Back when I was four or five years old, my mom once dragged me to visit my great grandmother on a Friday night. That was the last thing I wanted to do, not because I didn’t love my great grandma, but because Friday night was when CBS aired my favorite television show: The Incredible Hulk. I finally nagged my mom into leaving so I wouldn’t miss Bill Bixby’s first transformation into Lou Ferrigno. No sooner had we pulled into the garage than I jumped out of the car and raced to the living room…where I promptly tripped over our dog and faceplanted directly onto the TV stand.
I ended up making a trip to the emergency room, losing a tooth and missing the entire Hulk episode. My point? Sometimes you go home and fall flat on your face. Just ask the Chicago Bulls.
Ah, those zany Bulls. Just a few short days ago, they made history by becoming the first NBA team to ever win five games in a row against winning teams on a road trip, Derrick Rose was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team, and Charles Barkley gave mad props to Vinny Del Negro and Joakim Noah.
Then the Bulls got thumped by the Los Angeles Clippers in their first game back in the United Center. Talk about a buzz kill.
And ah, those zany Clippers. Last week, they lost back-to-back road games by double digits to the New Jersey Nets (4-42) and Minnesota Timberwolves (11-38) before getting obliterated by the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Let’s face it, The Other L.A. Team was reeling. This game should have been a gimmie for the red-hot Bulls. Or so I thought.
Well, apparently the Bulls thought so too, because they showed up and played like a team that expected the win to be given to them. But this is the NBA. Wins aren’t gift wrapped and handed out, teams have to take them. Well, Vinny didn’t have his team prepared to do that, and the players obviously weren’t ready to face a Clippers squad that was desperate to salvage a little pride after their recent disasters.
The result: Chicago shot 38 percent as a team and gave up 24 points off 20 turnovers. And mind you, the Bulls had a full three days off after beating the Hornets in New Orleans on Friday night, which made their sloppy, disjointed effort even more disappointing.
Nobody played well. Nobody. Derrick Rose went 7-for-20 from the field (including 2-for-12 on jumpers) and finished with just as many turnovers as assists (4 and 4). Luol Deng was 6-for-14 and made some incredibly stupid plays, like overdribbling for 10 seconds and then trying to shoot over Marcus Camby. Kirk Hinrich finished 3-for-9 and appeared to have lost confidence in his shot by the end of the game. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson played like their feet were hurting. The bench missed 17 of 24 shots.
What happened to that “us against the world” mentality? The Bulls came out flat and, at times, looked intimidated by the Clippers’ 18th ranked defense. Marcus Camby (11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 blocks) was an impenetrable wall. Chris Kaman (21 points, 11 boards) was a bully. And the Chicago players apparently needed a map to locate Eric Goron (a game-high 24 points, including 18 in the first half). Ditto for Rasual Butler (16 points, 6-for-8, 3-for-3 from downtown).
Said Rose: “We were just making bad plays, making bad decisions. It was tough the whole night.”
Added Captain Kirk: “We were doing what it takes to win on the road. Tonight we lacked intensity and got beat for it.”
Concluded Noah: “We didn’t come with the right energy.”
Okay, okay, sure. But that’s al “Captain Obvious” type of stuff. The better question to answer is: Why? Why did they play like that after performing so well on the road? They appeared to be a step slow on defense, and there was waaaaaay too much standing around on offense. The Bulls do not have talented one-on-one players, and yet there were countless possessions that were one-pass-and-shoot, or even no-pass-and-shoot.
Said Vinny: “…our activity was so complacent as far as ball movement.”
Of course, the road trip should have taught us that as Rose goes, so go the Bulls. And Derrick simply didn’t have it last night. Said Rose: “I was definitely off. My rhythm wasn’t there. It seemed all game we were turning it over, making bad decisions.”
It’s a brutal reminder that, as well as the team has played lately, their margin of error is exceedingly slim.
“We’re not a team that can take anyone lightly,” said Vinny. “When your top players don’t play well, it’s hard to beat good teams. It’s hard to beat any team, for that matter.”
Again I say: No kidding.
By the way, By The Horns reader Tony C. disagreed with the props that Barkley (and this blog) gave out to Del Negro and felt that this game was a perfect example of bad coaching: “Case in point: roughly 2:30 to go in the third quarter tonight, VDN calls a timeout. The Bulls come out and immediately turn the ball over. This is absolutely typical – and damning – of Del Negro’s quality as a coach. Timeouts crystalize coaches’ decision making; they are much like chess moves, in that the coach has far more control over that single play than the vast majority of (more spontaneous) plays. The Bulls are typically terrible out of timeouts, underscoring just how bad a tactician VDN is. Oh, and after that timeout, the Bills went from down six or eight to down eighteen in a matter of two minutes. VDN sat and watched the Clippers’ momentum building, rather than calling another timeout to stop the bleeding.”
And so here we are again, question the Bulls, their talent, their desire, and, naturally, their coaching. Maybe we’ll get some answers tonight in Philly.
Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog: “Chris Kaman appears a lot more comfortable as a jump shooter than as a post practitioner, but you’d never know he’s nursing a bad ankle. He grabs 11 rebounds, dishes out some pretty assists. The Clips are now a .500 team when Kaman suits up. Whether it’s because he’s talented, or because his coach has made him the entry point for the offense, or because he’s a lot more valuable than his defensive replacements, it’s increasingly clear that the Clippers aren’t going to compete without a healthy Kaman.”