In terms of injuries and sheer dumb luck, the Bulls haven’t caught many breaks this season. But last night at least, the bad breaks started going their way for a change. Seemingly.
After all, the Milwaukee Bucks showed up to the United Center without Andrew Bogut, who will miss the rest of the season recovering from surgery on his broken right hand. By the numbers — Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares in particular — Bogut is Milwaukee’s best and most important player. That’s a pretty big loss.
What’s more, the Toronto Raptors — the team standing between the Bulls and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers after their best player, Chris Bosh, suffered a “maxilla and nasal fracture to the right side of his face” during a collision with Antawn Jamison.
So all the Bulls had to do to tie the Bosh-less Raptors in the standings was win a home game against the Bogut-less Bucks. Considering the fact that Chicago is set to face the Raptors in Toronto on Sunday, it looked like the Bulls’ destiny was finally in their own hands.
Of course, they blew it.
Normally, playing at home and holding an opponent to 79 points on 36 percent shooting is enough to win an NBA game. But after starting the game on fire and leading 27-14 at the end of the first quarter, the Bulls were outscored 28-9 in the second. And yes, those 9 points were Chicago’s season low for a single quarter.
When Bulls players are sitting at home watching the first round of the playoffs on television, they’ll probably remember that 12 minutes as the quarter that cost them a shot at the postseason.
What in the world happened? The Bulls had the advantage. They had the momentum. They had the motivation. Can somone explain this to me?
Kirk Hinrich, who’s 4-for-16 shooting night was a big part of the problem, said: “They’re a good defensive team, but I think it was more than just the shots. We kind of had them going early in the game, we were relaxed and then they kind of outworked us in the second quarter and that kind of changed the momentum of the game. I think it’s more mental. I think we have a tendency to relax. We relaxed and they cranked it up and they got more aggressive defensively and we never really had an answer for them.”
Whaaaaaa?! How? How does a team “relax” against a vulnerable opponent when their entire season is on the line? That’s as stunning as it is unacceptable.
This was a prime time for Derrick Rose to back up his words. Instead, he ate them. Rose dished out a game-best 11 assists but also finished with a game-worst 6 turnovers. He scored 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting and got to the free throw line only once. That last fact is more damning than the turnovers and bad shooting. Granted, the Bucks were clogging the paint to prevent penetration, and Chicago’s outside shooters weren’t opening things up. But Derrick needed to be more aggressive. He needed to force the action and earn some whistles when his team needed him the most. That’s what franchise players must do.
Instead, John Salmons haunted his old team by earning a game-high eight foul shots and scoring a game-best 26 points. Salmons brought his A-Game on a night when the rest of the Bucks’ starters contributed only 16 points on 6-for-26 shooting. Chicago’s loss really was Milwaukee’s gain. For this season, at least.
Granted, the Bulls fought their way back to take a 65-63 lead with 6:13 left. But the Bucks immediately regained control as Chicago’s offense started sputtering down the stretch. The Bulls simply could not get a good shot. Credit some strong defense by the Bucks…and some downright bawful playcalling by Vinny Del Negro.
Now, I’ve been trying to take it easy on Vinny lately. After all, the Bulls overachieved last season and — despite a litany of injuries — are at least in the hunt for a playoff berth this season. But the garbage he was calling down the stretch cut three or four years off my life span.
Again, Milwaukee’s defense was stellar — what else would you expect from a Scott Skiles-coached team? — and maybe the Bulls players failed to execute. But down by three points with under 10 seconds to go, Brad Miller got called for traveling on one of the ugliest drives to the hoop I’ve ever seen. Why was Miller going for two when his team desperately needed three? Don’t ask me.
And don’t ask me why, after a forced foul of Brandon Jennings that put the Bulls down by four points, the Bulls came out of the timeout and got a two-point jumper from Hinrich, the coldest-shooting player on the floor.
This was a total failure by everybody. The players failed. The coaching staff failed. And of course management gave the Bucks the player (Salmons) who is helping send the Bulls to the lottery.
Said Rose: “We weren’t passing the ball enough, me making poor decisions, everyone just couldn’t get in a groove today. Nobody could get in the right groove to pull this team along. That’s why we struggled. We haven’t played this way in a while.”
Given those facts, and the importance of this game, maybe it’s better the Bulls don’t make the playoffs.
Update!Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald lumped a lot of blame on Chicago’s dreadful lack of outside shooting. I would like to extend that to the Bulls’ lack of offensive diversity. Look, I’ve said this so often this season I don’t always bring it up to avoid needless repetition, but the Bulls are a mid-range jumpshooting team. They don’t have an inside scoring threat, and they don’t have high percentage long-range shooters.
Yes, I think Vinny’s playcalling deficiencies exacerbate that. But, honestly, when the offense bogs down, shots aren’t falling, and the opposing team clogs the paint, the Bulls are rendered helpless. Like, turtle-rolling-around-on-it’s-back helpless. There’s no safety valve. No post player to dump the ball to. No lineup of marksmen that can open up driving lanes. The Bulls are often the victim of what they don’t have.
“Try this on for size, as something that is percolating. And as of now, this is all I can tell you. I’m not going to tell you this is a done deal, or that it’s even close, but as far as something that is out there as a possibility. Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas, and at least one pick to the Toronto Raptors for Chris Bosh.”
Eh…it sounds to me like Boers and Bernstein were scrounging around for something to talk about. Again, maybe I’m just completely desensitized to Kirk Hinrich trade rumors, but the Raptors already have six guards on their roster and a guard-forward in Antoine Wright. Unless they can sucker some team into taking Jose Calderon off their hands – which is unlikely, since he has three years and $30 million left on his contract – why would they want to take on Hinrich and his contract ($17 million for the next two seasons)?
It just doesn’t make sense to me. From the Raptors’ perspective.
From the Bulls’ standpoint, it makes amazing sense. If they could land Bosh while getting Hinrich’s and Thomas’ deals off the books, that would leave them with enough cash to re-sign Bosh and one or more top-notch free agents next summer. But ridiculously one-sided trades don’t usually happen in the NBA unless the team getting shafted will reap the benefit of a reduced payroll. That wouldn’t happen for the Raptors…so I can’t see this deal ever going through. Unless I’m missing something.
That said, this rumor could be a sign that negotiations for Bosh are revving up. Although the Raptors have been streaking lately — winning seven of their last eight games — so would Toronto management want to mess with a hot team?
Were the Raptors playing 10-on-5 last night? Because it sure felt like it.
Getting blown out on the road by the Cleveland Cavaliers was understandable, maybe even expected. After all, the Cavs have the reigning MVP, the reigning Coach of the Year (even if Mike Brown road LeBron James’ coattails to the award), post players, shooters, loads of depth. In short, Cleveland is a championship-caliber team. The Bulls are not.
The Toronto Raptors, on the other hand, came into last night’s game 8-13 and losers of five of their last six games. What’s more, the Raptors were playing the second night of back-to-back games, which also happened to be their third road game in four nights and fourth game in five nights overall. Their previous night’s game, against the Washington Wizards (7-11) even went to overtime. Oh, and did I mention that Toronto is ranked dead last in Defensive Rating (116.6 points allowed per 100 possessions)?
Even without Tyrus Thomas (left forearm injury) and Kirk Hinrich (sprained left thumb), this game should have been a gimmie, right? Instead, the Bulls suffered a devastating homecourt loss — by 32 points! — in which they managed to score only 78 points (on 39 percent shooting) against the league’s worst defensive team. It wasn’t even competitive, as the Bulls were down 37-16 by the end of the first quarter. The Raptors didn’t pull any LeBron-esque antics, but I bet Chris Bosh felt like riverdancing.
Speaking of Bosh, he put on a nice audition for a team that might want to sign him when he becomes a free agent next summer: a game-high 25 points (9-for-12 from the field, 7-for-7 from the line), a game-best 12 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. Go ahead and add Bosh to the ever-growing list of frontcourt players who have dominated the Bulls over the past two seasons. And he did it in only 22 minutes. Bosh was feeling so good after his limited duty, he said: “It feels like I might be able to have a choice in doing something tomorrow, other than just recover. Maybe I’ll go to the mall or something.” I’m really glad the Bulls helped Bosh get a chance to do some Christmas shopping.
So…what went wrong? That’s an easy one: pretty much everything. On defense, the Bulls could not stay in front of anybody, often missed their rotations and regularly failed to provide help coverage. On offense, they couldn’t deliver a crisp pass or decide on a good shot. Derrick Rose attempted too many floaters instead of driving with authoritah. John Salmons and Jannero Pargo jacked up too many threes (a combined 2-for-13). Taj Gibson committed too many turnovers (a game-high 4). Joakim Noah got too many technical fouls (and therefore a complimentary ejection). I can’t even name a Player of the Game because their wasn’t one. Nobody played well last night.
Update! If you think I’m being hard on the Bulls, just watch this video:
Perhaps the most frustrating — and certainly the most depressing — aspect of this loss was Chicago’s stunning lack of effort and intensity. Simply put, there was no fight in the Bulls last night. How else can you explain the fact that Toronto outrebounded the Bulls 53-32, including 18-11 on the offensive glass despite the fact that Chicago had quite a few more available offensive boards? Look, I understand the Bulls are shorthanded right now, but they should not be getting outhustled and outworked at home by bad teams. They just shouldn’t.
Said Rose: “I feel like on Monday or something like that, we’ve got to go back to school or something. I feel like that right now. Tomorrow is an off day, get treatment or whatever and come back the next day, have a strong practice and we’ll be fine.”
Are you sure about that, Derrick?
I predicted the Bulls would suffer through a rough start. The team has had to contend with a change in identity (due to the loss of Ben Gordon), key injuries and an early schedule that has been packed with road games. So the sub-.500 record — currently 7-11 — I expected. What I did not expect was to repeatedly watch the Bulls fail to even compete. Blowout losses to the Nuggets, Lakers, Blazers, and Cavaliers are one thing. Blowout losses at home to other sub-.500 teams are a sign that something is seriously wrong.
I understand depth is an issue. Like I said, Thomas and Hinrich are still out. I understand the Bulls don’t have any crack shooters right now, so the spacing is bad. Their shooting is awful (29th in Effective Field Goal Percentage). Their interior defense is terrible. Their interior scoring is nonexistent. Like last season, they are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league (currently ranked 30th in Total Defensive Rebounds and 29th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage). They are 28th in Point Differential (-7.4), ahead only of the 1-18 New Jersey Nets (-10.4) and the 3-17 Minnesota Timberwolves (-11.6).
I could go on, but let’s just say that virtually every statistic available provides cause for some serious concern. And I can’t help but feel like Vinny Del Negro is in over his head. He’s not making the obvious mistakes he made during his rookie coaching season, like wasting timeouts or sitting Rose during crunch time. But Vinny seems ill-equipped to deal with the team’s personnel problems. He also can’t seem to fire them up, motivate them to go all-out on every play, every night.
That was the magic of Scott Skiles, until the players got tired of being driven like cattle, that is. Of course, it could be a problem of group mindset. Noah is the only fiery player on the team. (And sometimes, like the last few nights, a little too fiery.) Rose, Salmons, and Luol Deng all look pretty laid back. Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller can appear mellow from time to time. Pargo has some gumption, but he’s been hurting all season. Gibson and James Johnson are wide-eyes rookies. Aaron Gray…is Aaron Gray, bless his heart.
Therefore the question is: who’s going to take the reins and pull this team out of its funk? Somebody has to, because the leadership is seriously lacking right now.
Beware the second night of back-to-back games. Especially when the second game is on the road.
Thanks in part to Toronto’s apathetic approach to defense — the Raptors entered the game ranked last in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency, giving up 116+ Points Per 100 Possessions — the Bulls looked strong in the first half. After two quarters, Chicago was +10 on the boards, up 14-0 in second chance points, shooting over 50 percent from the field, and had a 60-53 halftime lead. Why, it even looked like the Bulls were going to reach the century mark in scoring for the first time this season.
As it turns out, they couldn’t even reach their season-high of 93 points.
Chicago actually kicked the lead up to 11 when Luol Deng drilled a 17-footer with 7:45 left in the third quarter, and it momentarily seemed as if the Bulls might actually run away with this one. Then things got ugly. How ugly? When everything was said and done, Chicago ended up shooting 10-for-40 (25 percent) in the second half. Ahead 88-85 with 6:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bulls went the next six minutes and 14 seconds without scoring a point until Kirk Hinrich hit the second of two free throws with 10 seconds to go.
Here’s a summary of Chicago’s offensive — and I mean that in both senses of the word — possessions during that horrifying stretch: turnover (Joakim Noah three-second violation), turnover (Luol Deng’s pass was stolen by Andrea Bargnani), Derrick Rose missed 22-footer, Deng missed 20-footer, Taj Gibson offensive rebound, Gibson 0-for-2 from the line, Deng missed 21-footer, Hinrich missed 19-footer, Hinrich missed 22-footer, turnover (Deng traveled), Rose missed 20-footer, Rose missed layup, Noah offensive rebound and missed tip shot, John Salmons missed 14-footer, Salmons missed 25-foot three-pointer, Deng missed jumper, Hinrich 1-for-2 from the line.
To sum up: 0-for-11 from the field, 1-for-4 from the line, and three turnovers. Nine of the Bulls’ 11 shot attempts were jump shots. Six of the nine jumpers were from 20 feet or further out, and one was a 19-footer.
So what can me make of this? Three things. First, the Raptors have the kind of awful defense that readily gives up — and therefore seduces opposing teams into taking — uncontested jump shots. Second, the Bulls were clearly fatigued. By the fourth quarter, their shots were consistently coming up short and you could tell they had no legs. Third, because Toronto’s defense was giving them jumpers and because they were dragging, the Bulls bailed out and took those jumpers instead of forcing the action and trying to get to the rim. And let’s face it, tired teams don’t win on a steady diet of 20-foot shots. Especially bad shooting teams…which Chicago has been so far this season.
Of course, it’s worth noting that losing Tyrus Thomas (left arm fracture) has compromised the Bulls’ frontcourt depth. Jannero Pargo’s creaky back has limited his minutes (not to mention his effectiveness), which has left the team thin in the backcourt. Obviously, it’s not an optimal situation.
And now the Bulls have dropped back to .500 (4-4), and it goes without saying that teams with aspirations of making the playoffs — and maybe even earning a fourth or fifth seed — can’t afford to lose winnable games at home (as they did against the Nuggets) and fall to bad teams on the road (as they did against the Raptors). Now Chicago faces a long and winding road before their next home game.
The Raptors won the battle in Effective Field Goal Percentage (43.7 to 40.9) and Free Throw Rate (26.1 to 23.8). The Bulls won in Turnover Percentage (13.1 to 15.1) and Offensive Rebounding Percentage (29.4 to 26.1). However, Chicago scored only 12 points off 15 forced turnovers while the Raptors also scored 12 points off 13 forced turnovers, so that was a wash. Sure, Toronto hit five more free throws, but the real culprit was Chicago’s woeful shooting. Speaking of which…
Things aren’t getting any better for Salmons, who followed up his 3-for-13 shooting performance against the Nuggets with a 1-for-11 stinker against the Raptors. On the season, John is shooting 30.6 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from downtown. “Horrific” doesn’t begin to describe Salmons’ shooting this season.
Frontcourt defensive woes:
The Bulls were again exploited by an opposing frontcourt player, as Chris Bosh — after being outplayed by Noah in the first half — finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. Bosh got stronger as the game plodded along. By the end, the Bulls simply could not contain him, especially close to the basket. Speaking of which…
The Bulls shot so poorly (39 percent for the game) mostly because they were settling for so many jumpers. Not surprisingly, the Raptors outscored them 50-36 in the paint. Also, Toronto was +11 on the boards in the second half, mostly because are best rebounder was running on fumes. Speaking of which…
Here we “Jo” again:
Noah had yet another double-double last night (12 points, 11 rebounds) to go along with 4 assists and 2 blocks. However, he had 10 points, 7 boards and 3 assists by halftime. Noah looked spent in the second half and eventually fouled out. He simply ran out of gas…like the rest of the Bulls. His fatigue was a big reason Bosh dominated the second half and Chicago got pounded in the paint.
Way to go, rookie:
Taj Gibson wowed Bulls fans by shooting 8-for-13 and scoring 18 points. He also had 5 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. The kid played his butt off. He continues to be everything management and the coaching staff wants Tyrus Thomas to be.
Update: By The Horns reader Greg left a couple comments that deserve special mention here…even if they somewhat (but correctly) temper my enthusiasm for Gibson’s play as of late: “So far this season, I’ve been thrilled with the D, good rotations, solid individual D, and I recognize that Taj has been a big part of that steadiness with his solid understanding of the game. That said…1 Defensive Rebound in 34 mins in a game that we lose due to being crushed on the boards during the 2nd half??? I recognize that 18 points on good shooting is nice, but come on. Let’s not show too much bias in favor of the surprising rookie, I’ve been reading this column enough to know that if TT dropped that line, he would have been crucified for the lack of rebounding.” Greg is right. I would have killed Ty for that. Fair is fair.
Greg also added: “Taj has 5 defensive rebounds in his last 81 minutes of game play. I love his rotations and energy, and the offense has been a surprise, but BOX OUT!!!”
One night after playing Carmelo Anthony to a standstill — or maybe even outplaying him — Luol co-led the Bulls in scoring with 18 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Of course, he committed 4 turnovers and started shooting blanks in the fourth quarter, but Deng has been proving his doubters very wrong so far this season. His shooting is so-so, but his effort is A+…especially on the boards. My only criticism from last night is that he shot too many jumpers and didn’t force his way to the hoop often enough. As a result, he earned only one trip to the line. That’s not nearly good enough, especially against a woeful defense.
D-Rose scored 14 points and dished out 6 assists, but he shot only 6-for-14 and couldn’t make anything happen during the team’s scoreless stretch in the fourth quarter. Rose needs to realize that Ben Gordon is gone and that this is his team now. Situations like what happened last night are when franchise players have to step up. Bosh did it for the Raptors. Derrick needs to start doing that for the Bulls…and fast.
Rose was also abused off the dribble in the second half, and Noah was either not available or too tired to clean up the mess. As Chris commented: “I was starting to have my doubts about Jose last night, but the Bulls made him look like an all-star. Given the quickness advantage that both D. Rose and Pargo have on my boy Jose… FAIL.”
Reasons for concern:
You mean besides the bad shooting, spotty leadership, and the self-destruction of John Salmons? Well, the Bulls play seven of their next nine games on the road, including a seven game road trip through Sacramento, Los Angeles (Lakers), Denver, Portland, Utah and Milwaukee. Then, after a home game against the Pistons — Gordon’s first game back at the United Center — they face the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Seven of those games are against playoff teams, including two against title contenders and two against division rivals. This is a brutal stretch that could make or break the Bulls’ season.
As Bamford explains: “The Bulls have a lot of options that might look good to Toronto. They have two first round draft picks in this summer’s NBA draft and have a couple of young bigs in Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas that might be part of a package with a signed-and-traded [Ben] Gordon. In Bosh, the Bulls undoubtedly see an athletic power forward that can score and rebound and get up and down the floor with this season’s Rookie of the Year, point guard Derrick Rose. … In Gordon, the Raptors would bring in a scorer to a team that lacked that last season. … The Raptors would then have an athletic nucleus of Shawn Marion, Calderon, Gordon, and Andrea Bargnani, with the prospect of adding as many as three players to that group in this year’s draft. The Raptors currently hold the ninth overall selection; the Bulls have the 16th and 26th selections.”
I have to admit, it makes a crazy kind of sense. I mean, Bosh refused to sign a contract extension with the Raptors this summer with the intent of hitting the free agent market next summer…so he’s probably not long for Toronto. The Bulls need a big man who can score. They need it bad. Would I be bummed to give up Gordon and maybe Ty Thomas? Yeah. But I’d do it in a heartbeat. A starting lineup of Rose, John Salmons, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah with Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller and Players To Be Named Later coming off the bench would give me a serious case of the cold chills.
At this point, it’s a little bit like dreaming about winning the lottery. After all, I’m sure several teams are inquiring about Bosh, and it may end up that the Raptors try to do everything in their power to keep him. But he’d be a pretty sweet fit in Chicago.
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.
Kurt Helin of NBC Los Angeles: “Remember back around the All Star break, when Bulls were an unmitigated disaster? Rose looked like a rookie — a promising rookie, but one who turned the ball over and was still learning to play in the clutch. The team gave away fourth quarter leads like Jim Cramer gives away bad stock advice — every night. Vinny Del Negro looked like an unprepared rookie coach and John Paxson was being nailed to the sports talk radio wall for brining in the bloated contract of Brad Miller and the ball-hogging John Salmons. Well look at the Bulls now. Rose matured, Del Negro has grown, the trade provided needed pieces and the Bulls are a team to avoid. They have won 8 of 10 and that includes going into Detroit on Monday night and knocking off the Pistons behind brilliant play from Derrick Rose and a game-winning shot from Ben Gordon. That win secures at least seventh place in the East, meaning the Bulls win the avoid-the-Cavaliers-in-the-first-round game that everyone has been playing. Chicago’s win is bad news for Orlando, the likely first round opponent for the Bulls. (All the Bulls have to do is beat Toronto at home in the final game of the season to secure that seeding.)”
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “At Tuesday’s final regular-season practice, Kirk Hinrich walked around with a bloody gash on his left cheek, Thomas spent time arguing his flagrant foul and Ben Gordon winced when recalling getting hit in an area no man should experience. It was all residue from Monday’s road victory over the Pistons—one of the most physical games of the season. And the fact the Bulls not only won but shoved back bodes well for the playoff series against Boston or Orlando that’s coming. ‘It’s going to be physical,’ coach Vinny Del Negro said. ‘You have to get used to that. You’re not going to get calls. You have to go in there and get into bodies. Defensively, you have to get contact. And you have to fight through those things. You can’t let the frustration get you out of sync. We have a ways to go on that. But we battled and showed some progress.’”
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “The Bulls gathered at the Berto Center early Tuesday to prepare for their season finale tonight against the Toronto Raptors at the United Center, a game that will go a long way — if not all the way — in determining their first-round playoff opponent. Still, the players couldn’t help looking back to their gritty 91-88 road victory Monday against the Detroit Pistons in arguably their biggest game of the season. By beating the Pistons, the Bulls assured themselves of avoiding the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round and will face either the Boston Celtics or Orlando Magic. They’d have no chance against LeBron James and the Cavaliers but might have a shot against the Celtics, if Kevin Garnett continues to be hobbled by a knee injury, or the Magic, which is 3-5 in April. ‘It was definitely a quality road win that we haven’t had in a long time,’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘I can’t remember the last quality road win we had.’”
Stu Courtney of the Chicago Sun-Times: “A win Wednesday at home vs lowly Toronto would give the Bulls (18-27 at their lowest point after an overtime loss Jan. 25 at Minnesota) a winning season (42-40) and a likely No. 6 seed, good for a trip to Disney World to play the ailing Magic. So are you buying in with this team? Gotta like the improving play of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, the court smarts of Brad Miller and the consistency of John Salmons. D-Rose gives the Bulls the closer they were lacking and Ben Gordon brings enough firepower to make them a potentially tough first-round ‘out.’ What’s your take on the franchise going forward? Has Vinny Del Negro redeemed himself for all his rookie coaching shortcomings? In assessing Vinny, only one thing matters: If Derrick Rose respects him and will continue to grow under him, then he’s the right guy. If not, then it doesn’t matter how well they do in the playoffs — start looking around for a new coach.”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Much of the playoff buzz surrounding the Bulls is whether they can lock up the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and get a somewhat favorable first-round matchup against Orlando. Favorable to everyone but Joakim Noah, that is. He’d have to spend a playoff series guarding Magic center Dwight Howard, a guaranteed first-team all-NBA honoree and likely defensive player of the year. ‘Dwight is an animal. He’s the best center in the league,’ Noah said following Tuesday’s short practice at the Berto Center. ‘It’s exciting, though. It’s exciting to go up against the best on the big stage. Dwight’s a lot to handle, but it’s going to be an exciting time.’”
More K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune: “Remember during training camp when critics accused Ben Gordon of pouting over failed contract negotiations and milking a jammed big right toe? Gordon does. ‘That was a slap in the face,’ Gordon said. ‘Anybody who said that doesn’t know me. I was hurt.’ And now he’s not. In fact, Gordon is poised to be the only Bull to play all 82 games this season, the third time in five seasons the durable guard will accomplish that feat. He has missed just 12 career games. ‘I definitely take pride in that,’ Gordon said. ‘I think the way I train is a testament to how important this game is to me. I work very hard. I definitely don’t like to miss games. So I’m happy that after all that has happened, I’ve played in all the games again.’”
Let me be frank: When your opponent shoots over 54 percent and (according to the game recap) sets a new franchise high for points scored, chances are you didn’t win the ballgame. And the Bulls did not, dropping a 134-129 overtime decision to the Raptors in Toronto.
It’s called “a hand in the face,” guys. Try it.
Somewhat ironically, Neil Funk and Stacey King began today’s broadcast by noting that defense was the foundation of Chicago’s recently improved play. I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t this the same team that let Pacers rookie Brandon Rush light them up for a career-high 29 points yesterday?” But hey, they’re the ones who get paid to call the games. I just blog about them.
Nonetheless, I guess it was just Chicago’s weekend to surrender career-highs, as Toronto’s Jose Calderon established a personal best by dishing out 19 assists, which matched Damon Stoudamire’s franchise-high. Maybe the Bulls were worn down by a hectic schedule — they’ve played six games in the last nine days — or maybe they didn’t expect the second-worst team in their conference to shoot lights out, but the Raptors hit a better percentage on jumpers (31-for-56) than layups (12-for-25). So kudos on your inside D, guys. But as for the perimeter defense…well, like I said, it’s called “a hand in the face” for a reason.
Even when the Bulls rallied back in the fourth quarter after falling behind 103-86 with 8:05 left to play, the Raptors still put up 29 points in the period. So the comeback was fueled more by offense (hence the 42-point outburst) than defense. And that’s what doomed the Bulls in overtime.
Derrick Rose had just put Chicago up by a point (127-126) with 29 ticks left in the extra session. After Toronto called timeout, Vinny Del Negro subbed in a cold Joakim Noah to check Chris Bosh (31 points, 15 boards). Noah must have forgotten that Bosh is a lefty, because he gave Chris the left-handed drive. Bosh got to the basket with frightening ease, and even though he bonked the the layup, he had beaten Joakim so badly that he easily grabbed the offensive rebound and put it in. Even worse, Rose fouled him on the attempt. Bosh hit the free throw to complete the three-point play, putting the Raptors up 129-127 with 14 seconds left.
Now it’s worth noting at this point that John Salmons didn’t get any daylight down the stretch or in overtime. According to Vinny, it was because John was suffering the effects of a ”tight groin.” But the Bulls missed him in the clutch. Not so much because he was shooting all that well — he finished 3-for-7 from the field — but because he’s a scoring threat from outside and on the drive. Without Salmons in the game, Toronto’s D had a tactical advantage. They were able to double and collapse and harass Rose and Gordon into giving up the ball. Sometimes to the wrong team.
And so it was that, after Bosh’s three-point play, Rose drove into the paint and drew three defenders, leaving Tyrus Thomas alone underneath the basket (and Brad Miller unguarded from 15 feet out, for that matter). Derrick tried to slip the ball through the triple-team, but it got snatched away. Chicago was forced to foul Andrea Bargnani (28 points, 10-for-20), who nailed both foul shots, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Said Rose: “I thought I had an opening to pass the ball to Tyrus [Thomas] and one of their guys tipped the ball and I lost it. It’s disappointing and that’s why I’ll put this game on me tonight.”
In all fairness to Derrick, the game wasn’t lost on that play. It was lost on the defensive end. Let’s face it, when a team hits 55 percent of its shots…offense is not the problem. Which means it’s either time to commit to both ends of the court or invest in an inflatable defender.
The net result: The Bulls went from seventh to eighth — just like that! — and are now one game behind the Pistons for seventh and two games ahead of the Bobcats.
Player notes: Gordon was a one-man wrecking crew, scoring a game-high 37 points on 15-for-26 shooting, not to mention the clutch 22-footer at the fourth-quarter buzzer that forced overtime. Strangely, BG ended up with a plus-minus score of -6. Huh. Rose had 23 points (9-for-13) and a team-high 9 assists. Noah put up 16 on near-perfect shooting (8-for-10), which can happen when all of your shots come within five feet. Speaking of which, Tyrus was back to his old tricks, going 2-for-8 from the outside (and, sadly, only 1-for-3 on layups). Ty did have a game-high 4 blocks, though. Miller provided some nice off-the-bench productivity with 14 points (6-for-10), 10 boards, 5 assists and the highest plus-minus score on the team (+7).
The latest in completely unsubstantiated trade rumors involving the Bulls has Chris Bosh coming to Chicago in a three-team deal. The other particulars are Amare Stoudemire going to the Toronto Raptors with the Phoenix Suns getting Drew Gooden’s Expiring Contract (worth $7.2 million off the books this summer), Tyrus Thomas and a first-round draft pick (plus some other random add-ons, I would guess).
My initial reaction: Meh. I’ll believe it when I see it.
My secondary reaction to the “What if the trade actually happens?” question: Well, I’d much rather get Bosh than Stoudemire. I mean, he can totally pull of the cowboy/basketball fashion fusion (see above) and he’s a Youtube sensation. He was also a member of the National Honor Society as a high schooler, which means I could soon be the proud fan of a former honor roll student. That has serious bumper sticker potential.
There are basketball reasons for my Bosh-over-Stoudemire preference, too. First off, he’s actually focused and attentive on the defensive end. (Imagine that!) Frontcourt bruisers like Shaq can still reduce him to a Chris Bosh-shaped shooting prop, but he’s a reasonably solid rebounder, blocks the occasional shot and (most importantly) has the quickness necessary to deny penetration and/or switch out and cover guards in pick-and-roll situations. (This is a stark contract to Amare’s strategy, which is “Stand still, look confused, hope like hell they miss.”)
He can also create his own offense, usually from the left elbow in the high post area. Unfortunately, he only forces the action down low against smaller defenders — which is rare, since he’s thinnish for a frontcourt player — but his foot speed and the accuracy of his face-up jumper (which his defenders have to respect) allow him to get to the basket and either finish or draw the foul. (Bosh currently ranks 6th in the league in free throw attempts at 8.5 per game.)
Bosh is still young – he turns 25 on March 24th — which means that his best years might still lie ahead (although his numbers over the past three seasons haven’t really changed, which suggests he might have hit a plateau). I am a little concerned about his health, since he’s never logged a full 82 games and has missed at least 12 games in each of the last three seasons. (And he’s injured right now, as a matter of fact). Even more troubling is how his team has underachieved with him as The Man. The Raptors won 47 games in 2006-07 and, on paper, should have been even better in 2007-08. However, they regressed, winning only 41 games and getting eliminated 4-1 by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs. And this season they’re currently 13 games below .500, which is so disappointing that it got Sam Mitchell fired a while back and last week sparked the semi-panic trade of Jermaine O’Neal for Shawn Marion.
Of course, in Chicago, Bosh could be The Other Man beside Derrick Rose. That might take some of the pressure off and allow him to just play the game. But would he want to do that? Could he defer to a rookie point guard? It’s hard to say. But I would rate him as an upgrade over Tyrus and Drew’s Contract and definitely a better fit than Amare.