I moved to Chicago back in the summer of 1998, so I didn’t become a hard core Bulls fan until the Michael Jordan era was coming to its storybook ending. It was a case of unlucky timing on my part, because the Bulls were about to go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the trash heap.
This meant that, as a fan, I had to live through some very dark times.
I’m talking about the Tim Floyd era. I’m talking about a three-season stretch in which the Bulls won a total of 45 games. I’m talking about 47-point losses to the Orlando Magic. In short, I’m talking about real wrath of God type stuff: fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!
Yeah. Dark times indeed. I’ll tell you this much: I learned to appreciate what Clippers fans have gone through for, well, ever. But I can honestly say I’ve never felt as demoralized as I did when the Bulls lost to the New Jersey Nets last night.
I really thought that 110-78 homecourt loss to the Toronto Raptors was going to be the low point of the season for the Bulls. I was sure of it. I simply could not envision a more painful loss. Then the Nets strolled into town with a 1-19 record and nothing to lose. I have to admit, I was looking past them to the game against the Hawks in Atlanta tomorrow night. I don’t know if the Bulls were looking ahead too, but I sure was.
Well, my bad. And Chicago’s bad, too. Very bad.
What makes the whole dreary situation even more galling is that there were actually some really positive signs in the game. Taj Gibson scored a career-high 20 points (8-for-12) off the bench. Luol Deng scored 27 points (10-for-17) on a variety of jumpers, post moves and even three-pointers (two of them!). But best of all, there was Derrick Rose, who had his best game of the season (27 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists, a steal and a block).
It wasn’t just the gaudy statistics, though. Rose asserted himself — I mean, really asserted himself — down the stretch for the first time this season. He scored 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, two of which came on a running, one-handed jumper with 19 seconds left. That shot gave the Bulls a 100-99 lead…but it didn’t last.
After a New Jersey timeout, it took Devin Harris all of five seconds to answer Rose’s shot with a running one-hander of his own. Said Harris: “I saw an opening and I knew what to do. It was the same play they ran, we ran on the other end. Pretty much an isolation. It was my shot to take. It just happened that we both ended up hitting runners, going right.”
Now the Bulls were down 101-100 with 14 seconds left, and it was Vinny Del Negro’s turn to write up a clutch play.
I don’t know what play the Bulls were supposed to run. What I do know is that John Salmons (12 points, 4-for-12) caught the inbounds pass, dribbled to the top of the arc and jacked up a 25-footer with seven seconds still on the clock. It didn’t go in, Harris pulled down the rebound and the game was pretty much over.
And that, my friends, is how the Nets got their second win of the season.
Pain in the paint:
Oh yes. Chicago’s interior defense was once again the goat in yet another brutal loss. Brook Lopez (25 points, 9-for-14, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots) became the latest in a looooong line of big men who have had their way with the Bulls (both this season and last), and the Nets racked up a whopping 54 points in the paint. In all, they got 16 layups and five dunks. And when they weren’t scoring outright, they either earned free throws (28 of them) or created open looks.
In all seriousness, the Bulls’ inability to protect the basket is their biggest weakness. Bigger than any of the many things going wrong for them on offense. Although, speaking of which…
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers:
With the way the Bulls handled the ball last night, I can only assume they’ve been taking passing lessons from Jay Cutler. By game’s end, they had given up 20 points off 19 turnovers. By contrast, the Nets gave up only 11 points off 14 turnovers.
Other little problems:
The Bulls missed eight free throws. Sure, the final miss was intentionally bricked by Rose because Chicago had to try and get the ball back for a last-second, game-tying two-pointer. But still, Rose and Gibson went 0-for-4 on back-to-back possessions near the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Both teams looked great when they got out on the fast break. Unfortunately, the Nets did more running, which is why they outscored the Bulls 20-10 in fast break points. You know, the Bulls are such a lousy shooting/scoring team that they really need to run, run, run and then run some more. Why not take advantage of Derrick’s speed?
Like I said, Rose stepped up and became a go-to guy down the stretch. That was awesome. What was decidedly less awesome was Rose’s defense. He simply could not stay in front of his man. Even Rafer Alston (15 points in only 17 minutes) was burning Rose alive. It boggles my mind that someone as speedy and athletically gifted as Rose can’t stay in front of, well, anybody. Honestly, my gast is flabbered.
Vinny’s big adjustment was starting Brad Miller. ‘Nuff said.
Here’s what he had to say about the three by Salmons that killed any chance the Bulls had of pulling this one out: “The play was designed for Derrick to come and get the ball. … Derrick was unable to get open and we went to John Salmons. We did not attack on that and pulled back for the jumper.”
Quote of the night:
Said Joakim Noah: “It never feels good to lose to the team with the worst record in the NBA. It hurts.”
New Jersey entered last night’s game on an 18-game road losing streak stretching back into last season. Furthermore, the Nets came into the game scoring a league-worst 87.6 PPG. They surpassed that average by over 15 points against the Chicago defense.