Put down by the Pacers

Rose back

In my preview post, I stated that the outlook for this game was grim, mostly because the Bulls are a bad road team (now 12-27) and they most likely would be — and in fact were — without John Salmons, who was averaging 21.3 PPG on 50 percent shooting this month before he strained his left groin. That cost Vinny Del Negro 1/7th of his seven-man rotation and forced him to get 30 minutes out of Tim Thomas and his cranky back. All that felt, to me, like a recipe for disaster.

So…how am I supposed to regard tonight’s 107-105 setback in Indianapolis? Plenty of things went right. The Bulls shot almost 52 percent from the field. They held their own on the boards, thanks to a career-high 11 rebounds from Derrick Rose. Speaking of which, Derrick scored a team-high 24 points on 12-for-21 shooting and dished out 6 assists. Kirk Hinrich came within a stone’s throw of a triple-double (20 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), plus he nailed eight of his 13 shot attempts (including two out of three from downtown). Tyrus chipped in with 20 points while going 7-for-10. (Of course, his three misses were on jumpers from 17, 19 and 20 feet out. And, astonishingly, he grabbed only one rebound for the game.) Brad Miller was once again strong off the bench (14 points, 5 boards and a team-high 8 assists). Tim Thomas even chipped in with 11 points (4-for-6) and 5 rebounds.

But, honestly, the Pacers don’t play defense, so I fully expect anybody facing them to pad their stats a little. Or a lot. No, just like in Saturday’s game against them at the United Center, the problem wasn’t offense. It was defense. Indiana shot 50 percent. They forced turnovers (15) and ran out for easy baskets in transition, outscoring the Bulls 29-11 in fast break points. The Pacers also racked up 60 points in the paint (to Chicago’s 40), thanks to nine dunks and 17 layups. And, in my estimation, those are unacceptable numbers to give up by a team fighting for playoff positioning.

Yet, despite the lack of warm bodies and their defensive shortcomings, the Bulls somehow managed to find themselves up by eight points (99-91) with about five minutes left in the fourth. They were still up by five (103-98) with about three and a half to go when, to put it frankly, they began to play with two hands around their throats. Rose missed a short jumper. Hinrich drew a foul and then bonked both free throws. Rose had a layup stuffed by T.J. Ford. Hinrich blew a layup. Ben Gordon — who shot only 5-for-18 and finished with more fouls and turnovers (5) than rebounds and assists (4) — threw a bad pass that was stolen by Troy Murphy (who returned from injury to torment the Bulls with 15 points and 12 rebounds). Chicago committed a 24-second violation on their next trip.

After that all that slop, the Bulls found themselves down 105-103 with less than a minute left. Gordon finally ended the drought by drilling a 17-footer to tie the score. Murphy then missed a 20-footer at the other end, but Indiana corralled the rebound and called timeout with 26 ticks left on the clock. That bothered me more than all the misses…the fact that, with the game on the line, the Bulls couldn’t secure that one critical rebound. (And it wasn’t the only one. Danny Granger, who scored a game-high 31 points nabbed an offensive board and put it in the basket at the 1:25 mark.)

Coming out of the timeout, Indy managed to eat up most of the clock before T.J. Ford — the same guy who killed the Bulls the last time they played in Conseco Field House – shook Rose and knocked down a clutch jumper from 10 feet out to put the Pacer up 107-105. Said Rose: “He made a fallaway jump shot. That’s what you want people to take at the end.” Yes, I suppose he’s right…but it would be preferable if the shot was further out. And while Derrick did a decent job of contesting the attempt, Ford was still able to slice his way into the paint and more or less get the shot he wanted. If there’s one knock on Rose at this stage of his young career, it’s his continuing inability to stay in front of his man.

Anyway, that left Chicago with about three seconds to get a final shot, and even if you didn’t watch the game, I’m sure you know what happened: Ben Gordon launched a three from 26 feet out that didn’t go in, mostly because Granger — who’s six feet, nine inches tall — switched out and pressured the shot. Game over.

All in all, a valiant effort for an understaffed team. But it once again showcased the team’s inadequate play on the road (particularly on the defensive end) and their inability to pull out close games down the stretch. This team has made a lot of progress, and a healthy John Salmons might very well have changed the outcome. But, you know, the more things change…the more they don’t.

Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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4 Responses to Put down by the Pacers

  1. cliff.doggett@gmail.com'
    Cliff April 1, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    Stay in front of TJ ford? Are you serious? Please understand that TJ ford can get in the paint anytime he wants as can Drose. You have to play off quick PG and make them hit jumpers. TJ happen to hit a tough jumper, good shot – ballgame! But don’t continue this idea that Rose D is that weak. There are NO Point guards in the league that play great on the ball D. The NBA likes it that way as it provides a faster game. Otherwise Steve Nash would be Steve Kerr and nobody wants to see that!

  2. Joey.Goldberg@gmail.com'
    Joey G. April 1, 2009 at 6:33 pm #

    Brad Miller has certainly been a big part of this team’s success over the last few weeks but it frustrates me when he is left in the game for long stretches of the fourth quarter while Joakim Noah sits on the bench. I know Joakim got beat by Bosh on Sunday but it seems to me that our team defense & rebounding is better with him & Tyrus on the floor. Don’t you think we would be better off with our stronger defensive lineup in the game down the stretch instead of the lineup that consistently features Brad Miller late in games?

  3. zclowe@gmail.com'
    Zach Lowe April 1, 2009 at 6:43 pm #

    Derrick Rose had a shot blocked by T.J. Ford?

  4. davidpaulroosa@yahoo.com'
    AK Dave April 1, 2009 at 11:28 pm #

    Cliff has a point- TJ Ford, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson… these guys I would describe as “ultra-quick”, and there is no guarding them when they decide they want to drive. You have to play off and hope they miss the jumper; honestly, I don’t know of a perimeter defender who can check those guys (and the list isn’t complete), and they wreak havoc on every team they play, not just the Bulls.

    10 years ago, John Starks would have kicked TJ’s ass and taken his lunch money, and never let him get past the 3-point line. Alas, the NBA doesn’t allow guards to, well, GUARD anyone on the perimeter these days.

    Joey G- Brad Miller seems to me like the better clutch rebounder out of the bunch. And when he gets 8 assists and double-digit points off the bench as a Center, well, that seems to me like you could even argue that he should start (although I prefer him coming off the bench because he CAN score).

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