Well…that was a real bummer.
Joakim Noah’s return was supposed to mean great things for the Bulls. Darkness was going to become sunlight and pure evil was supposed to transform into delicious candy. The blind would see and the lame would walk.
Instead, the Bulls were beaten by a Raptors team that had lost 18 of its last 20 games.
It’s not like Noah didn’t play well. He scored 7 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds (9 offensive) in his first 24 minutes and 36 seconds of playing time since the Bulls beat the Raptors in Toronto back on December 15.
But Chicago’s defense — which began the day ranked first in Defensive Efficiency and ended the night ranked second — was as out of synch as it’s been all season. The Raptors shot 58.1 percent from the field. That was a season-high for Bulls opponents. Toronto’s 118 points were the second-most the Bulls have surrendered this season.
The fact that the Raptors put up so many points without hitting a single three-pointer (0-for-5) highlights just how awful the Bulls D really was.
Toronto had 29 assists, went 32-for-34 at the line and scored 58 points in the paint.
Let’s face it: Everybody thought Noah’s return would improve the team’s defense. At absolute worst, it should have been a zero-sum situation, right?
Instead, the Bulls looked like they had never stopped anybody from doing anything ever. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out the players returned to the locker room to find their clothes and wallets gone. And then flew back to Chicago to discover their cars had been broken. Their locks changed at home. Their identities stolen.
Or maybe that was just their defensive identities.
Hey, coach Thibodeau: What went wrong?
“What didn’t?” he said. “Every aspect. Start with defensive transition, keeping the ball out of the paint, challenging shots. Every aspect of our defense went out the window. Offensively we scored more, but defensively it was a disaster.”
Added Derrick Rose: “Defensively, we just weren’t there. When we needed stops towards the end, we just couldn’t get it. You know us, towards the end that’s when our defense gets better, but tonight we just didn’t have it tonight, but we play [Thursday].”
Rose is right. The Bulls usually clamp down on teams in the second half. That never happened last night. The Raptors scored 30 points in the third quarter and another 33 points in the fourth.
Chicago actually took an 86-85 lead when Rose nailed a three with 11:15 to go in the game. But then Toronto started pouring in the points. Andrea Bargnani hit a shot at the rim, got fouled and converted the three-point play. Bargs added a couple more free throws on his team’s next possession. Sonny Weems connected on a short jumper and then a couple foul shots. Leandro Barbosa and Amir Johnson scored on consecutive possessions. DeMar DeRosen hit from 14 feet out. Barbosa got a layup and a 20-footer on back-to-back possessions and then converted a three-point play of his own about a minute later to put the Raptors up 107-100 with 2:48 left.
Then Rose — who scored 19 of his game-high 32 points in the final 12 minutes — scored a quick seven points (four freebies and a triple) to tie the game with 1:59 to go. Then DeRozen scored at the rim again. Then Rose tied it again with a driving layup. Then DeRozen drew a foul (on Rose) and hit both foul shots to put Toronto up by a couple. Then Rose drew a foul and hit his free throws to tie the game yet again. Then DeRozen drew another foul (on Carlos Boozer) and once again made both free throws.
After that, Rose finally missed (from 20 feet) and then Johnson hit yet another layup with 16 seconds left. Amir followed that up by blocking Derrick’s driving layup attempt with 12 tick on the clock. That pretty much sealed it.
So, no, the Bulls never could get a defensive stop at the end. Or…ever.
In all, the Raptors went 5-for-5 on dunks and 17-for-21 on layup attempts. According to Hoopdata, the Bulls usually hold their opponents to a 61.7 percent conversion rate at the rim. That number ranks 10th in the league. Last night, Toronto converted well over 80 percent of their shots at the rim. Basically, Chicago did everything short of laying out a welcome mat and personally escorting the Raptors to the hoop.
It’s such a waste. The Bulls are right there with the top teams in the East (and the league), but a disappointing collection of losses to sub-.500 teams (Bobcats, Clippers, Nets, Raptors, Sixers and Warriors) is going to haunt them down the final stretch. Hell, it’s haunting them now.
And please tell me: If the Bulls can’t stop Andrea Bargnani (24 points), DeMar DeRozen (24 points) and Amir Johnson (17 points on 8-for-8 shooting), how in the world are they going to slow down LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh tonight?
Said Rose: “I really don’t know [what went wrong defensively]. You’ve got to look at film, miscommunication, it was just our lack of energy on [the defensive] end. And we all know we can’t play like that. Thank God that we play tomorrow so that we can come out and play aggressive throughout the whole game and get back in rhythm.”
Added Boozer: “We learn from everything we do. We learn from practices, and obviously, games as well. We know for us, this is an offensive type of team and we played their game. We’ve got to make teams play our style of basketball and we’ve done a pretty good job of that all season. Tonight, we didn’t do a good job of that and it came back to kick us in the butt. We learn from this and we’ve got to hang our hat on the defensive side of the ball. We had plenty of points to win, but we gave up 118 and that’s not like us.”
He’s not wrong. And the Bulls don’t have many hours left to find themselves.
Okay, fine. James Johnson played well against the Bulls. In 26 minutes, he scored 9 points (2-for-4 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line) to go with 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. He also finished with a better plus-minus score (+9) than anybody on Chicago’s current roster.
I’m sure Raptors fans have to be thinking “If J.J. can play like this every night, we got ourselves a player!” Well, sorry, Raptors fans. J.J. can’t play like that every night and he won’t. That’s why the Bulls traded him.
Raptors Republic: “The 3rd quarter was really where the game was won. It gave the underdog belief that they were better on this night, and the team rode that confidence right till the end. Boozer couldn’t shot over Bargnani and wasn’t able to get around him on a few possessions. Amir Johnson gave him fits as well. Derrick Rose, who seemed like he was deferring to his teammates, was quiet. Let’s please give Jose Calderon some credit for not giving him space to shoot until that point. Rose did eventually go off in the fourth, but he got hot against Bayless to start the quarter.”