Another Close Escape: Bulls 97, Suns 94

This win should have been easier…right?

The Suns have been eliminated from postseason contention and have nothing left to play for. Of course, weird things can happen at the end of the regular season. Just look at San Antonio’s recent six-game losing streak.

Or, if you prefer, look at some of last night’s other games.

The recently red-hot Houston Rockets are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive, but they lost at home to the lowly Sacramento Kings.

The Memphis Grizzlies are trying to hold onto their playoff spot and maybe even improve their seeding, but they lost at home to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been on fire lately, but they lost at home to the lottery-bound Golden State Warriors.

And then the Los Angeles Lakers, who have been trying to catch and overtake the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference, lost at home to the Utah Jazz, a team they eliminated from the playoffs last Friday.

Apparently, there are no “gimmies” down the stretch.

Sure, the Suns have been kicked around the last few games, but it’s worth remembering that Steve Nash missed some time with the flu. Prior to that, Phoenix had some close, hard fought games against good teams. Take that triple-overtime road loss to the Lakers. Or their back-to-back close home losses to the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks. As long as Nash is playing — did you see the pass he delivered through Carlos Boozer’s legs to Marcin Gortat? — the Suns can be a dangerous team.

Still, the Bulls built a 22-point third quarter lead, and the Suns nearly came back.

Fortunately, as has been the case recently, and at various times throughout the season, Derrick Rose was able to close out the game. With 1:52 left and the Bulls clinging to a 91-89 lead, Rose hit a layup while getting fouled by Grant Hill, then converted the layup for a three-point play. With 52 seconds left and the Bulls up 94-92, Rose used his defense to help harass Nash into a shot clock violation. With 33 seconds left, Rose drilled a 19-footer that put the Bulls up 96-94. After that, Chicago had to sweat out a layup by Vince Carter, a missed free throw by Kyle Korver and a final (but failed) flurry by the Suns.

Look, complacency set it, there’s no other way to put it. The Bulls were one punch away from a clean knockout but didn’t deliver the blow. They got a little careless. And it nearly cost them.

Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “We did not play tough with a lead. Our shot selection hurt us, our defensive transition hurt us. We have to do a lot better. We have to clean up a lot of things.”

Added Rose: “I don’t feel like I won tonight. We’re taking steps back. We’ve got to come back [Wednesday] practice hard, and make sure we get things together.”

Honestly, listening to Thibs and Rose, you’d think the Bulls really did lose this one, or that they were fighting for a playoff spot rather than padding their lead for the first seed in the East.

But then again, that’s the attitude that has allowed the team to so radically exceed expectations during a season that was supposed to be about the Celtics, Heat and Lakers.

Remember: During the preseason, there were quite a few bloggers and experts who thought the Milwaukee Bucks were going to win the Central Division.

But leave it to Joakim Noah to deliver a nice little reality check.

Said Noah: “It’s hard to win in this league, you know? I think that it’s important to remember that. And there’s no question that we have things we have to do to get better. We didn’t play our best basketball tonight, but I think we’re a team that understands that there’s areas that we have to get better at and we have six games to do it. At the end of the day, a win is always a positive.”

I agree with Noah.

And yet…it’s also true that the Bulls haven’t been playing their best ball lately. They’ve been scraping by and counting on Rose to deliver in the clutch. They need to focus. Thursday’s home game against the Celtics should provide the perfect opportunity for the Bulls to remind everybody how good they are.

Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

40 Responses to Another Close Escape: Bulls 97, Suns 94

    inkybreath April 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    I hope Korver went home and got mad. He did not have his head in this game, at all. I got the impression that Rose was not happy with his movement off the ball and he just could not work himself into a shot.

    And, to top it off, that first free-throw at the end of the game had no chance of going in. At this point, I say Rose should be the one who gets the ball to get fouled from now on.

    I was a little curious about Asik not getting any time in the second half. I know his plus-7 rating doesn’t mean much in 6 or so minutes, but I thought we could use his length to help slow down Carter around the basket.

    Lastly, why wasn’t Brewer put on Carter at all, down the stretch? He would have been a much better face-up defender, imho.

    good win.

    J April 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    I’m hearing a lot about how Boozer and Noah need to find more chemistry on the court. I know Booze is a low-post, back to the basket type of guy and Jo needs to adjust to that. It reminded me of this post from over the summer.
    Think it could work to some extent? Or at least stretch out the opposing defense enough for Jo to drive to the basket like he used to last year? Just a thought

  3. Tae April 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    A couple notes:

    1. Asik needs more minutes. I don’t understand having essentially a second Noah and not using him more down the stretch to get him ready for the playoffs. Is he going to give Kurt Thomas minutes in match-ups where clearly mobility and length is superior over “savy vetereness” like he’s down in the past?

    2. Noah NEEDS to take a billion jumpshots after the Celtics game. I don’t care if he only hits at a 40% clip rate, he needs the playoff teams to at least somewhat fear the fact he will reliably hit it when he’s open so it spreads the floor with Boozer. Until the Bulls get a 2-guard this off season to spread the floor and keep relief off Boozer, Noah has to do his part.

    Nicky C April 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Hey guys…serious question:

    Why isn’t Derrick Rose in any talks about the Most Improved Player award?

    There’s no denying he made the unprecedented jump from a budding, young star with great potential to super-duper star and league MVP in the blink of an eye.

    So, to borrow Rose’s words: “Why can’t he be MIP?”

  5. Inception April 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    look who’s right behind Kobe in terms of clutch stats…

    BFD April 6, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    I was thinking that we played Asik so little last night because we wanted to make sure we got as many minutes to Jo & Booz at the same time.

    I think things will be looking up again once we stop playing back-to-backs and start playing every other day in the playoffs. Its no secret that we have played more back-to-backs than just about everybody. Couple with that Rose hasn’t had much time off what with the Worlds over the summer, and the All Star Game. Motivation is at a low, and people are looking ahead (its human nature after all. Don’t tell me you don’t start to think about what you are doing tonight 30 minutes before your work/school is done).

    Relax. Everything will be made fine once we get 4 wins against the Pacers.

    inkybreath April 6, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    As well, obviously, Boozy did a great job of passing the ball around the basket. Clearly, they are talking about this at practice and they appear to be responding with effort. This may be another reason for some disconnection on the offensive end. They may be trying to incorporate some new schemes or paths and it is taking them out of the routine they have built up.

    Shane Pech April 7, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    It’s as though we can’t win by less than 5 without it being an existencial crisis.

    luvabullnj April 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Whatever Thibs says (and he always tries to mute the excitement), however, this is a big game. Even though technically the Bulls magic number is 3, by my calculations if the Bulls win tonight, they clinch the east. Here’s how the math goes:

    With a win Bulls would be 58-20 and Boston 54-24 each with four games remaining. So the best Boston can do is tie the Bulls at 58-24 if the Celts win all four remaining and the Bulls lose all four remaining games.
    Since both are division winners and would be 2-2 in head-to-head against each other, the next tie breaker is best win pct. in division. The worst Bulls could be is 14-2 and the best the Celts could be is 13-3. So the Bulls would win the tie breaker.

    Hey Bulls are you listening (reading)? A win tonight clinches the East.

    Go Bulls!

  10. Inception April 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    CHI would need a total melt-down to give up the #1 seed….if they beat BOS, you have to wonder if Thibs will start to rest his starters (besides Bogans 😉 )
    if CHI loses, it will send a big message to them…”we’re just 1-3 vs. BOS…we need to improve!”

    BFD April 7, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    I love how nobody gives us any respect still even though we are the number 1 seed. Its like sure the standings say

    but if you read ESPN, people still think its

    1. Bos
    1a. Mia
    3. Chi
    3a. Orl

    Drives me crazy.

    inkybreath April 7, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    Agreed, BFD, but Rose has gotten enough media play for the whole team, of late.

    luvabullnj April 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Should have read the fine print. The NBA got it right. They do use the conference record to break the tie if the two teams are not in the same division. The division record applies before conference only if the two teams are in the same division. That actually is how it should be.

    So I celebrated prematurely last night. Oh well, I guess I’ll have an excuse to celebrate again tonight. 😉

    Hmmm, wonder if Noah will talk the team into throwing the game tonight so they can hold a more lively celebration in the Magic Kingdom. Or in NYC Sunday night after knocking out the Howard-less Magic.

    Can you tell I’m trying to fill the position of Bulls victory celebration party planner? LOL

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