Beware the second night of back-to-back games. Especially when the second game is on the road.
Thanks in part to Toronto’s apathetic approach to defense — the Raptors entered the game ranked last in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency, giving up 116+ Points Per 100 Possessions — the Bulls looked strong in the first half. After two quarters, Chicago was +10 on the boards, up 14-0 in second chance points, shooting over 50 percent from the field, and had a 60-53 halftime lead. Why, it even looked like the Bulls were going to reach the century mark in scoring for the first time this season.
As it turns out, they couldn’t even reach their season-high of 93 points.
Chicago actually kicked the lead up to 11 when Luol Deng drilled a 17-footer with 7:45 left in the third quarter, and it momentarily seemed as if the Bulls might actually run away with this one. Then things got ugly. How ugly? When everything was said and done, Chicago ended up shooting 10-for-40 (25 percent) in the second half. Ahead 88-85 with 6:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bulls went the next six minutes and 14 seconds without scoring a point until Kirk Hinrich hit the second of two free throws with 10 seconds to go.
Here’s a summary of Chicago’s offensive — and I mean that in both senses of the word — possessions during that horrifying stretch: turnover (Joakim Noah three-second violation), turnover (Luol Deng’s pass was stolen by Andrea Bargnani), Derrick Rose missed 22-footer, Deng missed 20-footer, Taj Gibson offensive rebound, Gibson 0-for-2 from the line, Deng missed 21-footer, Hinrich missed 19-footer, Hinrich missed 22-footer, turnover (Deng traveled), Rose missed 20-footer, Rose missed layup, Noah offensive rebound and missed tip shot, John Salmons missed 14-footer, Salmons missed 25-foot three-pointer, Deng missed jumper, Hinrich 1-for-2 from the line.
To sum up: 0-for-11 from the field, 1-for-4 from the line, and three turnovers. Nine of the Bulls’ 11 shot attempts were jump shots. Six of the nine jumpers were from 20 feet or further out, and one was a 19-footer.
So what can me make of this? Three things. First, the Raptors have the kind of awful defense that readily gives up — and therefore seduces opposing teams into taking — uncontested jump shots. Second, the Bulls were clearly fatigued. By the fourth quarter, their shots were consistently coming up short and you could tell they had no legs. Third, because Toronto’s defense was giving them jumpers and because they were dragging, the Bulls bailed out and took those jumpers instead of forcing the action and trying to get to the rim. And let’s face it, tired teams don’t win on a steady diet of 20-foot shots. Especially bad shooting teams…which Chicago has been so far this season.
Of course, it’s worth noting that losing Tyrus Thomas (left arm fracture) has compromised the Bulls’ frontcourt depth. Jannero Pargo’s creaky back has limited his minutes (not to mention his effectiveness), which has left the team thin in the backcourt. Obviously, it’s not an optimal situation.
And now the Bulls have dropped back to .500 (4-4), and it goes without saying that teams with aspirations of making the playoffs — and maybe even earning a fourth or fifth seed — can’t afford to lose winnable games at home (as they did against the Nuggets) and fall to bad teams on the road (as they did against the Raptors). Now Chicago faces a long and winding road before their next home game.
The Raptors won the battle in Effective Field Goal Percentage (43.7 to 40.9) and Free Throw Rate (26.1 to 23.8). The Bulls won in Turnover Percentage (13.1 to 15.1) and Offensive Rebounding Percentage (29.4 to 26.1). However, Chicago scored only 12 points off 15 forced turnovers while the Raptors also scored 12 points off 13 forced turnovers, so that was a wash. Sure, Toronto hit five more free throws, but the real culprit was Chicago’s woeful shooting. Speaking of which…
Things aren’t getting any better for Salmons, who followed up his 3-for-13 shooting performance against the Nuggets with a 1-for-11 stinker against the Raptors. On the season, John is shooting 30.6 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from downtown. “Horrific” doesn’t begin to describe Salmons’ shooting this season.
Frontcourt defensive woes:
The Bulls were again exploited by an opposing frontcourt player, as Chris Bosh — after being outplayed by Noah in the first half — finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. Bosh got stronger as the game plodded along. By the end, the Bulls simply could not contain him, especially close to the basket. Speaking of which…
The Bulls shot so poorly (39 percent for the game) mostly because they were settling for so many jumpers. Not surprisingly, the Raptors outscored them 50-36 in the paint. Also, Toronto was +11 on the boards in the second half, mostly because are best rebounder was running on fumes. Speaking of which…
Here we “Jo” again:
Noah had yet another double-double last night (12 points, 11 rebounds) to go along with 4 assists and 2 blocks. However, he had 10 points, 7 boards and 3 assists by halftime. Noah looked spent in the second half and eventually fouled out. He simply ran out of gas…like the rest of the Bulls. His fatigue was a big reason Bosh dominated the second half and Chicago got pounded in the paint.
Way to go, rookie:
Taj Gibson wowed Bulls fans by shooting 8-for-13 and scoring 18 points. He also had 5 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. The kid played his butt off. He continues to be everything management and the coaching staff wants Tyrus Thomas to be.
Update: By The Horns reader Greg left a couple comments that deserve special mention here…even if they somewhat (but correctly) temper my enthusiasm for Gibson’s play as of late: “So far this season, I’ve been thrilled with the D, good rotations, solid individual D, and I recognize that Taj has been a big part of that steadiness with his solid understanding of the game. That said…1 Defensive Rebound in 34 mins in a game that we lose due to being crushed on the boards during the 2nd half??? I recognize that 18 points on good shooting is nice, but come on. Let’s not show too much bias in favor of the surprising rookie, I’ve been reading this column enough to know that if TT dropped that line, he would have been crucified for the lack of rebounding.” Greg is right. I would have killed Ty for that. Fair is fair.
Greg also added: “Taj has 5 defensive rebounds in his last 81 minutes of game play. I love his rotations and energy, and the offense has been a surprise, but BOX OUT!!!”
One night after playing Carmelo Anthony to a standstill — or maybe even outplaying him — Luol co-led the Bulls in scoring with 18 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Of course, he committed 4 turnovers and started shooting blanks in the fourth quarter, but Deng has been proving his doubters very wrong so far this season. His shooting is so-so, but his effort is A+…especially on the boards. My only criticism from last night is that he shot too many jumpers and didn’t force his way to the hoop often enough. As a result, he earned only one trip to the line. That’s not nearly good enough, especially against a woeful defense.
D-Rose scored 14 points and dished out 6 assists, but he shot only 6-for-14 and couldn’t make anything happen during the team’s scoreless stretch in the fourth quarter. Rose needs to realize that Ben Gordon is gone and that this is his team now. Situations like what happened last night are when franchise players have to step up. Bosh did it for the Raptors. Derrick needs to start doing that for the Bulls…and fast.
Rose was also abused off the dribble in the second half, and Noah was either not available or too tired to clean up the mess. As Chris commented: “I was starting to have my doubts about Jose last night, but the Bulls made him look like an all-star. Given the quickness advantage that both D. Rose and Pargo have on my boy Jose… FAIL.”
Reasons for concern:
You mean besides the bad shooting, spotty leadership, and the self-destruction of John Salmons? Well, the Bulls play seven of their next nine games on the road, including a seven game road trip through Sacramento, Los Angeles (Lakers), Denver, Portland, Utah and Milwaukee. Then, after a home game against the Pistons — Gordon’s first game back at the United Center — they face the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Seven of those games are against playoff teams, including two against title contenders and two against division rivals. This is a brutal stretch that could make or break the Bulls’ season.