Bulls Stuck Trying to Stop Stuckey and Pistons


Dec 24

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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.

This may be what the Bulls begin to see more of, and not just Tuesday’s 104-98 loss to the Detroit Pistons.

“OK,” Rodney Stuckey perhaps was thinking. “So this is the big rookie everyone is talking about. Well, I can play a little to and let’s see what this kid can take.”

I don’t know what Stuckey, the second year guard from Eastern Washington, said or thought. But he certainly played like he was trying to make a point about being the better point, burning Derrick Rose and the Bulls for a career high 40 points.

“He killed us off the dribble, shot well, penetrated and he had an outstanding game, which was the difference,” noticed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. ” He missed some shots and got his rebounds and that was frustrating. We were switching and helping out as best we could on him, but we didn’t have a good answer for it tonight. We couldn’t control him very well.”

Clearly, no one from the Bulls could stuckey to him.

Sorry about that, and speaking of sorry, it was another sorry Bulls effort to open the game, which makes you wonder if Del Negro is contemplating any major changes in the starting lineup. Del Negro didn’t say he was, but he clearly was frustrated by still another lazy start in which the Bulls fell behind by 13 six minutes into the game, an ugly trend of late.

Yes, Drew Gooden remains out, probably for another week, with a sprained ankle. But Tyrus Thomas returned from a concussion and had 16 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Going next Friday into Miami, which plays small, you’d think Del Negro would start Thomas along with Andres Nocioni, who had 18 points. And who also some words back and forth with Thomas at one point when Jason Maxiell continued to get inside position for offensive rebounds (five in 15 minutes) early in the second quarter.

Nocioni seemed in a frenzy much of the game and appears to be growing particularly frustrated at the team’s inconsistent play. But who isn’t as the Bulls failed again to get to .500 and fell to 13-15.

“We dug ourselves a pretty good hole there in the first quarter and got some foul trouble with Ben (Gordon), Noce and of course Derrick (fouling out in 21 minutes),” said Del Negro “Detroit did a good job of rebuilding the cushion though. It was a frustrating game. I think that they were more physical than us in the first half.”

So this makes it four consecutives games and five of the last six the Bulls trailed by double digits in the first quarter: 11 to Utah; 12 to Boston, 10 to the Clippers and 15 to the Nets.

“I have no idea why we keep going down early,” said Rose. “I guess that we just need to look at more tape and see what is happening. Coach talks about it every day in practice but we just need to figure it out.”

The Bulls actually won three of those four, which is impressive in showing the resolve not to quit playing. Good for Del Negro, who has handled some of opposition runs well with stoppages of play and substitutions.

But this classic theory of starting with a big man, either Aaron Gray or Joakim Noah with Gooden out has been fatal. Neither can score, so teams aren’t guarding them, basically playing a five on four defense and putting the Bulls back on their heels and tentative to open games as they figure out where to go for scoring.

It usually opens once Larry Hughes, with a team high 19 off the bench though on six of 16 shooting, joins some three or four-guard setups and the floor is spread and the Bulls begin to drive and draw fouls.

It’s been the only way to combat a flawed defense.

I understand leaving big men in to clog the middle on defense. But the Bulls biggest players are not formidable defenders either because they are too weak or too slow. Again, we get back to the unhappy position of having to play the best you have, which basically, for now, are guards and small forwards other than Gooden.

And as wonderful as Rose has been, his defense is a weak part of his game now as guards have begun to attack him off the dribble. Look, there aren’t many guards in the NBA who can prevent penetration given the hands off perimeter rules of this era and the quickness of most NBA guards.

The Bulls’ defensive issues are exacerbated by the lack of help from behind, which is how Stuckey came several times from the top of the floor to the basket for layups, even one time blowing by Thabo Sefolosha just past midcourt and getting all the way to the basket.

“He said he wants to be an All-Star and he’s working toward that,” said Pistons coach Michael Curry.

Of course, that is the other side of removing your big men and playing so many guards.

Which is why the Bulls fell into a zone defense for long stretches of the game and got back into the game thanks to that zone at the end of the second quarter after falling behind 56-37.

The Bulls scored eight of the last 10 points of the first half and opened the second half with 12 straight as the Pistons, as is their custom now, began to melt down with Rasheed Wallace’s technical in a 10th straight game and Richard Hamilton stalking around and missing wild jumpers.

Nocioni’s three got the Bulls within 58-57 with 8:18 left in the third. But Hughes, Sefolosha and Luol Deng committed turnovers as Stuckey, now with Rose out on fouls and Sefolosha unable to handle him, hit a three, a baseline drive and a jumper to get the Pistons back ahead by 11.

The Bulls had one more surge left after Detroit went up 86-74 with 9:11 left in the game. Ben Gordon, who had 10 of his 18 in the fourth quarter, banked in a runner, drove hard for a layup, hit a leaner, a 16 footer and a 21 footer. The Bulls got within 90-84 with 6:15 left. But Tayshaun Prince, who frustrated the Bulls with 11 rebounds and five offensive, threw over the top for a Wallace layup and Hamilton hit a three. Hughes missed a wide open corner three, Rose another from deep and then Gordon and Deng again lost the ball and there wasn’t enough time anymore for another one of those unlikely comebacks.

Thomas even threw in the second three of his career with five points in the last 30 seconds as the Bulls at least made the Pistons hit their free throws to the end.

It was another tough game for Deng, who had six points on two of seven shooting, though 11 rebounds.

His disconnect with the offense seems to be a continuing problem as he is left standing in the corner a lot as the team runs, usually, high screens for a shooter or driver and Rose, Gordon and Hughes take turns attacking the basket.

“We need Lu to play well,” says Del Negro.

It doesn’t fool anyone, but the three are either quick to the basket and strong like Rose, quick with a shot, like Gordon, or quick with a fake and step in for a shot, like Hughes. I often wonder why defenders jump at Hughes, who is one of the league’s best with a ball fake and step in jumper. Though Hughes’ play again raises the question of what the team is trying to accomplish down the road as Hughes played a team high 38 minutes and equaled Gordon with a team high 16 shots while Deng got seven and Sefolosha three.

Deng has become something of the flash point for fan frustration these days, especially with signing a big contract in the offseason. Though there always was some fan resentment and enlarged expectation for players making a lot of money, there seems even more in this depressed national economic time. Even much of the big spending by the baseball New York Yankees isn’t being applauded in New York as it once was.

So since Deng signed an extension and Gordon didn’t, Deng not only is measured against his own $71 million extension, but the play of Gordon, who is averaging 20.9 point and shooting 41 percent on threes.

Deng does some good things, but is not the one-on-one attacker the guards are. He’s been his best within a movement system of play. He turned a Rose miss into a score early and added a half hook right afterward, and then didn’t get a shot in the next 27 possessions and missed a short jumper just before halftime.

Deng isn’t the great athlete, so he struggles in some of those matchups with the high flying threes, and Prince with his long arms was making life miserable off the boards for the Bulls and Deng. But Deng is opportunistic and broke that 10-0 Pistons run in the third when he picked up a Noah fumble and was fouled and scored on a pair of free throws.

Typical with Deng was a sequence late in the fourth quarter with the Bulls trying to claw back from 95-88 behind. Deng played good defense on Prince and forced him into a bad miss. Then Deng recovered a Rose missed three and passed to Gordon, who had the ball stolen by Stuckey. Rose stole the ball back, only for Deng to lose the ball and Hamilton to effectively wrap up the game with a clever bounce pass on a jump stop to Prince for a layup.

Rose, who had 10 points and spent way too much time uncharacteristically dribbling into bad shots for himself, then pushed up an air ball.

It was that kind of game against a Pistons team in transition, and not the good defensive kind.

Without that Stuckey show, the Bulls were the better team.

“He (Stuckey) did everything,” said Rose. “He attacked the basket, made jump shots and he did everything tonight.”

Allen Iverson played 24 minutes without a field goal and left with a hamstring injury, perhaps another reason why Stuckey was so good. Iverson has failed to fit in much from the trade for Chauncey Billups, and though there wasn’t as much of it Tuesday, watching the Pistons now you see Prince and Hamilton passing mostly to one another and Wallace starting to become that technical foul machine without the guiding hand of Billups. Still, this was all done for free agency as the Pistons likely will let go Wallace and Iverson after this season with rumors of a potential big score in 2010 or maybe someone like Carlos Boozer after this season. Or would Gordon go there to play the Vinnie Johnson microwave off the bench role he doesn’t like with the Bulls?

Though the Pistons had a great run of conference finals appearances and one championship this decade, it clearly is over now. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so fast if they didn’t go for Darko Milicic in that 2003 draft, which they try to mine now for 2010 free agency talent. Though they recovered somewhat from that rare miscue by dealing Darko for the draft pick used for Stuckey, and you wonder how good Orlando would be now if they’d have kept that pick and taken Stuckey instead of trading for and then losing Darko.

So many what ifs in the NBA. Everyone has them and second and third guessing is much easier than being in the hot seat and making the picks and deals without the benefit the fans and media have of knowing what they did.

Wallace was tough on the Bulls to open the game, but he hit a three, which is always good as he then spent the better part of the second half searching out another and wasn’t much use. Though the Pistons’ plan was clear: Attack the Bulls perimeter of Rose, not yet a savvy defender, and the undersized Gordon, also not the quickest. Mostly it was Stuckey. But as the Bulls defense reacted to Iverson before he left, Iverson dropped off eight assists, five in the first five minutes of the game and four free throws as the Bulls were helpless in protecting their middle.

The answer: We’ll see what Del Negro comes up with, though a lineup change wouldn’t be a surprise once again.

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