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Bulls lose to Timberwolves and it's becoming habit forming
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 26
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.
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.
You remember that famous 19th century poem about the Bulls that started: “How do I lose thee? Let me count the ways.”
That wasn’t about the Bulls?
It sure seems that way as the Bulls Sunday figured out still another way to lose another one, this time 109-108 in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves in one that really, really, really hurt.
“It’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating to lose that way,” said Joakim Noah, who was as good as he’s been with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. “Especially games we are capable of winning.”
Though not quite good enough, especially on the defensive side where still another opponent had a season or career high, this time Al Jefferson, repeatedly backing down Noah for a season high 39 points.
“I don’t even know what to say,” lamented Noah. “I was playing as hard as I could. (Jefferson) just kept scoring the ball. He’s just a great offensive player and we just couldn’t slow him down tonight.”
Again, the Bulls played hard, if not smart and efficient. With Drew Gooden still out, Tyrus Thomas leaving for a time with an ankle sprain and Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose iffy with the flu, the Bulls still had the game and let it get away. They led by 16 after a 20-4 start to the game as Minnesota missed its first 11 shots, and were up seven with under four minutes left in regulation and 97-93 with less than a minute left in regulation.
But the Bulls continued to allow Jefferson deep post position with only soft resistance when they double teamed, and when they came out of timeouts down the stretch, it usually was a simple drive or quick pullup jumper off a screen.
At the end for the Bulls, in both regulation and overtime, it was Rose, who had no miracles this time as he continued to show signs of the strain of this losing season with 18 points and seven assists but five turnovers.
“It’s frustrating but we try hard to win games,” said Rose. “The Toronto game we didn’t try that hard, but this game we went out there and played.”
It was all Rose all the time at the end Sunday, and perhaps it’s too much to keep asking of the kid.
First it was Rose taking a high Noah screen and driving hard with just over a minute left. Rose drew Jefferson to him as well as he slipped by Sebastian Telfair and Noah came diving in for the follow and 97-93 lead. But Jefferson got deep again with Noah getting little help and scored easily.
By now it should have been more than clear Jefferson wasn’t passing—one assist in almost 42 minutes—but the Bulls mostly stayed home. Rose then lined up Telfair again for the same play and drove, got a bit too deep and shot a miss high off the backboard. Jefferson again got deep, spun and missed with Rose offering a light double. Noah got a piece of the shot, but Jefferson put it back in with 23 seconds left for the tie at 97.
One possession. For a winner.
Rose dribbled down the clock and instead of going right went left to the elbow, where Gordon had just moved and brought his defender, Randy Foye, leaving Rose to force up a bad miss between Telfair and Foye. Miscommunication. Bad play. Not even a chance.
Gordon, who led the Bulls with 23 and seemed to get his shot back with three of six threes, carried the Bulls to open overtime with a jumper and three for a 105-103 lead two minutes in. But Jefferson got deep again and scored and the Bulls couldn’t convert despite four chances after three offensive rebounds, the final look a Gordon turnover as the Bulls did cut that total this time to 15.
Jefferson yet again got inside for a half hook score after Noah tied him up and the Bulls lost a jump ball. Luol Deng, with 22 points in a good offensive effort, cut inside on an Andres Nocioni pass was fouled, making both for a 107 tie with 1:09 left. Mike Miller, who has looked lost this season, missed on a wild drive and Nocioni was fouled on the rebound and made just one. Uh, oh. Bulls lead 108-107 with 43.4 seconds left.
Coach Vinny Del Negro had gone to his best defensive players, but Randy Foye, who was one of 10, beat Thabo Sefolosha for a layup and 109-108 lead.
The Bulls came out of the timeout with a quick Gordon jumper from the left corner that missed. Minnesota went to Jefferson again, and this time he did pass as Deng came quicker with the double, and Miller missed badly again, setting it up for still another game winning attempt by Rose with 13.1 seconds left.
Rose took a handoff from Aaron Gray and circled right, but got caught between Telfair and Jefferson. Stopped in the lane and with his back to the basket, Rose wheeled on his pivot foot but shot too hard. Gray tipped and missed and Deng slashed in and seemed to get a piece and tipped, but Jefferson batted it out.
“That ball was kind of teasing me a little bit,” said Jefferson. “I wanted to knock it out but it was still on the rim, so when it came out I just tapped it. Thank God it worked out the way it did.”
Nocioni went to get the ball, but lost it out of bounds to the Timberwolves. Game.
“The execution just was not there,” said Del Negro. “(Rose) didn’t keep his dribble. We have worked on that. Derrick came off and he had to make a play. He wasn’t able to do it, picked up his dribble and it cost us. We had a couple of tips at the end but were not able to convert.”
Fifth straight loss. Record 18-27 and now with six more in a row in the Western Conference.
“I took both shots (end of regulation and overtime),” said Rose. “The first one (was) way too long. The second one I thought went in, but it rimmed out. Yeah, that’s what I did. I thought I had an outlet but I didn’t. I knew the time was going down so that’s what made me shoot the shot.”
The Timberwolves have been playing well and actually have the league’s best record this month at 9-2. And the Bulls competed hard again, if not always efficiently and intelligently, the only poor stretch those last six minutes in the home loss to Toronto Friday when the team appeared to give in. But those kinds of episodes have been rare.
“Well, we played hard,” said Deng. “We’ve got to play smarter. We were definitely playing hard. We just didn’t make stops. I think we’ve got to look more on defense and start making stops. We just didn’t get stops.”
The problem, as it is with any team, is effort has to produce results at some point, or everyone begins to give in and point fingers. The Bulls may be nearing that point after a tense week with general manager John Paxson’s comments about being disappointed about the season interpreted by some to be a rap on Del Negro and Del Negro and Gordon then getting into a somewhat public argument over a fine. An accumulation of little things can lead to big things.
“Obviously the in-game situations have been the problem and that was the case tonight,” said Del Negro. “We couldn’t convert down the stretch in regulation, and then in OT we had a couple of plays where we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket.”
And the Bulls moved perilously closer to being ahead of only Washington in the East.
It didn’t look like it would be that way in a terrific start with Noah running the court, challenging shots and actually going to the basket aggressively, a true rarity.
The Bulls led 20-4 and 30-19 after one quarter. But Minnesota closed too quickly behind the aggressive play of Kevin Love, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds and dominated Thomas.
I think the difference in the game was Kevin Love and the second chance points,” said Del Negro of Minnesota’s 24-13 margin. “On the weakside glass, we had a lot of trouble.”
The Timberwolves also got back in it with Rodney Carney getting 13 off the bench in running wild against Deng. Deng tends to have trouble with the athletic small forwards, like Carney, and one play was reminiscent of Wes Unseld as Love heaved a full court chest pass to a streaking Carney after a Deng miss and Carney slammed to get Minnesota within 37-35 midway through the second.
On the next possession, Carney scored on a lob from Foye as Deng buried himself in a screen and Gray failed to help.
That’s what everyone is talking about when they say the Bulls don’t talk.
They are a notoriously bad team for on court communication, like noting coming screens or helping. Too many meld with screens rather than fighting through them, and the weak side help, especially when Thomas isn’t active, is often missing. Deng also tends to lay off his man quite a bit in trying to help in forming something of a zone, but Minnesota took advantage with corner shots and quick baseline action.
“We got off to a terrible start,” noted Love. “In the second half we were a little slow but picked it up at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth. Our second unit brought us back into the game and I thought we played great.”
The Bulls led 55-51 at halftime when Deng mad a 20 footer at the buzzer. The game rocked back and forth a bit after halftime, and while the Bulls soft double teaming did little to bother Jefferson (they probably needed to double with a big rather than guards most of the time), the Bulls got hot toward the end of the third quarter, hitting 12 straight shots to lead 82-77 going into the fourth.
The Bulls ducked in and out of a zone early in the fourth, and Nocioni upset Jefferson and the ‘wolves with some hard fouls, his specialty, that seemed to distract them some. The Bulls had every starter in double figures scoring to just Jefferson for the Timberwolves, and despite a miserable game of misses and turnovers for Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls looked in control as Rose drove for a three-point play with 5:11 left, the Bulls forced a 24-second violation and Gordon rose up around a screen right afterward for a 93-87 lead with 4:31 left. After one Love free throw, Thomas answered with two for that 95-88 lead with under four minutes left. Which the Bulls followed with three miserable possessions, a Deng jumper after dribbling too much, a quick Gordon jumper out of a timeout once again and Thomas throwing himself at the basket for a bad miss.
One more play. That’s all the Bulls needed. Like in losses in the last few weeks to the Knicks, Spurs and Hawks. It never came. Only the lack of answers.