Bulls pull off daring — and slightly depressing — 83-81 win over Bucks

I had just settled into my seat at the United Center when Chicago’s starting lineup was announced. And starting at power forward was…Taj Gibson? Whaaaaaa…?! It took a few minutes of furious texting to discover that Tyrus Thomas was out with — you guessed it! — flu-like symptoms.

The timing of Ty’s outbreak is a more than a little dubious, considering it happened the day after he failed to reach a before-the-deadline contract extension agreement with the Bulls. Given Thomas’ history, it’s understandable that some people are calling shenanigans. Regardless of the circumstances, all I could think was, “Uh oh.” It was definitely one of those I-sense-a-disturbance-in-the-Force moments.

Of course, Ty’s absence shouldn’t have mattered, not with the Bulls playing at home against a bad team (the Bucks) missing its best player (Michael Redd). But whether it was missing a starter or just an extension of everything that’s been wrong with the team since their season opening win over the Spurs, the Bulls flat-out sucked in the first half.

Chicago fell behind 25-13 after one quarter and 43-29 by halftime. They couldn’t shoot. They couldn’t defend. They couldn’t hold onto the ball. In all honesty, the Bulls looked like a group of guys at the YMCA who had never played together before. Even when somebody was able to break free for an open shot, passes were delivered so poorly that the player receiving it lost that crucial split-second advantage.

By the time Brandon Jennings (who had a game-high 25 points) nailed a triple at the 5:39 mark of the third quarter, the Bulls were down an astonishing 18 points (56-38). It was unthinkable. The Bulls were getting blown out at home by the Bucks? Really?!

If you look at the final stats, you might wonder how the Bulls pulled this one out. They shot 39 percent as a team, bricked nine free throws (including six in the fourth quarter), and gave up 23 points off 19 turnovers. Thank goodness the Bucks really are so bad they failed to capitalize against a team in a funk. But more than that, thank goodness for Luol Deng and Jannero Pargo.

Deng was, without question, the player of the game. He didn’t have the best shooting day (7-for-16), but oh man was he aggressive. How aggressive, you ask? Well, he grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds (including 7 on the offensive end) and earned 11 free throw attempts (of which he hit nine). If there are any Bulls fans still questioning Luol’s physical and mental toughness, they should go back and re-watch this game. His effort kept the Bulls alive.

And how about Jannero Pargo, huh? The dude wasn’t even supposed to play against the Bucks because of a sore back. But the Bulls needed him. And badly. Not only because he’s a natural spark plug, but because the team’s lack of three-point shooting was allowing Milwuakee to clog the paint and hover in the passing lanes. Pargo was in the game just over a minute before drilling his first three, and after that the Bucks’ defense was finally forced to scramble around.

Pargo finished with 10 points (4-for-5, 2-for-3 from downtown) in 14 minutes, but those numbers tell only part of the story. His plus-minus score (+18) tells the other part.

Derrick Rose was soundly outplayed by Jennings until the fourth quarter. Fortunately, Rose came alive, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the final stanza, which included a couple long jumpers (from 16 and 17 feet out) and two dunks (courtesy of sweet dishes from Brad Miller). It was good to see the kid come through in the clutch. That’s the future of Chicago Bulls basketball. It has to be.

Of course, there was added drama as Chicago’s poor foul shooting gave the Bucks a chance to steal the game. The normally reliable Brad Miller — an 80 percent career foul shooter — went only 4-for-8. And Joakim Noah bonked two freebies with 13 seconds left that could have iced the game. Instead, the Bulls had to sweat out an ugly miss by Ersan Ilyasova before victory was assured.

Was it good to win? Absolutely. But the Bulls still played very, very poorly and, in some ways, deserved to lose. If they don’t get their act together, things could get really ugly in Cleveland on Thursday night.

The slump continues:
John Salmons scored only 7 points on 3-for-15 shooting. He was 0-for-2 on layups and 2-for-12 on jumpers. And watching his body language, you can tell it’s in his head now. At times, he was trying to guide the ball into the basket instead of just shooting it. Take a few deep breaths and relax, John. It’s going to be okay.

Layup watch:
The Bulls were 5-for-16 (31 percent) on layup attempts against the Bucks. That makes them 37-for-85 (43 percent) for the season.

TrueHoop Network:
Jeremy from Bucksketball: “Things were so perfect. The Bucks were up 18 with 6:56 left in the third quarter, the defense was swarming, every loose ball was going the Bucks way, turnovers were being forced and the Bucks were hanging in their offensively. But when things were their bleakest for the Bulls, Deng, Brad Miller and Jannero Pargo led the Bulls all the way back when Pargo hit a three with six minutes to go in the fourth. As described above, the Bucks had a shot in the end, but were unable to convert.”

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

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5 Responses to Bulls pull off daring — and slightly depressing — 83-81 win over Bucks

  1. Rip November 4, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    I did not have the opportunity to watch a Bulls game since the beginning of the season, but i’m following J. Noah +/- scores… and they’re almost always negative (last night : -22).
    I remember reading a post on truehoop about how in last year playoffs series against the celtics , stats showed that bulls were losing xpts/min when he was on the floor.

    I know stats can be misleading but do Jooks really affect negatively his team when he is on the floor ?

  2. sixthman3@hotmai.com'
    Kevin November 4, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

    I couldn’t help but thinking last night, as I know most people have been lately, that if Ben Gordon was here we wouldn’t have been in the the defecit we were in. I, however, immediately came to the realization that we were better off not having him here. Too many times, over recent years, the rest of the team would have looked to him to bail them out instead of looking at themselves. Noah had the right attitude earlier this year when he said that they all need to pick it up on the offensive end now that Ben is gone – and I believe he has. He seemed to develope a few low post moves that, while still making him far from an offensive stalwart, have helped to pick things up a bit. The rest of the team is going to need to do so – and I stress TEAM. The last shot or any shot for that matter shouldn’t be one player’s as it was Ben Gordon’s – it should be the open man with the best shot.
    We were never going to win a championship because of Ben Gordon – and we’re not going to win one this year. We can, however, get a good look at how these players perform without having the crutch of someone to bail them out. We’ll, this way, find out who needs to stay and who needs to go…

  3. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale November 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm #

    Rip — I noticed the same thing. I think the bigger problem was that when Jo was on the floor last night, the Bulls didn’t have enough shooters in the game. The reality is, things didn’t turn around until Jannero Pargo entered and spread the Bucks’ defense…by which time Jo had been replaced by Brad Miller because Vinny needed scorers on the floor.

    The key to making Jo work is having sufficient scoring/shooting so that he can do what he does best: rebound, block shots, hustle, scrap.

    Kevin — I agree. Watching this team, you can see how the loss of Gordon is affecting them in so many areas. But that’s to be expected. This is a transition period, and the Bulls have to develop their new identity. Having a 20-point scorer who could hit his threes at a high percentage and wasn’t afraid to take game-winning shots was a real luxery. But I think Ben’s tasks can be divided among the current Bulls…it’s just a work in progress.

  4. Colin November 4, 2009 at 5:26 pm #

    Jannero Pargo did what we needed Ben Gordon to do, come in and score, and get out when you’re not scoring. Great pickup.


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