Allow me to briefly channel my inner Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Bulls couldn’t stand the Heat. The Heat made the Bulls sweat. The Bulls were burned by the Heat. The Heat fired the Bulls.
Okay, I think that’s out of my system.
So…why did the Bulls lose a hotly contested 95-87 decision in Miami? (Okay, that was the last one, I swear.) Several reasons. First and foremost, their shooting — just as it was against the Celtics and even in the season-opening win over the Spurs — was bad bordering on terrible. They missed 15 of their 29 layup attempts while hitting only 30 percent of their jump shots (18-for-59) and 16 percent of their threes (2-for-12). In Karate Kid Part III, Terry Silver told Danny Larusso that, “A man can’t stand, he can’t fight.” Well, by that logic, if a team can’t shoot, it can’t win.
But that wasn’t the only problem. After all, the game was close throughout and the Bulls even had an 83-82 lead with about three minutes left in the fourth. Only the Heat have a proven closer and the Bulls don’t. Dwyane Wade didn’t put up superduperstar numbers — 25 points, 8-for-19, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 4 turnovers — but he made plays when they mattered most. He took back the lead by hitting a tough baseline jumper with 2:57 left. He found Quentin Richardson for a triple with 1:40 left. And then he forced the defense to collapse and found Udonis Haslem for a 16-footer with 47 seconds left. That was pretty much the game.
As for the Bulls, here’s a summary of their offensive possessions after John Salmons canned a triple to give them that one-point lead late in the fourth: Luol Deng missed 21-foot jumper; Derrick Rose missed layup; Salmons missed layup (blocked by Joel Anthony); Kirk Hinrich missed 21-foot jumper; Derrick Rose missed jumper; Deng hit two free throws; Joakim Noah hit two free throws; Rose turnover; Deng missed layup; Salmons turnover.
So in crunch time, Chicago went 0-for-6 from the field, hit 4-for-4 from the line and committed 2 turnovers. That’s not going to cut it, not on the road against a probable playoff team. As Salmons put it: “”Down the stretch, close game, they made plays, we didn’t make plays. You’ve got to make plays down the stretch. That was the difference in the game.”
Pretty much, yeah.
All those down-the-stretch failures made the team’s lack of a go-to scorer glaringly apparent. Who was supposed to take over in the end game? Deng, who was the team’s best player on the night (26 points, 11-for-21, 8 rebounds)? Rose, who played poorly (8 points, 4-for-15, 5 assists, 2 turnovers) but is supposed to be the team’s franchise player? Salmons, who finally found his scoring touch (17 points, 7-for-14) but still couldn’t nail a three (1-for-5)?
Who knows? The Bulls sure didn’t. For Miami, everybody knew Wade was going to have the ball in his hands on every possession. For Chicago, Rose brought the ball up, but after that things got disjointed. Maybe that’s because, unlike Wade, Rose hasn’t developed a knack for creating offense out of nothing, both for himself and his teammates. If there’s anything holding Rose back in his bid to become the Bulls’ first All-Star in the post-Jordan era, it’s the fact that he’s not an elite playmaker. I want to say “yet,” but at times I wonder whether that’s just one of those “either he has it or he doesn’t” things.
It’s also worth noting that the Bulls were also (and once again) abused by an opposing big man. Haslem came off Miami’s bench to score 19 points (9-for-13), grab 11 rebounds and earn the game’s best plus-minus score (+15). Note also that he went 3-for-3 in the fourth quarter. The “burned by opposing big man” thing was an ongoing theme last season, and it’s happened twice in three games so far this season (Tim Duncan did it on opening night). Everybody on the Celtics burned the Bulls on Friday, so that doesn’t really count.
The incredible disappearing man:
Tyrus Thomas played only 21 minutes and finished with 4 points (1-for-4), 6 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. I guess Vinny didn’t think Ty was playing well enough to earn extra PT, but Thomas was one of only two Bulls to finish with a positive plus-minus score (+1). The other was Noah (also +1). Speaking of plus-minus…
The worst plus-minus score of the game goes to:
Derrick Rose, who was -11. That gives him a net plus-minus of -26 in the first three games.
Three-point shooting (or the lack there-off):
In their first three games, the Bulls have gone 7-for-43 (16 percent) from beyond the arc. Against the Heat, Salmons was the only starter to even attempt a triple (and, as mentioned, he went 1-for-5). Kirk Hinrich was 0-for-3, Jannero Pargo was 0-for-1 and Brad Miller was 1-for-3. You read that correctly: Brad Miller was the team’s best three-point marksman last night. That’s a bad omen.
Okay, okay, we all get it:
No clutch scoring, no three-point shooting. It’s safe to say that, at least in the early going, the Bulls are missing Ben Gordon. Badly.