The Chalk Body Outline in New York this time was the Bulls
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 19
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.
It was one frozen moment in time Monday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in the waning moments of what would be a disappointing 102-98 Bulls loss to the New York Knicks.
It was the “What if” moment, the “if only” moment that separates good teams from average teams from poor ones.
On Monday, it made the difference between two relatively even teams, and highlighted the fragility of youth when it comes to pro sports.
It was too bad it happened to Tyrus Thomas, who mostly had a nice game with 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. It somewhat offset Joakim Noah’s best game of the season, 18 rebounds and seven offensive with three blocks while playing in front of his famous father, tennis star and singer Yannick Noah.
Yannick had told the New York broadcasters an interesting story I hadn’t heard before about Joakim, that he ended up shooting that odd sideways rotation shot because when he was small, he insisted on only shooting threes. I knew the three would eventually ruin young basketball players. But young Joakim couldn’t reach the rim. So he put both hands around the ball and spun it up. And never stopped.
If he hustles and plays the way he did Monday in the Martin Luther King holiday matinee, even against a Knicks’ lineup without a center or even a true power forward, he can shoot any way he wants because it wasn’t just his rebounding but his activity that was so impressive.
Sad to waste it all in a game the Bulls dominated the boards 58-41.
The Bulls spent much of the game overcoming horrid shooting by Ben Gordon—they won’t call it Madison Square Gordon anymore—at three of 15 and Andres Nocioni at one of nine. With those two off, it shouldn’t have been a game on most occasions for the Bulls.
“I had a lot of open looks and three pointers,” acknowledged Gordon. “I just was not able to connect. It is good that we are in games but we need to just be able to win it at the end. This is frustrating. It seems like a habit, almost. You do everything just to stay in the game, and when the game’s on the line, we’re just not coming through with the plays we need. I had a tough shooting night. It is what it is. I just have to bounce back and we have another one tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have better luck next game.”
But Kirk Hinrich with 13 points and seven rebounds and Luol Deng active and energized again with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two steals, were bouncing around and keeping the Bulls in it. So the Bulls came back from 13 down in the second quarter, and then nine behind in the third, and it looked like they’d taken control on back to back Derrick Rose scores for a 97-94 lead with 2:34 left.
Chris Duhon, playing despite a bad back and soon to make the game’s clinching play, tried to squeeze in a lazy pass that was deflected and went right to Thomas. Thomas tried to grab the ball and run out seeing that five-point lead that probably would have clinched the game.
Youth, enthusiasm, athleticism. All good things. But you also have to savor the moment and understand the situation.
Thomas, with five turnovers even though that one didn’t count, lost the ball as he looked up for the runout, and it squirted to David Lee. He passed to Quentin Richardson in the corner for a tying three. It was the deflator, the momentum changer. You sensed that was the Bulls big chance.
And it was.
Hinrich drove and was fouled, but made just one of two for a brief 98-97 lead. All the signs were starting to look bad by now.
Duhon, who finished with 19 and a dozen in the fourth, then missed on a drive. But with a chance to regain the edge, Hinrich ran out and pulled up for a three that missed. Too fast? Hinrich had made one like that and I thought it was a good risk at the time, though there was a bit more of the Bulls shooting quickly again Monday. Thomas grabbed the rebound, but shortarmed the follow off the back of the rim.
Duhon then effectively finished it off as he took a screen from Lee with Noah coming out. The Bulls had mostly been trapping Duhon on the pick and roll, but usually the traps were too soft and Duhon had room to operate. Noah switched, but was soft again on the cover as he allowed Duhon to go the left baseline and then push out in front of the basket and lay it in for a 99-98 lead with 31 seconds left.
“Big win,” acknowledged Duhon, the former Bull who has moved among the league leaders in assists since leaving the Bulls for the Knicks. “We’ve been struggling in situations like this (close games). We have a team that’s ahead of us in the standings, and you need these kinds of wins. I just had to take what we could get. It’s (back) hurting bad. My team needed me and if I could walk, I was going to play.”
Rose—and only in New York they keep such statistics—ended with 20 points, which was the most by a No. 1 overall pick in his debut in Madison Square Garden since LeBron James. They reportedly were checking to see which No. 1 pick scored the most points in his New York debut after eating pizza while stuck in traffic for two hours.
Gordon had been brutal all game missing wide open looks and had sat most of the fourth quarter. But he’d had some huge game winners back in New York, especially one to win the Martin Luther King Day game in 2005 with a brilliant running floater past Jamal Crawford.
The Bulls came out of a timeout and went to Rose, who was defended by Wilson Chandler. Rose beat Chandler, but seemed to go so fast that he went past the basket and had to lean back and missed. Contact? Perhaps, but you don’t get that call unless you go into the defender and Rose went to the side.
“It was a good defensive play,” said Rose.
Lee rebounded and the Bulls had to foul as Lee quickly got the ball to Duhon, who made both.
The Bulls, though, were out of timeouts, actually with some good Knicks’ defense on inbounds earlier which forced the Bulls to call timeouts. So the Bulls had to go and despite having 22.8 seconds left and trailing 101-98, they inexplicably gave the ball to Gordon and let him dribble for a three pointer.
With so much time left, the obvious choice was to drive for the quick two and see if the Knicks could make free throws. But Gordon, not surprisingly, couldn’t get lose going one-on-one and pulled back for a horrid three with Lee in his face. It was a lurid airball with 11 seconds left. The Bulls had to foul again. Nate Robinson made one of two.
And then it ended fittingly as Thomas rebounded the second miss and threw the ball away, that being turnover 17 and 24 points from them for the Knicks. As Yannick probably said courtside: Game, set, match.
The Bulls now are 18-24, just a game ahead of the Knicks and home Tuesday to play Atlanta and Friday against Toronto before they leave the United Center for two weeks. It’s not a particularly tough opening to the Western Conference trip against Minnesota, the Clippers and Kings. But the Bulls close with the Suns, Rockets, Hornets and Mavericks, so are teetering on the edge of getting buried for the second half unless they can pull out these kinds of wins against teams with poorer records.
Though the Bulls have been more competitive since the return of Deng and Hinrich, this is the third loss this month against a team with a poorer record, in effect, the difference in being a .500 team.
Larry Hughes is out of the rotation, which has helped, though it may be time to finally make that move of Gordon to sixth man.
Gordon made the case again Monday, and coach Vinny Del Negro probably did as well in taking Gordon out in the first quarter Saturday against the Spurs even though Gordon hadn’t missed a shot. You cannot play Gordon as a long minutes player with regular rest. He’s a streak shooter you have to ride.
Because when he is hitting, he more than makes up for flaws in other parts of his game. When he isn’t, like coming out Monday, it tends to put the Bulls in a hole, which happened again, though not until the second quarter.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni plays basically a pick and roll game and is innovative, at times like Don Nelson with matchups.
D’Aontini started 6-10 Jared Jeffries on Rose, and though it didn’t deter Rose much, it does result in some adjustments. What the Knicks had more success with was a postup game from Quentin Richardson, who led New York with 24.
Richardson is known primarily as a long distance shooter, and his three to tie at 97 was the big shot.
But with Gordon on him to open, Richardson ran into the post and began calling for the ball. The Bulls survived, and Gordon actually made a heck of a pass early to Thomas for a three-point play as Duhon got caught on a switch.
The teams were tied at 20 after one quarter and were hanging in after a Sefolosha three left then down 37-34. That’s when the Knicks began to stretch it out with ball movement when the Bulls went to help Gordon caught in a mismatch and Richardson hit a three and the Bulls gambled off Duhon and he hit a jumper and a three.
Duhon would never admit it—and most players won’t—but you always love sticking it to the guys who gave up on you, though with Rose and Hinrich the Bulls had little alternative.
“Playing his former team, it had to be a real motivation whether he’ll tell you that or not,” said Lee. “He’s a warrior.”
You wondered, though, from the Bulls perspective what happened to Sefolosha, who hit both of his attempts yet played just five minutes.
He’s been getting the quick hook, and this was the kind of game with Gordon missing so badly, the Knicks playing small and Drew Gooden still aching with various injuries and ineffective to give Sefolsoha more time.
His defense would have helped considerably on Richardson or even Duhon at times.
Though the Bulls did close the first half impressively 13-3 behind three scores from Deng, who was knocking balls loose, rebounding and running out, though seemingly forgotten about down the stretch.
The Bulls slipped behind again as Richardson and Al Harrington hit threes for a 73-64 lead. But Hinrich came back with the kind of quick three he’d miss later and added a jumper and runner and the Bulls went into the fourth trailing 78-77.
They scored the first four as Nocioni finally hit one and Gordon got a layup, and the Knicks usually make plenty of dumb plays, like Nate Robinson then passing on a layup to try a flying dunk that missed and led to that Gordon layup. This Knicks group will always let you back. You figure LeBron has to be noticing.
But Duhon then blew by Gordon off a screen for a layup, Gooden fell down when Harrington did the old Rick Mahorn pull-the-chair-out post defense move and new Knick favorite rookie Danili Gallinari ran out and got a dunk and got in a bunch of those jumping body bumps in the ensuing timeout.
“Duhon played really well and he scored when they needed baskets, really controlled the tempo of the game and got guys involved,” said Gordon.
Nothing was going right for Nocioni or Gordon as Nocioni came out of the timeout with an offensive foul and Gallinari added a three when Nocioni got sucked in on a Harrington drive and left the rookie shooter alone.
Rose began to assert himself again with the Bulls down six with a drive and—yes, finally—a foul call, a beautiful spin and reverse layup, a lob pass to Thomas for a dunk and a drive and kick back to Thomas for a jumper. That tied the game at 91 with 4:50 left, and then Rose hit a pair of jumpers for that 97-94 lead, the second with 2:34 left in what would be the Bulls’ final field goal of the game.
“We had too many turnovers,” concluded Del Negro. “We did not shoot the ball well enough. At times, we had opportunities and couldn’t convert around the basket a few times. I thought our energy and movement were pretty good. We turned it over too much for a team that likes to get out in the open court. You are going to have nights like that, but there are other ways to contribute to the team. We just did not shoot the ball well (42.6) against a team that gives up a high field goal percentage (49 percent, 29th in the league). I thought we got a little stagnant at times. We had our chances, but not converting when we need to around the basket is costly.”
And if Thomas had just picked up that ball and held it.
But he didn’t, and Richardson did make hit shot, and Hinrich couldn’t get one down and Rose couldn’t and Gordon certainly didn’t, and, yeah, that could have used that one.