Bulls Suffer Dispiriting Loss At Home To Surging Warriors


Just looking at the final score, a 112-102 loss to the team with the best point differential, road record and overall record in the league shouldn’t be too deflating, but that’s how it felt, with the team confirming as much after the game:

Let’s count down the various Bulls crises:

DEFCON 5: As K.C. Johnson’s tweet mentioned, the Bulls fell to 2-5 at home. It’s hard to get too concerned about that though, considering the team was one play away from clinching the Cleveland and Dallas games, and over the course of a year those kind of things should even out. Also, with 13 of their 20 games played away from the United Center, only Orlando has a larger disparity between road and home games played.

DEFCON 4: On the night he wore a warm-up shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe,” referring to the final words of the late Eric Garner, as well as the ensuing lack of an indictment for the officer who choked him, Derrick Rose had perhaps his worst game of the season. Just 2-11 from the field, including a lone triple on seven attempts, Rose couldn’t get into a rhythm at all. He drew a pair of fouls early, but those four trips to the stripe would be his only ones on the night as he settled time and time again for shots from long-distance. His lack of attacking has been spotlighted since his latest return from injury, and it was rather stark in this contest.

He did have six assists and just two turnovers though. That combined with remembering that this is all still a process for him makes Rose’s play a minor concern in the overall picture.

DEFCON 3: Chicago was absolutely shredded on defense. Thanks to seven three-pointers, Draymond Green scored a career-high 31 points. Even after going 3-11 in the second half, Klay Thompson still poured in 24. On the bright side, Steph Curry was 5-14 for “just” 19 points, including 1-5 from beyond the arc. Usually Golden State is the team that’s always coughing the ball up, but tonight it was Chicago turning the ball over 22 times, allowing the Warriors, who’ve now won 12 straight, to absolutely blitz the Bulls on the break early and often. It seemed like it was happening every possession because Chicago’s defense was extremely slow even after made baskets. Green was the heavy hitter, with three triples and a transition dunk as the Dubs built an early lead. The Bulls got back into it when the second units came in, and then Golden State jumped back up a dozen when the starters returned. A fortuitous sequence leading to a Joakim Noah running layup as time expired made it 61-49 at the half.

DEFCON 2: The other factor in that porous defense was Pau Gasol and the dominoes that fall in his presence. It seems unfair to pin so much blame on a guy who posted the fourth 20/20 game of his illustrious career, but Golden State got pretty much whatever they wanted on offense when he was on the floor. Over the years, stretch fours have caused problems for the Bulls. They’re like a glitch in the Thibs Matrix, whether it be Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Ersan Ilyasova, etc. When Gasol is in, that forces Noah to guard on the perimeter, and he is vulnerable in the same way Serge Ibaka has been attacked in the past by smart teams. For defensive menaces like Noah and Ibaka, their natural instinct is to collapse in and erase mistakes close to the rim. That puts them in no man’s land though, too far away to help and too close to recover to the shooter on the perimeter.

It’s no coincidence Chicago’s defense functioned better when Taj Gibson played alongside Noah. It allowed Noah to sit in the paint and Taj to roam outside, where he is among the few bigs in the league adept at moving in space. The Warriors either had Noah’s man pull him away from the action or they used his man as the screener on a pick and roll to keep Noah up high so the ball-handler could pass to the rolling screener, who would then attack the immobile Gasol with a head of steam. Smart teams will continue to attack this, provided they have the personnel to do so, which Golden State does while Green plays with the starters as opposed to the injured David Lee.

DEFCON 1: Kirk closed the game. Again. The guy is a cockroach. He could commit the same foul he did against Monta Ellis ten times over and Thibs would continue to trust him. He’s basically the past-his-prime Derek Fisher without all the championship rings and historic clutch shots. However, despite his subpar performance, this isn’t a critique on him. It’s a referendum against Tom Thibodeau.

The team that defeated the Bulls tonight showed what a difference it makes to have a coach who is open and flexible like Steve Kerr, as opposed to one who is adamant that his way is the right way. Now, Thibs is infinitely better than Mark Jackson as a coaching mind, but it gets forgotten that coaches can evolve. Thibs’ friend Doc Rivers demonstrated that years ago and Kevin McHale is proving it now. Meanwhile, Thibs is as stubborn as ever.

Consider: In crunch time, Hinrich shared the court with Rose, Noah, Jimmy Butler and Gasol. Theoretically, Kirk is there as a secondary ball-handler, a facilitator to make sure the offense doesn’t stall. During Rose’s absences, for as much disdain as Kirk has drawn, his presence on the floor alongside Nate Robinson or D.J. Augustin was usually justifiable. However, Rose is back, Butler has vastly improved on offense, and Gasol is a monumental upgrade on Carlos Boozer. With that said, it’s quiz time.

Over which of the following is Kirk Hinrich a superior option with the ball in his hands:

[A] Jimmy Butler

[B] Joakim Noah

[C] Pau Gasol

The correct answer is:

[D] NONE OF THE ABOVE. There is literally no reason Hinrich should be initiating offense over any of those four. That fifth player should be spacing the floor for everyone else. Even in the midst of a good stretch of shooting, Hinrich does not threaten defenses the way Mike Dunleavy or even an extremely ineffective Doug McDermott does. Opposing coaches must be ecstatic when Hinrich takes minutes away from players who are more useful now, and in McDermott’s case, have the potential to get better. (By the way, Nikola Mirotic played just eight minutes tonight.)

On a night where Rose had no feel, the Bulls really could have used an another offensive option to keep up with the Warriors, who put 33 points on the board in the final frame, with Hinrich playing the entire quarter. That’s not Hinrich’s fault, you say? No, which is exactly the point. Very few perimeter defenders can mask the flaws around them. Hinrich, unlike Jimmy, is not one of those players, and Chicago would be better served with a shooter in his place.

It’s Year 5 for Thibs, and it doesn’t feel reactionary to say this is simply who he is as a coach. He is phenomenal defensively and still has the team’s attention after years of an unrelenting, grinding demand for day-in, day-out execution. If the Bulls stay healthy, they should get to the Finals for the first time since Star Wars fans were subjected to Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace. It’s just hard to get too excited knowing that a coach who keeps the big picture in mind like Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, or Kerr for that matter, awaits them.

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