Let’s get this out of the way first.
With 2:27 left in the fourth quarter and the Bulls trailing 90-84, Derrick Rose made a nice ball fake, got Jamal Crawford into the air, and then drew obvious contact on a three-point attempt. Official Bennett Salvatore blew the whistle…
…then said it was inadvertent and ruled a jump ball. Josh Smith won the tip, Jeff Teague gained possession, and Atlanta’s possession ended with a dunk by Al Horford that increased Atlanta’s lead to eight points.
That’s a big swing. It was also a mistake.
Said Salvatore: “An inadvertent whistle is when a referee blows his whistle and didn’t mean to. That’s exactly what happened. I blew my whistle and didn’t mean to, I didn’t think it was a foul. Having watched the replay after the game, it was a foul and I should have called it. I made a mistake.”
He blew his whistle. But he didn’t think it was a foul. Okay.
Salvatore continued: “I blew my whistle. I was positive it was not a foul. I blew my whistle by accident. Which is an inadvertent whistle. That’s why I disallowed it … Having watched replay. It was a foul. I made a mistake. I was wrong.”
Said Rose: “It’s basketball. Hopefully next time they call it.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “At that time of the game, I’ve never seen that. But look, Benett’s a good official. He said he made a mistake. He’s human. So that’s what he did. He’s a good official. He got him in the air, he came down on him. I thought it was a foul. But you know, sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.
You don’t have to be a math major to realize how costly Salvatore’s mistake was for the Bulls. Assuming Rose hit all three of the free throws he should have gotten, the Bulls would have been down only three points with two and a half minutes remaining. Instead, after it was all said and done, they were down eight with two minutes to go.
And, watching the game, you could tell the sequence demoralized them.
If that call had been made correctly, the Bulls could have won this game. But it’s not why they lost the game. It’s never really that simple is it?
For starters, Chicago’s interior defense was poor. The Hawks went 22-for-34 (64.8 percent) at the rim and outscored the Bulls 56-40 in the paint. Horford was 6-for-6 at the rim. Joe Johnson was 3-for-3. Jason Collins was 2-for-2. Crawford 1-for-1. Teague was 4-for-6. Smith was 6-for-11.
Teams don’t earn many wins by giving up that many good looks around the basket.
They also got shot down by Johnson (24 points, 9-for-14, 3-for-5 on threes) and picked apart by Smith (23 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists). Smith didn’t shoot well (8-for-22), but he got to the line (7-for-9) and created extra offense though his passing and work on the offensive glass (5 offensive boards).
Overall, Chicago’s defense simply wasn’t that good. Atlanta finished with an Offensive Efficiency of 108.7. That’s too high for this team.
Now let’s talk about the offense.
Rose finished with game highs in points (34), assists (10), free throw attempts (11) and shot attempts (32). It’s that last stat that worries me. Especially considering the rest of the starting unit combined for two fewer shots than Rose took.
It’s tempting to think the shot distribution wouldn’t have been a big deal if Derrick had converted more than 12 of his attempts. But it was a big deal. And not because Rose’s shot selection was terrible. After all, 22 of his 32 attempts came inside 10 feet. But he went only 6-for-14 at the rim and 2-for-8 from 3-9 feet.
To be completely honest, I thought there was a significant amount of uncalled contact on several of Rose’s drives. Which isn’t all that surprising, considering Hawks coach Larry Drew talked about his team getting more physical with Rose after Game 3. That’s what happened. The Hawks forced Rose into several misses and got away with bumping him off a handful of shots that might have otherwise gone in or resulted in free throw attempts.
Said Thibs: “He kept driving the ball. I’m anxious to see the replays. From my perspective, I thought he was getting fouled. Maybe he wasn’t going hard enough.”
But here’s the thing: Even if Rose hit more shots and earned more trips to the lines, and even if the Bulls had pulled this one out, I would still have a problem with the offense. Or, at least, what it devolved into.
Here’s what the Bulls offense looked like in the fourth quarter:
Carlos Boozer missed layup; Rose made 10-footer; Rose made 14-footer + 1 free throw; Rose made layup; Rose missed layup (blocked by Teague); offensive rebound; Rose missed 14-footer; offensive rebound; Rose missed 8-footer; Rose missed layup; Kyle Korver made 17-footer (Rose assists); C.J. Watson turnover; Taj Gibson 2-for-2 at the line; shot clock violation; Rose turnover; Luol Deng missed three-pointer; offensive rebound; Rose made 7-footer and the foul; Rose misses free throw; Rose made layup; Rose missed layup; Rose missed 6-footer; Rose turnover; Salvatore’s blown call; Korver missed three-pointer; Deng made layup (Rose assists); Korver turnover; Rose made layup.
In summary: The Bulls’ fourth quarter offense consisted of only 2 assists (both by Rose), 4 free throw attempts, 5 turnovers and 17 field goal attempts…12 by Rose.
Said Thibodeau: “You know, when he’s making the plays and he’s scoring, everyone’s saying how great he is. So tonight, he was aggressive. I didn’t have any problem with the way he played. … It’s a make or miss league. If they go down, we’re talking about the great plays and how unselfish he is.”
Countered Kyle Korver: “I think when Derrick gets it going, he should shoot every time. But when it’s not there, we got to work it as a team. We got to do a better job of getting open so he can see us, and he probably needs to do a better job sometimes of finding us, but it’s a team thing. You can’t out it on one person. Obviously, when he has it going, he is the best basketball player in the world, and we want him to take every shot that he feels like he’s going to make.”
Korver’s right. The offense cannot become “Rose dribbles and drives while everybody else stands around watching.” That’s what happened in the fourth quarter of last night’s game, and it’s no wonder the Bulls scored only 19 points over those final 12 minutes. Look, Derrick has become a tremendous closer, one of the best in the game. But no matter how good he is, Most Valuable Player or not, the Bulls still need to execute an actual offense down the stretch.
That didn’t happen last night. And it was costly. More so even than Salvatore’s “inadvertent whistle.” Much more so because officiating is out of a team’s control. The way an offense runs is — or should be — fully within the team’s control.
Take Boozer’s night. Carlos finally broke out of his offensive slump — 18 points, 7-for-10 from the field, 4-for-4 from the line — but attempted one shot in the fourth quarter. The first one, as it turned out, and he never shot again. That’s ridiculous. Boozer is supposed to be the team’s second offensive option. If the team isn’t going to go to him when he’s hot, when are they going to go to him? This is just a for instance. Deng is the team’s third option and he took only two shots in the fourth.
Good offense requires ball movement and total involvement from all five guys on the floor. I’m perfectly okay with Rose taking 30+ shots as long as they come within the flow of the offense. When there’s no flow to the offense…that’s when the problems crop up.
Everybody is at fault. Thibs is at fault for not running more plays that get players other than Rose good looks. Rose’s teammates are at fault for not being more aggressive, getting open, and calling for the ball. And Rose is at fault for not generating more offense for the other guys wearing red jerseys.
This isn’t a critical flaw…but it could become one if the team doesn’t get it figured out. I’m sure Thibodeau and players will make adjustments for Game 5. But last night, poor defense and terrible fourth quarter offense cost the Bulls a chance to put a hammer lock on this series.