Joakim Noah: “There’s no excuses. We’re 6-3 on this road trip. We want to be a championship team. And to be a championship team, it’s OK, but it’s not great. Obviously, we’re not playing with our MVP, but there’s definitely enough in this room to win a game like tonight. But I feel like today, we got out-competed.”
C.J. Watson: “We just looked a little sluggish, came out a little slow.”
Derrick Rose: “Our energy wasn’t there. We didn’t pick up our energy to the full court.”
Those are the kind of quotes you expect from a no-excuses team like the Bulls.
And they sure could have made some excuses. If they had a mind to.
After all, this was the final stop on a nine-game road trip, the team’s 20th roadie in 30 games this season. They were also playing without their starting backcourt, which just happens to include reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
Then there was Rajon Rondo. Oh my goodness there was Rondo.
I don’t know whether he was embarrassed by his team’s back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Raptors, or expressing his righteous anger about not making the All-Star team, or gunning to show the world he’s every bit as good or better than Rose. Whatever the case, Rondo played like a man among boys: 32 points (11-for-22, from the field and 10-for-13 from the line), 15 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 steals.
Said Boston’s JuJuan Johnson: “Oh, man, he played great. I don’t think anyone expects anything less from him. The way he played today, he’s a great player — obviously. Best point guard in the league, and he played great.”
Best point guard in the league? Really? As Kenny Smith might say: “Is Derrick Rose dead?”
Rose isn’t dead, but he isn’t playing either, thanks to a back injury that is being called “stiffness.” It’s so stiff, in fact, that Rose is scheduled to see a back specialist today.
Bulls fans can start sweating bullets right…now.
Without Rose creating opportunities for his teammates, and with the Boston defense turning the screws, the Bulls were held to 38 percent shooting. It was ugly. Check out some of these shooting numbers:
Kyle Korver: 1-for-5.
Taj Gibson: 1-for-6.
John Lucas III: 3-for-9.
Luol Deng: 3-for-12.
C.J. Watson: 8-for-23.
Bottom line: The Bulls simply did not or could not get many clean looks at the basket.
Then there was the Bulls’ defense. Check out this stat: The Celtics — aging Big Three and all — finished the game with an unbelievable 33 fast break points.
And yet, thanks largely to the late-game efforts of Carlos Boozer (22 points, 9-for-16, 7 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (16 points, 6-for-10, 9 rebounds), the Bulls were one misdirected three-pointer by Watson from tying the game with 22 seconds left.
The Bulls could have played better. No question. But on the last game of a nine-game road trip without the best player?
I’d say they competed.
But they were a step slow. Maybe two steps. Hence all the transition points they gave up. That was disappointing.
What was also disappointing was the performance of Deng. If this game served notice that Rondo may have suffered an All-Star snub, it was also something of an indictment of Deng’s selection. Lu held Paul Pierce to 9 points on 4-for-10 shooting, but with Rose out, the Bulls needed more than 10 points on 12 shots from their first-time All-Star.
Said Deng: “It’s the way the game went. I know I need to be more aggressive, but I didn’t want to hunt shots or chase down shots out there.”
Then too there was that potential game-tying shot by Watson, which seemed like a curious (and possibly poorly thought out) attempt given the circumstances. After all, the Bulls were coming out of a timeout with 27 seconds left in the game. Five seconds later, C.J. lofted an off-balance three while fading away from the basket.
That’s the best shot the Bulls could have gotten in that situation?
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “[Watson] makes those shots. I’m not going to second-guess that. I want him to be aggressive, and he was. I didn’t have a problem with that.”
Okay. Fair enough.
Still, there are worries piling up. How badly is Rose hurt? Will Rip Hamilton ever be healthy? Is Deng’s wrist starting to become an issue again? And, although we know they can crush bad teams, can the Bulls beat the good ones? As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell pointed out, the Bulls went 6-3 on their road trip…six up against sub-.500 teams and three down against plus-.500 teams.
What’s more, a look at the expanded standings shows us that the Bulls are 17-1 against losing teams and only 6-6 against winning teams. In contrast, the Miami Heat are 10-4 against teams .500 and above and Oklahoma City is 12-4 against such teams.
Legit concerns? Or worrying for nothing?
Said Boozer: “I don’t think we’re far from where we want to be. I think we’re right there, but it would be good to get healthy a little bit and get some of the guys that we’re missing back. It will be good to be back in Chicago and get some home-cooked meals, sleep in our own beds, and play some home games at the UC.”
Maybe Boozington is right. Maybe the Bulls just need a little better health and a few more games at home.