Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Derrick Rose took “the next step” in his return from knee surgery by taking more contact in practice on Tuesday.
Ever since Rose tore the ACL in his left knee during last season’s first round playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Bulls fans have been eagerly anticipating any news on when he might return. But this latest update has a “day after Thanksgiving for kids anticipating Christmas” feeling to it. It’s finally starting to seem real.
Said Thibs: ”He did a little bit more. He’s taking on some contact. He’s doing fine. He’s been cleared for more contact so we went to the next step today. You have to remember in practice you’re trying to get it as close to a game-like condition as you can with the understanding that there’s nothing like a game. There’s nothing that matches that intensity. We strive to get it there, but it’s different. We have to make sure he can handle this intensity first and then we’ll go from there, but he’s doing great. He’s shown great patience, and everybody has to show great patience.”
So Rose has taken the next step. That said, the team still doesn’t want to rush Rose or establish unrealistic expectations. Rose will return when the time is right and his knee is 100 percent ready…and not a nanosecond before.
Said Thibs: ”It’s going to be a while. It’s the next step in the rehab. Everyone has to be patient. He’s doing fine, he’s playing more, he’s practicing more, so he’s doing well. We want him to concentrate on rehab, the team just continue to concentrate on improvement and our next opponent. Nothing’s changed.”
Added Rip Hamilton: ”We know it’s going to take time. We just kind of allow Derrick to (be) him. It was good to see him just out on the floor moving around getting a little contact and things like that. With us we just want him to take his time … We didn’t do a whole lot of contact with him personally, but it’s one of them things when he’s out there he doesn’t want you to back up off of him because he wants to challenge himself.”
And Bulls fans want to see him challenge the opposition. It’s getting closer.
The Bulls shot only 41.9 percent — including 39.5 percent on two-pointers — and got outrebounded 50-40. They managed only two free throws before halftime and a paltry 12 for the game.
Despite their poor overall shooting, the Bulls went 9-for-17 from three-point range (52.9 percent) and scored at a rate of 108.4 points per 100 possessions (according to Basketball-Reference). They also committed only 8 turnovers for 7 points going the other way.
Chicago’s D completely stymied L.A.’s superstar-laden offense. Jimmy Butler made Kobe Bryant’s life a living hell, limiting the Mamba to 7-for-22 from the field and 0-for-6 from downtown. Dwight Howard finished with 8 points on only five shot attempts and Pau Gasol was only 6-for-14.
Overall, the Lakers were 32-for-81 from the field (39.5 percent) and 3-for-17 from beyond the arc (17.6 percent). The Bulls blocked 11 shots, forced 16 turnovers, and held L.A. to 94.7 points per 100 possessions.
Player of the Game:
This is a tie between Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler.
Chicago’s starters were 28-for-64 (43.8 percent). Minus Hinrich, they were 19-for-53 (35.8 percent). Hinrich exploded out of a season’s worth of offensive lethargy by going a sizzling 9-for-11 from the field (including 3-for-4 on threes). Captain Kirk also had 8 assists, 7 rebounds and a steal.
Hinrich drilled back-to-back threes in the first quarter as the Bulls were establishing themselves and he also played great in the final six minutes of the fourth:
5:52: Hit a 21-footer to put the Bulls up 79-75
5:05: Rebounds a missed shot by Gasol
4:54: Drains a 13-footer to put the Bulls up 81-75
4:37: Rebounds a missed shot by Kobe
4:11: Assists on a Butler jumper to put the Bulls up 83-75
2:11: Rebounds a missed shot by Kobe
1:55: Nails a 19-footer to put the Bulls up 91-79
1:31: Assists on a Boozer jumper to put the Bulls up 93-79
Hinrich played about as well as he could possibly play. It was his best game of the season.
Said Buter:”It was all about getting into his space. But it wasn’t just me defending him, it was four other guys out there. If I was beat, Joakim [Noah] or [Carlos Boozer], somebody was always there. So we defended him as a team, I should say.”
Added Joakim Noah: “Jimmy Boy was huge. Defensively it’s great for him. He’s making a name for himself. He’s proving that not only is he a great defensive player, but he’s showing his athleticism. He’s showing that he hit a huge shot at the end there, a big jump shot, it makes us that much tougher to know that we have guys like that that we can rely on.”
Predictably, Kobe — who has spent a career listening to “Kobe Stopper” theories — gave most of the credit to Chicago’s defensive schemes: “Thibs does a great job. Every time he faces me he does a great job. Most of the looks I had tonight were tough shots. Some of the credit goes to the young fellow, Butler did a good job defensively. A lot of that is on me and us, having to try to manufacture something 30 feet from the hoop with a low shot clock is tough.”
The message, as always, is that only Kobe really stops Kobe. Just ask Kobe.
The Blazing Belinelli:
Rip Hamilton got off to a good start that devolved into something else. Hamilton somehow squeezed off 18 shots in 25 minutes but managed only 13 points.
Belinelli, on the other hand, was the model of efficiency: 5-for-8 from the field, 3-for-3 on threes and 2-for-2 from the line. Marco scored 8 of his points — on two foul shots and back-to-back triples — during the 18-4 run the Bulls used to shut the Lakers down.
Back from the Bench:
Much ado was made about Noah’s benching in Saturday’s loss to the Grizzlies…but in the end it was much ado about nothing.
Said Noah: “That was all me. I admit it. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have said the things I said.”
See the video for Joakim’s full comments:
Credit Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau for having the guts to sit a player down — even a player as valuable as Noah — when said players needs to be sat. But also credit Noah for taking his medicine and acknowledging that he, not the coach, was the problem.
Jo then responded with a typical Jo game. He had only 6 points on 2-for-8 shooting, but he ripped down a game-best 13 rebounds while blocking a season-best 6 shots. He also 3 assists and 2 steals.
My favorite of those blocks:
One Up and One Down:
Nate Robinson had a nice impact off the bench: 15 minutes, 11 points, 4-for-7 from the field, 3-for-4 on threes, 3 steals, 2 assists and his typical 3 wacky turnovers.
Meanwhile, Taj Gibson was the Invisible Man: 13 minutes, 4 points, 2-for-8, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot.
Other than Pau Gasol (15 points), the Lakers managed only 2 points from their reserves.
Speaking of Gasol…
Odd Coaching Decision:
Earl Clark logged more minutes at PF for the Lakers (35) than Gasol (26). During his abbreviated court time, Gasol attempted four shots at the rim and seven shots from 16-23 feet. He got very few post up attempts. So…you know…thank you, Mike D’Antoni.
Between that and Howard’s five shot attempts, Kobe was not pleased.
Said Bryant: “We’re going to have to look at some things. We’re going to have to change something. Probably going to have to post the ball a lot more, slow the game down a lot more. That’s just my intuition, but that’s my gut right now. I have to take a look at the film again, but we’re definitely going to have to change something.”
Quote of the Night:
Kobe Bryant — whose team is 17-24 and has dropped six straight on the road — said: “Very, very tough, very, very frustrating, trying to keep my cool. It is embarrassing. It is not even embarrassing. I am a big history guy. Playing here in this arena with these incredible fans, you’re in the house of MJ, Pippen, PJ (Phil Jackson) built, to put this kind of brand of basketball on the floor is just not acceptable.”
A win over the Lakers used to feel pretty good. This one was a nice win…and that’s about it. These Lakers are a dysfunctional, out-of-sync mess. You can just tell their top players aren’t comfortable with each other or D’Antoni’s system. The Bulls may have less talent, but they were clearly the better team. Even without Luol Deng.
Lakers Injury Report:
Steve Blake: out (abdominal surgery)
Jordan Hill: out (hip)
The struggling Lakers visit the United Center, looking to become the next team to benefit from Chicago’s home court woes. Los Angeles is truly struggling away from home, having dropped their last five away from the Staples Center.
It’s not just on the road that the Lakers are having troubles though, it’s everywhere. The Lakers are 17-23, 2-8 over their last ten games; they are third in their division and on the outside looking in on the playoffs currently. They have had some injuries, but their real problem all season has been their defense. LA ranks 20th in defensive rating (106.8), even with Dwight Howard, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Pau Gasol scored 25 points on 15 shots but the Lakers fell to Toronto Sunday night. Kobe Bryant scored 26 points, but went just 10-32 from the field, including 3-12 from three. Bryant went to the line just three times, and had six turnovers.
Dwight Howard will be well rested after getting ejected in the second quarter. Howard played 17 minutes, recording five points and two rebounds before getting his second technical late in the first half. In the three games leading up to the Raps contest, Howard was averaging 22.0 points and 15.3 rebounds.
In 14 games against Joakim Noah, Howard is averaging 19.7 points and 12.9 rebounds. Noah averages 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds against Dwight. In those 14 games, Howard’s team is 9-5.
Steve Nash tallied 16 points and nine assists against Toronto, while Earl Clark posted 14 points and 14 boards off the bench. The Raptors shot 54.8 percent from the field and finished with 27 assists.
“I didn’t feel like we were ready to play,” Nash said about the Toronto loss. “We cut too many corners at too many different times in the game and had too big a hole to climb out of. We’re just not finding any consistent level out of our group.”
The Bulls are coming off an overtime loss to the Grizzlies, in which they shot 36.5 percent from the field. Jimmy Butler led Chicago in scoring, with 18 points in his first career start. Memphis recorded 21 fast break points to pull out the win, after Chicago outscored them 29-16 in the fourth quarter.
That fourth quarter was a nice change of pace, as it’s usually the Bulls that are blowing a double-digit lead. Joakim Noah was glaringly missing from the comeback, as he played a season-low 27 minutes before being benched throughout the fourth and overtime.
Injury note: Luol Deng did not participate in shootaround Monday and is expected to be out tonight.
Grizzlies Injury Report:
Quincy Pondexter: out (sprained knee)
Zach Randolph: missed Friday’s game (strained lower back)
The Bulls and Grizzlies square off in what is sure to be a high-scoring affair, just like the last time they met. And by high-scoring, I mean a lot of points for a high school game. One of the teams will probably hit 80 points.
It doesn’t help the Bulls offensive chances that they are tired from last night’s overtime win and that Luol Deng will probably be on the sidelines because he reinjured a hamstring injury against the Celtics.
In two surprising moments, Kirk Hinrich hit a shot that sent the game into overtime, and Marco Belinelli hit the game-winner with three seconds left in the extra period. These two made baskets were only surprising because of the fact that Hinrich actually made a jumper and Belinelli didn’t get the ball stripped before getting the shot up, not the timing and importance of the baskets (OK fine, they were both clutch).
It’ll probably be Kirk and Marco that get remembered after the game as the heroes, but the one guy who is already being forgotten is Jimmy Butler. His stats don’t blow you away (13 points, 4 rebounds), but he filled in after Deng left with his injury and hit some big shots. He was also the only guy hitting foul shots down the stretch (4-4).
Carlos Boozer (19 points, 20 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 rebounds) both chipped in double-doubles and Rip Hamilton scored 20 points in some extended minutes.
For all that good, there were some glaring issues. Rajon Rondo killed the Bulls in transition, when Chicago failed to stop the ball on multiple occasions. Rondo finished with 30 points, the second time he recorded a season-high in points against the Bulls this season.
Memphis is right in the middle of the league when it comes to fastbreak points—averaging 13.2 per contest—and they have their own point guard that could cause some havoc in Mike Conley. The Bulls can’t allow the point guard, or any ball handler, to drive straight to the rim on a fastbreak. They need to cut the ball of and force a pass.
Boston scored 14 fastbreak points, only one more than their average, but it was the ease that many of them came that was the problem. The parting of the seas occurred a few times and even though Rondo isn’t seen as much of a scorer, he can finish around the rim just like any NBA player (with the exception of Ronnie Brewer). Failing to cut off the ball handler is a simple rule in transition defense.
The half-court defense was great with the exception of slowing Rondo. Kevin Garnett (5-16) and Paul Pierce (5-17) both struggled to score, and finished with 16 and 13 points respectively.
What kept the Celtics in the game was that the Bulls had 21 turnovers against a Boston team that normally forces 15.7. However, the Celtics couldn’t convert off Chicago’s mishaps, scoring just seven points off of the giveaways. The Bulls scored 16 points off 12 Boston turnovers.
Memphis is also coming off of a Friday night win; theirs was a little more convincing though. The Grizzlies allowed just 69 points to Sacramento, who shot 34.1 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers.
The absence of Zach Randolph was no problem for the Griz last night, but their starters did have to log heavy minutes. Rudy Gay (41 minutes) logged Luol Deng-type minutes. Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen all played 37 minutes.
Noah led the Bulls with 45 minutes played, with Boozer close behind (43).
The Bulls are 4-4 on the second night of back-to-backs, while Memphis is 3-4. Chicago will probably be without Deng, but Randolph is going to give it a go for the Griz. Randolph scored 10 points on 4-14 shooting December 17 against the Bulls. He also grabbed a game-high 15 boards.
Deng struggled, as did most guys on offense, finishing 4-17 from the field for eleven points. Both teams shot 37 percent as Conley (17 points) and Boozer (16) led the way. Memphis is second in both defensive rating and opponent points per game and the Bulls are fifth (defensive rating) and third (opponent points) in those categories. Both squads’ middle-of-the-road offenses, especially the Bulls without Deng, are going to struggle to find the basket.
The Bulls controlled most of the game and then made key plays at the end of regulation and in overtime to push their Eastern Conference-leading road record to 12-5. Only the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder (both 13-5) have better records away from home.
The Bulls controlled most of the game but had to make key plays at the end of regulation and in overtime to pull out a victory that — like many of their recent wins — should have been a little easier.
Said Deng: “As soon as I pushed off it, I just felt a pull. [There's] swelling. It’s painful. In the hallway, I tried to run and just try to go back in the game for my teammates, but I had a hard time running.”
Obviously, Deng’s availability for tonight’s game against the Grizzlies is iffy at best.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “We’ll see. [Athletic trainer] Fred [Tedeschi]‘s got to have him examined. [Deng] wanted to come back but he was not able to do it. We’ll see. We’ll see where he is.”
Added Deng: “I don’t know yet. We’ll see [Saturday]. We’ll see how I feel in the morning. The percentages [of playing] are very low.”
Fourth Quarter Blues:
The Bulls have had some bad fourth quarters this season…and it happened again last night.
During the last 12 minutes of regulation, they shot 6-for-14 from the field, committed 5 turnovers and missed three critical free throws in the final 2:43.
Chicago’s defense also suffered a letdown. After limiting Boston to 23-for-55 shooting (41 percent) through three quarters, the Celtics shot 9-for-16 (56.3 percent) in the fourth quarter.
And so — after controlling the game almost all night — the Bulls found themselves trailing 88-86 with 12 seconds left. Celtics ball.
Fortunately for the Chicago faithful, Rajon Rondo inbounded the ball to Paul Pierce, who allowed himself to be trapped by Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. Instead of immediately fouling Pierce, Noah got his hands on the leather and the officials whistled for a jump ball.
Said Noah: ”We executed it perfectly. We were able to get the trap and the jump ball. The basketball gods definitely were on our side in a competitive game. We got a few bounces go our way.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers had warned his players the Bulls would go for the ball before committing a foul, but it didn’t matter. For his part, Pierce thought he might have been fouled, but also admitted his team could have made better decisions to avoid a bitter loss.
Said Pierce: ”Definitely a huge play of the game. All we had to do was get the ball in, maybe in a better position where we can get fouled. Then we wouldn’t be talking about the loss right now.”
That’s not quite true. Although forcing the jump ball was a huge break, the Bulls still had to win the tip and find a way to score two points in nine seconds. And it looked like it wasn’t going to happen after Marco Belinelli attacked the paint and got the ball smacked away from him by Rondo. But Kirk Hinrich recovered the ball and knocked down a 15-footer with only two seconds left.
The Wacky Overtime:
During the extra session, the Bulls once again took control and then lost it.
Jimmy Butler — who was fantastic in overtime — knocked down two free throws to give the Bulls a 96-93 lead with 1:15 left in the extra session. Kevin Garnett responded with a 20-footer and Belinelli re-responded by drawing a foul and going 2-for-2 at the line. Then Pierce got to the line and hit a couple to pull the Celtics to within a point with 43 seconds left.
The Bulls called timeout but still got stymied by Boston’s D on their next possession. Belinelli fired a shot off the top of the backboard. Boozer got the offensive rebound but couldn’t get a shot off in time to beat the shot clock (and Garnett had it stuffed anyway). The Celtics came back and got a go-ahead 16-footer from Jason Terry to take a 99-98 lead with 12 seconds left.
And then lightning struck for the second time.
The Celtics’ defense was swarming all over the place. Noah somehow ended up with the ball past the three-point stripe and rocketed a pass to Boozer, who was just inside the arc on the right baseline. Booz made an inside pass to a cutting Belinelli, who bobbled the ball before spinning around a knocking down an awkward fadeaway jumper with 3.1 seconds left. The Celtics rushed down the floor and Courtney Lee missed a desperation three.
Just the way Thibs drew it up, right?
Said Belinelli: ”That’s natural. I know it’s a crazy shot, the fallaway. The ball went in.”
Player of the Game:
Players of the game is more like it. Several players should share this award. Rip Hamilton for leading the team in scoring with 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting. Carlos Boozer (20 rebounds, 19 points, 4 assists) and Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block) for their man-sized double-doubles, and Noah for tying up Pierce and winning the jump ball to give the Bulls a chance to force overtime. Kirk Hinrich for hitting a pressure shot to actually force the OT. Jimmy Butler for making several key plays in the extra session. And Marco Belinelli for finishing things off.
Opposing Player of the Game:
Rajon Rondo. He scorched the Bulls for a season-high 30 points on 12-for-21 shooting. He went 6-for-8 at the rim and scored 14 points in the paint.
Of course, that might have been all part of the plan. Rondo leads the league with an average of 11.0 assists per game but had only 7 against the Bulls. The Celtics had only 15 assists as a team and they never got into a flow with their ball movement. Making Rondo a scorer actually seemed to help Chicago’s defense. Case in point: Garnett and Pierce combined to shoot 10-for-33 from the field.
Chicago’s bench outscored Boston’s reserves 36-25 despite a poor outing by Taj Gibson (only 3 rebounds and 2 points in 18 minutes). Belinelli (10 points) and Nate Robinson (11 points) both reached double figures, but Butler (13 points and 4 rebounds) was the best of the second stringers. He went 4-for-5 from the field and 4-for-4 from the foul line. He stepped in and stepped up when Deng went down…and he was a major reason the Bulls pulled this one out in overtime.
Said Butler: ”It was nice to know that my teammates have faith in me, to give me the ball whenever I’m open and know that I can go down there and guard and come and back and score another basket. That’s big for my confidence. To tell you the truth, in my head I was just like, ‘Do what Lu does. Do what Lu does.”
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls committed a season-worst 21 turnovers.
Key Stats Part 2:
The Bulls gave up only 7 points off those turnovers.
Key Stats Part 3:
The Bulls scored 16 points off Boston’s 12 turnovers.
Key Stats Part 4:
The Celtics outscored the Bulls 46-38 in the paint and 14-2 in fast break points.
Key Stats Part 5:
Chicago barely won the rebounding battle (43-42). However, even though the Celtics pulled down more offensive boards (11-8), the Bulls had more second-chance points (14-15).
Random Stat of the Game:
The Bulls have won 14 straight road games on Friday. TGIF, right? The AP recap says the Bulls haven’t lost a road game on Friday since April 2011. However, I did some checking of my own and it seems their last road loss on Friday was a 115-108 overtime loss in Indiana on March 18, 2011.
The Bulls needed overtime to take care of the Raptors and now open up a three game stretch—the first two of which are back-to-back—against some tough opponents. It starts tonight in Boston, then shifts to Chicago where the Bulls take on the Grizzlies and Lakers.
Boozer hit his season-high in points, 36, which is also the highest total he has hit as a Bull last time out. It was Boozington’s 21st double-double of the season. The power forward is averaging 24.0 points and 10.8 rebounds through eight games in 2013. He’s also shooting at 55.9 percent in January, his highest month (with more than one game) since April of 2010.
Booz averaged 18.0 points (54.8 percent from the field) and 8.0 rebounds against Boston this year.
The Bulls and Celtics have split the previous two match-ups thus far this season, with both previous contests coming in the United Center. Luol Deng is averaging 23.5 points in those two games on 55.2 percent shooting to go with 7.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists (he went 11-12 from the line in the Bulls victory).
Deng also did a solid job slowing down (a little bit) Boston’s top scorer. Paul Pierce, who averages 19.0 per game, is averaging 13.0 points per contest against the Bulls.
The guy who has been killing the Bulls, and it should come as no surprise with Rose out, is Rajon Rondo. The Kentucky grad is averaging 23.0 points on 55.9 percent shooting, 9.0 assists and 2.5 steals. He nearly posted a triple-double (20 points, ten assists, nine rebounds) when he went up against Nate Robinson as Kirk Hinrich was out with a hip injury (Joakim Noah did record a triple-double against Boston this year, with eleven points, 13 rebounds and ten assists on Devember 18). Rondo’s scoring and passing numbers were basically a trade-off during the second game against Kirk when he scored a season-high 26 points to go with eight assists.
Chicago won the rebounding battle both times against the Celts, but they’ve lost the turnover battle each contest. Boston is averaging just 8.5 turnovers against the Bulls so far, which is much lower than their season average of 14.3.
The Celtics are coming off of a loss to the Hornets that ended their six-game winning streak. Boston had reeled off wins against the Pacers, Hawks, Knicks and Rockets on that stretch before falling to Austin Rivers and company. Rivers contributed eight points as New Orleans topped his dad’s team.
Boston was out-worked, losing the rebounding battle 48-33, and was outscored by 20 at the line. The Hornets went 26-31 from the charity stripe, while the Celtics were an ugly 6-16 (37.5 percent). Pierce scored just 12 points on 16 shots and Rondo recorded eight points and five turnovers. Kevin Garnett was their high-scorer, tallying 15 points, but grabbing only four rebounds.
The Bulls play eight games in the remaining 14 days in January. There are some games that should be wins sprinkled in there (Detroit, Washington, Charlotte), but knowing the Bulls, they’ll all go down to the wire.
The Bulls won for the sixth time in their last eight games, pushed their Eastern Conference-leading road record to 11-5, and stayed hot on the heels of the Indiana Pacers for the Central Division lead.
Instead of taking care of business against a bad team — and Toronto (14-25) is a bad team — the Bulls wasted a 19-point lead and allowed the Raptors to score 56 points in the second half to force overtime.
The Bulls defense on Alan Anderson and Kyle Lowry was laughable. Anderson nailed four three-pointers and scored 27 on 10-for-18 shooting. Lowry had 26 points on 8-for-15 from the field and 8-for-11 from the foul line. Those two were the biggest reasons Toronto’s bench outscored Chicago’s reserves 66-18.
At times, Anderson and Lowry single-handedly kept the Raptors in the game. They combined for 14 points in the second quarter and 17 points in the fourth.
At first, I blamed Nate Robinson for letting Lowry explode in the second quarter. But, honestly, Kirk Hinrich looked nearly as helpless. What’s more, Lowry used his acting skills to bait both Hinrich and Robinson into untimely fouls.
The Bulls couldn’t figure out how to contain Lowry on high pick and rolls. And this wasn’t the first time an opponent took advantage of that particular tactic.
Lowry was getting to the rim and drawing fouls at will…even when the Bulls were clearly expecting him to drive. It almost cost them the game.
Outworked and Outhustled:
After Rip Hamilton hit the second of back-to-back threes with 4:28 left in the third quarter, the Bulls were up 76-57 and appeared to be on their way to an easy win.
From that point until the end of regulation, Toronto outscored Chicago 43-24. During that stretch, the Raptors hit three three-pointers and five shots at the rim, pulled down 8 offensive rebounds, and earned 22 trips to the free throw line. They also held the Bulls to 7-for-27 shooting.
The Raptors were more aggressive and determined over the last 16 minutes or so of regulation. They stymied the Bulls with physical play. It was what I would call a “soft” finish for the good guys.
Missing in Action:
Rip Hamilton was 6-for-9 from the field and 2-for-3 from downtown for 15 points in 18 minutes and a plus-minus score of +11. However, he was subbed out late in the third quarter and never returned. It was an interesting decision, considering how poorly the Bulls were shooting, and Marco Belinelli in particular (2-for-9).
The Bulls outscored the Raptors 54-36 in the paint.
The Bulls gave up 21 points off 14 turnovers and allowed the Raptors to score at a rate of 108.4 points per 100 possessions.
Both teams combined to miss 19 free throws — 10 bricks by the Bulls and nine by the Raptors — including several crucial misses in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls were 3-for-13 from three-point range.
Player of the Game:
Carlos Boozer. He was the team’s offense in the first half — Boozer scored 25 points in the first 24 minutes — and he finished with a season-best 36 points. He shot 16-for-24 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. He also pulled down 12 rebounds and dished out 3 assists. He had a team-best plus-minus score of +20.
Boozer has been on fire lately. In eight games this month, he’s averaging 24 points on 56 percent shooting to go with 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
And actually, Boozer is quietly having a terrific season. He has 21 double-doubles, which is first in the East and fifth overall. He leads the Bulls in Player Efficiency Rating (18.9), Defensive Rebounding Percentage (27.2) and Total Rebounding Percentage (18.1). He’s second on the team in Offensive Win Shares (1.8), Defensive Win Shares (2.1) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.148).
Bulls fans sometimes complain about Boozer’s contract…but he’s earning his money right now.
Clutch Player of the Game:
Luol Deng. He didn’t shoot well (6-for-14), but he finished with 19 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, and he made several key plays:
5:00 left in the fourth: Knocked down a three-pointer to put the Bulls up 93-86.
4:28 left in the fourth: Hit a 12-footer to put the Bulls up 95-89.
2:15 left in the fourth: Found Boozer for a layup to put the Bulls up 97-93.
1:22 left in the fourth: Attacked the basket against Alan Anderson’s aggressive defense, drew the foul, and knocked down both free throws to put the Bulls up 99-95.
0:03 left in overtime: Drilled a 18-footer to win the game.
That game-winner was huge.
Said Joakim Noah: ”He told me even before he hit the shot. He said, ‘Let’s go home, man. I’m going to hit this shot and let’s go home.’ Yeah, his swag is crazy.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”That’s what he does. Whatever you need. You need great defense? He does that. You need rebounding in traffic? He does that. You need a big shot? He does that. Move well without the ball, run the floor — to me that’s who he is. That’s what makes him such a good player.”
And what does the man himself think?
Said Deng: ”I think it’s just maturing and being in the league for a while now. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. When it comes to last minutes in a game, I’m not as nervous or worried about what I’m going to do as I used to [be]. It’s a few things that I do well, and I’m going to stick to that. At the end of the game, just stick to my game. Never get out of character. Close game or not a close game, just keep staying the same way.”
Rough Outing for Taj:
Gibson was 3-for-9 from the field and had only 4 rebounds and zero blocked shots before fouling out in only 18 minutes of action. Worse, the Bulls were outscored by 14 points while he was on the floor.
Raptors Injury Report:
Alan Anderson: left Tuesday’s game (chipped tooth)
Andrea Bargnani: bruised elbow (out)
Linas Kleiza: sore knee (missed Tuesday’s game)
Jonas Valanciunas: fractured finger (out)
How will the Bulls follow up one of the best defensive performances—that was aided by some awful offense from Atlanta—in NBA history? Will they use it as a building block to finally get on track, especially in the United Center, or will it be just an impressive win scattered between disappointing losses? Well knowing the Bulls, and knowing how up and down they are, it’s really anybody’s guess.
They may come out still fired up from Tom Thibodeau ripping into them before that Hawks games, or they may fall flat, going from such a high (59 points allowed!) to some sort of low (losing to Toronto).
Take for example, three of their biggest wins this season and what they did after them.
-On December 21, the Bulls dominated the Knicks for most of the game in Madison Square Garden. The next day, Atlanta returned the favor for New York, blowing out the Bulls.
-Chicago followed its impressive win over the Heat in Miami by protecting its home court against the visiting Cavaliers.
-The Bulls went into MSG again on January 11 and got their second win of the season in that arena. They then promptly went home and lost to Phoenix, ending the Suns’ 12-game road losing streak.
For a team that used to be so consistent, the Bulls have been all over the map this year.
But it all came together against the Hawks. “Everybody was ready to go” Taj Gibson said after the win. “We ran back hard. It was the best I’ve seen our defensive transition all year. We were flying back on D and getting stops. They were frustrated. It’s one game. We hope we can build off it.”
Their first chance to build is against Toronto. The Raptors are on the second night of back-to-back, coming off of a loss to the Nets. Brooklyn won its seventh straight game, behind 22 points from Brook Lopez and 21 each by Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
Kyle Lowry was Toronto’s high-scorer, finishing with 21 points on seven field goals off the bench (19 of those points came in the fourth quarter). Amir Johnson added 15 off the pine, while Jose Calderon led the starters with 15 points. The Raptors shot quite well actually, finishing 48.8 from the field, 53.8 (7-13) from three and 82.6 (19-23) from the line.
What did Toronto in were its uncharacteristic turnovers. They rank second in turnover percentage (.122) and were ninth in opponent turnover percentage (.139) heading into that game. But the Raps turned it over eight more times (14-6) than Brooklyn. And the Nets capitalized, scoring 24 points off of Toronto’s 14 giveaways, while the Raptors scored just eight points off of Brooklyn’s mishaps.
Getting a win in Toronto would be a nice step, as the Bulls next three games come against tough opponents in the Celtics, Grizzlies and Lakers. The last two of those match-ups are in Chicago, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, considering the Bulls’ 11-10 home record.
“We have to play with great intensity all the time,” Tom Thibodeau said. “You can’t relax, never exhale. We have to grind and fight. We have to do it day after day.” Day Two is today.
It’s safe to say the Bulls have had an up and down season.
They have the one of the best road records in the league (10-5) but are barely above .500 at home (11-10).
They’ve earned impressive wins over the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat (on the road). They’re also 3-0 versus the New York Knicks, including two wins in Madison Square Garden. But they also have a mysterious collection of losses to teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns.
Take the previous two games: A fantastic win in New York followed immediately by a blowout loss at home to a Phoenix team that is spiraling hopelessly downward.
Watching the Bulls has become an adventure. Like running through a mine field win your eyes closed. Either you experience the ecstasy of escape or you get blown up. One or the other. And you never know which it’s going to be.
Take last night’s game. The Hawks arrived in Chicago with a 21-15 record. A tough game was expected, especially considering the Bulls’ lackluster home record.
The game wasn’t tough. It was an ugly blowout of a hapless opponent and one of the greatest defensive performances in franchise history.
The Hawks shot 29.3 percent from the field. According to Hoopdata, they shot 12-for-27 at the rim (44.5 percent), 2-for-8 from 3-9 feet (25.0 percent), 2-for-6 from 10-15 feet (33.4 percent), 6-for-24 from 16-23 feet (25.0 percent) and 2-for-14 from three-point range (14.3 percent). According to Basketball-Reference, the Hawks scored at a dismal rate of 66.1 points per 100 possessions. They also committed 15 turnovers, had 13 shots blocked, and got outrebounded 59-39.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Atlanta’s 58 points were the second fewest Chicago has allowed since the inception of the shot clock in 1954-55. The only time a team scored fewer points against the Bulls was when the Celtics managed only 57 points…in 1955.
In the second quarter, the Hawks shot 2-for-21 and scored only 5 points. That ties them for the third-lowest one-quarter output in league history during the shot clock era. The only worse one-quarter performances include the following:
The Cleveland Cavaliers scored only 4 points on 2-for-19 shooting in the second quarter of an 87-72 loss to the Celtics on November 28, 2000.
The Toronto Raptors also scored only 4 points — this time on 2-for-16 shooting — in the second quarter of an 86-60 loss to the Wizards on November 7, 2003. This happened despite the presence of All-Star Vince Carter.
The Los Angeles Clippers scored only 3 points in the second quarter of a 95-68 loss to the Lakers on December 14, 1999.
The Hawks scored only 20 points in the first half. ESPN Stats and Information reports that the NBA record for fewest points in a first half is 19. This lofty record was set by the Clippers against the Lakers in the game mentioned above. The fewest in either half is 16, a record set by the Hornets during the second half of an 89-67 loss to the Clippers on March 1, 2006. The Hornets accomplished this feat by scoring 8 points (4-for-20) in the third quarter and 8 points again (1-for-14) in the fourth.
Is that enough historical perspective for you?
You could argue the ball got rolling in the first quarter when the Bulls held the Hawks to 6-for-18 shooting and outscored them 26-15. But as ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell reports, this blowout began Monday morning at the Berto Center.
Said Taj Gibson: ”As soon as he called us (out) in the walk-through and his face, his tension, how he was just looking everybody in the eye just raging. He was raging this morning. He basically said it was his job to really focus and get us better. And he said that he felt that he’s been slipping because he understands that we need to play harder, we need to work harder, because every game in this league is tough to win. He really dug into guys. He looked at everybody straight eye to eye and guys understood that. Nobody was joking around in here today. Everybody was serious faced and everybody knew what we needed to do today.
“It was crazy how he was yelling at us with so much passion. And understanding what it takes to be the best. He said the East is so crazy, you can be high one moment and lose the next couple of games. And we understand that we need to stay on a high pace because we really need to do better because we don’t have Derrick [Rose] right now. We don’t have our superstar that helps us out in the fourth quarter, especially when we’re down a lot of points late. We have to push and understand that we need to help each other and get better.”
Added Joakim Noah: “Early this morning, Tibs was going crazy on us at shootaround. Just waking up early in the morning and having Tibs just screaming at you and screaming at you and screaming at you, we didn’t want that to happen to us again. We were ready for this one. We had the right mindset, played with the edge and we rebounded the ball really well. Everyone came in and stepped up.”
They sure did. The Hawks trailed by as many as 44 points and never have a chance.
Said Atlanta coach Larry Drew: ”This was very, very embarrassing. From where we were as a team to where we’re at right now, we have lost all sense of team on both ends of the floor. And why that’s happened I really can’t put my finger on it.”
The Bulls didn’t shoot well (41.8 percent), but they knocked down 43 percent of their threes (6-for-14), earned 33 free throws, scored 44 points in the paint and scored at a rate of 110.5 points per 100 possessions.
Carlos Boozer (20 points, 7-for-14, 13 rebounds) and Luol Deng (18 points, 7-for-9, 2 steals) did most of the heavy lifting on offense. Noah was only 2-for-11 from the field but ripped down a game-high 16 rebounds. Gibson came off the bench to contribute 8 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
Atlanta Injury Report:
Anthony Morrow: questionable (strained hip/sore back)
Last year, even if the Bulls weren’t playing well in a particular game, you still felt like that had a good chance to win. Whether that was through effort, hustle or sheer will, they always seemed to be in the game. But that isn’t the case this year. Right from the start, they didn’t have it going against the Suns, and they never looked right. Last season, I think they would have fought, kept it close, and even if they did lose—which they rarely did at home—they would have gone down scratching and clawing. And this was even in the games they were missing Derrick Rose.
That clearly didn’t happen last time out against Phoenix. And I’m not saying that they Bulls didn’t try or give the same effort they did last year, because I don’t think that’s the problem. But they had something last year that is definitely missing from this year’s team. Maybe it was the always reliable bench, which could fill in for the starters. Maybe it was just having Rose around for most of the games, knowing he could single-handedly carry them on offense.
I don’t think it’s as simple as talent, because there were numerous times, when the Bulls were dealing with injuries last year, in which they won games when they were out-matched. Everybody has bad games, I get that, but these are so bad, so ugly, that it seems something has to be wrong. The Suns had lost 12 in a row on the road and the Bulls got blown out. The Bobcats had lost 18 straight overall.
I’m not sure what it is, and neither are the Bulls. “We’re going on the road and beating some of the best teams, then coming home against lower-echelon teams and not competing,” Joakim Noah said. “If we all knew what the problem was, we’d do something about it.”
Tom Thibodeau seems to think he pinpointed it though. “We have to play with more intensity, more of an edge,” Thibs said. “We are not doing that. We have to correct it.”
Whatever it may be, the Bulls need to figure it out or find what they are missing, because these home losses—many of which are to subpar teams—aren’t acceptable and aren’t going to give the Bulls much of a shot in the playoffs…if they make it there.
Chicago has looked good against the better teams they have played lately, with wins over the Heat and Knicks. But both of those victories were on the road, where the Bulls are 10-5. Tonight they take on the Hawks in the United Center, an arena Chicago has stumbled to a 10-10 record in. That .500 home record is tied for sixth worse in the NBA. Behind teams like Phoenix, Toronto and Minnesota and tied with Sacramento and Detroit.
Atlanta is slumping right now, going 1-5 over their last six games. The Hawks are just 9-9 on the road this year, and are coming off of a double-digit loss at Washington. Jeff Teague’s 19 points and Al Horford’s double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) weren’t enough to overcome the Hawks’ poor shooting and the big rebounding margin. Atlanta shot 38.5 percent from the field and was out-rebounded 51-38, including 12-6 on the offensive glass.
Josh Smith and company are just 4-6 over their last ten, very similar to the Bulls’ 5-5 record. Atlanta has lost to some bad teams as well, falling to Detroit, Minnesota, Cleveland and its most recent loss in Washington.
The Bulls got blown out the first time these squads met in December. Chicago didn’t score more than 21 in a quarter, Luol Deng was the Bulls’ high-scorer with eleven points and they were out-rebounded by 14. On the other side of it, Horford went 9-12 for 20 points and ten rebounds and Atlanta’s starters shot 53.5 percent from the field.
It’s weakness against weakness in this one apparently, as the Bulls have lost two straight at home, and Atlanta is coming into the United Center with four straight road losses. If there is one thing Chicago likes to do at home, other than take a nice bath with candles lit, it’s end other teams’ streaks. The Suns had fallen 12 straight times on the road, the Bobcats had lost 18 straight overall and now Atlanta could end its much shorter four-game road skid. But the Bulls also like to play up to its opponents, as they have showed against New York (three times) and Miami. Something is going to snap. I just hope it’s not Nate Robinson’s spine on Tom Thibdeau’s knee.