Rookie does it again! No, not that one.


Nov 27

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.

Do you think you'll get tired of this watching Bulls games? Rookie point guard. Just amazing. Driving down lane around and over much bigger guys, the unlikeliest of passes to set up teammates, deceptively strong with remarkable spring in his legs.

So when the Bulls played the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday, once again Derrick…

What? What?

Not Rose. Not the Bulls future Hall of Fame. He's not in yet? It seems we put him there most game nights. Not that rookie?

It seems in the Spurs pull-away 98-88 victory over the Bulls Wednesday, someone named George Hill from IUPUI (that's right, as we say in Indiana, oooh-e-pooh-e) had 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 21 points in 29 minutes with the Bulls version of centers putting up little resistance while Manu Ginobili had 15 points in 18 minutes, and the highlight play of the game, in his second game back from ankle surgery. Ben Gordon led the 7-9 Bulls with 23, Drew Gooden had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the other rookie point guard, Rose, had 10 points, six assists and six rebounds.

Oooh-e-pooh-e is the regional campus of Indiana U. and Purdue U., and I don't recall many basketball players from there, or at least coaches who deserved probation. So how serious could they be? But this Hill guy, who was the 26th pick in this year's draft, is pretty darned good.

I'm not fully sure which this is: Spurs clever management and scouting to get Manu Ginobili in the second round, Tony Parker at No. 28 and now Hill, or Gregg Popovich's superior coaching. It's wonderful to watch Popovich's subtle in game adjustments and see how much they do, and how much they did Wednesday to bother the Bulls, who seemed to have control of this game with a nine-point lead with just over five minutes remaining.

That's pretty much when the game began to turn, and head quickly downcourt with no one from the Bulls chasing.

"I thought we played well, pretty well for the first three quarters," said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. "We ran out of gas a little bit as their high screen and roll affected us as well as their penetration as we settled for too many jump shots and got out of rhythm for a little bit. But you have to give them credit for their defensive effort on some of those things. Our guys fought, we turned the ball over too much in the second half and gave them too many penetrations to the glass for easy attempts but overall the guys battled now we just have to get some rest and get our legs under us a little bit We had a nice lead and they made a couple of adjustments. The boys got a little fatigued out there and they got us back on our heels as we would turn it over, they would get transition and some easy scores. Then seeing they were up, we weren't able to get the momentum back."

That is coach speak for, "What the heck happened out there? Did they blow my coach of the month award?"

What happened is the shots stopped falling for the Bulls, and the Spurs, 8-6, did some nice things to help the Bulls to that result.

Gooden was killing the Spurs with his little pop out jump shot and Gordon was taking advantage of the game plan against Rose, which is go under the screen and trap him. So Rose spun the ball back to the top, where it was being rotated to the right corner where Gordon was making the Spurs pay with threes and drives, a 9-0 run putting the Bulls ahead 65-56 midway through the third.

The Bulls had been losing Ginobili constantly, though with him being limited in minutes, it appeared the plan was just to let him score to tire him out. Late in the first quarter and into the second, he had a masterful sequence of a ball fake past Larry Hughes and Gordon for a score, again by both as the Bulls defense this season pretty much ends after the last midcourt steal attempt, a followup score and a three.

Actually, I liked what Hughes was doing…until later.

He waved Tyrus Thomas to where to pass a ball, suggesting Hughes was trying to fit into the offensive flow, though Thomas apparently either ignored him or didn't understand and fired off a shot. He was out soon with his usual eight minutes while Joakim Noah managed to hang onto 12 minutes now that the game was back at sea level.

Hughes later helped on a drive by Roger Mason Jr., the former Bulls second rounder (see, Jerry Krause knew), and prevented a field goal, though, as I suggested all this unselfish play apparently went to his head.

The Bulls were still hanging onto a 69-66 lead as Gooden rolled in on a pass from Rose and scored. But after Ime Udoka tied it with a three, it was Hughes gone wild: corner three, miss. Udoka another three. This was the play of the game as Ginobili, still maybe the most fun player to watch now that the Suns have turned Steve Nash into a mannequin, went left and then back to his right and then left again and throwing a hook pass across court to Udoka.

Then it was Hughes all the way across court from right to left and shooting back to the right and missing an eight footer. Duncan fouled, but missing both. Gordon with a nice pass to Luol Deng for a score and then Hughes a good 18 footer on another Gordon pass.

Then it was Ginobili past Hughes and fouled for two free throws and Hughes with the I'll-show-you turnover in going back at him. Then Manu with another drive as Hughes was called on a reach in for two more free throws and Gordon losing the ball dribbling to try for a last shot.

You could feel the game slipping away for the Bulls, and then Andres Nocioni threw it overboard to open the fourth.

Nocioni, who had a memorable nine-minute stretch in the game, drove and thought he was fouled when he caught his own miss. So on defense as Hill ran out Noce chased him down and hammered him for a flagrant foul, after which Noce argued with Joey Crawford, never a good idea. It was against the Spurs where Crawford's career almost ended in his long feud with Duncan as Duncan accused Crawford of wanting to fight him-I'm sure Duncan made that up that because he was scared and knew Joey would KO him with one punch-and Joey was suspended. Joey doesn't back down. So technical for Noce and three free throws for the Spurs and now the Bulls are down by eight and the individual fest is on.

Hunter shoots a jumper. Boo. Rose misses. Luol Deng with 10 points off the bench with a hard drive for a score, which was the Bulls only score in the first seven minutes of the quarter. Yup. Game, set, match.

Gordon miss. Hughes miss. Kurt Thomas blocks Gordon. Gooden turnover. Gooden miss. Gooden miss again.

This is when Popovich is at his best.

The Spurs weren't great in the first half, especially against Gooden, so in the second half the defense changed. Now as Gooden went to move and put the ball down, a defender was there. Depending on which way he moved, it was a different defender.

"The game is like a chess match with a great coach like Coach Popovich," acknowledged Gooden. "He always makes adjustments in games and we have to be able to cover everything he throws at us. When the Spurs started to take away my shot, I rotated the ball when it came to me. We keyed on it every time and we made the right play but we didn't capitalize by making the shots we needed."

I'd say the Bulls didn't react near quickly enough.

Also, the Spurs did a nice job with Rose, who played 40 minutes, but came out with 3:15 left in what is now the official Bulls surrender action.

Teams all are playing Rose now to go under the screen and trap him. He's made jumpers and can beat doubles, especially light ones. What Popovich is terrific at is identifying the weakest defenders and putting them in screen rolls. The Spurs always had success against the Suns doing that to Steve Nash, and again they did it with Rose. It's also a good tactic to keep the other team's best player in motion and getting him tired and beaten up. Then the Spurs bring in the punisher as Bruce Bowen got on Rose in the fourth quarter. Bowen isn't-and never was-particularly quick. But he

is a fabulously annoying defender who is the master of the NBA face guard. So everywhere you go, Bowen is there waving a hand in your face, bumping you, roughing you up. It's NBA 101 for rookie point guards.

This was also at a point where the Spurs backup point Hill (for injured Tony Parker as they start shooting guards Mason and Michael Finley for now) was a mountain for the Bulls to climb.

Now that's some clever writing there, don't you think?

With the Bulls down 79-73 after that Deng basket, Hill hit a jumper on top. Then he got Deng on a switch and put the ball in high off the backboard. Then he drew two defenders and passed back to Thomas for a jumper and then crossed over Rose and Gordon to score again to make it 87-73 Spurs.

"I think that's why they chose me to be here," said Hill.  "I compete. I don't give up on things and I try to defend to the best of my ability no matter who is in front of me.  I'm up to take the challenge. I just go out there and play basketball.  It doesn't matter if you're a first-round pick, second-round pick, or the last pick…you made it here, so you are here for a reason.  I don't take anything for granted…I respect everyone.  I like to step up to the challenge though."

So as we continue it was: Gordon miss. Rose turnover as pass to Gordon bounces off him and out of bounds. Turnover Gordon. Yes, at 16 down even with the Spurs failing to score on four of five possessions with Duncan and Ginobili off the floor and now with about five minutes left, as Dandy Don would sing in Texas, the party's over…

"In the key moments of the game we didn't make the right plays to extend our lead or get back into the game," said Gordon. "We gave them what they wanted on offense and we didn't make adjustments. We were good on the fast break for a while but after they eliminated that and started hitting their three pointers, it really hurt us. Even though they didn't have everyone healthy, they were still good and got back into the game with three point shooting. We lost more than we won, I wouldn't consider it a successful trip."

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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