Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.
An undermanned Bulls team — currently missing their superstar (Derrick Rose), two starters (Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton), and their top reserve (Taj Gibson) — playing with their backs against the wall against a top-notch opponent.
It’s been that kind of season. Actually, it’s been this way for the past two seasons.
During last year’s lockout-shortened season, the Bulls lost 52 player games to injury. This season, the Bulls have lost 109 players games to injury. And counting.
Insert standard Tom Thibodeau response here: “It’s the NBA, we’ve got plenty in that locker room, we’ve got to get the job done.”
I get the feelings Thibs would say that even if all 12 of his players were injured and the entire roster was replaced with D-League players.
About the only thing that changed in the Bulls favor last night is that Rose was actually present and on the bench. Other than that, it was business as usual, with the players giving their best effort without complaining or making excuses.
The Bulls certainly competed. They just couldn’t finish.
The Bulls got another strong effort out of Joakim Noah (14 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists). Marco Belinelli started in place of Hamilton, scoring 20 points and connecting on four of his five three-point attempts. Jimmy Butler was great off the bench, scoring 20 points on 11 shots and hitting three three-pointers. And Deng (15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) came alive in the fourth quarter when the Bulls were trying to rally.
However, the Bulls couldn’t contain David West, who matched his season-high with 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting. West also went 9-for-9 from the line and got pretty much whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it, particularly off pick and rolls, and especially down the stretch.
After the Bulls had managed to tie the game at 80-80 with just over seven minutes to go, West ran a pick and roll with George Hill and got a layup. On Indy’s next possession, West drew a foul and hit both freebies.
Following two baskets by Roy Hibbert — one coming from an offensive rebound — Paul George found West for another layup. Still later, with the Bulls trailing only 92-89 with about a half minute to go, West missed a layup attempt, snared the rebound (after Noah sailed by and fell down) and put in the shot to make it a two possession game.
Butler made things exciting by hitting a three to pull the Bulls to within three with 19.9 seconds left, and Hill made things even more exciting by missing both free throws with 13.6 seconds left to give the Bulls one final chance. But there was West again, stealing the ball from Noah and sealing the game with a couple free throws.
Too. Much. David. West.
Said Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “[West] leads our team in will. He has a great will to do whatever is necessary to get the job done and to get a ‘W’ and that was clear tonight.”
I can’t disagree. Although I sure would have liked to see West’s will tested by a healthy Gibson.
Of course the Pacers would probably have liked to have had a healthy Danny Granger. And the Bulls a healthy Rose. So on and so forth. But, as Thibodeau says, this is the NBA, and you play the guys who can suit up.
The Bulls were outrebounded 42-34. The Pacers also had a slight edge in offensive boards, which gave them a slim advantage in second-chance points (15-14). These are areas in which the Bulls usually need to excel in order to beat the league’s better teams. Without Gibson, and with Boozer (6 points, 3-for-9, 2 rebounds) limited to a mostly ineffective 17 minutes, that just didn’t happen.
Those little things can kill a team. And prevent them from finishing games…or starting them well.
Said Thibs: “The thing is we got to find ways to win games. It doesn’t matter. We have more than enough in that locker room. Those guys are all capable of doing well. We played from behind most of the night, and it’s important to play with a lead. We got to come out with more fire to start the game, more intensity; the level of intensity has to be a lot higher.”
One golden nugget from the game was Chicago’s bench production. Nazr Mohammed (7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) nearly outplayed Indiana’s bench (8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block) by himself. And as you can tell from the plus-minus scores, it was the bench that brought the Bulls back in this one.
Said Noah: “[The second group] played really well and that’s what we need. We need a team effort every night and everybody to be into it. It’s always tough to lose, but I think that we fought collectively and I think we fought really hard.”
Countered Deng: “We lost. You always acknowledge the great things we did out there, but at the end of the day we got to find ways to get that win. It’s tough every time you lose.”
It’s true. There are no moral victories in this league. Only wins and losses.
Next up: The Spurs in San Antonio on Wednesday.