going to make his long-awaited return in this meat grinder.
And man oh man this was a physical game.
During one first quarter drive to the hoop, James collided with Kirk Hinrich, who wrapped up LeBron’s arms to prevent the possibility of an “And-1″ opportunity and both players ended up on the hardwood. During the fourth quarter, LeBron was again fouled hard by Taj Gibson. Initially, the officials ruled it a Flagrant 1, but they downgraded it to a normal foul after a video review. Shortly thereafter, a frustrated James rammed into Carlos Boozer and whistled an elbow past Boozer’s face. It was a play that, had it been anybody other than LeBron James, likely would have earned an ejection. Instead, the refs called a Flagrant 1.
That’s the kind of game it was. Which had LeBron feeling a little indignant afterwards.
Said James: “Let me calculate my thoughts real fast before I say [what I want to say]. I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays. First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. The last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not defensive … those are not basketball plays.
“It’s been happening all year, and I’ve been able to keep my cool and try to tell Spo, ‘Let’s not worry about it too much.’ But it is getting to me a little bit because every time I try to defend myself, I got to face the consequences of a flagrant for me or a technical foul, whatever the case may be. It’s tough. It’s tough. It’s very tough, and I’m not sitting here crying about anything because I play the game at a high level. I play with a lot of aggression, and I understand that some of the plays are on the borderline of a basketball play or not, but sometimes you just got to … I don’t know. It’s frustrating.”
I’m not sure I get the whole “every time I try to defend myself, I got to face the consequences of a flagrant for me” stuff. Swinging an elbow at Boozer, who was standing still and setting a pick, isn’t a case of LeBron defending himself. But whatever. Tempers flare. It happens.
Added Dwyane Wade: “I’m surprised he ain’t done it before. A big guy like that, you don’t really want to see him really start trying to inflict pain on other people. He plays the game the right way. It’s unfortunate. It’s tough but that’s why he is who he is. You have to deal with it. Tonight, he decided to get back a little bit. I didn’t think it was that bad.”
It’s not terribly surprising Wade didn’t think LeBron’s flagrant was that bad, given his own history of breaking noses, kicking opposing players between the legs, pulling people down, outright tackling guys and even throwing them (or their shoes) out of bounds.
Do superstars get hit? Yes. Do they hit back? Clearly.
David Stern has cleaned up the NBA quite a lot — just ask anybody who played in the late 80s and 90s — but basketball is still a contact sport.
The Bulls know this as well as anybody, which is why their locker room is like a M.A.S.H. ward.
Rose still has not returned after having his left knee surgically repaired. Chicago’s All-Star center, Joakim Noah, missed the game with plantar fasciitis. And the Bulls were missing both their starting and backup shooting guards, Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli.
Going in, the mere notion of this squad derailing the Miami freight train seemed ludicrous.
But it happened. How you ask?
ESPN Stats and Information provided the following three statistical reasons:
1. The Bulls allowed the Heat to get inside the paint but didn’t allow the Heat’s shooters to make easy baskets. The Heat went 10-of-39 outside the paint (25.6 percent), their second-worst such shooting rate of the season (they were 6-for-35, 17 percent against the Lakers on January 17).
The Bulls had similar success against the Heat earlier in the season. On Jan. 4, the Heat converted on 77.3 percent of field goals inside the paint but struggled on shots outside, hitting only 30 percent.
In the Heat’s victory over the Bulls, the Heat had a more balanced scoring attack, shooting 59 percent inside the paint and 44 percent outside it.
2. The Heat dominated the fourth quarter during their 27-game win streak, outscoring opponents by a combined 152 points and shooting 44 percent on 3-pointers.
In the loss to the Bulls, they shot 1-for-8 on 3-point attempts and were outrebounded by 12.
3. Despite scoring 32 points Wednesday against the Bulls, LeBron James was held to three assists, tied for his third fewest this season. James drove to the basket 12 times in half-court sets, but created only one field goal attempt (and no baskets) for a teammate off those drives.
Those are all legit reasons. But there were more.
For instance, there was how Luol Deng (28 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) nearly played LeBron (32 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists) to a standstill.
There was Boozer matching Chris Bosh with 21 points and outrebounding him by an astounding 17-4. (This game may serve as something of a message to those who feel Boozer shrinks against the Heat or is a lesser player than Bosh.)
There was an inspired performance by Jimmy Butler (17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and a spectacular one-handed alley-oop dunk over Chris Bosh).
There was little Nate Robinson for 14 points on 10 shots in 22 minutes…and nearly outscoring Miami’s reserves (17 points on 7-for-19 shooting) all by his lonesome.
And finally there was Kirk Hinrich. His stat line (7 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) may look somewhat meager, but he made countless big plays, the biggest of which came with 2:41 left. The Bulls were clinging to a 91-85 lead when they forced James into a difficult step-back three-point attempt that was well off the mark. Bosh rebounded the ball, but Hinrich stripped him, took the ball the other way and eventually fed Gibson for an uncontested 16-footer that pushed Chicago’s lead to 9.
That wasn’t the only clutch play that helped the Bulls pull this one out.
With Chicago trying desperately to hold off Miami’s final attempt to rally, Robinson jacked up a three with 59 seconds left. Nate missed, but Boozer somehow fought his way to the offensive rebound and put it in the hoop to give the Bulls a 96-89 lead. Six seconds later, Deng stole the ball from LeBron. Then, after the Bulls had run the shot clock almost down to zero, Robinson swooped in for a driving layup to put the Bulls up 98-89 with 30 seconds left.
The Heat made a few exciting plays to make the final score a bit closer, but that was pretty much the ball game.
It wasn’t a pretty game, and it was far from perfect, as the Bulls gave up 24 points off 20 turnovers and got outscored 54-40 in the paint. But they did the dirty work, winning the rebounding battle 43-31 and doubling Miami’s Offensive Rebounding Percentage (32.4% to 16.2%).
And while James, Bosh and Wade (18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) all had strong games, the Bulls managed to keep Miami’s role players in check. To wit: The “other guys” managed a total of only 26 points on 11-for-30 shooting.
And — my God! — were those the offensively challenged Chicago Bulls scoring at a rate of 108.1 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference)? Who knew?
But, as much as anything else, the Bulls showed their mental toughness and willingness to fight and scrap.
Said Gibson: ”Kirk is one of the toughest guys I know. He has so much swag every day in practice. He’s a real vet. He doesn’t shy away from anything. He’s always in the middle, especially against big men. He switches out on centers. He doesn’t really care. He’s one of those dog kind of players.”
That’s Hinrich’s way. And, really, the Bulls’ way. It has been under Tom Thibodeau anyway.
It’s amazing how fast things can change in the NBA. Yesterday, the Heat were pursuing the longest winning streak in North American professional sports history, and now that chance has passed. Maybe forever. And a few games ago, the Bulls were in the midst of their worst extended slump in years. Now they’ve won three games in a row and sit only 2.5 games behind the Brooklyn Nets for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Now there are 12 games left. Let’s see how the Bulls finish things off.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
March 22, 2013
During Chicago’s ongoing post-All-Star break slump, I’ve repeatedly asserted that what this team needs most are more warm bodies. I figured the Bulls would return to their usual hard-nosed and competitive selves as soon as one or two players returned from injury.
Apparently, I misjudged the situation.
Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson were back. The Bulls were playing in the friendly confines of the United Center against a Portland team that began the night only 9-25 on the road. Between the iffy competition and the emotional lift of having actual depth, I really believed the Bulls could come out with one of their strongest efforts of the season.
Again, I misjudged the situation.
The team’s usual offensive woes were in full effect. Normally when a team scores 22 fast break points and 54 points in the paint, you would assume things went well, but they did not. The Bulls had to score 36 points on 15-for-23 shooting in the fourth quarter just to make the final numbers look not-completely-horrible. And that happened only because the Trail Blazers pulled back on the throttle. A so-so first quarter (21 points on 10-for-24 shooting) was followed by a miserable second (16 points on 7-for-17 shooting) and an embarrassing third (16 points on 7-for-25 shooting).
The Bulls look so bad on offense it’s often painful to watch. They did a decent job of getting to the rim, where they were 24-for-32 (according to Hoopdata). But from everywhere else? Ugh, ugh, and ugh again. Here’s the breakdown: 1-for-6 from 3-9 feet, 4-for-10 from 10-15 feet, 6-for-26 from 16-23 feet and 4-for-14 from three-point range.
This team cannot shoot jump shots. They just can’t. And other teams know this.
Meanwhile, the Blazers were shooting hot from the outside. They attempted only 12 shots at the rim and went 3-for-10 from 3-9 feet, but they were 14-for-30 from 16-23 feet and 10-for-21 from three-point range. And these numbers include their relaxed fourth quarter, during which they shot 7-for-21 and 1-for-5 on threes.
But by the fourth quarter, the game was essentially decided.
In case you’re wondering, the Blazers aren’t normally a strong three-point shooting team. They currently rank 22nd at 35.3 percent. But they were 9-for-16 through the first three quarters.
So yes, Portland was shooting hotter than usual, but it’s worth noting that the defense has something to say about how well an opposing offense shoots.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We have to be up on them more than we were. You give them space, they are going to score. We need to play better.”
Added Gibson: ”Our defense was terrible,” Gibson said. “We couldn’t stop them. They were hot. The ball pressure wasn’t good enough. They were knocking down jump shots from every single part of the court.”
The obvious question: What’s wrong with the Bulls?
Replied Joakim Noah: “I don’t know.”
Carlos Boozer had a little more to say: ”Every game is a grind right now. We’re so short-handed. Every game is a grind-out game. It felt great to have Taj back out there, Kirk back out there, and we’ll see if we can get some more guys back, but every game is a grind for us right now.”
For what it’s worth, here’s my take. The team itself — especially without Derrick Rose — is flawed. The Bulls don’t have enough high-percentage outside shooters to make opponents pay for sagging into the paint and double-teaming. They don’t have enough athletes or team speed to be a truly good transition team. They don’t have a superstar at the moment. Add in all the injuries, the long minutes (especially for Noah and Luol Deng), the emotional drama of Derrick Rose’s comeback, and the constant whip-cracking of a coach who will not (or cannot) accept less than 100 percent every night…
…and you have a team that seems a little out of it.
The Bulls are still trying. They’re working hard. Nobody has quit. Not even remotely. But — and I know I say this a lot — basketball is a game of split seconds. When a team is emotionally and physically fatigued, as the Bulls clearly are, they lose those split seconds. This effects every area of the game. Like maybe a player makes the right pass, but it may be a split second late or a few inches off. Maybe a defender rotates correctly, but just a split second too late to get in a shooter’s face. Things like that.
And don’t forget: This is a team that has been driving hard for the past three seasons, basically ever since Thibodeau picked up his Bulls-themed clipboard and whistle. And their have been significant injury problems during all three of those years. So three seasons of going all out every night, injuries, lots of PT for the main guys, the loss of Rose, the uncertainty of when Rose will be back, on and on.
Players are frustrated. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, they’re playing hard, but nothing is working. Shots aren’t falling. Opponents are lighting them up.
Even more frustrating — for the Bulls and their fans — these problems may not be fixable this season. Even if and when Rose returns.
It’s a rough time in Bulls land. And nobody knows when things are going to get better.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.