Bulls fail again to bring their Hawk repellent


Jan 21

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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 its 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 happened to be watching the goofy postgame show on NBA TV after the Bulls excruciating 105-102 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday at the United Center.

All the stations carrying NBA games have been trying to compete with the terrific TNT show featuring Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, assuming he returns from his self imposed suspension following a DUI arrest. NBA TV features old buddy Ahmad Rashad, Chris Webber and for the clown act, Gary Payton, who actually gets some names right on rare occasions.

Anyway, Webber generally knows what he is talking about, and as Rashad brought up the Bulls devastating 18 turnovers, Webber said, “That’s what happens with young, dumb teams. Er, young teams.”

Everyone laughed.

Undoubtedly not among the Bulls.

“We have some guys who are young but older players are making mistakes at times that we shouldn’t,” said Ben Gordon. “Guys who have been around have to be more careful out there especially is situations when games are coming down to the line. We just had some bad mistakes out there.”

This may have been one of the most one sided wins that became a loss only because the Bulls were outthought, not hustled or outworked, because they were only slower of mind and not body.

Get these numbers:

The Bulls led in points in the paint, second chance points and fast break points. They outrebounded the Hawks 48-34 and 20-12 on the offensive boards. They shot much better, 48.2 percent to 43.5 percent. They even moved the ball better, 25 assists to 21 assists for Atlanta.

Those are the numbers of a 30-point beating.

The Bulls hustled and competed. They had nine blocks to one for Atlanta.

“You have to make plays,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “The bottom line is you have to step up. You cannot turn the basketball over and you have to play smart. You have to know your limitations, know time and score and there is a lot that goes into it. I think the guys are playing hard but we are not playing real efficient.”

That was Del Negro doing his best Clint Eastwood at the end of the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force when the corrupt lieutenant is driving away and the bomb Harry threw into his car goes off and Harry mutters: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

We’re getting all too familiar with the Bulls limitations as they fell to 18-25 in being swept in the season for the first time in franchise history by the Hawks. It’s a young team, so you expect some mistakes. It is a team that is competing and hasn’t given in, which is a positive for the team and Del Negro.

But games like these are shouting for some changes, two in particular.

One is Gordon has to be sixth man.

Gordon led the Bulls with 21 points, but was mysteriously quiet and virtually uninvolved in the first half. Ben is a heck of a scorer, the best on the team. He has value. But you have to run him off screens for shots, get the ball out of his hands and set plays for him. You cannot leave him out there to float around, especially if he’s not shooting.

The Bulls played a zone most of the game Tuesday as it got them back into the game when they opened down 17-4. So the Hawks weren’t exactly in position to pick on Gordon on defense, though Mike Bibby had a season high 31 and five threes, and if you are a shooter like Bibby you love to see a zone.

Though Bibby mostly killed the Bulls with his five steals, including two big ones in the fourth quarter among the Bulls 18 turnovers which led to 22 Hawks points. That was after the Bulls committed 17 turnovers that led to 24 points in the loss to the Knicks Monday in a game the Bulls crushed the Knicks on the boards by 17.

Luol Deng had double figure rebounds for the fourth time in the last five games and Joakim Noah came on after a slow start—Aaron Gray did a nice job in relief though he got in his usual quick foul trouble—and had 11 rebounds after 18 Monday.

Gordon as we know is loose with the ball and had another five turnovers and leads the team in that category. I sometimes think Del Negro is afraid if he sits Gordon he’ll lose him after sitting Larry Hughes. Forget it’s Ben’s free agent year. Ben won’t like it and will say so. But not in an angry way, and Ben will compete. He always does. He has too much pride to quit on any team.

“Coming into the game, we wanted to make sure that we rebounded with them and try to slow Joe Johnson down,” said Gordon, always the stand up guy win or lose. “We did those things. We just didn’t make the set plays when we needed to. They made bigger plays when the game was on the line. Losing is never fun. We need to stay positive and try to find our stride. We have a whole other half of a season. The good thing about being in the East is that you can always make a run and be right back in the mix of things.”

Well, to do so I think Del Negro needs to change one other thing.

I can’t say for sure it’s the reason for all these costly mistakes, but with everyone basically back, though Drew Gooden sat out again with his nagging leg issues, the team needs to establish a more predictable rotation. I understand Del Negro has been trying as a rookie coach to see how players respond in situations and up until last week to get along with several players out.

But players tend to respond best when they know their roles, when they play and when they don’t, when they are coming into the game and not. Sure, you make changes according to matchups at times and especially at the end of games with offense and defense switches. But perhaps a little more consistency would help the players be more consistent. Hey, I’m not sure, either. Just a suggestion.

They need to do something.

And, once again, it was perhaps over exuberance, the mandate to run and fast break and the lack of attention to detail which proved deadly.

And the Hawks had a smart veteran like Bibby there who understood.

“It just looked like they wanted to get out and run with it,” noticed Bibby. “I just waited around and went back to get the ball. I don’t think they saw me. They were trying to get out and run for easy baskets and I tried to step in and break it up and just made a shot in there for the ball.”

Five times, though two were crucial in the fourth quarter that started 77-77 after the Bulls had overcome that brutal start with a 16-0 run and actually led by eight midway through the second quarter.

That first fourth quarter ripoff was typical of Bibby thinking ahead of the Bulls and the Bulls not thinking much at all.

It was 86-85 Hawks when Johnson got Noah and went at him, which the Hawks were trying most of the game against the zone. Noah generally defended well, and this time made Johnson force a shot. Thabo Sefolosha grabbed away the loose ball, but as he pitched it out to start running, Bibby intercepted.

It was hardly fatal with nine minutes left, but symbolic.

The Hawks took turns on that switch trying to take advantage of Noah as the Bulls stayed in that zone for the majority of the game. Though on the Bulls end you did have to wonder at times about Noah always running out to set that high screen when he rarely dives to the basket afterward, though he did get a couple of scores out of it and nine points.

Noah did a heck of a job keeping balls alive in a Bulls dry spell shortly thereafter. But the Bulls couldn’t take advantage as the offense went stagnant (one-on-one too much) and it looked bad as the Hawks took a 100-94 lead on a Bibby three with four minutes left just after Bibby threw in a rainbow against a heck of a Noah defensive effort.

Gordon came out of a timeout with a hard drive past Johnson for a score. But it looked over for the Bulls when Bibby hit another jumper after an unforced Rose pass to Stacey King, who happened to be announcing the game. It was a Del Negro head in hands moment on the bench.

“I thought we had some really great fourth quarter wins early in the season,” said Del Negro. “In the last few games when we have been in it with two minutes to go we have not been able to close the deal. We made bad mistakes in certain games. Bibby had five steals in the back court and that bothered us. We got a little stagnant but we scored 102 points. The problem is they scored 105.”

Bibby then hit still another jumper and Hinrich, who was good off the bench with 13 points and eight assists, again fired off a quick three short, like at the end of Monday’s loss in New York. But after two Atlanta misses, Zaza Pachulia, who gave the Bulls big trouble diving on pick and rolls with 18 points, fouled Gordon shooting a three with 1:08 left. And Gordon made two of three to get the Bulls within 102-98.

Maybe a chance?

Johnson drove and missed. Deng picked up the loose ball and began to run out. He fired to Gordon at midcourt, where Bibby was waiting off to the side and before Gordon could even look ahead Bibby stepped in and took the ball away. That should have earned a half turnovers for each as Ben lost the ball and Deng gave him no good chance to do anything with it with the pass to that point.

Bibby then drew Noah again in that zone and this time Noah laid back and Bibby hit the 20 footer from the left side to effectively clinch the game with 18 seconds left, leaving you also to wonder how you can play aggressive defense at the end of the game while still in a zone.

“At the end of the game we needed to get some stops but we had too many turnovers,” noted Rose, who had 13 points and four assists. “(Bibby’s steal with 40 seconds left) hurt us a little bit. But he’s a good player and he got a good read. This is real tough but someway we have to find a way out and to finish games. I don’t know what we’re going to do but we have to come together as a team.”

Sort of like one and one and one is three?

I know Rose wouldn’t understand, though everytime some player talks about coming together, all I can think of is the Beatles and joo-joo eyeballs, toe jam football, walrus gumboot and mojo filter. As I recall, the lyrics had something to do with the drug culture of the 60’s, which I only read about, of course.

Though these Bulls need some sort of inspiration. Don’t get me wrong. Not artificially produced.

What made this worse was this was a Hawks team without starters Al Horford and Marvin Williams, basically playing six guys as Josh Smith chipped in with 17 points and 14 rebounds. So Gray, coming in with the Bulls down 17-4, was effective as the only real big man on the floor. He was pivotal in that 16-0 run when the Bulls took the lead in the second quarter with a spin move for a score and a nice reverse on a pass from Sefolosha.

Call Gray the big, big, big fundamental. His footwork around the basket and instincts are sharp, though he is so slow that he gets behind the play and inevitably in foul trouble, which sent him out of the game.

“Aaron came in and did a good job and I probably should have played him a little more,” said Del Negro. “I went with our core players. Aaron is a big guy and did a good job for us.”

The Bulls were working hard in the second quarter, especially Hinrich and Deng on loose balls and second chances, and it seemed the Bulls could take the game from what should have been a tiring Hawks team, which also went into a zone so frequently you half expected the Dean Smith four corners to break out.

Tyrus Thomas spent a bit too much time on offense shooting jumpers and had foul problems. But he had four blocks, most in a short stretch in the third quarter before the Hawks hit the Bulls with a 14-0 run with Hinrich committing two of his four turnovers and Gordon one of his.

Atlanta led 72-61. But again the Bulls came back as Andres Nocioni hit a pair of jumpers, Deng went up after still another offensive rebound and Gordon finally awoke from a self imposed slumber when he drove twice for a three point play and two more free throws that enabled the Bulls to tie the game at 77 after three quarters with Hinrich once again keeping alive a miss and Noah fouled, though he would sideways spin up three misses in four attempts.

Still, it seemed momentum and the game was there for the taking.

And Mike Bibby did just that.

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