April 16, 2009
Me and my big metaphorical mouth.
Yesterday on Basketbawful, I made what was, in retrospect, a rather rash and foolish statement regarding Philadelphia’s loss to the Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen-less Celtics: “The defeat will almost certainly cost the Sixers the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs (unless the Bulls lose at home to the Raptors and Philly manages to beat the Cavs in Cleveland), which will force them to face Boston in the first round. So, you know, uh oh.”
What a boner…especially considering I’m the person who invented the term “stat curse.” Not only that, I’m also the guy who has repeatedly mocked the New Jersey Nets for going 23-40 and failing to reach the postseason after some early season success that caused Devin Harris to utter the now infamous line: “We knew we were going to be a playoff team.”
Yep. I fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: No NBA team can ever — I repeat, ever — simply pencil in a victory. No matter how well they’ve been playing, no matter how lousy the opponent, and no matter how invincible they seem at home. It’s a time-proven formula for failure. That’s science. Look it up.
So the worst-case scenario, which really had seemed unthinkable, actually happened: The Bulls lost 109-98 to the Raptors at the United Center, while the Sixers pulled out a 111-110 overtime victory in Cleveland. Now, instead of facing a suddenly struggling and potentially vulnerable Magic team, Chicago has to face the defending champions in the first round. You know, the same squad that managed to win 62 games despite the fact that their top dog and reigning Defensive Player of the Year missed almost a third of the season with a sprained right knee.
Sweet Lincoln’s mullet, what happened?! The Bulls had won 12 of their last 15 games and 14 of 15 at home. The Raptors, meanwhile, entered the game a disappointing 32-49 — unlucky number 13 in the East — and had nothing to play for except being the spoiler. Well, that’s not quite true. This was Shawn Marion’s last chance to audition for a big free agent contract, and he played like it, going off for a game-high 34 points on a video game-like 15-for-18 from the f ield to go along with 11 rebounds.
The Chi-towners brought less energy to the game than your average DMV employee brings to work each day. The Raptors just plain wanted it more, a fact that’s pretty obvious from one quick glance at the stat sheet: Toronto outrebounded the Bulls 57-40. (Chris Bosh grabbed 19 of those caroms.) Now, Chicago isn’t a great rebounding team — they have a -0.5 differential on the year — but to lose the Battle of the Boards by 17 at home in a semi-must-win game? Really?
The Raps also, amazingly enough, outran the Bulls, as evidenced by their 19-10 edge in fast break points. Said Ben Gordon: “We had lackluster energy.” He’s not wrong.
This stinker was more than a little surprising, particularly after the team’s impressive road win against the Pistons on Monday. It happens, I guess. They’ve been playing above their heads for a while. Guys have been logging a lot of minutes. John Salmons (5 points, 1-for-7) is struggling with that sore groin. (The way he played, his groin better be ready to fall off. At least that might explain his misdirected shooting and non-existent defense on Marion.) Plus, it sure seems like they’ve started taking their recent home dominance a little for granted. Memo to the Bulls: You still have to play the games.
Well, no use crying over spilled milk. All you can do is wipe it up and move on. And hope that Kevin Garnett is still far less than 100 percent. And that Paul Pierce wore himself out playing too many minutes to compensate for KG’s absence. And that Ray Allen misplaces his jump shot. And that Derrick Rose can handle Rajon Rondo. And, and, and…
Player notes: Rose finished his Rookie of the Year campaign with a double-double (20 points, 11 assists). He also added 2 blocks and a steal. Ben Gordon scored a team-high 23 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there. Joakim Noah (17 points, 8-for-11, 9 boards) and Tyrus Thomas (12 points, 6-for-11, 8 rebounds) had decent numbers, but I wish they would have done a better job protecting the glass. Salmons, as noted, was a disaster. Brad Miller had a double-double off the bench (14 points, 11 rebounds) but missed nine of his 14 shot attempts. Kirk Hinrich had his phaser set to “suck”…he went scoreless (0-for-6) in 17 minutes.
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
February 13, 2009
Melissa Isaacson of the Chicago Tribune: “Given two chances in the final 6.5 seconds to defeat the Bulls on Thursday night at the United Center, the Miami Heat knew precisely what it was doing the second time around. Watching what the Bulls did not do defensively on Miami’s previous inbounds play, the Heat was smarter when it got the ball again with 3.5 seconds left. This time when Shawn Marion inbounded the ball, he not only made sure to get it to Dwyane Wade, but Marion cut straight to the basket for a return pass and scored on a ridiculously easy game-winning slam when Tyrus Thomas moved up to cover Wade and left Marion open. Looking for three quarters like they already had left for the All-Star break, the Bulls’ 95-93 loss was still another lesson of the old too-little, too-late variety.”
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “The Bulls had trouble taking care of the ball throughout this 95-93, last-second loss to the Miami Heat. The last of the Bulls’ 19 turnovers came with 3.5 seconds left and the game tied. Dwyane Wade stole Thabo Sefolosha’s inbound pass intended for Ben Gordon, who led all scorers with 34 points. Wade called time as he was falling out of bounds in front of the Heat bench. … Derrick Rose wasn’t open because he wasn’t in the game at the time.”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “No way Derrick Rose shouldn’t be on the court when the Bulls took possession with 4.7 seconds left. That’s plenty of time to set up a drive to the basket. The Bulls made their comeback with three guards on the floor – Rose, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich – to go with Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. Thabo Sefolosha and Luol Deng came in for Gordon and Rose during the late defensive possessions, so Vinny Del Negro decided to leave Sefolosha in to throw the inbounds pass. After watching the replay, Hinrich was basically unguarded near midcourt, so Thabo had a better option than trying to lob it over Wade to get to Gordon in the corner. If Rose catches a pass from Hinrich at midcourt with 4.7 seconds on the clock, plenty of things could happen.”
Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald: “The Bulls were pretty sure that they would not regret making Derrick Rose the top pick in last year’s draft instead of Michael Beasley. The choice has paid off, with Rose figuring prominently into the conversation for the Rookie of the Year award while Beasley has been solid but not spectacular for the Miami Heat. Thursday night, with Beasley and the Heat in town to face the Bulls, the gap was not as clear. Rose scored 18 points to go with six assists, and Beasley made 9 of 10 shots off the bench to finish with 21 points and seven rebounds. ‘He was very good for them tonight,’ Rose said. ‘Him, [Dwyane] Wade and [Shawn] Marion were all very good, and those are the guys that can really carry that team.’”
Mike North and Dan Jiggetts of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Why do the Suns want to move a six-year guy who can score and rebound? Well, he has had two serious leg injuries that required surgery. And his aloofness in the locker room and lack of leadership have been questioned. Stoudemire is so good, yet the Suns want to trade him. Something isn’t right. Stoudemire has played in the league six years, but his legs say 12.”
More Brian Hanley from the Chicago Sun-Times: “Speaking of Hughes, it seems like time to send him home. He has been inactive for five games as the Bulls try to trade him. On Tuesday, he arrived in the locker room 20 minutes after players are supposed to report for a game. On Wednesday, he left while coach Vinny Del Negro called a practice-ending huddle on the Berto Center court. On Thursday, Hughes spent the game not on the bench but in a United Center lounge.”
Thomas Francis of the Broward Palm Beach New Times: “Storylines galore: The last game of the season’s first half, matching up not just the two guys that the Bulls had to choose from with the first pick in the 2008 Draft but a rematch of the two point guards who collided in last year’s NCAA title game — Derrick Rose and Mario Chalmers, who’s been looking like a second round steal and who gives Rose fits as a defender. Also, both teams are battling off court to acquire Suns star forward Amare Stoudemire. But the real storyline: ‘Luvabulls’ dancer Shanon Lersch against Heat dancer (and Boca native) Ashley Allen, both of whom were picked to be in this month’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Before we go to the game coverage, a promise: The cheerleader from the winning team will do a video victory dance for Juice readers.”
To borrow a line from Clerks: Shawn Marion wasn’t even supposed to be here today!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Last night after work, I met up with Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell at a little dive called Stocks & Blondes. We shared three buckets of beer, a couple plates of random chicken parts, and several hours of intense basketball conversation/debate on a pretty wide range of topics. It was kind of like being on a roller coaster, where you know you’re not going to fall out but it kind of feels like you are. Good times.
And in the background: The Heat-Bulls game.
We had to kind of harass our waitress to get the game turned on, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering we were smack dab in the middle of the Loop. (What, they don’t show Bulls games in Chicago anymore? We’d just won five of seven!) But eventually, about midway through the first quarter, we got our wish. And between conversation and gossip and trade rumors, we kept track of the game.
I became immediately nervous when I saw Shawn Marion was going to play. I said in the game preview that Marion’s absence was going to be a key to the game, that it would give Chicago’s frontcourt the advantage. Not only did his presence have one of those all-around impacts — 12 points, 6-for-10, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks — he ended up hitting the game winner. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
I also noted in the preview that Michael Beasley hadn’t scored 20 points in 14 games and he’d been held to single digits (7 and 4) in the last two, but “given…the ‘versus Rose’ angle, I’d expect Beasley to come out pretty fired up tonight.” Was I right? Well, let’s see: Beasley shoved aside all that “he’s been a bust” talk to contribute 21 points (on 9-for-10 shooting!!), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and 2 blocks in 30 minutes off the bench. I’d say that qualifies as “fired up.”
Beasley’s biggest impact came during a monster third-quarter stretch in which he dropped 13 on 5-for-5 shooting, including a three that put Miami up 74-60 with less than two minutes left in the period. Derrick had a good game (18 points, 7-for-14, 4 boards, 6 assists and a steal in 39 minutes), but Beasley got the better of this rookie matchup. Beware the players who are trying to make a statement.
I also pointed out that Dwyane Wade has struggled at the United Center. Coming into the game, he’d averaged only 16.6 points on 36.1 percent shooting in his last five games in our place, where the Heat had dropped three in a row. Well, I guess I stat cursed the Bullies, because Pookie scored 24 (although he shot poorly, only 9-for-23). But it wasn’t so much the points as when he scored them. Wade took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 8 points and, even more painfully, dishing to Marion for the winning flush with 1.1 seconds.
It was a bummer, no question about it. The Bulls, after trailing for most of the game, came back to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining. Then the teams traded runs — 8-0 for Miami, 7-0 for Chicago — and the game got knotted up at 93-all with 6.5 seconds left. The last trio of points of that Bulls run came from three free throws by Ben Gordon, who got fouled by Daequan Cook on a three-point attempt. I don’t know if anybody keeps stats on this, but Gordon has to lead the league in getting fouled while shooting threes. It must happen once a game, and it always seems to occur at a critical time.
I have to admit that, before the season, I was all for letting Ben walk or shipping him off in a sign-and-trade deal. I was really tired of him. But even though I haven’t been impressed with some of his antics this season, I’ve also sort of fallen back in love with him (metaphorically and Platonically speaking). He’s easily the Bulls’ most consistent player, both offensively and in general. You always know what you’re going to get out of Ben Gordon, and he’ll occasionally give you a bigger game than usual. He did last night. Not just those free throws, but also a game-high 34 points. He even had 16 free throw attempts. I don’t know if Ben is going to be around next season, but mark my words, he’ll never be as valuable for any other team as he is and has been for the Bulls.
So the score was tied and the Heat had the ball. Kirk Hinrich then stole Marion’s inbound pass and I jumped right out of my seat and high-fived a slightly confused Graydon (he was afraid that Hinrich had been called for a foul). It seemed like the perfect setup for another miracle finish or, at worst, overtime. Unfortunately, Miami threw a wet blanket over the Bulls and Thabo Sefolosha — I’m sorry, but why was he even in the game, Vinny?! — threw it right into Wade’s waiting hands. Now the Heat had it with 3.5 seconds.
Update! Here’s how Thabo described his turnover: “We had no timeouts left. I was really looking for the first and second options that we had. After that, I knew the time was running out [for a five-second violation], so I had to get rid of it. I just threw it in. [The options] are a layup on that and the five [Joakim Noah] supposedly coming back to the ball to be the safety guy. I was really looking at Ben, so I don’t know who was open.” You know who wasn’t open? Derrick Rose. Why? HE WASN’T IN THE FREAKING GAME! What the bleepity-bleep?! Here’s Vinny’s explanation for that puzzling call: “Kirk was playing well. just wanted to go that way.” Okay, fine. But why put Thabo in for the most important offensive possession of the game over Rose? I’m mystified. Absolutely mystified.
I wasn’t all that worried because, first off, there were only 3.5 seconds. And second, even though Miami has a superstar in Wade who’s entirely capable of beating you in that amount of time, Chicago had a foul to give and I was sure they’d use it almost immediately, killing a second or two off the clock. That would have most likely forced the Heat to jack it up from the outside…and I was fine with that.
Instead, the Bulls didn’t foul, Tyrus Thomas collapsed on a driving Wade who hit a cutting Marion for the stuff. Game over. I don’t know if it was a mental error by Tyrus or bad coaching by Vinny. But it shouldn’t have happened. How do you give up a game-winning dunk in a situation like that? To borrow a line from The Princess Bride, it’s inconceivable. And painful. And heartbreaking. And [insert description of disappointment here]. Seriously, even if Vinny for some bizarre reason decided NOT to use the foul they had to give, he should have instructed his guys to 1) stay in front of the player who catches the ball (in this case Wade) and guard the man inbounding the ball (in this case Marion) because, as Hubie Brown likes to say, that’s the most dangerous person in end-of-game situations. Instead, they didn’t take the foul, they didn’t stay in front of Wade and they didn’t guard Marion. Terrible.
A few other random notes: Thomas fell just short of another double-double (15 points, 8 rebounds). The Bulls once again committed too many turnovers, 19 in all, led by Tyrus with a game-high 6 of them. The Heat also committed turnovers, but the Bulls gave up eight more points off of theirs (22-14)…including the last two of the game. Joakim Noah pulled down a game-high 11 boards (5 offensive) but struggled to score (5 points, 1-for-5). Chicago outscored Miami 22-15 in fast break points, and I’d really like to see our guys run more, like, at every possible opportunity. Oh, and Luol Deng continued to be MIA since I dubbed him “back” after the Rockets game: 6 points, 2-for-6, 3 boards.
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
February 12, 2009
The basics: Miami (27-24) at Chicago (23-29).
Trends of note: The Heat have lost five of seven while the Bulls have won five of seven. Miami is 10-15 on the road this season and Chicago is 14-10 at home. Dwyane Wade (28.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 7.0 APG) has been playing like an MVP all year. BUT…he’s averaged only 16.6 points on 36.1 percent shooting in his last five games at the United Center, where the Heat have lost three straight. Could the city be his Kryptonite?
Is it getting warmer here, or is it just Derrick? Chicagoans have been suffering through the coldest winter in eight years and the 21st coldest winter in the past 139 years. Seriously. But the brutal cold has been letting up a bit lately, and temperatures reached the upper 50s in the downtown area earlier this week. The world’s leading meteorologists suspect this may be due to the recent play of Derrick Rose. The Bulls have won five of their last seven games, and during that stretch Rose has averaged 18.4 points on 57.1 percent shooting while dishing out 47 assists (to just 14 turnovers). He’s also scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games, including Tuesday night’s 23-point, zero-turnover performance. Even his jump shot is rounding into form: He went 7-for-11 from the outside against Detroit.
There are only two concerns. First is the shoulder to the head he received from Antonio McDyess in the closing seconds of the win against the Pistons. It knocked him out of the game and, if you saw the live broadcast, made him cry like a 10-year-old girl who’d just skinned her knee. But word has it his mommy put a Hello Kitty band-aid on the boo-boo and then kissed it for good measure, so he’ll be fine. Said Rose: “My neck cramped up. My head was hurting. I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew was I just got hit. I’m feeling fine. I had a headache [after the game]. My head doesn’t really hurt anymore.”
The second concern is that Rose had what may have been his worst game of the season in Miami back in December (10 points, 3-for-14, 5 turnovers). Of that stinker, Rose said: “I was trying to be aggressive and the shots just weren’t falling for me. I was thinking too much out there.” Let’s hope Derrick turns off his thinker tonight.
Speaking of that last game against the Heat…. Feud Alert! In case you’ve forgotten, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called a meaningless timeout with 30.9 seconds remaining in Miami’s 90-77 win over Chicago supposdedly to get Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem out of the game. This caused the Bulls to throw what many sociologists refer to as a “hissy fit.”
Said Andres Nocioni: “That upset the team. They hit our pride. There was nothing good about calling that timeout. I feel it was out of place. That is something only done to disrespect the opponent. There is no excuse or motive to call a late timeout with 25 seconds left and the game already decided.” Added Derrick Rose: “That’s going to stick with us for a while, until we play them again.” And Vinny Del Negro concluded: “We’ll play them again.” Buuuuurn.
Spoelstra, for his part, couldn’t figure out why the Bulls were freaking out. “I wasn’t clearly doing anything to show anybody up. If they want to make a big deal about it, whatever. It’s a pretty normal thing. I was perplexed by that, to be honest.” Dwyane Wade added: “Coach is very first-class. He’s not into trying to rub anything in at all.”
So…are those hard feelings going to carry over to tonight’s game? Maybe, maybe not. Vinny D recently said: “I don’t think it really will come into play that much.” Of course, then he noted: “But it doesn’t go away, either.” Spoelestra, though, isn’t concerned at all. Or at least is pretending not to be. “I think both teams have got much bigger issues to worry about and think about right now. I would be very surprised if it is a theme of the game.”
Frontcourt Play…advantage Chicago? The two players who have taken perhaps the most criticism for Chicago’s early-season woes are Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. But that’s all changed recently. Tyrus is averaging 18.5 PPG and 11.3 RPG in February and has had a double-double in six of his last seven games. Meanwhile, Joakim is averaging an almost-double-double this month (9.5 PPG and 9.0 RPG) while shooting 63 percent from the field. (He also had a game-high 16 rebounds, including 8 offensive boards, against the Pistons).
Miami’s frontcourt, on the other hand, was weakened significantly yesterday: Shawn Marion — the team’s leading rebounder — bruised his left eye orbit in practice when teammate Michael Beasley accidentally whacked him during a drill. That’s the same eye Marion injured last week in Detroit (courtesy of an inadvertent elbow from Allen Iverson). The Heat’s remaining big men — Udonis Haslem, Michael Beasley, Jamal Magloire, Joel Anthony, Yakhouba Diawara and Mark Blount — don’t exactly strike fear in my heart.
However, beware the statement game. Michael Beasley was supposed to be Rose’s primary competition for Rookie of the Year, but he’s been merely “OK” this season (13.2 PPG on 44 percent shooting to go with 5.2 RPG). He hasn’t scored 20 points in 14 games and he’s been held to single digits (7 and 4) in the last two. However, given Marion’s absence and the “versus Rose” angle, I’d expect Beasley to come out pretty fired up tonight.