I figured as long as the game didn’t come down to a crazy half-court buzzer-beater by Devin Harris, the Bulls would be in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, Harris — unlike the Bulls – treated the entire fourth quarter like it was the last second of a must-win game: He scored 19 of his 42 points in the final 12 minutes by going 7-for-9 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line. His performance was the hammer stroke in a 111-99 Nets win that allowed New Jersey to tie Chicago for ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
It was a Mount Vesuvius-size eruption, with the Bulls playing the part of Pompeii…mostly in that they just sort of sat there, unmoving, while fiery death rained down on them. Don’t get me wrong. Harris was blazing hot. He hit a couple threes and a wicked running jumper from 14 feet out, but four of his seven fourth-quarter field goals were layups, and the only way the Bulls could have been bigger spectators during those drives was if they’d been wearing 3D glasses and munching on popcorn.
And trust me, this loss was like watching one of those cheesy 1930s era horror movies where the monster keeps coming back to life over and over. Only in those flicks, a scientist either figured out the monster’s fatal weakness or a mob of angry villagers burned down the mansion/laboratory/windmill it was hiding in. But Vinny doesn’t do science and the Bulls players were all out of pitchforks and torches, so Harris had his way during the Fourth Quarter of Doom.
And if I sound even remotely bitter, it’s because I am. Harris was burning Derrick Rose, so Vinny Del Negro resorted to what’s become his favorite “trick” as of late: He benched Derrick for the final 4:52 of the fourth quarter. Before hitting the pine, Rose had attempted only one shot in the quarter. Vinny, of course, wanted to put a better defender on the court. But here’s the problem: Devin scored 9 points while Derrick was in and then 10 points after Vinny replaced him with Kirk Hinrich.
Okay, look, we all know Kirk is a better defender. But as By The Horns reader AK Dave pointed out the other day, Hinrich does his best work on D against bigger, stronger guards. Guys like Harris — or T.J. Ford of the Pacers — are too quick for him to cover. And the Bulls don’t have the kind of interior help defense necessary to cut off penetrators once they stroll past their first-wave defender.
But to be honest, Harris was only half the problem. The other half was Chicago’s offensive meltdown. They were outscored 37-21 in the final quarter in what is, has been and apparently will be typical Bulls fashion: An outside brick-a-thon. They shot 7-for-25 in the fourth, including misses in 10 of their first 11 tries.
And our good buddy Tyrus Thomas was front and center in that brutal opening stretch, missing not one, not two, not even three, but four jumpers…from 18, 7, 20 and 16 feet out. The last two of those shots were taken on the same possession (after a couple offensive rebounds and a jump ball won by Joakim Noah). That’s offense gone horribly, horribly wrong. Said Vinny: “We took too many jump shots. Our ball movement wasn’t nearly as crisp. I thought some of [Tyrus' shots] were forced. And that’s something we’ll talk about. But Tyrus wasn’t the only one.”
Whatever. I prefer Ben Gordon’s more acerbic appriasal: “We just did stupid stuff the whole game. Stupid shots, stupid decisions, stupid defense. We lost this one if you ask me. We self-destructed.” No kidding.
I’ll go ahead and allow that fatigue might have set in. In the NBA, it’s always hard to win in the second game of back-to-backs, especially when you’re the road team. And the Bulls did play reasonably well through three quarters, and they were actually up by four points entering the fourth before everything went to hell. But seeing the cup as half full doesn’t do much good when you’re probably going to need a full glass to make the playoffs. The only good news is that the Bucks were blown out in Dallas while the Bulls were losing in New Jersey, so we didn’t lose any more ground to them. But, like I said, we’re also tied with the Nets. Every game down the stretch is going to be crucial. Let’s hope Vinny and the crew finally learned something from this recurring nightmare-style loss.
Update! TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott was at the game, and here are his observations: “From my seat, as the Nets poured on the points in the fourth quarter, my thought was: Where are the long, athletic guys this team is supposed to be developing? On the second night of a back-to-back, wiith the Bulls suddenly fizzling and Devin Harris shredding the perimeter D, I wanted to see Tyrus Thomas (a candidate to become one of the NBA’s truly elite shot-blockers and defenders, and a player who has to be good for the Bulls to be good, long-term) and Joakim Noah (plays like he’s on espresso at all times, and can barely stand still long enough to shoot a free throw) keep trying. Neither of them were brilliant last night, but the Bulls played a lot of time entirely devoid of spirit — and these guys address that.
“Yes, I understand the run started when they checked in for a few minutes early in the fourth quarter. But it kept right on going after they checked out a few minutes later. Meanwhile — think big picture. What’s so great about figuring out how to win with Tim Thomas and Brad Miller? In no scenario are they around when this team returns to prominence. I’d rather roll the dice, win or lose, with the team’s long-term assets.”