There was no Passing the Bucks this time for the Bulls


Dec 4

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.

I am about to write one of the most frightening sentences in the basketball language.

As Drew Gooden goes, so goes the Bulls?


And this is not to blame Gooden for Wednesday’s Bulls 97-90 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, though going one of 11 shooting Wednesday after zero for five shooting in Tuesday’s overtime loss to the 76ers suggests if only Gooden could…

Wear glasses?

No, it was much more than Gooden, and it was starkly apparent against the Bucks as the Bulls “big” men—OK, tall fellas—of Gooden, Joakim Noah and Aaron Gray combined for four of 18 shooting. That was 20 feet nine inches of front line players totaling eight points.

We don’t expect that much offensively from Noah and Gray, though they did combine for 37 minutes and were dominated by Dan Gadzuric. This is not usually easy because I think “Gadzuric” in Latin means stiff.

But Gadzuric was a game changer in the second quarter that ultimately doomed the Bulls and pretty much dominated the entire Bulls interior.

“They were more physical than last time we played,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, referring to the Bulls 108-95 opener win over the Bucks. “Their front line is pretty big so we tried to go small to be more aggressive offensively and switch a lot of things defensively. We had some opportunities but couldn’t come up with a few loose balls and didn’t make the plays we needed to.”

The Bucks, led overall by Charlie Villanueva off the bench with 23, including 11 on an assortment of rangy jump shots in the fourth quarter, and Richard Jefferson with 21, outscored the Bulls by 13 in the second quarter to take a 52-41 halftime lead, and the Bulls never again caught up.

They did pull within four after a fabulous Ben Gordon stretch to end the third quarter with 15 straight Gordon points. But Gordon had shot himself out, and forced a pair to open the fourth quarter and was pulled. Larry Hughes and Andres Nocioni each missed one and Nocioni in another undisciplined night trying to chase quicker players, added a turnover. Nocioni seems especially to be lost and frustrated, out of position often trying to defend outside. He had three fouls, two turnovers and one point against the Bucks and now hasn’t scored in double figures in the last seven and nine of the last 11. He’s shooting a career low 38.7 percent in playing a career low 23.7 minutes per game. It was the 10th time this season he’s had two or fewer field goals in a game.

That opening fourth quarter dry stretch enabled the Bucks to regain control and an 82-72 lead, and then they held on against a Derrick Rose assault until the end.

And this is a point that’s most difficult to analyze with the young point guard.

Rose had 18 points, nine assists and four steals, pretty good numbers for a point guard.

Gordon led the Bulls with 22 and Luol Deng added 21 in his best effort of the season on nine of 14 shooting and six rebounds, a positive sign for the team.

But Rose didn’t really didn’t seem to look to score until the Bulls had gotten down double digits again in the fourth quarter. At that point, he did about all he could to chase down the Bucks, and who knows what would have happened had he gotten a foul call as Gadzuric gave him an arm bar on a drive with 37 seconds left and the Bulls trailing 95-90.

Three point play, maybe? The Bulls hardly deserved this one with the Bucks much tougher and sharper. Winning it would have been misdemeanor theft. Del Negro was his most animated of the season in arguing that non call, perhaps not receiving his first coaching technical because maybe he was right.

The larger question, and maybe unfair, is how much can the team ask of Rose?

Especially given how much he’s already doing as he again played a team high minutes, this time 43. It was Rose’s third straight game of at least 40 minutes and fifth in the last sixth. Don’t ask him. He never looks tired and seems baffled when he’s out of the game over why.

Yet, you wonder also about the effect of all this.

You wouldn’t mistake Bucks coach Scott Skiles for a subtle person but some of the things he does in coaching are, and one he did Wednesday which didn’t really work, was aimed at Rose. The Bucks didn’t aggressively trap or double team Rose to deny him the ball or make him give it up since they really don’t have many good individual perimeter defenders, anyway. So what Skiles did was the old football tactic of pounding on them all game and perhaps at the end you get a mistake or short shot.

So every time on defense, the Bucks tried to run Rose into as many screens as possible to try to tire him. It’s not easy with a wide eyed, excited 20-year-old, and it didn’t seem to have much effect as Rose scored 10 of the Bulls 18 fourth quarter points with a pair of magnificent drives for three-point plays, and he didn’t miss a free throw in the fourth.

On one hard drive with the Bulls trailing 93-85 with 1:55 left, Bucks guard Luke Ridnour tried to lean in to Rose to take a charge. Rose simply elevated above Ridnour, Rose’s feet at about Ridnour’s eye level as Rose finished the layup and drew the foul.

That Rose three point play and a previous one with 3:29 left was sandwiched around Hughes and Tyrus Thomas, who had a quiet seven points and two blocks, missing jumpers, Thomas’ way off left and barely grazing the rim. Rose then missed on a drive that could have brought the Bulls within three with 92 seconds left, after which Gadzuric again grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled and made both free throws. That made it 95-88 with 1:08 left and too far to come back.

As for Gadzuric (this has to be the most anyone has mentioned his name in a positive way in a game story in his seven seasons), it was a remarkable effort. He had season highs in points (11) and rebounds (14, seven offensive) and tied his season high with three blocks. Some people even learned how to pronounce his name.

“I thought Danny G. came off the bench and really picked us up from an energy stand point and the way he played,” said Skiles, who still apparently can’t pronounce it. “I feel Danny has had a good year so far. He’s played with energy almost every game. He’s done something productive almost every game. I’m comfortable with Danny out there.”

One time in that fatal second quarter for the Bulls, Gadzuric caught a Jefferson air ball and just backed Noah away from the basket and laid the ball in. Noah was much too weak to deal with him and Gray, who did have eight rebounds with five offensive and probably the most effective of the Bulls centers, was too slow to react. Gray makes nice passes on offense and gets into good position, being fundamentally sound and aware of the plays and situations. But he’s usually unable to catch the more athletic players.

Veteran Bucks announcer Jim Pashchke likes to refer to Gray as “a slow Tom Boerwinkle.”

It was evident in that second quarter as the transition defense failed again.

Gordon had trouble in the size match-up with Michael Redd, who had 13 points in 26 minutes coming back from injury. Twice as Deng got inside cuts for shots—the coaches seemed to be force feeding more plays to get Deng going—the backcourt players got caught when Jefferson ran out for a layup and a three.

The Bucks, effectively, won the game with the starts of the second and fourth quarters, opening the second 10-0 and the fourth 13-2.

“Our defense just didn’t get the stops we needed to,” said Deng. “We fought our way back. But if there was a big play or a big basket it wasn’t from us. We almost felt like a few stops could have turned the game around but a couple big plays from them really changed that.”

But here’s the dilemma for Rose.

He essentially wants to be a facilitator, a classic point guard. But he’s already the Bulls most reliable scorer.

Sure, Gordon can be unworldly, like in that third quarter stretch when he shot the team back into the game: Pop out 17 footer from Rose; past Redd for a an 18 footer, drive and fouled after nice ball movement and a pass from Rose to Gray to Gordon; 16 footer around a screen after a pass from Rose; one-on-one drive and high banker; 16 footer coming off a screen again on a Rose pass and then a Ben special dribbling out the quarter with the floor open and lofting in a 17 footer over good defense from Bucks defensive specialist Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who just came in to defend Gordon.

“In the third quarter we were able to bring it to within four points but we just couldn’t maintain the momentum,” said Gordon. “We fought hard but dug ourselves into too big of a hole at the beginning. We made our run we just weren’t able to sustain it. We didn’t play well. We didn’t play together. It shows when we start to move the ball around good things will happen. We just have to continue to trust each other and believe in the system and that’s just something we are struggling with right now for whatever reason.”

Mbah A Moute seemed to have an effect on Gordon as the fourth quarter opened and Gordon went to the bench two minutes in after two misses.

It was a nice adjustment from Skiles, though you did wonder what took so long. Still, you saw some Skiles specials in the game, Malik Allen starting and hitting three jumpers on drive-and-kicks as the Bulls big guys couldn’t make it out fast enough or switch, and some terrific interior screening on the weak side that pops out players for open looks or moves.

I loved one of those in particular when Villanueva got an uncontested layup when Andrew Bogut screened inside away from the ball and sealed and Villanueva was able to swoop around untouched to make it 50-39 late in the second quarter.

Which brings me again to the question that is most difficult to answer: How much should and can Rose do?

Rose seemed to spend much of the game obeying the game plan, finding his teammates. And it paid off in that wonderful Gordon run at the end of the third. Rose does plenty and averaging almost 20 per game as a rookie from that position is historic stuff in the NBA. But should he have started scoring earlier? Would it have made a difference? Or would it have affected him for the end of the game, when he has taken over and won some games for the team? And would it take away too much from the others? That’s something Rose never would want to do.

It seems clear he spends the game, amazingly enough, monitoring his team and deciding when he has to be a playmaker or a scorer, rare for any player, especially a rookie.

Could he average 30? I’d say he could. Would it help the team? Who knows. It’s the delicate balance of team basketball and the learning process going on for Rose and the Bulls.

Still, even with these two disappointing losses to fall to 8-11, it’s a Bulls team playing competitively despite some obvious deficiencies. And just think of what 10 points from Gooden would mean.

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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