Bulls lament is Oh, My Gosh, Canada in loss to Raptors


Jan 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 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’m not saying the Bulls Friday played the worst last six minutes in the history of basketball in a 114-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors at the United Center. But the talk was Eric Fernsten was contacting Leon Benbow, Shaler Halimon, Kornel David and Dragan Tarlac for a challenge game.

“Disappointing,” said Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 19 points but in another poor shooting game at five of 14.  “It’s tough. We just have to hold our heads up and we have to play better if we want to win. In the NBA it’s all about team defense.  You have to rely on your teammates and your system.  Right now we’re just not playing good team defense.”

That was apparent in Toronto’s unforgivable 56.6 percent shooting in yet another game in which the Bulls did compete, at least until midway through the fourth quarter, and did for the most part outwork the Raptors, who were working on a seven-game losing streak. Though it seemed as the Bulls lost their fourth straight, the three previous down the stretch, an eerie foreboding befell the players down the stretch. It was a jumble of missed shots, missed free throws (all four), missed defensive assignments, quick one-on-one shots with Toronto, one of the league’s poorer offensive teams, scoring on its last 10 possessions.

“Most of my shots were open shots., said Andrea Bargnani, who had 22 points with Jose Calderon leading with 23 points on nine of 10 shooting.  “I got good passes from the point guards and I had open shots.”

In a week of hand wringing discussion of general manager John Paxson dissatisfied with the play, Gordon and coach Vinny Del Negro clashing over a fine for Gordon and players being questioned about Del Negro’s competence and command, the Bulls did not appear to quit playing for most of the game.

Continue a lack of concentration?  A commitment to defense? An awareness of situations?

Sure, with another staggering game of unforced errors, 23 turnovers that Toronto turned into 27 points with the Bulls now averaging almost 20 turnovers per game in the last three losses as they now head out of Chicago for two weeks and seven games in the Western Conference.

“There’s no explanation,” said Del Negro of the hot potato basketball funnies.  “We’re making bad decisions with the ball.  We stress it in practice, we go over film and we talk about it.  Their big guys controlled us.  They picked us apart with their inside out game.”

It was a discouraging night in which the home fans left booing the last five Bulls minutes without a field goal.

“I think we lost control of the game,” said Andres Nocioni.  “We gave it up. That’s it.  We had the game right there, but then we lost confidence.”

I’m not sure what that means, but I know they lost sight of their defensive assignments.

It was another tough night for the mini backcourt of Gordon and Derrick Rose, the latter with 12 points and four assists, but four turnovers.

“I had four turnovers and I haven’t done that for a while,” said Rose. “I think I was thinking too much out there. (There was too much) miscommunication.  We didn’t switch when we were supposed to switch.  Stuff like that Things happen.  We’ve got to keep our heads up.  This is the NBA and you’re going to lose games.  Hopefully we can go on a winning streak after this.”

Ah, kids.

The Raptors were prepared for Rose this time and did two things we’ll likely see more of and have begun to. Rose in that terrific win in Toronto last week blitzed the Raptors for 25. So this time they put up a wall in front of him. Everytime he came off a screen or tried to penetrate, Chris Bosh and Bargnani were there and Jermaine O’Neal when he came in along with a swingman rotating. The also kept making a pancake of Rose in slamming him into repeated screens like the road runner running into those painted fake entries on boulders.

Boom! Hey, someone yell out a screen! Who’s got my guy!

Thus Calderon’s nine of 10, though late he did knock in a couple of tough jumpers.

The Bulls still aren’t very good or very vocal on defense, and it showed.

Toronto bursting out for 28 first quarter points was a good sign that this wasn’t going to be a defensive struggle.

The Bulls did have the highlight plays of the game in that first quarter with Rose merry-going-around  Calderon, just returning from a hamstring injury, with a hard drive and crossover that left Calderon spinning. Shortly thereafter, Tyrus Thomas took a drop pass from Gordon on the run and went up to dunk with Jermaine O’Neal going up at the basket.

O’Neal isn’t particularly explosive anymore, but still had position and a bit of a running start. But Thomas was flying and went over O’Neal so hard that O’Neal stumbled backward and collapsed like he’s been hit by a Mike Tyson overhand.

O’Neal than went back at the Bulls. And turned the ball over.

A word about O’Neal, who was pretty awful in having seven points and one of six shooting. Later in the second quarter, he took a hard foul from Nocioni, who generally was hammering any Raptor he could. There’s no one better at preventing layups with fouls, some of which seem like they should be flagrant, though Nocioni usually is on the ball as well and the referees let it go.

Nocioni had 15 points and seemed to be infuriating the Raptors with Calderon at times talking to himself after Nocioni hits. Then after Nocioni took out O’Neal with one, O’Neal turned menacingly toward Thomas and both got technicals.

Thomas sort of had that, “Hey’ he’s over there” look, and O’Neal clearly wanted no part of Nocioni.

The Raptors have been said to be in talks with the Heat to trade O’Neal for Shawn Marion, and with Calderon back and Bargnani coming on, the Raptors could improve considerably with such a deal. That’s because O’Neal seems to merely bollix things. The court is so much more open and spaced with Bargnani playing with Chris Bosh, the latter just six of 17 for 17 points.

The Bulls did a good job crowding Bosh, but Bargnani either popped out with Thomas hanging near the basket to help and get blocks or faking Thomas into leaping past him and opening up for shots.

Still, the Bulls took a six point lead late in the second quarter and were tied at 54 at the half.

But again the Bulls came out after halftime with that starting unit including Rose and Gordon, and defensively it was taken advantage of as the Bulls fell behind by 12 four minutes into the third.

Gordon has been in a shooting slump as well as a timing slump with his fine for lateness.

He’s shooting just 29 percent on threes this month and 12 of 37 overall the last three games.

If the Bulls want to get better starts, they’ve got to pair Rose with a bigger, defensive oriented guard as teams are taking advantage of Rose’s defensive weaknesses and repeatedly punishing him on screens.

Kirk Hinrich had one of his better games since returning from his thumb injury with 17 points and seven assists, though he did add three turnovers.

And you do have to ask-as Del Negro was asked after the game-about Hinrich and Aaron Gray coming out of the game with the Bulls down 91-87 with 6:50 left and right after Hinrich and Gray combined for the best and I think only successful screen/roll finish at the basket with Gray scoring two of his seven points. Gray also had seven rebounds in a solid effort as Joakim Noah was a no show with zero points and three rebounds in fouling out in 14 minutes, mostly being called on the silly moving screen fouls he continues to get.

Someone tell him you can’t move on a screen.

“I was just trying to mix and match to get a combination of guys who were going to play hard and well together,” said Del Negro.  “We wanted to get a spark, energy or something to get back in the game.  Nothing seemed to work tonight.”

He was right about that, though really in the last six minutes.

Even for the game and despite that dreadful finish,
the Bulls led the Raptors in points in the paint, second chance points and offensive rebounds, total rebounds, fast break points and three pointers made with Hinrich hitting four of five.

And, yes, lost yet again with those turnovers.

The Bulls even got back into it after that third quarter start with Nocioni and Hinrich again hitting threes, like in the second quarter rally, and moved within 75-69 before trailing 83-74 after three.

Part of that comeback was with Calderon out in the third, and Toronto really has no actual backup point and now uses Anthony Parker there. I thought it would be a good opportunity to trap or pressure given Parker isn’t usually a ballhandler, though that never did happen.

And still the Bulls were right there in the fourth.

Nocioni drove and kicked to Hinrich for a three (the Bulls also won the bench battle 41-32).Gordon then overdribbled but pulled up and hit a jumper and followed that with another as Gray with a nice look found him on a cut at the free throw line.

When Deng was on the end of a nice five-pass ball movement for a 20 footer with 6:22 left, the Bulls had pulled within 91-90. Home game. Team coming back. Losing visitor who had lost games regularly down the stretch. It was winnin’ time.

Or not.

The Bulls overloaded toward Calderon on a drive after he beat Rose and Calderon lobbed to Bosh for a slam dunk and 93-90 lead. Rose drove and got too deep and was blocked and Nocioni recovered but lost the ball. Joey Graham, who had 16 off the bench and was six of seven shooting, drove and was fouled, making one. Deng responded with another jumper on a Rose drive and kick and it was 94-92 Toronto with 5:22 left.

“Our fourth quarter was not good again,” said Del Negro.  “We made too many mistakes.  I was not happy with our energy or our demeanor in the fourth quarter.”

Calderon drove and made both free throws as he now has 83 straight, the second longest in league history to Michael Williams’ 97 with Minnesota.

Noah was fouled and floated up two missed free throws. Bargnani was fouled and made one of two. Nocioni took a long jumper as all Bulls motion stopped this time. Parker wide open along the baseline hit a three. Deng was fouled and front rimmed his two misses. Graham burned Deng again with a jumper. Nocioni turned the ball over trying to slip a pass inside, the Bulls committing perhaps a half dozen of these types miscues with hard and low passes from about two feet away.

Calderon had Hinrich picked off and hit jumper, and then Thomas pretty much unguarded pulled up for a long jumper and missed. Bargnani then lost Thomas again and bottomed out a three and suddenly the Bulls were down 15 and being blown out.

“I thought our energy to start the third quarter was not good,” said Del Negro.  “We are not good enough to do that.  We have to play with high energy and play together.  We are thin up front. We know that.  We have to find ways to get an opportunity and that is not easy every night.  They took it to us in the fourth quarter.  We had our opportunities, but the things they did really bothered us.”

So where do you go from here? Other than to Minneapolis Sunday?

Even if Del Negro was thinking it, there was probably no way he was going to return Gordon to the sixth man role after their little confrontation after practice Thursday when Gordon was overheard by reporters profanely reacting to notice of his fine.

Both Del Negro and Gordon dismissed the incident, though Del Negro has a tendency to not punish players on the court after off court incidents.

But with Randy Foye at shooting guard hot for the Timberwolves, it’s probably a good opportunity to move Hinrich to shooting guard with Rose. Del Negro has been concerned about losing too much scoring taking out Gordon, but Gordon has been slumping, anyway. And the Bulls need the hustle and activity Hinrich has been providing of late.

“I thought it (hustle) could be better,” Del Negro said.  “It has been better since Kirk has been back.  That is his personality.  He is one of the captains of the team.  It was not good enough tonight for whatever reason.”

I’m not sure whether I go back to Gray for Noah. But after two games hustling and rebounding, Noah was in a haze again and it’s brutal with nobody basically guarding he and Thomas.

It’s why the loss of Drew Gooden, as he remains out with a groin injury, hurts even if Gooden isn’t actually a center. Neither is Al Jefferson, who plays center for Minnesota. But it is time to try something different. There’s too much season left.

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