Okay, first off: I don’t believe in moral victories. A moral victory and a punch to the face won’t get you anything other than a punch in the face. The Bulls lost a winnable game…and that’s always a bummer.
That said, if you had told me going in that the Bulls would score a season-high 108 points in the second of back-to-back games on the road against a team that ranks third in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency…I would have been pretty surprised. Stunned even. And a little impressed.
No the Bulls didn’t come away with the all-important W, but they did show signs of life. The Bobcats may be a sub-.500 team, but they entered the game 11-4 at home and were coming off big time road wins over the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. And, as I noted, they’re one of the league’s premier defensive squads. So they aren’t that bad of a team, even if their record doesn’t quite reflect that fact.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have been a shaky on the road all season and were coming off a tough home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Moreover, the Bobcats built double-digit leads in both the second and third quarters. All things considered, the Bulls had plenty of chances to roll over and die in this game.
But they did not. And that’s a good sign.
Another good sign was the continued strong play of Derrick Rose, who shot 11-for-19 and finished with team highs in both points (24) and assists (9). Rose scored 10 of those points in the fourth quarter — on some very, very tough shots no less — to give the Bulls a chance to win at the end. The only blights on his performance were 1) the game-high 7 turnovers and 2) the fact that the ball ended up in the hands of Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons instead of Rose on the two most critical plays of the final 25 seconds.
Hinrich ended up missing a jumper that would have tied the game, and Salmons over-dribbled before getting caught in the air and forcing a pass to Rose for a three-pointer…which is the one shot Rose probably shouldn’t be taking at this point in his career.
Honestly, I have to question Vinny Del Negro’s play-calling. On Hinrich’s jumper, Rose was tasked with inbounding the ball and never got into the play. On the other sequence, Salmons received the ball and was allowed to isolate almost caused a turnover before throwing the bailout pass to Rose. All this despite the fact that Rose was on fire in the fourth quarter. If I had been coaching the Bulls, I would have done everything in my power to make sure that Rose — and only Rose — ended up with the ball in those situations.
But I’m not the coach. Vinny noted in his postgame press conference that the Bulls “executed well” on those plays and got open shots. Which I guess, technically speaking, is true. But I don’t think that necessarily makes them good plays. I mean, do you think Phil Jackson would be giving clutch shots to Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom instead of Kobe Bryant under similar circumstances? Yeah, me neither.
As long as I’m complaining, I also want to call out Chicago’s team defense, which allowed Charlotte — a team that scores only 92.2 PPG — to score 113 points on 51 percent shooting. And Flip Murray killed the Bulls with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting off the bench. Flip Murray! That guy is averaging 8.3 PPG on 36 percent shooting this season, and he scored at will against the Bulls’ D, mostly off cheap one-on-on plays. That shouldn’t happen. Like, ever.
But, as I said before, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Despite the obviously tired legs they were playing on, the Bulls gave it the old college try. They shot 51 percent from the field and a surprising 43 percent (7-for-16) from downtown. They outscored the Bobcats 54-48 in the paint and outrebounded them 40-30 (inluding a 9-1 edge on the offensive glass). And they came back at the end rather than giving up…which is something that might have happened as recently as a couple weeks ago.
Said Rose: “At least we fought back. Two or three weeks ago we would have let that game slip.”
However…tired legs. Which manifested itself on defense, and in transition (where the Bobcats enjoyed a 21-6 advantage), and in the Bulls’ ability to hold onto the ball (which is why they gave up 15 points off 19 turnovers).
What can you do?
Since I’m feeling generous, I’ll go ahead and give out gold stars to John Salmons (19 points on 7-for-12 shooting and 7 rebounds off the bench), Luol Deng (18 points, 9 boards, 3 assists) and Kirk Hinrich (who shot only 4-for-13 but made some crafty plays and ended up with 7 assists).
I will not, however, give out gold stars to the officiating crew. I’m not blaming the refs for this loss, but they did a pretty iffy job most of the night. It’s pretty rare for Vinny to lose his cool, but he earned a technical foul in the third quarter for flailing his arms after a few questionable no-calls on back-to-back blocked shots by the Bobcats, and he jumped off the bench in disbelief a few other times too. I honestly thought he was going to get T’d up a second time and earn an ejection. Maybe it would have helped the Bulls get a few extras calls down the stretch. Who knows?
In the final analysis, I’m about as satisfied as I could be after a loss. The Bulls fought, didn’t give up, and almost stole one on the road against a decent team. If they keep playing this way, and the players keep progressing, good things are going to happen.