January 5, 2013
The Bulls shook off a stretch of uncharacteristically poor play — they lost three of four games, including back-to-back blowout losses to the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets and a pitiful home defeat to the dreadful Charlotte Bobcats, who came into the United Center on an 18-game skid — to win back-to-back road games against the Orlando Magic and defending champion Miami Heat.
The Bulls have a distinct size advantage over many teams they face…but they don’t always take advantage of it. That has been one of the most frustrating aspects of following this club, with or without Derrick Rose. Despite employing a quartet of talented frontcourt players — Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson — the Bulls often don’t pound the ball inside the way they could (and should), despite coach Tom Thibodeau’s insistence that he runs the team’s offense inside-out.
According to Hoopstats, the Bulls rank only 21st in points scored in the paint per game (35.7). For some added perspective, that puts them behind gooey-on-the-inside teams like Phoenix (39.2) and Toronto (36.2).
Maybe Thibs realized his team wasn’t playing to its greatest strength, because the Bulls emphasized tall ball against the Magic, and it worked out pretty well, as Chicago’s starting frontcourt combined for 75 points and 25 rebounds behind Boozer’s season-high 31 points.
With Noah back in the lineup after missing the Orlando game with flu-like symptoms, the Bulls’ top four frontcourt players combined for 51 points and 37 rebounds. In all, Chicago shot 15-for-25 at the rim and outscored Miami 46-34 in the paint.
And do you want to talk about rebounding dominance? The Bulls outrebounded the Heat by a ridiculous margin of 48-28…including 19-4 on the offensive glass. That was good enough for a season-best Offensive Rebounding Percentage of 44.2. Take a close look at that number. The Bulls rebounded nearly half of their missed shots.
I know Miami ranks last in the league in total rebounds and only 22nd in Defensive Rebound Percentage…but how in the name of Brad Sellers does that happen?
Said LeBron James: “It’s just the will of going to do it. It’s a reoccurrence. You give a team like this extra possessions, they’re going to capitalize.”
And the Bulls did capitalize, outscoring the Heat 20-7 in second-chance points.
It was all about the offensive rebounding. Boozer and Noah had 6 each, and Gibson added 5. That said, Jimmy Butler had the biggest offensive board of the day. With the Bulls clinging to a 91-86 lead with 48 seconds left, Butler rebounded his own missed 21-footer and fed Boozer for a layup. That pretty much clinched the game.
Said Thibs: “We understand how important rebounding is and it showed tonight.”
Key Stat Part 1:
See the crazy rebounding numbers mentioned above.
Key Stat Part 2:
The Bulls scored at a rate of 111.6 points per 100 possessions, which was well ahead of their season average of 102.7. They had an excellent game plan and stuck with it.
Key Stat Part 3:
The Heat rank second in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 39.4 percent. Just like they did against the Knicks, the Bulls went all-out to contest three-point shots. And it worked. the Heat went 5-for-20 (25 percent) and never got into a rhythm from behind the arc. James and Shane Battier both went 1-for-5, Mario Chalmers was 1-for-3 and Mike Miller missed his only attempt.
Player of the Game:
Carlos Boozer. He followed up his season-best scoring output against the Magic by putting up a team-high 27 points against the Heat. Boozington shot 12-for-17 from the field, added a co-game-high 12 rebounds, and compiled a game-best plus-minus score of +19. Boozer shot 6-for-7 at the rim, 3-for-5 from 10-15 feet and 3-for-5 from 16-23 feet. He scored 16 points in the paint, ripped down 6 offensive board, and even played (for him) spirited defense. It was, without question, Boozer’s best game of the season…and it provided a little redemption.
One reason Bulls fans have singled out Boozer for abuse the last few seasons has been his play against the Heat. In 2010-11, Boozer averaged 16.3 points on 55 percent shooting and almost 9 rebounds per game against Miami during the regular season. He even had a couple big games against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, including a 26-point, 17-rebound outing in Game 3 and a 20-point, 11-rebound effort in Game 4. But he was terrible in Game 2 (7 points on 3-for-10 shooting) and even worse when the Bulls got eliminated in Game 5 (5 points, 1-for-6, 6 boards).
Boozer’s struggles against the Heat got even worse last season, when he averaged only 10.3 points on 43 percent shooting against them, including a dreadful 2-point game.
Last night, Boozer was dominant. He was aggressive with or without the ball and scored in various ways against a variety of defenders.
Said Noah: “I don’t know if that small ball is going to work against us. Not with guys like Carlos Boozer in the game.”
Maybe. Maybe not. But it didn’t work last night.
Goat of the Night:
I’m making this a joint “award” for Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli. Rip scored 7 points on 3-for-6 shooting in 17 minutes, but he also had a team-worst 4 turnovers. Marco also scored 7 points, but it took him 8 shots to get there. Both players had negative plus-minus scores, and neither of them ever looked entirely comfortable.
From the outside, it seems like Thibdodeau hasn’t made a decision about who should get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard. Last night, Hamilton logged 17 minutes and Belinelli played 18. Both players appear to perform their best when they get consistent time on the court. Until Thibs makes a choice, both players will likely continue to struggle.
The Butler Did It Again:
With every passing game, this kid looks more and more like the real deal. His stats don’t jump out at you from the box score — 8 points (2-for-6, 3-for-4 at the line), 5 rebounds, 2 assists — but his effort jumps out if you watch the games. He goes all out on defense and doesn’t try to do anything that’s outside of his skill set or comfort zone.
The kid’s also got a toughness streak. Late in the first half, he took it right at Dwayne Wade and hit the shot while Wade fouled him. He also knocked down the ensuing free throw. There was also a Heat offensive possession in the fourth quarter in which Butler stood up to James and even cleanly blocked LeBron’s shot. Unfortunately, the officials saw fit to call a foul even though the replay showed there wasn’t any illegal contact.
There was some concern about whether Butler would make a suitable replacement for the departed Ronnie Brewer. I think those concerns have been laid to rest. The Knicks are winning, but Brewer is not playing well, and Butler is improving by leaps and bounds.
Completely and Totally Gassed:
Deng had a rough statistical night — 6 points on 2-for-9 shooting to go with 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. He logged an exhausting 43 minutes trying to do the impossible: contain LeBron James, who cannot be contained by mortal men. By the end of the night, Deng wasn’t moving without the ball and got caught with his hands at his sides several times.
Playing long minutes against the MVP in what might be his best season ever will do that.
Please note, however, that the Bulls outscored the Heat by 12 points when Deng was on the floor, despite LeBron’s 30 points.
Quote of the Night:
Noah: “As long as we stay hungry, we stay driven, stay humble, I think the sky’s the limit. We just got to play for the right reasons, play for each other and if we play for each other I think that the sky’s the limit. And we know that our best basketball is going to come when Derrick comes back as well. It’s good (stuff), man. It’s good (stuff).”
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
February 9, 2010
Deng expected to play tonight versus Pacers:
Somewhat lost amidst all the drama surrounding Tyrus Thomas was the fact that Luol Deng missed practice on Monday because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. However, he’s expected to play tonight against the Indiana Pacers. Deng missed 33 games last season thanks to a stress fracture in his right tibia, but he’s been an iron man this season, appearing in all 49 games despite playing with a fractured left thumb.
Remember what Deng said earlier this season: “Last year when I was sitting, I made a commitment to play all 82 games this season. Even though it wasn’t my fault last year, I didn’t want anyone to say anything about me being soft anymore. That’s why I don’t want to take any game off all year. I just want to do my job.”
The Bulls do not heart Indiana:
The Pacers (18-33) aren’t a very good team. In fact, they haven’t been a very good team since The Malice at the Place. Not that Indy’s descent into mediocrity and worse has benefitted the Bulls at all. Since it opened in 1999, Chicago is 3-17 at Conseco Fieldhouse…and the Pacers’ winning percentage in these games (.850) is its best over any East opponent at home during that stretch.
Last February, Derrick Rose had one of his worst-ever games as a Bull, scoring only 3 points on 1-for-9 shooting.
Joakim Noah starring in remake of “Das Boot”:
Okay, that’s a bad joke from my freshman year German class. At any rate, the Bulls medical staff is trying to speed up Joakim’s recovery from plantar fasciitis by having him wear a protective boot and undergo both massage and electric stimulation. He also had blood was taken from his arm and injected into the foot.
I swear that last part isn’t a witch doctor cure.
According to John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy — used in plastic surgery since the 1990s — has gotten more popular among athletes, getting a push when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward credited the treatment with getting him on the field in time for last year’s Super Bowl, said Martin Leland, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center who is not working with the Bulls.”
Vinny tepid on Tyrus Thomas’ return:
Regarding “Tirade” Thomas’ return to Bulls practice, Vinny said: “What happened, happened. It’s over with. Hopefully, Tyrus learns from it and gets better. But, it’s not the first thing that’s happened with Tyrus. He’s got to be smarter and he’s got to be committed to the team. Today was a good practice — not for him, but for everybody and now we’ve got to move on.”
On how Tyrus can earn more playing time (emphasis mine): “Tyrus has got to run the court. Play hard. Execute the game plan. Hit open 15-foot jumpers. Be committed to the team. Same thing everyone else does. Everyone has a job on this team. Certain guys do different things better than others. Everyone knows their role, knows what they need to do and now they have to go out and do it. And the guys that go out on a consistent basis and are coachable and want to buy into the team and give us the best chance to win — those are the guys that are going to be out there. It’s a very simple process.”
Well, I guess VDN actually wants Ty chucking up jumpers…
Barkley high on Del Negro, low on Thomas:
Even though Vinny has apparently given Thomas a green light to shoot, Charles Barkley is still campaigning for Del Negro. Said Sir Charles: “If he gets the Bulls back to the playoffs, Vinny Del Negro should be NBA Coach of the Year. Derrick Rose was hurt. Tyrus Thomas was hurt a lot and crazy a lot. If he gets that team back to the playoffs after losing Ben Gordon, I think that’s a hell of a year.”
Regarding what to do with Thomas after his blowup at Vinny: ”What I would say to him? Uh, listen, say it just didn’t work out here. ‘You’ve been traded to, uh … (laughs).”
Bulls earn C+ last week:
From Pippin Ain’t Easy: “The win against Miami was big, but the 3 straight losses just helps to emphasize the Bulls inconsistencies coming off a 5-game road winning streak.”
Memo the the Bulls — Crash the boards:
According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald, from December 11 through February 2, the Bulls beat their opponents on the boards in 21 of 26 games. Now — with Joakim Noah first limited and then sidelined by plantar fasciitis — they’ve lost the rebound battle in three straight games. Enter Chris Richard.
April 22, 2009
The second-biggest storyline coming out of Game 2 — after Jesus Shuttlesworth versus Air Gordon — was the Bulls’ lack of timeouts in the closing seconds, which forced a final (and fatal) 50-foot heave from Tyrus Thomas as time expired. And in true “I’m Italian!” fashion, the one person not second-guessing Vinny Del Negro is…Vinny Del Negro.
According to the Notorious VDN: “You always want to try and keep a time out, but you always want to try to keep yourself in the game. There’s no need to save your time outs if you’re down 15 points, or 10, or 12. At certain times, when they’re making runs like that, and we get the ball with 20 seconds to go in the game and we’re down two, I want to make sure we get a good shot and have an opportunity to tie. Because if we don’t execute well and set something up — especially with a young team — then they’re shooting free throws and the game’s probably over. So I would have liked to have had one at the end, but sometimes you can keep them and sometimes you have to use them to stay in the game.
“People are going to second guess and first guess. So what? I don’t care. They can guess. I’m the coach. I’m going to make the decisions. That’s the way it is. In two seconds or whatever we’ve got to take the ball out of bounds. The ball is going to go to Derrick, because he’s our fastest guy to get it up the court. We set up a play in the time out. We didn’t execute it because the Celtics did a good job with their execution. And that’s the end of the game. I mean, two seconds, I don’t second guess that.”
And now, the money shot. On whether he regrets his use (or, if you’re a critic, misuse) of timeouts: “No not at all. Not a second.”
First off, let’s look at the timeouts Vinny called down the stretch. There was a full timeout with 1:54 following a couple miscues by the Bulls and a quick mini-spurt by the Celtics that cut a five-point Chicago lead to 109-108. The result: A midrange shot from Ben Gordon to make it 111-108. There was a 20-second timeout with a minute left and Boston up 112-111. The result: A 20-footer from BG to put Chicago up 113-112. The final pause, another 20-second timeout with 20 ticks on the clock, predeced another Gordon jumper (from 16 feet out) that tied the game at 115-115 with 12 seconds to go.
To recap: All three late-game TOs resulted in made shots that either increased the lead, took the lead or tied the game. (Chicago’s only other second-half timeout was used with 2:50 left in the third quarter.) So in a sense, they were a success in that they all led to scoring conversions, which gave the team a very real chance to win the game. And mind you, there’s some 20-20 hindsight going on here. The only reason people are screaming about this is because Ray Allen hit an incredible shot over Joakim Noah. If Allen had missed that shot — which wouldn’t have been much of a stretch — then nobody’s talking about this now.
And honestly, what was Vinny supposed to say? Would it have made his critics — or, more importantly, his team — feel any better if he was killing himself with regret? I doubt it. And while I certainly hope that Vinny is able to hold onto a timeout (or two) in Game 3, I’d be giving him a little more hairy eyeball if the ones he called in Game 2 had ended in empty possessions.
Onto rebounding, the third-biggest storyline of Game 2. According to one AP article, the Bulls are “seething” over how badly they were beaten on the boards. (Note that there aren’t any particularly juicy quotes that communicate that seething feeling, but whatever.) To tell you the truth, I’ll be more interested to see what kind of adjustments Vinny makes in the team’s rebounding than how many timeouts he holds onto. Can he rely on Joakim, Tyrus and Brad to deny Boston the second-chance opportunities they lived off of in Game 2? Will he press the “little guys” (Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons) to crash the boards a little harder? And if he does, will that slow down the running game?
I tend to think he’ll continue to put the onus on his big men to get the job done. The Bulls have become a running team. Their fast break has really hurt the Celtics in the first two games; Chicago had a 24-13 advantage in fast break points in Game 1 and a 21-10 edge in Game 2. I doubt he’ll want to surrender that weapon.
Update! Actually, Vinny’s putting the onus on everybody. Here’s the scoop: “Everybody has to do a better job rebounding, not just the bigs. Guards have to get in there and get long rebounds. Rondo has hurt us bad with his rebounding and overall game.”
One last thing. According to a little urban legendry, Chicago’s team logo might hide a rather benign secret: “If you turn the Bull’s head upside down it reveals…a robot sitting on a park bench, reading the Bible. The Bull’s nostrils form the robot’s eyes, its furrowed brows are the open pages of the book, and the horns are the legs of a park bench. (Why the Bible? Well, it just looks like a big book.)” And in case you need a visual:
Not exactly the Da Vinci Code…but mildly interesting nonetheless.
April 21, 2009
Holy crap! You wanted playoff drama, you got playoff drama. This game had everything: Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…
Okay, okay. That was actually The Princess Bride. But this game sure had its share of fairytale-like elements. A proud but ailing champion. A fierce and determined underdog. Mortal combat. A duel for the ages. And, of course, a thrilling last-second victory. Unfortunately, the Bulls were not the recipient of tonight’s happy ending…the Celtics won 118-115 to even this best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
But what a wild ride it was. I literally cannot summarize this game. It was way too epic, far too full of twists and turns, a million little momentum shifts and heroic deeds. (I’m pretty sure the live broadcast saved a burning orphanage and walked several little old ladies across the street…maybe even rescued a kitten from a tree.) But I’ll try to break down some of the key components of what went down:
Derrick Rose: Rose, the unquestioned superhero of Game 1, got tagged with two early fouls and never totally got back into the flow of the game. (Credit the Celtics’ defensive game plan, which clearly had a “Rose Rules” element added in, as explained at Celtics Hub.) He finished with 10 points (5-for-11), 6 rebounds and a team-high 7 assists — good numbers, but certainly not great — and he was thoroughly outplayed by his Boston counterpart.
Rajon Rondo: Real scary moment for the Celtics when Rondo suffered a minor right ankle sprain in the second quarter. He missed the final five minutes of the first half but returned in the third quarter and finished with a triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 16 assists). He also had a game-high 5 steals. Rondo was aggressive and forced the action all night. Plus, he hit a clutch 20-footer with a minute left to put Boston up 112-111, then he snagged a critical offensive rebound with 30 seconds to go and hit Ray Allen for a threeball that put Boston up 115-113. He also assisted on Allen’s last-second game winner (more on that below). If it wasn’t for Derrick’s nuclear-powered Game 1, Rajon would be the MVP of the series so far.
The Battle of the Boards: The Celtics won this one, big time, 50-36, including a 21-8 edge on the offensive glass. That rebounding dominance allowed Boston to score 32 second-chance points (to Chicago’s 12). That is the single-biggest reason the Bulls lost this game. If you repeatedly give a great team extra shots at the basket, they’re going to start hitting them. As coach Vinny said: “I loved the grit and toughness of our team, but you can’t expect to win when you get outrebounded like that.” Update! Nate pointed out in the comments that the Bulls’ “little men” were partly responsible for the rebounding deficiency. And, indeed, Ben Gordon and John Salmons combined for 2 defensive boards, while Rondo had 7 offenisve rebounds.
Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins: Boston’s big men put the hurt on us, no doubt about it. Big Baby is sort of a “Kevin Garnett lite” — or, actually, based on his hefty girth, maybe he’s more of a “Kevin Garnett heavy” — but he did virtually everything KG would have done. (Well, except for on the defensive end.) Davis shot 12-for-21, snared 9 rebounds (4 offensive) and finished with 26 points (second-best on his team, behind Ray Allen). Moreover, Baby worked the Bulls over with his constant hustle and intensity, which may be why he finished with best plus-minus score of the game (+20). Perkins, meanwhile, muscled his way to 16 points (7-for-9), 12 boards (7 offensive) and 2 blocks.
Block party: Chicago’s interior defense was wicked-aggressive, as the team finished with 14 blocked shots (to Boston’s 4). Tyrus Thomas had 6 of those blocks, and Joakim Noah had 4 of them. Here’s the “but” though: The Celtics retained possession after several of those stuffs, and they managed to score several times after getting the ball back. Ty and Jo really need to work on controlling the rebound off their blocks or tapping it to a teammate.
Brad Miller: Whatever was wrong with him in Game 1 — during which he shot 2-for-11 — had been fixed by the time he checked into Game 2. Brad shot 4-for-8 from the field (including 1-for-1 from downtown) and 7-for-8 from the line for his 16 points, plus he grabbed a team-high 8 defensive rebounds (3 more than Joakim and double what Tyrus had). And in case you’re wondering why Miller played 36 minutes to Ty’s 20, it might be worth checking out the plus-minus column in the box score. The Bulls were outscored by 21 points when Tyrus was in the game, but they were +19 when Miller was on the floor. Only two other Chicago players had positive plus-minus marks: Lindsey Hunter was +2 and Rose was +1. If advanced stats mean anything at all, then they’re a sign that, for one night at least, the Bulls were a much better team with Brad on the floor.
One BIG knock on Miller, though: Those 4 turnovers. Ouch.
The transition game: Despite the fact that Boston came out running early, the Bulls still finished with a 21-10 advantage in fast break points.
Ray Allen versus Ben Gordon: In 1988, it was Larry versus Dominique. In 2008, it was The Truth versus King James. This season, it was Jesus Shuttlesworth versus Air Gordon. And no, I’m not overstating things: This playoff shootout was right up there with the best of them. In fact, if it had been, say, Kobe Bryant and LeBron going at each other the way Ray and BG did, your children’s children’s children would be hearing about it.
Gordon scored a playoff career-high 42 points (14-for-24, 6-for-11 from downtown), including Chicago’s final 12. He was so hot that the Boston defenders probably ended up with second and third degree burns from just standing near him. Seriously, Gordon was hitting every possible shot from every conceivable angle. Even video games aren’t that ridiculous. Said Little Ben: “I was in a zone. I really don’t remember what happened. I was in a zone. Every time I got the basketball, I tried to get a good shot and a good look at the basket.” (Gordon also finished with zero assists and zero turnovers. So, you know, he was definitely thinking “shoot first.” But hey, I’m not complaining…)
Unfortunately, Ray Allen had the same kind of second-half sizzle, scoring 28 of his 30 points in the final 24 minutes, including the game-winning three — over Noah’s desperately outstretched hand — with two seconds left. Allen finished 9-for-18 and matched Gordon’s six triples. Plus, Ray-Ray said that he and Ben were exchanging more than just clutch jumpers: “We were exchanging jabs there, and I don’t mean shots. I mean he caught me with an elbow, I got him right back with an elbow. It was…competitive.”
Clock (mis)management: Just like in Game 1, the Bulls were out of timeouts in the final seconds, so when Allen nailed the go-ahead three-pointer, the best Chicago could do was a running 46-footer from Tyrus Thomas as time expired. Memo to Vinny: Could you please, please, pretty-please save a timeout next time? The way things are going in this series, it looks like you’re going to need one or two down the stretch.
No fear: Okay, quick question: Where in the world did the Bulls’ poise come from? They nearly came away from a two-game stint in very hostile territory against the defending champions with a 2-0 series lead. They never looked nervous, scared or overwhelmed…how is that possible?
Looking ahead: So, after two tight games in Boston, the Bulls have to be feeling pretty good about Games 3 and 4 at the United Center, where they’ve been killing people for the last couple months. Said Tyrus: “To do what we did (Monday night) and know we’re headed back to the United Center is a good feeling for us.” No doubt.
But…it’ll be interesting to see how the team responds to playing at home. They were able to play pretty free and loose in Beantown. After all, they weren’t supposed to win there, right? That sometimes eases the pressure. However, a team absolutely must win its home games in the playoffs, and that can make players a little tight and tentative.
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.