Bulls show D'Antoni the run and shoot game


Dec 10

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.

Start printing the playoff tickets? In outlasting the New York Knicks 105-100, the Bulls Tuesday moved to 10-11 on the season and into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Of course, that also likely would mean a first round playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics.

Only 61 games to go.

“It is a different team (from last season),” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro “We made some mistakes, (but) we were able to overcome that. Our guys hung in there.”

And in some respects, it was playoff like at the United Center, with celebrities in the crowd in Vice President-elect Joe Biden and presidential advisor David Axelrod. The Knicks played a tight rotation of seven players and the Bulls just eight. There were six lead changes in the fourth quarter before the Bulls finally prevailed on a Larry Hughes three to break a 97 tie with 55 seconds left. Hughes then gathered in a fumbled rebound between Al Harrington and David Lee with 27 seconds left that gave the Bulls the valued possession and forced the Knicks to foul the game away.

Joe Biden attends a Bulls victory

Joe Biden attends a Bulls victory

“The last two minutes, for whatever reasons, we just didn’t get any tips of loose balls,” said former Bull Chris Duhon, who had 15 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in 45 minutes and has been a revelation for Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni’s spread floor game. “We had the opportunity to win this game but didn’t capitalize on it. We were right there so I don’t think fatigue was a factor. It’s similar to when I was a rookie here. We were up five in the fourth and had the opportunity to seal the deal. We controlled most of the fourth quarter, but missed some shots, and defensive errors cost us the win.”

And so the Bulls move on to 6-15 Memphis Friday with a chance to get back to .500 on the season, playing an eclectic group of small players in an open court, offensive oriented game that more resembles what D’Antoni played in Phoenix when Del Negro was also there as an assistant general manager.

It was mostly three guard lineups and perimeter jumpers again, and the Bulls had just enough to overcome a poor Ben Gordon shooting game (six for 18) as Drew Gooden again showed how vital he is to team success with 22 points and 16 rebounds.

“I felt like I was not playing up to par so I wanted to at least have energy out there tonight,” said Gooden. “The scoring came within the offense. I knew I could present myself with rebounding and playing defense.”

Though Aaron Gray actually played the old Bill Cartwright/Luc Longley role of getting the first possession and first basket and Joakim Noah showed some life in 19 minutes with four blocks and five rebounds, it is only Gooden who is able to provide an real inside offensive threat. When he was a combined one for 16 against the Bucks and 76ers last week, the Bulls lost both games. When he’s failed to score in double figures or been out this season, the Bulls have lost six of those nine games.

But against the Knicks it’s a bit easier for someone like Gooden to produce with New York’s small, skinny lineup with David Lee at center and occasionally Jared Jeffries.

Against the Knicks, it’s also a game of seeing whose shots go down, and the Bulls made a bit more as the Knicks shot an obscene 28 threes and made only six while the Bulls, at times, did get lured by the siren song of the high arcing, quick three, the seductress of the hardwood. She’s beautiful when she makes twine music, but the thud can also be a desperate letdown.

The Bulls seemed in control of the game several times, ahead 38-27 in the second quarter, and again by nine in the third. But each time like they were mesmerized by the Knicks rollicking shotmaking, Gordon or Andres Nocioni or Hughes would fire off quicker jumpers without a pass or much offensive movement, only to see the ball kicking long and the Knicks running out to make a play.

“We did not share the ball as well as we can,” said Del Negro. “We made plays down the stretch. Neither team shot the ball great. We found a way and I am happy with that. We can play a lot better. We wanted to get them off the three point shot. They still got them up. We were fortunate, especially early in the game, when they missed some that they usually make.”

Perhaps typical, but ultimately not fatal, was the sequence midway through the second quarter with the Bulls up eight and the Knicks repeatedly missing layups. DePaul’s Wilson Chandler, who is from DePaul, had one of his poorest games in obviously trying to impress the home folks and was two of 13 with five turnovers, taking repeated bad shots and unaware of game situations. Quentin Richardson, also from DePaul, had perhaps the highlight of the game at that point in the second quarter after Hughes took a quick three on top of the floor with his teammates in deep and no one back. Richardson took a lob left handed from Duhon and slammed the ball with ferocity, knuckles to forehead in what is generally regarded as the Blue Demon horned salute.

Still, Richardson was nine for 24 overall for 22 points and three for 10 on threes, perhaps strained as the Knicks Seven get little rest anytime, especially Duhon, who piled on another 45 minutes and seemed to tire badly down the stretch with two pullup threes that hit way short on the front rim, getting a shot blocked by Derrick Rose and two of his four turnovers in the last eight minutes.

“Al (Harrington with a game high 28) was great,” said D’Antoni. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence, but I think he got tired in the fourth. Once we get Nate (Robinson) back, and some of the others like Jared (Jeffries) getting his legs back, it will help the whole team. Overall I’m happy with the effort and what we did tonight.”

Which was almost steal the game with a solid run to open the fourth quarter.

With Gordon dribbling into a 24 second violation at the end of the third quarter and giving the Knicks time for a Harrington buzzer beater, the Knicks pulled within 78-77 after three. They then opened the fourth quarter again catching the Bulls in major mismatches with Richardson or Jeffries scoring over Gordon and the Knicks taking a 92-87 lead with 6:41 left.

Earlier in the game, Rose, playing with his left elbow in a sleeve from that knife cut Monday (he supposedly was using a knife because it was a candy apple), likewise, found himself repeatedly disadvantaged at the core of the defense.

D’Antoni often is criticized for his teams’ lack of defense, though I believe you can win in the NBA playing his style—assuming the players are good enough–and I still believe the Suns did with the championship in 2007 over the Cavs. If not, of course, for those unnecessary suspensions when the Spurs Robert Horry suckered the Suns into leaving the bench when Horry assaulted Steve Nash. No, the Suns didn’t win, but averaging almost 60 wins for four years and a couple of conference finals still sounds awfully good. The Bulls would take that.

And D’Antoni can sure coach offense.

Though his Knicks are decimated and shorthanded by injuries and the recent trades and have had revolving personnel all season, the Knicks mostly seem to respond to game situations beautifully.

They almost instantly find mismatches on offense and exploit them like Chuck Daly at his best with the probing Pistons of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. The Knicks simple pick and roll game got big guys inside frequently and often inexplicably with the smaller Knicks matching the Bulls in points in the paint.

I thought the Bulls guards should have dropped under on the pick and roll more and challenged Duhon shoot since he is, at best, a streaky shooter, and averaging more than 40 minutes per game. Give Duhon this: He never had much chance with the Bulls with the excess of guards and starting off defying the team when they wanted him to start his career in Europe. But when the team was collapsing on interim Jim Boylan on the Western Conference trip last February and several players were not playing, an injured Duhon kept going and almost single handedly fought off a potential losing streak with 34 points in beating a then good Golden State team. He would make his share of mistakes with the team afterward as his playing time diminished, but he remains a heck of a competitor.

“It was fun. I expected to get booed,” said Duhon. “But they were pretty kind to me. It was fun to compete against those guys.The win would have been the icing.”

On the candy apple, so to speak.

Rose played 41 minutes and had 15 points on seven of 11 shooting and seven assists, though it wasn’t easy.

D’Antoni was ready, despite the notion his teams don’t defend, with a nice plan on Rose. The Knicks mostly trapped Rose on the pick and roll, forcing him to move the ball as Lee pushed Rose and scrambled back. Which isn’t much of a problem since the Bulls rarely can throw inside, other than when Gooden is there. But then when Gooden got going, the Knicks switched on various possessions, sometimes dropping off to play straight up and mixing in some traps so Rose didn’t know what to expect.

But Rose’s maturity is perhaps most remarkable as he never seems to hurry and almost always makes the right play.

Coming out of that timeout trailing by five, the teams traded missed jumpers, Richardson’s missed three a potential dagger that didn’t stick. The Knicks then trapped and Rose moved the ball to Hughes on top and he found Nocioni in the deep corner for a three.

“Nocioni hit a tough three from the corner,” said Lee. “And Hughes hit the dagger at the end. I am disappointed and feel we should have won this game.”

After Jeffries airballed a six footer, Rose pulled up and hit an 18 footer, Duhon lost the ball and Rose crossed over Duhon and went hard to the rim and scored a layup to put the Bulls back ahead 94-92.

But the Bulls went dry again with Hughes and Gordon missing long shots, though all three were good looks, while Harrington’s three put the Knicks back on top 97-94 with 4:03 remaining. Chandler then stepped out of bounds in the deep left corner and Gordon finally hit that corner three he’d been missing to tie it at 97 with 2:51 left.

Chandler then missed a wild shot and a tip, Rose missed a jumper, Duhon came up short on that three and Hughes with 16 points and eight rebounds hit another big shot in what’s been an excellent stretch.

Larry Hughes

“Larry Hughes hit another big shot in what’s been an excellent stretch.”

“It’s always good to make them when it counts,” said Hughes. “I’m not going to turn them (shots) down. I’m never going to turn them down. It’s going to be one of two things: It’s either going to go in or it’s not. But as long as it’s a good look and my teammates find me, I’m definitely going to take the shot.”

Call it a philosophy, though it’s working of late. Never regarded as much of a worker, it seems that Hughes may have gotten the hint here that he needs to get serious. His shot looks better and in more control than I’ve seen it in years, which suggests he is working on it and staying in shape. There’s no doubt he’s a talent. Everyone has always known that. But it’s been, at times, about what he would put into it.

It’s working for him and the team now, so it seems he’ll stay where he is as the first guy off the bench and getting plenty of time in a short rotation.

Given that short rotation, Tyrus Thomas didn’t play in a game that should have fit him with open court and small, quick players. Gray started again, though hardly a matchup fit against this Knicks team and style. He did a few nice things early in each half, sealing to get a score and wheeling in for another. But he wasn’t quick enough to stay too long.

It should have been the kind of game for Noah, and he got in 19 minutes, his longest stretch in almost a month. Noah was especially active and effective to open the second quarter with a block on Richardson that Hughes saved falling out of bounds and two good defensive plays when the Bulls went out to their biggest lead of the game at 38-27. Though it’s still painful to watch him even attempt a shot.

In the plus/minus statistics for the game, only he and Luol Deng with 16 points, most early again, were on the plus side, though Noah was pulled early in the fourth quarter after losing Jeffries on a switch for an easy layup as the Bulls then finished the game with their guard heavy lineup plus Gooden.

Still, in the last 10 years, the best any Bulls team has been after 21 games in 11-10. So, all in all, not bad, and we’ll see where this goes.

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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