What! The Bulls lost to THAT 76ers team?


Dec 3

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.

Make no mistake. And don’t listen to what they said. This was a bad loss for the Bulls Tuesday, 103-95 in overtime at home to the Philadelphia 76ers after more than two weeks away from the United Center.

The 76ers, one of the preseason teams to watch, are virtually unwatchable. They play in ragged spurts, defending on occasion, which is impressive when they do it, but then grow disinterested for long stretches, which, like the Bulls win in Philadelphia Sunday, enabled the Bulls to breeze back from trailing by 16 in the second quarter. The 76ers seem to spend a lot of time yelling at one another, perhaps to wake them out of their occasional torpor. This time it seemed like Samuel Dalembert, playing 12 minutes, as the 76ers, despite a huge size advantage, went to a smaller lineup to try to combat the Bulls, seemingly playing to the Bulls strength. Philadelphia, curiously, continued to put non-playmaker/non-shooter Andre Iguodala on top of the floor to make plays. That enabled the Bulls to come from seven down with under three minutes left and tie the game in regulation when Iguodala, despite 25 points, blew the 76ers last five regulation possessions. It included  a pair of turnovers and a crazy pass to Andre Miller for a long, last shot that fell way short while Elton Brand stood around apparently wondering, “Am I still playing with Jeff Sanders?”

The 76ers, then apparently realizing Miller and Brand were a much better two man game, relied on that duo to pull away in overtime as the Bulls reverted into too many of those quick jump shot misses.

“We had far too many turnovers,” noted Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro of the team’s 24, including six each from Derrick Rose and Drew Gooden.  “They were definitely more aggressive than we were.  We just did not move the ball well enough and did not execute well enough, and they were a step faster than us tonight for whatever reason.”

But despite it all, it could be a huge game for the Bulls if, indeed, they found Tyrus Thomas.

Yes, Tyrus! That’s what you’re supposed to do.

OK, Thomas put up the occasional 18 footer you put your head in your hand about, like the one with 1:47 left and the Bulls down five that pretty much put it away. Andres Nocioni, all game at his Good Noce/Bad Noce best, did follow with a three. But Iguodala rainbowed in a wild looking three, after which Drew Gooden, with an uncharacteristically poor offensive game of late as the 76ers smothered him, perhaps symbolized what went wrong as he floated along the baseline to attempt a three while Rose stood inside and did grab the miss, but couldn’t convert the follow.

“We had so many opportunities to get this game,” said Rose, who led the Bulls with 24 points.  “We were down several times and got back in it.  We just did not take advantage.”

Though perhaps Thomas finally did.

Thomas had 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in the kind of performance the Bulls imagined when they drafted him and fans have been pining for while Thomas mostly did things that only brought him time on the pine.

Hey, he is still just 22.

Thomas scored the points to tie the game with 17 seconds remaining in regulation by diving at the basket-as we’re always yelling for him to do and he did relentlessly Tuesday-and slamming in a Rose miss. Even Thomas’ offensive foul with 40 seconds left in regulation and the Bulls down two wasn’t bad since he went hard to the basket, the 76ers playing small helping, obviously.

But this seemed no fluke. Thomas swished two free throws for the Bulls first points of overtime after missing on a dunk. He rebounded Nocioni’s miss to open the overtime to give the Bulls a second chance at an important overtime lead.  Thomas gobbled up a loose ball and was fouled and made two free throws (six of six overall) to bring the Bulls within three with four minutes left. And in the second quarter when the Bulls were making their comeback, Thomas was on the floor and contributed a resounding followup slam of a Larry Hughes miss.

But what I was most impressed with was when Rose drew his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, again with Miller suckering him in with a head fake and jumping into Rose, which always is called on the defender in the NBA.

“Andre Miller is very clever and he had a very strong game tonight,” noted Del Negro of Miller’s 28, though on nine of 26 shooting and nine in overtime. ” He has been around.  He knows the tricks of the trade.”

Rose seemed to grow frustrated and began to argue. It was Thomas, who usually is lost in some moody far away place in games, who began to comfort Rose, walking him away from trouble and giving him a soothing palm of the head.

The next thing you know Tyrus will be rolling in for slam dunks the way Tyson Chandler does with Chris Paul.

Rose can make that play, and sometimes you scratch your head watching the Bulls wondering why some non scorer like Joakim Noah is in the pick and roll with Rose and clearly doesn’t want the ball. Defenses hardly respect Thomas, which is why he gets all those wide open 18 footers.

But if he could get into a two-man game with Rose and dive to the basket instead of circling out to the perimeter as he usually does, the Bulls lack of a big man will not seem so acute. Yes, Chandler has perhaps five inches on Thomas, which makes a difference. But the way Thomas can jump there are all sorts of possibilities.

Will he get it? Stay tuned for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Tuesday’s loss denied the Bulls a chance to get to .500, and despite the 24 points, it was a learning experience game for Rose with the six turnovers and his first foul trouble of the season as he drew his fifth, again falling for a Miller fake, and had to leave the game with 5:43 left in regulation and the Bulls down seven after Rose had just scored five straight points.

“Miller is a good point guard,” said Rose.  “He got me in foul trouble.  It got to me a little bit.  It got me out of my game.  He definitely got to me a little bit. I need to concentrate a little more, make crisp passes.  I had a lack of focus so I just have to go out tomorrow and do a much better job.  At least we get to play again tomorrow.”

Rose had been driving Miller nuts again with moves blowing by Miller as Miller was defending like they hadn’t covered the ice up in the United Center.

But Miller attacked back. Still, the Bulls survived with Rose out as Hughes went to the top of the floor at point guard instead of Ben Gordon, which the team needs to do more when Rose is out. Gordon got six consecutive free throws on a drive, a loose ball foul and a foul on an offensive rebound. Yes, li’l Ben was hitting the boards and had eight, second most to Thomas.

Rose returned and the Bulls closed regulation with seven straight to tie the game on a Rose drive and one of two free throws, a layup off a Gordon pass as Gordon earlier actually whipped a beauty to Rose for a score, two Gooden free throws after he dove for the basket and was fouled as the defense collapsed to Rose with 1:15 left and then Thomas’ followup slam dunk to tie. Thomas just a few seconds earlier had batted away a point blank Miller layup that would have given the 76ers a four-point lead with 53 seconds left.

“We fought,” said Gooden.  “You cannot ask for any more than that.  We were down seven with three minutes to go and most other teams would have folded at that point but ultimately we did not get it done.”

Del Negro went with Nocioni over Luol Deng down the stretch and in overtime, and as the good (play) book says, Noce giveth and taketh away. He had that three in overtime that was the team’s last gasp and harassed Iguodala into a mess of bad plays at the end of regulation. But then he inexplicably dropped off Iguodala to double on Miller 20 feet from the basket with three minutes left that enabled Iguodala to dunk for the 76ers last points of regulation.

As a coach,
you have to go with what
you believe will help you win in the game, though the Bulls also have to get Deng playing at a high level and at opportune times to develop some sort of core or foundation. It hasn’t happened yet as Deng is averaging 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and one assist in 27.8 minutes per game since returning from injury four games ago.

Again, the Bulls fell behind early with a plethora of turnovers and rather uninspired play, though teams usually say the first game home after a long road trip can find some lethargy.

Especially after the way the 76ers seemed to yield so easily Sunday.

“I worry,” Del Negro said before the game. “We found a way to win some games on the road, so all of a sudden we beat Philadelphia and can get complacent. You’ve got to keep your focus and take nothing for granted.”

I have no doubt that was Del Negro’s pregame speech.

And then trailing by 16…

When the 76ers are aggressive defensively, they are a good team, as they were in the first quarter, overplaying the Bulls guards and Gooden and the passing lanes. That’s when you have to go to some pressure release plays and back door, but the Bulls didn’t. Fortunately for them, the 76ers lost interest in the second quarter and committed nine turnovers, mostly unforced, as they say in tennis. The ball thus went into the Bulls court, Nocioni had a good run with three scores and Hughes again was economical and effective on offense, getting the Bulls within three by halftime.

But the 76ers finally must have gotten rosters passed around again and realized Elton Brand, with 22 points and 14 rebounds, was on the team and began using him inside again instead of wildly racing around and firing isolation jumpers.

“We faltered a little bit, but we stayed,”  said Brand  “We’re a work in progress. Gooden really hurt us at our place, so we really wanted to take him out of the game.  They have a good bench.  Nocioni comes in and he starts scoring. We tried to limit their possessions in the paint, but Derrick Rose… He’s a heck of a young player and he got in the paint at will.”

Still climbing uphill after opening the fourth behind 67-61, the Bulls finally tied it on that last Thomas follow at 90.

Now, it will be worth it if Thomas follows it up with a few more like Tuesday.

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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