Last night, the Bulls went into halftime with a 56-46 advantage…
…and that lead didn’t make me feel even remotely comfortable.
Through the first two quarters, it felt like the Bulls were doing pretty much whatever they wanted to do. I got the feeling that 10-point lead could have been 20 or so, only Chicago never really put the hammer down. The Wizards kept hanging around.
In the NBA, it’s dangerous to let any team — be it good or bad — hang around. However, young teams that haven’t quite developed a killer instinct tend to do it, especially against bad teams. Call it complacency, call it human nature, call it whatever you want. It happens. It’s happened to the Bulls this season. More than once.
It happened last night, too. And part of what made this game against the Wizards a bit of a trap is…do we even know what kind of team this is yet? On paper, they’re a bad team and have been all season. But Washington went through an extreme makeover before last week’s trade deadline.
Next thing you know, they beat the Denver Nuggets by 10 on Friday. Sure, the Nuggets were a little gassed from beating the Cavaliers in Cleveland the night before, but Denver is still the second-best team in the Western Conference. On Saturday night, the Wizards almost beat the Raptors in Toronto — Washington actually led 100-91 with 5:40 left — before losing their legs down the stretch. Toronto’s not a great team, and they were without Chris Bosh, but they’re 31-24 and have won nine of their last 10 home games.
Maybe it’s the Wounded Tiger Theory. Or, if you prefer, the Ewing Theory. Or maybe it’s just a fresh start for guys like Andray Blatche (a game-high 25 points plus 11 rebounds), Al Thornton (17 points, 7 rebounds), Randy Foye (16 points, 9 assists) and James Singleton (a game-high 12 boards).
After all, fresh starts can do wonders. Just ask Chicago’s new arrivals, Hakim Warrick (12 poins, 5 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) and Flip Murray (16 points, 6-for-10, 2-for-3 from downtown). The provided a real boost off the bench. In fact, Chicago’s reserves all played really well — scoring 43 points on 18-for-30 shooting — but the starters not named “Derrick Rose” really struggled.
The best non-Rose starter was Luol Deng, and he went 4-for-11 and had the worst plus-minus score of the game (-17). Taj Gibson almost had a double-double (9 points, 8 rebounds) but shot 3-for-7 and struggled defensively. Kirk Hinrich finished with 6 points on 2-for-7 shooting. And Brad Miller (4 points, 1-for-7) made me wish that Joakim Noah had been healthy enough to play more than 12 minutes last night.
Whatever stank the Wizards have had all season seemed to rub off on the Bulls in the third quarter, during when they shot 7-for-21 and got outscored 31-16. The Chicago players just never looked like they had a sense of urgency. Not until abou midway through the fourth quarter, anyway. And it cost them.
Said coach Vinny Del Negro: “Third quarter was terrible.”
Pretty much, yeah.
Washington built it’s lead to 13 points (93-80) with with 5:25 to play. That’s when Rose turned it on. Derrick scored nine points in a 15-3 run that pulled the Bulls to within a point (96-95) with just under two minutes to play. He hit a mid-range jumper. He hit a long-range jumper. He hit again. He drove in and hit a crazy scooping shot — with his body behind the backboard no less! — while getting fouled.
It was a pretty sweet “turning it on” performance for Rose, which is important for his development as Chicago’s franchise player. Said Rose: “No way we should have lost this game tonight. I tried, just trying to attack the hole, doing whatever it takes to win.”
Unfortunately, that effort came too late. The third quarter would have been a much better time for Derrick to take over. But Rose is young. He’s still learning about when to assert himself. It’s all good.
As for Deng, Gibson, Hinrich and Miller…definitely not so good. And if the Bulls have any aspirations for grabbing onto the fifth seed — which is currently in the possession of the Raptors — they can’t lose to, well, whatever kind of team these Wizards end up being.
Let’s hope they figure things out for Wednesday’s game against the Pacers.
1st timeout: Jannero Pargo turnover
2nd timeout: Luol Deng made 16-footer
3rd timeout: Kirk Hinrich missed 19-footer
4th timeout: Rose made jumper (Hinrich assists)
5th timeout: Brad Miller missed thee-pointer
6th timeout: Flip Murray missed three-pointer
7th timeout: Miller missed three-pointer
Another bad post-timeout showing for the Bulls, although it’s worth noting that the last three timeouts were called in the final minute of the game, and the treys were part of Chicago’s attempt to come back. However, when a team is down five with a minute to go, it’s not necessarily time to start jacking up threes.
There is one thing all of these timeouts had in common: None of them were called during Washington’s game-breaking 14-0 run during the third quarter. As By The Horns reader Tony C. put it: “VDN’s time out selection was also quite poor. Notice that when the Wzard’s went on a 14-0 run, VDN sat with his hands under his ass. When the Bulls went on a (later) mini-run, Flip Saunders called an immediate time out to stop the momentum. This is coaching 101; why hasn’t VDN figured it out yet?”
That’s a fair question. Phil Jackson might be able to let his team “play through” rough patches…but he’s Phil Jackson. Plus, he’s always had one of the best players alive in his corner. That provides a certain amount of leeway. This Bulls team isn’t qutie ready to weather the storm. Of course, with the way Chicago performs coming out of a timeout, it’s also possible that the Bulls would have simply chucked up a bad shot or turned the ball over even if Vinny had called a timeout during that run.