“We’ve got to do a better job of being a 48-minute team.”
That was what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after his team beat the Celtics last Saturday night. In fact, it’s a variation of what he’s been saying all season. And it was like some kind of dark prophesy, as the Pistons built a 12-point lead at the United Center on Monday night. The Bulls came back to win…but Thibodeau’s point had been made.
Not strongly enough apparently. For the second straight game, the Bulls surrendered 55 first half points to a sub-.500 team and found themselves down by double-digits. They once again came out strong after the break — outscoring the Bobcats 28-14 in the third quarter — but it wasn’t enough.
Bad starts are harder to overcome on the road.
How bad a start was it? The Bobcats, one of the league’s worst offensive squads, scored 36 points in the first quarter. Kwame Brown, one of draft history’s biggest busts, scored 10 of those points.
So many things seemed to go wrong last night. Derrick Rose finished with 17 points and 7 assists, but he shot poorly (5-for-17) and hit only three of his 12 layup attempts. His turnover with 28 seconds left — and the Bulls down only 92-89 — was crippling.
What’s more, Rose was outplayed by D.J. Augustine, who has 22 points, a career-high 12 assists, and only one turnover. Augustine also went 4-for-4 from the line in the final 23 seconds when the Bulls were forced to foul. He was good. He was clutch.
Tyrus Thomas had a classic revenge game against his former team. Thomas finished with 17 points (7-f0r-14) and a season-high 13 rebounds off the Charlotte bench. Ty also made big plays down the stretch. He converted a layup “and 1” with 4:01 left in the fourth that put the Bobcats up 86-82. Then, 12 seconds later, he blocked a layup attempt by Rose. Finally, he hit a crazy reverse layup with 1:14 to go that gave Charlotte a 90-89 advantage after the Bulls had taken a one-point lead.
Said Thomas: “Half the people over there ain’t there no more, but it always feels good to beat your old team. I haven’t been playing the minutes I want to. But I’m in there when it counts so I have an opportunity to win games for us.”
He’s still inconsistent. That hasn’t changed. But he haunted the Bulls last night.
Still, if you want to talk inconsistency, you have to talk about the team based in Chicago. Their intensity is up and down. Or, rather, it’s down and up. Down to start the game, up in the second half, usually when they’re already behind.
Said Luol Deng: “Right now, we’re waiting until we’re down and then we’re picking up our intensity. We can’t do that. We got to come out and play with a lot of energy and play hard right away. We’re starting the games right now off sluggish and then we got to catch up.”
Added Boozer: “We can’t be one of those teams that has slow starts and rely on ourselves to come back. We got to be a team that puts in on them from the jump and goes that way. It’s something we’ve got to clean up and clean up fast before we get to Indiana.”
I think a big part of the problem is the continuing absence of Joakim Noah. Not only because he provides the foundation of Chicago’s interior defense — which was almost nonexistant in the first half — but Noah provides the spark when the Bulls are sluggish. He doesn’t just bring intensity, he is intensity.
What’s worse, it feels like the Bulls are playing 3-on-5 to start games. I’m sorry, but Keith Bogans and Kurt Thomas should not be starting in the NBA, much less for the Bulls. I can’t help but think that’s a big part of the reason the Bulls keep stumbling out to slow starts.