So much for sweeping the season series with the Pacers.
How did the Bulls shoot 57 percent against a pretty good Portland team on one night and then shoot 41.9 percent against a pretty not-so-good Indiana team the very next night?
For starters, they were playing on the road, where they are 12-19 on the season. And they were playing in Conseco Field House, where they are (somewhat inexplicably) 4-18 since that arena opened in 1999. More importantly, they were playing on the second night of back-to-backs…a situation in which they are 6-10 so far this season.
The Bulls had weary legs. When a team has weary legs, their jumpers fall short. And few teams rely on jump shots more than Chicago. And whereas they were crazy hot against the Trail Blazers — 21-for-33 (63.6 percent) from 16-23 feet — the Bulls went only 9-for-28 (32.1 percent) from that distance against the Pacers. And it’s not like the shots weren’t open. Chicago just couldn’t hit any.
Indiana coach Jim O’Brien certainly realized that fatigue might be an issue for the Bulls, who barely pulled out a tight overtime win in Chicago on Friday night, and he clearly instructed his team to run, run, run and then run some more. The Pacers were in constant motion, running the court, moving without the ball and making the extra pass.
Meanwhile, the Bulls defense was on a one-second delay.
Chicago’s players were all a step slow in reacting to Indy’s constant movement. The Pacers outscored the Bulls 14-8 in fast break points, but that total doesn’t count the free throws Indiana earned in transition. But what was really horrifying for Chicago fans was how many layups the Pacers got. They were 20-for-26 at the rim. That’s right: 20 of their 35 field goals were hit at point blank range.
Man, the Bulls missed Joakim Noah’s interior defense.
And that’s really what it came down to. First, the Bulls couldn’t defend the rim. Second, they couldn’t get high percentage shots. Third, they couldn’t hit their long-range shots. I won’t bother to complain about the officiating, but I will say there was an awful lot of uncalled contact in the paint. And I mean the kind that went Indiana’s way. But that’s what happens when one team is aggressive (that is, the Pacers) and the other is kind of passive (that is, the Bulls).
Despite bumping knees with Indy’s Earl Watson, Derrick Rose (27 points, 9-for-14 from the field, 9-for-12 from the line) did everything he could do. Loul Deng shot poorly (5-for-14) but was a monster on the boards (18 rebounds, 5 offensive). And rookie Taj Gibson (14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks) provided his typical strong performance. But nobody else seemed ready to step up their game. Even Jannero Pargo’s 14 points off the bench came on 16 shot attempts.
This loss provided yet another example of why the Bulls really need another All-Star level player to line up alongside Rose. You know, somebody who can get or create high-percentage shots when the offense is stalling. Rose has become good. I mean, very good. But he can’t do everything. And right now, he’s surrounded by nothing but role players.
Hey, the Lakers didn’t become contenders again until they bought in Pau Gasol to back up Kobe Bryant. Kobe could score 80 points by himself, but he couldn’t get his team out of the first round on his own. Of course, there’s a difference between the playoffs and a regular season road game against a lottery team. That said, a healthy Joakim Noah might have at least helped Chicago get past the Pacers.
The Bulls also committed 21 turnovers, giving them a total of 43 miscues for the weekend. Of course, they Pacers bobbled the ball away 18 times and the Bulls were +8 on points off turnovers. But still, it’s awfully tough to eke out victories when you can’t hold onto the ball. Especially on the road on the second night of back-to-back games.
Said Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro: “We had way too many turnovers. We had a lot of times where we could have converted but didn’t.”
Added Taj Gibson: “This is one of those bumps in the road. We just have to get back on track.”
He’s right about that. The Bulls really do have to get back on track. Chicago’s next five games are against the Hawks (36-21), Grizzlies (30-29), Mavericks (38-21), Jazz (38-21) and Magic (39-20).
1st timeout: Called after a Rose turnover
2nd timeout: Hinrich drew a foul (2-for-2)
3rd timeout: Pargo layup (Miller assists)
4th timeout: Pargo made 18-footer
5th timeout: Pargo missed 17-footer
Discounting the first timeout, the Bulls scored on three of four tries. Too bad that didn’t help them on the defensive end.