Bulls end Circus Trip by making 76ers the Clowns


Nov 30

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Aw, what the heck. Why not?

Because after Sunday’s impressive, wider-than-the-final-margin 102-93 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bulls are 8-9 after a respectable 3-4 “circus” road trip. And now facing those same slumping 76ers at home Tuesday, the Bulls start a stretch of eight games against some of the poorest teams in the NBA with only the New Jersey Nets among those eight even having a winning record. They’re now 9-7 after winning in Phoenix Sunday night.

Are we talking 45 wins with this team? Dare we say more?

“Thank god that circus trip is out of there,” said Drew Gooden, who was crucial Sunday with 20 points and 12 rebounds in dominating the inside matchups with Samuel Dalembert and big time free agent Elton Brand. “We have some winnable games coming up. We are (heading in the right direction). We had a tough early schedule. We came out of our circus trip with a decent record. We got out on the road and showed competitiveness. We’re a team competing for a playoff spot and will be in the playoffs.”

The Bulls sure looked like it against the 76ers, whom many even predicted would win the Eastern Conference this season after the team’s strong finish last season and adding Brand.

But the 76ers are now 7-10 and sliding, not only losing an early 15-point lead against the Bulls Sunday but coming off being blown out in Boston and losing badly to Charlotte. Brand has been ordinary, and the Bulls were sharp in taking advantage of Brand’s lack of great postup size by putting taller players on him, collapsing in a zone defense often with double teams on Brand and forcing Brand to pass the ball outside to a poor perimeter shooting team.

The Bulls got starring performances from Gooden, Derrick Rose with 18 points and 10 assists and Ben Gordon with a team high 21, including a scorching stretch to open up the third quarter when the Bulls pulled away and effectively ended a close game.

Gordon popped on top of the key for a jumper to begin the second half, had a three as Rose dropped off a pass as he was penetrating ahead of Gordon and Gordon added a second three as he lulled Willie Green to sleep dribbling between his legs from the right wing and casually fired off a three. It gave Gordon 11 of the team’s first 17 points in a quarter to take a nine point lead after the 76ers led 55-52 at halftime. The Bulls went on to a 31-11 third quarter and game over 17-point lead after three.

“We can’t lose by twenty in a quarter,” lamented Brand, the other Bulls overall No. 1 draft pick, which was in 1999. “You have to step it up. The last two games in a row the guys came off the bench and took it to us. You can’t let a team shoot 53% from the three-point line. We need to get some set defenses and get a spark off the bench.”

I don’t know, but without a quick turnaround, which I don’t see with a 76ers team that seems lifeless, I’d say Mo Cheeks might not last more than a few more weeks with the team playing this way and the 76ers 28th in the league in attendance.

No one’s coming and few on the team look like they care. It’s a fatal combination.

I thought the Bulls coaches did an excellent job of taking advantage of the 76ers weaknesses, and 52.1 percent Bulls shooting made it look easier. Good shooting always does, and we shouldn’t forget the beleaguered Larry Hughes, back on the bench for Luol Deng, but with an efficient 16 points on six of 10 shooting and four of six threes.

I thought Hughes didn’t want to shoot in the first half when he came in,  going more than six minutes without even attempting a shot. So I figured an imposter was in his uniform and called security. Hughes even passed on that full court throw in attempt at the end of the first quarter with a second left when the Bulls in bounded the ball after a Brand jumper. Perhaps to keep his shooting percentage above 40.

Deng again was fairly invisible despite being back starting and had eight points and just seven shots. But this time Hughes mostly waited patiently in the corner for Rose to find him and was hitting his shots in an efficient 24 minutes.

“Overall I thought everybody contributed,” said Del Negro. “We went out there with 26 assists (on 38 baskets) and shooting over 50 percent. I thought we were active in zone and even with man. There were a few turnovers that were unfortunate for us, but overall I thought it was a solid game. I think by us spreading out the basketball the way we did, we were really consistent with our effort in the zone and we got in transition. They missed a couple of easy shots and we took advantage of that. Before you know it, we had a little bit of a lead. Great win for us, no question. It’ll be nice to get back home. Another great road win for us.”

The Bulls fell behind by 15, 41-26, early in the second quarter in a game which that kind of thing is almost inevitable. On the road, but coming home for three days, it’s a lack-of-energy type game. But the 76ers couldn’t take advantage and close out the Bulls early as Gooden kept them in the game in that second quarter with aggressive post up and hustle moves.

“As of late, I’m getting the trust of coach (Vinny) Del Negro and they are going to me in postups and I am producing for (the team),” said Gooden. “They are becoming more familiar with me, my spots where I like the ball, Derrick Rose. It’s been new to them and new to me, but we are starting to produce.”

The team’s strategy was sound, however.

The Bulls recovered from that punch in the face as the 76ers ran out for fast break baskets early. That was the primary success of the 76ers late run and early playoff scare of Detroit last season. The Bulls transition defense was lazy early as Del Negro called a timeout less than three minutes in after Thaddeus Young scored after a Deng miss. It made Deng look bad as it happened a few times in the first quarter, but traditional transition defense-which assistant Johnny Bach endlessly lectured on in the Bulls championship years-requires the guards on top of the floor getting back after deep shots when they are not involved. Deng was being left hanging out by his teammates, and I assume that was Del Negro’s message.

It didn’t begin to take until into the second quarter as Deng again looked rusty with some turnovers, though it seemed the coaches tried to put in some movement plays for him.

Those quick shots and early turnovers early didn’t allow the strategy to take hold, though it would later.

There’s one huge flaw in the 76ers acquisition of Brand.

With a post scorer like that, you need shooters, and the 76ers perimeter is awful.

If you wonder what happened to Deng, take a look at Andre Iguodala, taken right after Deng in that same 2004 draft. The Bulls were deciding between the two and opted for Deng for his versatility and potential growth. It’s been criticized, especially of late, with some saying they should have taken Iguodala. Iguodala, like Deng having signed a big extension this past summer, is averaging 13 points and shooting 26 percent on threes as their shooting guard now.

Despite a huge size advantage, he tried to post up Gordon several times early and failed without much post game. Iguodala isn’t a good perimeter shooter, and now with the 76ers playing through Brand and the middle not open, Iguodala has faltered and looks to have given up at times or might be resentful and pouting for being pushed out of the primary offense.

The Bulls took advantage of those weaknesses by going often to a match up zone, sagging to crowd Brand and letting their shooters take shots. Though they could be arrested for identity theft to suggest they were shooters. With size on Brand like Joakim Noah or even Aaron Gray, Brand was ineffective inside though he could pop out against the slower Gray. He did have 21 points and 12 rebounds, but little true impact. The 76ers also tried to go early through Samuel Dalembert, but he is an awful finisher with the ball.

So on
ce the Bulls woke up and s
talled that fast break and began holding onto the ball, it was a Bulls run. A stampede, almost.

Rose, whose 10 assists marked his young career high, turned in perhaps the highlight of the game by sprinting after Andre Miller on a fast break late in the first half. Miller had gotten the ball after a Deng turnover and Miller was so far ahead of the defense he was gliding toward the basket. Rose came up from behind and well over the rim and blocked the ball into the stands. A stunned Miller looked back with one of those “Where did he come from” expressions.

Rose followed that-and I don’t think he hates Miller-with one of those ankle breaking drives that let opponents know he’s for real. I recall Allen Iverson as a rookie in Philadelphia lining up Michael Jordan like that and crossing him over in what then was considered heresy. Miller holds no such stature, and Rose lined him up with about 10 seconds on the clock and the floor spread and whooshed by with Miller calling for new ankle braces.

“We played well at moving the ball a bit more and finding the open person,” said Rose. “We’re playing team basketball and that’s what it’s all about. We didn’t get ratted when they (Sixers) got up on us. We stayed in control and made sure we ran our plays to be effective.”

Still, the Bulls trailed at halftime, but they were now making it a game.

The 76ers opened the second half with an Iguodala three that missed (good idea, there) and then turnovers on their next three possessions as the Bulls were going in and out of that zone and apparently baffling the 76ers. They scored on two of their first 12 possessions in that Gordon run.

And then all sorts of wild stuff happened.

Gordon ran a pick and roll with Noah and got Noah a beautiful pass rolling in, though Noah would miss both free throws. Gooden out scrambled three 76ers for a loose ball and Gordon got a drive and two foul shots out of it. Tyrus Thomas, with his most productive outing on this two week trip, dove for the basket on a double team of Rose and got the pass and was fouled. Hughes stayed patient in the corner waiting for two swing passes and hit an open three and after a Royal Ivey miss, Rose ran out with Gordon as no one got back for the 76ers and Gordon lobbed a hot air balloon pass to Rose, who went and got it above the rim and slammed it in for a 17-point Bulls lead.

“That’s been a flaw of ours coming in on past road trips,” said Gooden. “We’d let it slip in the third and not even being there in the fourth. I think it’s something we wanted to get better at. Tonight we showed it. Closing out and keeping the pressure on the road in the third quarter in games. This probably was our best performance thus far.”

The 76ers then missed their first five shots coming out in the fourth quarter with Thomas throwing in a nice block, not that the 76ers seemed to care, anyway.

Like Bill Murray said in Stripes, “It’s party time!”

Perhaps it will last longer than we anticipated.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

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