Me and my big metaphorical mouth.
Yesterday on Basketbawful, I made what was, in retrospect, a rather rash and foolish statement regarding Philadelphia’s loss to the Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen-less Celtics: “The defeat will almost certainly cost the Sixers the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs (unless the Bulls lose at home to the Raptors and Philly manages to beat the Cavs in Cleveland), which will force them to face Boston in the first round. So, you know, uh oh.”
What a boner…especially considering I’m the person who invented the term “stat curse.” Not only that, I’m also the guy who has repeatedly mocked the New Jersey Nets for going 23-40 and failing to reach the postseason after some early season success that caused Devin Harris to utter the now infamous line: “We knew we were going to be a playoff team.”
Yep. I fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: No NBA team can ever — I repeat, ever — simply pencil in a victory. No matter how well they’ve been playing, no matter how lousy the opponent, and no matter how invincible they seem at home. It’s a time-proven formula for failure. That’s science. Look it up.
So the worst-case scenario, which really had seemed unthinkable, actually happened: The Bulls lost 109-98 to the Raptors at the United Center, while the Sixers pulled out a 111-110 overtime victory in Cleveland. Now, instead of facing a suddenly struggling and potentially vulnerable Magic team, Chicago has to face the defending champions in the first round. You know, the same squad that managed to win 62 games despite the fact that their top dog and reigning Defensive Player of the Year missed almost a third of the season with a sprained right knee.
Sweet Lincoln’s mullet, what happened?! The Bulls had won 12 of their last 15 games and 14 of 15 at home. The Raptors, meanwhile, entered the game a disappointing 32-49 — unlucky number 13 in the East — and had nothing to play for except being the spoiler. Well, that’s not quite true. This was Shawn Marion’s last chance to audition for a big free agent contract, and he played like it, going off for a game-high 34 points on a video game-like 15-for-18 from the f ield to go along with 11 rebounds.
The Chi-towners brought less energy to the game than your average DMV employee brings to work each day. The Raptors just plain wanted it more, a fact that’s pretty obvious from one quick glance at the stat sheet: Toronto outrebounded the Bulls 57-40. (Chris Bosh grabbed 19 of those caroms.) Now, Chicago isn’t a great rebounding team — they have a -0.5 differential on the year — but to lose the Battle of the Boards by 17 at home in a semi-must-win game? Really?
The Raps also, amazingly enough, outran the Bulls, as evidenced by their 19-10 edge in fast break points. Said Ben Gordon: “We had lackluster energy.” He’s not wrong.
This stinker was more than a little surprising, particularly after the team’s impressive road win against the Pistons on Monday. It happens, I guess. They’ve been playing above their heads for a while. Guys have been logging a lot of minutes. John Salmons (5 points, 1-for-7) is struggling with that sore groin. (The way he played, his groin better be ready to fall off. At least that might explain his misdirected shooting and non-existent defense on Marion.) Plus, it sure seems like they’ve started taking their recent home dominance a little for granted. Memo to the Bulls: You still have to play the games.
Well, no use crying over spilled milk. All you can do is wipe it up and move on. And hope that Kevin Garnett is still far less than 100 percent. And that Paul Pierce wore himself out playing too many minutes to compensate for KG’s absence. And that Ray Allen misplaces his jump shot. And that Derrick Rose can handle Rajon Rondo. And, and, and…
Player notes: Rose finished his Rookie of the Year campaign with a double-double (20 points, 11 assists). He also added 2 blocks and a steal. Ben Gordon scored a team-high 23 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there. Joakim Noah (17 points, 8-for-11, 9 boards) and Tyrus Thomas (12 points, 6-for-11, 8 rebounds) had decent numbers, but I wish they would have done a better job protecting the glass. Salmons, as noted, was a disaster. Brad Miller had a double-double off the bench (14 points, 11 rebounds) but missed nine of his 14 shot attempts. Kirk Hinrich had his phaser set to “suck”…he went scoreless (0-for-6) in 17 minutes.